“God seeks us.”

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania


The Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (in Spanish)

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lord God, we adore you because you still come to us now.

You come to us through other people and their love and concern for us.

You come to us through men and women who need our help.

You come to us as we worship you with your people.

One of the most powerful descriptions of the Christian vocation which I have ever encountered is taken from the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict. In it, he speaks of the monastic as one who is “truly seeking God.” Of course, he recognizes that most Christians who are beginning that journey will be quite clueless as to how to even begin. And so it is, to assist them on their journey, that he establishes a “school of the Lord’s service.” He offers tools such as prayer, work, and Lectio Divina. But it is clear to anyone who has spent time in one of these schools—or monasteries, as they are more commonly called—that the essential tool is that of life in community.

This makes perfect sense to me, because—at its best—Christianity is truly incarnational. In the Nativity, we celebrate that God chose to become one of us—one with us. One who completely understands our limitations, our frustrations, our sufferings—as well as our joys and moments of transcendent connection. All the theology and theories about God will make sense to us—but only after we have experienced God’s reality in our lives! While that experience does often come to us through prayer, or worship, or even nature, it is far more common for it to come to us through the love, kindness, generosity, and affirmation of others. Anyone who has ever had the experience of feeling loved, of being loved, of receiving love will inevitably be changed, and perhaps even transformed, by that experience. I think that it is for that very reason that Sacred Scripture uses this very language—time and time again. God is love, and all who love, are of God. “That we have passed from death to life we know, because we love others.”

And so, after having encountered God’s love—in some form or fashion—we begin out quest, our journey, to find God. The most important truth is this: It is not that we have first sought God, it is that God sought and encountered us. That is how the spiritual life begins. It is for that very reason that St. Benedict begins the Holy Rule with that word, “Listen.” We are reminded, of course, of that beautiful prayer which is at the center of the Jewish Faith, “Hear Oh, Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one.” Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad.

The last week of Advent is the week in which this reality is laid out for our contemplation in the most basic and profound way. Because in it, we see reality from God’s perspective, and not from our own. In this final week we move from a contemplation of the theology of the Incarnation to the reality of a Holy Family of Mary and of Joseph, looking for a place to welcome God into their lives and into our world.

One of the greatest gifts of Latino Spirituality is that of the Posadas. It takes a theology which might feel abstract or theoretical and makes it real, present, and effective. It is a liturgical re-enactment—in the very best sense of that term—of the Infancy Narrative of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke. This past Thursday evening, at the Cathedral of the Nativity, the Hispanic/Latin Community celebrated this lovely tradition.

How to briefly summarize what the Posadas are about. Here is a good overview which I found on the web: “There are two parts to the traditional posada song. Those outside the house sing the role of Joseph asking for shelter and the family inside responds, singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally, the innkeeper agrees to let them in. The hosts open the door, and everyone goes inside.”

I love this tradition because it helps us to see the action from two very different perspectives. The Posada song is amazing because it gives all the sensible reasons which the Inn Keeper has for turning away the Holy Family. And, after all, those inside the Inn have no idea who this is asking for shelter. In the end, though, a place of welcome and safety—if ever so humble-is offered, and Mary and Joseph are able to come in out of the elements. Then, there is a party, and everyone celebrates.

These final days of Advent, then, challenge us. Is there a place in our Inn for God? Is there a place in our homes, in our church, in our community, in our nation, and—perhaps most importantly—in our hearts to welcome and receive the God who has come to be with us? While there might be a million sensible reasons to say no, will we find the courage to say yes?

If we struggle to understand just how it is that God comes to us in this holy season, we need only to listen to the revolutionary words of our Blessed Mother in the Magnificat to truly understand who it is that God has visited—and who we are invited to welcome too.

  • God comes to lowly servants-to women, to persons who are not valued or prioritized or even acknowledged. In welcoming them, we welcome God
  • God comes to those who respect and love and acknowledge God. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the humble, the meek, the mild. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the lowly, the weak, the powerless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the hungry, the poor, the destitute, the homeless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to families and communities in crisis, to those who long for equality, and justice, dignity and respect. In welcoming them, we welcome God.

Saint Benedict reminds us that it is often in the unexpected visitor who shows up at our door that we discover and welcome the presence of Christ. The challenge, then, is to recognize that is so often in the unwelcome interruption—in that moment in which we are convinced that we are doing God’s work, that we are doing “real ministry”—that we are given an opportunity to truly love, to truly serve, and to truly welcome God. Isn’t that what this holy season is all about? The God who created all that is takes us by surprise—knocking at our door: dirty, homeless, hungry, poor, weak, vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, and excluded. That is what the Incarnation, the Nativity, is all about.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may we throw open the doors to welcome you, to love you, and to celebrate your presence with us this Advent, this Christmas.


Is that you, Saint Joseph?

And the Virgin, too?

I would have opened sooner

if I’d recognized you.


Enter, holy pilgrims,

Welcome to my humble home.

Though it’s little I can offer,

all I have, please call your own.


Mary, Joseph, and our Savior,

what a joy to have you here!

We are honored to receive you,

May you stay through all the year!”

Want to hear a sung version of the Posada Song?

“Saint Nicholas, help us prepare for Christmas.”

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

December 5, 2021

“Grant, Almighty God, that your church may be so inspired by the example of your servant Nicholas of Myra, that it may never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saint Nicholas providing dowrires for theree poor girls by Bicci di Lorenzo.

Every liturgical season has its own focus and theme. Advent is a season which focuses on the two comings of the Christ. The first part—until December 16th, in theory is future-oriented. In it, we begin the new liturgical year by asking ourselves important questions, “What do we want Jesus to find when he returns in glory to bring to fulfillment the fullness of God’s Beloved Community?” And, on a personal level, what do I need to do to prepare and to be ready? Will Jesus find me prepared when he returns?”

