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Pentecost 25 Proper 28B November 14, 2021

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Song of Hannah)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Our first reading for today is from the First Book of Samuel. We meet Elkanah. He has two wives. Back in those days, a man would often have more than one wife. He is very generous to his wives, to Peninnah and all her sons and daughters, and especially to his wife Hannah. He loves her very much.

But Hannah has a very deep grief in her life. She has not been able to have any children. Back in those times, about three thousand years ago, women were most valued and respected if they had many children. Women who were not able to have children were usually not as highly loved and respected. It is to Elkanah’s credit that he loves Hannah and treats her with great respect.

Peninnah has many children, both sons and daughters, and she constantly reminds Hannah of this fact. She makes Hannah’s life miserable. She has done this for years.

Have you ever had a problem that made you feel like a failure, that made you cry with grief and frustration? Have you ever gone from year to year with a great sadness as Hannah did? Most of us have had experiences such as this, times of great sadness about things that were beyond our control.

Hannah and Elkanah go to the temple at Shiloh to worship God, and Hannah does a very wise thing. She goes to the altar and kneels down and pours her heart out to God. She weeps and she prays the words that express her feelings, but she does this silently. She asks God to give her a son.

The priest Eli is sitting by the doorpost. He sees this woman who is so upset and thinks she is drunk. Eli scolds her, but she tells him the truth. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled,” she says, and, as she speaks to Eli, he realizes that this is a good and honest and upright woman of deep faith who is asking for God’s help. Seeing the depth of  Hannah’s faith, Eli assures her that her prayers will be answered. She has a son and names him Samuel, and Samuel becomes a great prophet and servant of God.

Hannah’s song celebrating her son’s birth strongly resembles Mary’s song, the Magnificat. In her song, Hannah rejoices in God’s compassion for the poor, the hungry, and the weak. And we can rejoice in God’s compassion for her.

In our reading from Hebrews, we are called to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we have genuine hope. We are called to inspire each other to love and good deeds, and to encourage each other.

In our gospel, one of the disciples comments on how huge the temple in Jerusalem is. This is true. Scholars tell us that the temple was very large,  even in comparison with buildings in the great city of Rome. But then Jesus says that all these huge stones will be thrown down. He talks about wars and earthquakes and all kinds of upheaval. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Jesus is talking about the kinds of conflicts and tensions that go on in our world at various times, including ours.

In our time, we are being called to take care of our beautiful planet, to work on racial healing so that we will sincerely love all our brothers and sisters as ourselves, and we are called to deal with many other issues so that we can help to bring in the shalom of God.

In the Church, we are also facing challenging issues. A financial expert has told us that in the Episcopal Church in Vermont, we face a financial crisis.

Last year, Bishop Shannon reminded us of a story about Jesus and his disciples. They have just fed five thousand people. Jesus tells the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowd of people they have just fed and goes up to the mountain to pray. Very often, Jesus would go apart and spend time with God in prayer. Meanwhile the disciples are crossing the sea, and a storm comes up. The wind is howling, the waves are getting higher and higher and the disciples are really scared. Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. At first they think he is a ghost, and they are even more scared. But Jesus said to them, “Take heart. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter says, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says “Come.” Peter jumps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. But when he notices the strong wind, he gets very scared and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord! Save me!. Jesus stretches out his hand, catches Peter, and they both reach the boat and get in. Once they are in the boat, the wind stops blowing. That’s when they realize Jesus is the Son of God.

Bishop Shannon told us that trying to deal with the pandemic and all these issues is like trying to walk on water the way Peter did. We are facing the unknown. We don’t have clear answers. When we feel ourselves start to sink, we need to remember at least two things: one, we are walking toward Jesus; two, Jesus has his hand stretched out to save us.

We are going to be working together to find out where God is leading us and then to follow in faith. The financial expert described the situation as though we are going to reach the edge of a cliff. That’s scary. But, instead of letting the fear overcome us, we can remember our faith. A wise person once said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” We have faith in Jesus, and he is reaching out to us to help us and guide us and save us.

