Father Benjamin von Bredow
A house of prayer.
A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2022 at Holy Communion
“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
In the four months that I have been the rector of this parish, I believe that we read the first two chapters of the story of our ministry together. The first chapter extended from my arrival in July until I went on vacation in August. It was about the excitement of meeting one another for the first time, about getting a sense of one another’s personalities, gifts, and interests.
Our second chapter started in September. It was about establishing a working relationship, and settling into a rhythm for our life together. I arrived ready to hit the ground running, but in the Autumn Parish Council and others helped me to ease into a more sustainable pace, and to focus on learning to communicate with you about what we need, want, and value in our life together. We are still learning this.
I find myself thinking about changing chapters of this ministry because we are starting a new chapter this morning. Now that I have been ordained a priest, the sacraments of Christ’s body and blood will be our spiritual food every week. Now that you have a priest, as Fr Ingalls preached on Friday evening, I pray that you will seek from me all the graces entrusted to the priests of Christ. I also pray that God will make me able offer them with a humble and joyful heart.
But today is also a new chapter because it is the start of a new Christian year, the first that we will experience together from start to finish.
I hope that this year we are able to discover what following the Christian calendar is supposed to do to us. We are right to value the beauty of our traditions, but we should especially value them because they are *for* something. We carry forward our annual traditions because they change us.
Knowing even that—that God uses the Christian year to change us—is instructive. It means that we need a change. Though we would all acknowledge that we are imperfect, we may not understand fully what that means. In the older sense of the word, something is “perfect” when it is “complete.“ We are imperfect, not because we have foibles and faults, but because God’s work in our lives is not finished yet. There are still new places that God wants to take us.
The Christian year starts again because there are things that we can learn again, and learn more deeply. God still uses the scriptures, even ones we have heard many times before, to draw us closer to himself.
That is what Advent Sunday, and all of Advent, is about: God drawing close to us. In our Gospel, we have a scene which we normally associate with Palm Sunday: Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem on a donkey. We, the people of God, are Jerusalem. God comes and lives with us.
This is the first thing that Advent teaches us to learn again. The whole Christian life is about God coming to live in and with us. It’s not about anything else. It’s about receiving Jesus into our hearts, so that we live in him, and he in us.
And Jesus’ first stop in Jerusalem is in the temple. He drives out the merchants who are buying and selling there, and says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” We have made merchandise of our hearts. This space, in here [gestures into the heart] was created to be a place for meeting with God, but instead we have leased it out to every kind of business. We need Jesus to clear all of that nonsense out.
So that’s the second thing Advent Sunday would have us learn again: if we want God to live in us, we need to clear some space for him.
The question is whether we we’re willing to do that.
I hope that we are. And that, more than my ordination, is why I think that this Advent can be the beginning of a new chapter not only in my ministry with you, but in the life of this Christian community. We are invited to change again. We are invited to have our hearts cleared out again. We are invited to see how badly we need our hearts to be cleared out again. We are invited to the joy of Jesus coming to live with us.