The second part of this season—the octave, or eight days, from December 16th-24th are a time in which we more specifically focus on our preparation to commemorate, to celebrate, and to recall that first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—his incarnation in flesh as one with us at the manger in Bethlehem.

Having said that, though, this first part of Advent also has a time of transition. The Second Sunday of Advent ceases to present to us images of the apocalypse, of the eschaton, of the Parousia — of the “final things,” and invites us to enter into a reflection of how it was that God prepared the world for what we as Christians believe to be the culmination of “salvation history.” It is important to choose our words wisely here and to proceed cautiously. The Nativity of our Lord is not a rejection of any of the other covenants which preceded it. Nor is it a replacement. Each of those covenants remain in place, and in effect. However, for those who are called to enter into each succeeding relationship with God, we find in them a greater level of inclusion, and of welcome for the whole human family.

In Second Temple Judaism, there was an ever greater appreciation for the words and example of the Prophets—and especially for the words of the Prophet Isaiah. The primary mission of the prophet, we are reminded was to “comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” Their words were often hard to hear—because they presented God’s view of things—and reminded humans that in God’s plan there was a place for everyone at the table. In particular, the prophets pointed out that those who were comfortable had a moral responsibility to care for, and to protect, the oppressed and marginalized—widows, orphans, and migrants. All too often prophets spoke words of truth to those in power and challenged them to examine their values, priorities, and actions. We have only to remember the words of Nathan to David or of Elijah to Ahab and Jezebel—or of John to Herod!

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke today introduces us to the last prophet, the greatest prophet—in the words of our Lord—John, the Baptizer. John’s words, inspired by the words of Isaiah, inform us that God plans something different, something surprising, something dramatic. What humans have not been able to do, or willing to do, God will do. God will bring about a new reality—a reality in which every person will witness God’s healing, transforming, and inclusive love. This new creation—flowing out of God’s unfolding covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abrahm and Sarah, Moses and the People of Israel, and with the family of David—will now include justice and equality for all. In words which remind us of the hymns of praise of Hannah, Zechariah, and of Mary, we hear that crooked paths will be made straight, mountains and valleys will both be leveled, rough ways will be smoothed out, and humans who have been oblivious to the presence of God in others will have their eyes opened to see, to value, to respect and to love, the presence of God in every single person whom they encounter—without exception! In short, God calls us all to conversion, to growth, to change, and to become something new.

Over the centuries, Christians came to realize that theoretical words about loving and serving God are not nearly as powerful, effective, or helpful to us as are living examples. In other words, we need something which not only touches our mind, we need something which touches our heart. For that reason, we have so often turned to the example of those who lived out their belief in Christ as an image, or—to use the Greek word, an “icon”—of how to put that faith into practice. These holy women and men of profound holiness, and that is what the word “saint” means, allow us to see what happens when we choose to say yes to God. It is fascinating to me that each year, quite early in Advent, we encounter the feast of one of our most popular Saints, that of the Holy Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

I do not feel defensive, and thus have no desire to defend Saint Nicholas against the better know cultural reflection of him, Santa Claus. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we Christians ought to be pleased that the holy bishop, through a complicated process, became an image or icon across so many cultural barriers—who inspires, motivates, and encourages some of the best actions of love and generosity in people of profound faith, and of those who claim no commitment to any community of faith at all. If presented properly—and with love and respect, the story of Saint Nicholas could well be a very powerful tool for evangelization. We should not be hesitant to explain that behind the legend there is an actual person who modeled an important charism of service and generosity. And he did so because of his faith in the child born in the manger at Bethlehem.

Today, in our Advent journey, I think it is entirely appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on one story—out of the many possible ones—to explore the connection between faith and action in the life of Saint Nicholas. This is what Wikipedia has to say about him: “In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.”

It is this story of the anonymous gift of Nicholas which lies at the heart of our custom of giving presents, and of wrapping them up. And, it is important to remember that these first gifts were not given to beloved family members or even to peers. They were given to unexpecting recipients who were poor, marginalized, weak, and vulnerable. The three girls remind of us of the many times in which the Gospels show us us that Jesus cared for the poor, the exploited, the abused, and the oppressed! They teach us that Nicholas looked for ways to do the same thing in his own time and place.

While one might hesitate to use the word “miracle” because there is a rational, normal, explanation, it would be hard to miss the point that for these girls, for their family, and for those who loved them, these gifts were nothing short of miraculous. Their lives were changed. They experienced deliverance, hope, and promise at a time when they had known only fear, despair, and resignation. If that is not the hope promised by the Season of Advent, then I do not know what is! It is no accident that the three gifts remind us of the gifts of the magi—which we commemorate each year on the Feast of the Epiphany. It is that moment in which the Light of Christ is revealed to the nations. Holy Nicholas teaches us to look for Christ’s presence in the most unexpected of places, and reminds us that in serving and caring for those in need we minister to Christ himself. Our gifts to the hungry, the poor, and the marginalized—to those who may never be able to give anything in return—are gifts given to Christ!

In this first part of Advent, we are not yet ready to celebrate Christmas. There is something which we must do first. Before commemorating God’s self-giving to us, we must look at the places of darkness—in our own hearts, in our families, in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Where is the healing light of Christ needed? It is only in acknowledging our need for that warmth, hope, and light that we prepare places to welcome it. May this Advent prepare us to have loving, and generous hearts—and not only for those who are dear to us—so that when the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ comes, we, with holy Nicholas, and with John the Baptizer may celebrate God with us. On that day, or the night before, may all in need find love, welcome, and generous care.

Every day of the year, and not only in Advent and at Christmas, may we live out the collect for the holy Bishop of Myra: “may we never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief.” Amen.