God answered Hannah’s prayer and Samuel was born. We are going to be making a journey into uncertainty. We could be overcome by terror. It will feel like a storm on the water with winds howling and waves growing higher. But Jesus is here, We are walking toward Jesus. His hand is stretched out to us. And he is saying, ”Take heart, It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Amen.

Epiphany 6C February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah draws a contrast between people who trust in God and those who trust in their human strength, those “whose hearts turn away from God.” Jeremiah says that those who do not trust in God are like a “shrub in the desert.” On the other hand, those who trust in God, those whose hearts are rooted and grounded in God, are like a tree planted by water, sending out their roots, sending their roots deep to the living water. They do not fear when heat comes; they aren’t even anxious in a time of drought. Their leaves stay green and they bear fruit no matter what challenges are going on.

Thanks be to God for the gift of faith. We are so blessed to be able to trust everything to God, to be like trees living by the stream, bearing the fruit of the Spirit no matter what.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, some people are saying there is no resurrection of the dead. We don’t know exactly what was going on. We do know that Corinth was a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various deities, people of all kinds of philosophies, some of which did not believe in resurrection. Perhaps some folks with those beliefs came into the congregation in Corinth.

Paul responds to this situation in logical form and then concludes by saying that Jesus was raised from the dead, and he is the first in a long line of people who are following him into new life. He will be expanding on this in our reading next Sunday.

Just before our gospel reading from Luke, Jesus has been up in the hill country praying with his disciples and calling from the larger group twelve apostles who will be his closest followers. They go down from the higher country to a level place near the lake. In contrast to Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Luke’s is the sermon on the plain. Jesus is on the same level with his listeners, who include the twelve just called to be his apostles, the larger company of disciples, and a large crowd of listeners from a wide area, suggesting that Jesus is addressing his message to everyone. in this multitude are people who have already been healed, and there are many others who are trying to touch Jesus. They have come to hear him and to be healed.

Jesus blesses those who are poor, hungry, grieving, and those who are hated and excluded. He tells the poor that theirs is the kingdom of God; the hungry that they will be filled, the grieving that they will laugh; the hated and excluded that the same thing happened to the prophets and that they will be greatly rewarded in heaven.

If we really think about what Jesus is saying, we could conclude that his words are shocking. He is really turning everything upside down. We don’t want to be poor, hungry, grieving, hated, or excluded. What is Jesus saying?

Fred Craddock says, “On the lips of members of the faith community addressing one another,  a blessing is a celebration of someone’s pleasant and happy circumstances and a curse or woe is a lament over someone’s plight. However, when spoken by God or one who speaks for God, blessings and woes are more than descriptive: they are pronouncements that declare in effect that those conditions will prevail. On the lips of Jesus Christ, therefore, the blessings and the woes of our Gospel section can be taken as the ‘official’ proclamation of the way life will be among the people of God. …Blessings and woes are to be heard with the assurance that they are God’s word to us, and God will implement them.”  (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 102.)

These blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are despised and rejected,  and the proclamation that they are beloved of God and will receive God’s love and care and help, go far back in Luke’s gospel.

In the very first  chapter, they appear in Mary’s song, the  Magnificat , in which God  exalts the humble, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. A few weeks ago, we read in chapter four of Luke’s gospel of Jesus reading from the scroll of prophet Isaiah, in which Isaiah says God has sent him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

After Jesus reads that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue, he rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” Craddock writes, “The ‘today’ that Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth still prevails; the messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the poor, the imprisoned, the diseased, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation, p. 88.)

Trusting in God, having roots deep in the living water of Christ and of the Spirit, causes us to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so we follow Jesus, and we help him to implement his plan, his reign, his shalom.

For many years, you have helped to implement our Lord’s plan. In recent years, you have helped with a specific part of his plan. When our Lord says that the hungry will be blessed, that they will be filled, he is counting on us to help him with that, to be his hands and feet packing boxes of food and handing them out, to be his listening ears and loving heart when we talk with the folks at the food shelf and offer care and support. Individually and corporately, you have ministered to the folks Jesus calls us to care for in his beatitudes: the poor, the hungry, those who are grieving, those who are hated and excluded.

Just because a congregation is small does not mean that it is weak. As Molly Comeau would say, “You’re small, but you are mighty.” Thanks be to God for all your many ministries.

Dear Lord, help us to plant our roots deep in the living water of your love and grace, and help us to bear abundant fruit. Amen.

Advent 4 December 23, 2018

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 15 The Song of Mary p. 91
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

All through Advent, our readings from the Hebrew scriptures have proclaimed hope in the face of daunting, even devastating circumstances. The author of this morning’s first reading is Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, whose ministry took place between 740 and 701 B.C.E. This was during the time that the Assyrians conquered neighboring areas and finally captured Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.

It is possible that our reading is addressing that horrible defeat by King Sennacherib of Assyria, but many scholars think this portion of Micah’s book was actually added later, at the time of the Babylonian Exile.

At a time of crushing defeat and suffering, God is going to raise up a liberating king, not from Jerusalem, the center of everything for God’s people, but from little Bethlehem, the city of David. That king, according to Micah or a later editor, “shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.” For us, that king is Jesus.

Just before our gospel reading for today, we read about the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Savior. Gabriel also tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, is now pregnant. In announcing the births of both Jesus and John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel says, “With God, nothing is impossible.”

Directly after her encounter with Gabriel, Mary does a very wise thing. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary has the wisdom to know that she and Elizabeth are having unique experiences that are going to be challenging. Elizabeth is having a baby when she is far past the usual childbearing years. Mary is having a baby when she is engaged, but not yet married. In both cases, tongues are sure to wag.

Scholars point out that Luke usually takes great care to tell us exactly when and where things happen, but in this case, the village is not named. Mary enters the house,  greets Elizabeth, and little John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. Elizabeth bursts into a song of praise that will later become the beginning of the Hail, Mary. She then addresses her cousin as “the mother of my Lord.” Both Elizabeth and her son recognize that they are meeting their Savior. Even in the womb John the Baptist recognizes and honors Jesus.

Then Mary sings her song of praise, the Magnificat, which is a poetic and prophetic blueprint of God’s Shalom. God scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. Valleys are exalted, and hills are made low. God feeds the hungry. The reign of God turns things upside down.

God is doing a new thing, and these two women from little out of the way places are the ones God has chosen to give birth to this new order. They are already cousins, members of a large extended family, and they are going to become sisters in faith. We all need support when we are responding to God’s call. We all need friends and sisters and brothers in the faith when God calls us to do a new thing, to walk a path that no one has ever walked before. Mary and Elizabeth were able to offer each other that support.

“With God, nothing is impossible,” says the angel Gabriel. In many ways, we are quite similar to God’s people under attack from either the Assyrians of the Babylonians. There is growing evidence of an attack by Russia designed to fragment our country and turn us against each other. Climate change is a huge threat to our planet. Violence is everywhere. And on and on it goes. And yet…

We pray today that our Lord Jesus Christ “may, at his coming, find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” “With God nothing is impossible.” May we make room for God. May we be a people of hope. May we help to build God’s shalom.  Amen.

Pentecost 26  Proper 28B November 18, 2018

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-8  Hannah’s Song
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18)19-25
Mark 13:1-8

One theme for today’s readings might be beginnings and endings. God creates new beginnings.

In our first reading, we meet Hannah, one of the  great heroines of the faith. She lived in an age when women were judged on their ability to produce large numbers of children, and she felt terrible about the fact that she couldn’t even give birth to one child. Her husband, Elkanah, loved her very much and tried to console her about this.

When they went to the temple to worship, Hannah asked God for help with this problem. Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk, and she had to reassure him that wasn’t the case. Eli realized that he had been mistaken, gave Hannah a blessing, and asked God to grant Hannah’s request. She promised that, if God gave her a son, she would offer that son in God’s service. She and Elkanah went home, made love, and nine months later, one of God’s great priests and prophets, Samuel, was born. Hannah’s Song, which we read today as our psalm, is a wonderful song of praise and thanksgiving which bears many similarities to the Song of Mary, the Magnificat.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer tells us that the animal sacrifices offered in the temple “can never take away sins.” By his offering of himself, our Lord brings us very close to God and to God’s love. In that love, we are called to gather together, strengthen each other’s faith, and encourage one another on the journey. 

In our gospel, Jesus and his followers are coming out of the temple in Jerusalem.  One of the disciples is commenting on how large and impressive the temple is, and indeed it was huge. Jesus tells them the temple will be destroyed, and indeed it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  

Later on, Jesus and the disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask him privately when this destruction will take place and what the signs will be that this is going to happen.  

Jesus answers, “Beware that no one leads you astray.”  He tells them and us that people will actually come and pretend to be Jesus, or say that they come in his name. He tells us that when we hear of wars and rumors of wars, when we see or hear of conflict, we should not be alarmed. We should stay grounded in him and in our faith.  And he says that all of this is part of the birth pangs of his kingdom, his shalom.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “I think that our Lord is not so much describing any one particular time in history, as offering his people in any age an approach, an attitude, for living through great upheaval and change. Ours is such a time. Our lord is saying that we must see in the turmoil the possibility that God is bringing new realities to birth.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year B, Vol, 3, p. 157.)

The kingdom of God is growing even now. We can see many signs of upheaval in our world, and our Lord is reminding us that, as his shalom grows, there will be turmoil, but we should always go out into the world, look for the places where God is at work, and do all we can to support that work. Wherever the fruits of the Spirit are present-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, wherever God’s love and compassion are being shared, God’s shalom is growing.

Hannah’s song is full of praise and thanksgiving to God, and this is a season of thanksgiving and praise for us as well.

This is the month when we make our outreach contributions to groups who are sharing God’s caring and compassion. These include Martha’s Kitchen, Samaritan House, Abenaki CIrcle of Courage, Sheldon Methodist Church Food Shelf, Rock Point School, Oglala Lakota College, and Brookhaven Treatment Center.

During this month of thanksgiving, we also give our contributions to the United Thank Offering, and we will be doing this for the next two Sundays. The  Church Women’s Auxiliary evolved into the United Thank Offering, and thus we continue all kinds of ministries both in the United States and all over the world. As you know, the Women’s Auxiliary of Grace Church had a very strong ministry.

Finally, at this time of year, we prayerfully make our pledges  for the following year. We make these pledges in gratitude for God’s love and care for us, for our families, and for all people.  We will never be able to grasp the depth and breadth of God’s love. It is beyond our imagining, but we can sense it. We can sense God’s loving presence every moment of our lives and God’s guidance as we take each step of our journey. We will have the pledge cards out on the table next Sunday, and I would ask that you try to make your pledge by December 9.

Thanksgiving is coming up this Thursday, and we have so much for which to be thankful—family, friends, many blessings, this beautiful place in which we live, and, most of all, our loving God who has come to be one of us, our God who is leading and guiding us, our God who is bringing new things to birth.  Amen.

Advent 3A RCL December 11, 2016

Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 15
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah is God’s word of hope to the people who have been in exile in Babylon. They are going to come home. The desert will bloom. “Waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” There will be springs of water everywhere.

It is a joyful thing to return home, but it is also a fearful thing. God will strengthen the weak hands and the feeble knees, and, perhaps more importantly, God will help us in our fears. Our God tells us to be strong.

And what does God do? God heals the people. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame person leaps like a deer; those who have not been able to speak sing with joy.

There is going to be a highway in the desert. No one is going to get lost on the way home. No lions or other animals will be there to eat people. The people of God will be able to walk home singing for joy.

The coming of God means a restoration of the earth, healing of the people, peace, and safety.

In our canticle for today, the Magnificat, Mary sings of our God who lifts up the humble and lowly, casts down the mighty from their thrones, feeds the hungry and tells the rich they already have enough.

In our reading from the Letter of James, we are given more guidance as we prepare for the coming of our Savior. We are called to be patient. But this is not a passive waiting. We have the example of the farmer, an example we know very well. The farmer plants the seed, but he or she does not simply sit around and wait. The farmer works hard to do everything possible to help that seed grow. We are called to be patient, but this is an active, aware kind of patience. We are called to be awake and ready for our Lord to come to us, We are called to do everything we can to help his kingdom to grow just as the farmer helps the crops to grow.

In our gospel, we meet John the Baptist once again. This time, the situation is very different. John is no longer on the banks of the River Jordan baptizing people. He is in prison because he confronted King Herod, who had an affair with his brother’s wife. King Herod used his power to put John in prison.

John is wondering about this. If Jesus is the Savior, why am I in prison? I thought the Savior was going to separate the wheat from the chaff and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. I thought the Savior was going to get rid of the bad guys.

Let us remember, there are two strains in the Hebrew scriptures when it comes to describing who the Savior is. One strain says that he is a mighty military hero who comes in and throws the Romans out and  kills all of his enemies. The other one says that his is a kingdom, not of might and power but of healing and compassion.

John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the Savior or if someone else is going to come along. And Jesus tells them to go back to John and tell him what Jesus is doing—healing people, giving them hope and new life. What Jesus is doing coincides with Isaiah’s description in our first lesson.

And then Jesus tells us that John the Baptist is a great prophet. John is the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord. Yet the least person in the kingdom of Jesus is greater than John. This comment by Jesus reminds me of that wonderful line from the prophet Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 4:6.) It also takes us back to the Magnificat. God exalts the humble and meek.

Mary Hinkle Shore, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota, writes,  “The kingdom of heaven is the message and ministry of one who enacts God’s will, not by laying waste to his enemies, but by ‘giving his life a ransom for many.’ “

She says, “When being arrested in Gethsemane, Jesus does not appeal to his Father for ‘more than twelve leagues of angels’ (Matt. 26:53), but goes quietly with his accusers. …To our friends who want to know why things are not better if God’s Messiah has already come, we can say that God’s Messiah chose to combat evil with his innocent suffering and death. This does not answer every question about persistent injustice, nor does it absolve Christians and others from working for the good of all their neighbors. Yet the choice Jesus made for the cross over those legions of angels is testimony that God’s justice, mercy, and peace are probably not as likely to come by means of unquenchable fire as they are by means of suffering love.” (Shore, New Proclamation Year A 2007-8, p. 24.)

As we have noted before, Christ’s kingdom has begun but it is not yet complete. We are living in that in-between time. Part of our work in Advent is looking for signs of God’s justice, mercy, and peace and helping individuals and groups who are working to build God’s kingdom right now. We are blessed to be able to give to the United thank Offering and to Episcopal Relief and Development, and I know that all of you are sharing God’s love in many ways each day.

Years ago a dear friend and colleague gave me this prayer by an anonymous mystic writing in the fifteenth century:

Thou shalt know him when he comes
Not by any din of drums—
Nor the vantage of His airs—
Nor by anything he wears—
Neither by His crown—
Nor His gown—
For His presence known shall be
By the Holy Harmony
That His coming makes in thee.     Amen.

Advent 4C RCL December 20, 2015

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 3, p. 50
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” This is what the angel Gabriel says to Mary as he is telling her that she will be the mother of our Savior. Gabriel says these words just after he tells Mary that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, has been pregnant for six months.

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  is the next thing that happens. Mary is so wise. She knows that she and Elizabeth will be able to support each other, so she makes the journey to see Elizabeth.  In those days, women did not travel alone, and I think Joseph went with her. We know how protective and supportive he was, and I am quite certain that he would not have wanted Mary to take risks.

The text tells us that Mary goes into the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and, when the two women greet each other, John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb! Even when they are babies in the womb, John recognizes and honors his kinsman and Lord. From the beginning, John knows he is called to prepare the way of the Lord.

Elizabeth bursts forth in the Hail Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth recognizes the world-changing significance of this moment. Here are these two cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, at the center of events that will change the world, events that will let us know that nothing is impossible with God.

Both women are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mary bursts forth with her immortal song, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” And then Mary shares with us God’s vision of  shalom. God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. No longer does brute power rule the world. God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry and sends away those who have more than enough. God cares especially for the ordinary people. God stands against any form of oppression.

Here are these two courageous, prophetic women, Mary and Elizabeth, called by God to give birth to a new order, called by God to change the world.  May God give us one-tenth of the courage they have! May God give us the grace to leap at the sight of our Lord!

It is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Christmas is close, but it is not quite here yet. Here we are, between the first coming of Christ as a baby and his second coming to bring in his kingdom of love and peace.

And, of course, we are still praying for Paris, Brussels, Mali, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, New York, refugees fleeing from Syria,  Afghanistan, and other places where life is impossible, and our whole beautiful world, which is filled with loving and caring people and yet is racked by so much violence and hatred.

This week, Beth sent us a poem by Madeleine L’Engle which expresses our situation. It’s called The Risk of Birth.

This is no time for a child to be born./ With the earth betrayed by war and hate/ And a nova lighting the sky to warn/That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born./In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;/ Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—/Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?/ The inn is full on the planet earth,/ And by greed ad pride the sky is torn—Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen.

Advent 3B RCL 12/14/14

Isaiah 61:1-4. 8-11
Canticle 3
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Our opening reading this morning is from the prophet Isaiah. He is proclaiming a message of hope to the people exiled in Babylon. They are going to go home. They will rebuild the temple. This reading also describes Gods kingdom. The oppressed will hear good news. The wounds of the brokenhearted will be mended. There will be peace.

 Herbert ODriscoll reminds us that it was this lesson that Jesus read when he visited the synagogue in Nazareth. This reading describes Jesusministry of healing and forgiveness. It also describes the shalom that we are building with him. We, too, are called to share good news and to help those who are hurting.

 Our Canticle this morning, the beautiful and beloved Magnificat, the Song of Mary, is another description of the Kingdom, the shalom of God. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.The shalom of Christ holds up the values of simplicity, compassion, meekness, mercy, humility, healing, and peace to a world which needs these things so badly but in its headlong rush to power has little time to recognize the treasure of this other kingdom right in our midst.

 Our epistle this morning is short, but it says so much. Like us, the early Christians were waiting for our Lord to come and set things right. Waiting is not just a passive thing. It is active and expectant.

 Paul tells us some things we can do so that, like the maidens waiting for the bridegroom to come, we can keep oil in our lamps and we can be ready for his arrival. Paul writes, Rejoice always.No matter what is going on in our lives or around us, we are called to be people of joy because we are one with Christ. We have all met people whose faith is so deep that they can reach to those springs of joy.

 Pray without ceasing,Paul tells us. Now, there is a tall order. How can we pray constantly? I think this is more of a goal than something we can achieve. The ancient Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.is an attempt to carry out this command to pray without ceasing. We breathe in, saying Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,and we breathe out, saying ,Have mercy on me, a sinner.A shorter version of the prayer is to say Jesusas we breathe in, and mercyas we breathe out. Thus, we are breathing in the presence of our Lord, and we are letting go of our sins and accepting his mercy as we breathe out. The point is that, with each breath, we are praying. The more constantly we pray, the closer we are to Jesus, and the more faith and joy we have.

Give thanks in all circumstances.Now, there is a challenge. Give thanks when we have just lost a job? Or when someone we love has received a devastating diagnosis? Or when a family member is having huge problems? Yes, give thanks in all things. Not because we like to have brokenness in our lives and the lives of those we love, but because we know that our Lord is with us, to help us get through these times.

 Do not quench the Spirit.Gods Holy Spirit is at work in us and in the world. The Holy Spirit is at work in all times and in all things, even when we cannot see it. We need to be careful to look for the presence of the Spirit and to nurture the work of the Spirit. Whenever good news is being spread and whenever the brokenhearted are being helped, the Spirit is at work. Whenever the fruits of the Spirit are presentlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, there the Spirit is at work.

 To summarize, rejoice, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, dont quench the Spirit, look for the presence of the spirit. These are some of the things we are called to do in order to get ready for the coming of our Lord.

In our gospel, we read about that amazing figure, John the Baptist. His ministry was to call us to repentance. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we examine our lives and confess those sins of omission and commissionthings we ought to have done but did not do, and things we ought not to have done but did anywayand we ask Gods forgiveness and ask God to give us the grace to amend our lives. We clean out our spiritual clutter and make room for our Lord in our lives and hearts.

At this darkest time of the year, we know that the light is coming into the world.

Dear Lord, source of all love and grace, help us to make room for you in the inns of our hearts. Amen.