The Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus asks us: What are you seeking?
In lyrics which have become classic in rock & roll music, the Irish rock band, U2, gives expression to a human longing and dissatisfaction that is universal. Their front man Bono sings, “I have climbed the highest mountain, I have run through the fields, I have scaled these city walls, I have spoke with the tongues of angels, I have held the hand of a devil.” And throughout this song, there is the most memorable refrain: “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Friends, is there any echo of that sentiment in your heart and life? “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Who is it that can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts? What is it that can quiet our inner turmoil or fill the void within? St. Augustine expresses a similar longing when he prays, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
In our Gospel story this morning from John chapter 1, we meet Andrew (who, by the way, we are celebrating next Sunday in a very special service).
Listen to what Andrew tells us, with great excitement: “We have found the Messiah (which means Christ).” And Philip relates with equal joy, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.” In this Jesus, these first century Judeans found what they had always and everywhere been looking for – the long-awaited King of Israel and ruler of the nations, the one foretold in our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jesus is the true and perfect king who will come to set this world right – and Lord knows this is a world that desperately needs to be set right. And the same is true for our hearts, our lives, our relationships – they must be set right. That’s what Jeremiah means by the word righteousness – to set things right in the world and in us.
And that is what happens when we truly encounter the Lord Jesus and open ourselves to Him. We find what we have been looking for. So often we look in the wrong places and the results of that can be harmful. But in hindsight we can see that in God’s providence, even our wayward detours have led us to Him.
And once you’ve found what you’ve always been looking for in Christ, we are ‘stirred up’ to lead others to Him also. There is a kind of Evangelism 101 in this Gospel reading today, and we should not neglect its basic lessons. How can you and I be evangelists? How can we share the joy of what we have found in Christ? How can we help others find what they’re looking for?
First of all, point others to Jesus, like John the Baptist did. John didn’t ask people to follow him, but pointed them to Jesus, so that they might follow Christ.
Secondly, look at Andrew and Philip. They simply relate what they have found. I remember a great and simple testimony from someone who always went to early morning communion. She said, “You just feel so clean and fresh after Communion.” So friends just like that, relate to others, in your own words, what you yourself have found in the Lord Jesus and why you come to church.
Thirdly, to whom should we speak? Who should we evangelize? Andrew goes to his brother, and to Philip, his friend and neighbour. So in order to point others to Jesus, tell your family and friends, in your own words, what you have found in Him. You, too, might bring someone to Jesus. That means sharing in a very personal way, not confronting, but in an open and inviting way, what your faith in Christ means to you.
This upcoming season of Advent and Christmas is a perfect time to do this and to invite others to come and see. We have a lot of special services and events coming up – something for everyone.
So friends, I encourage you to tell others to come and see here at St. James this season. And more generally, in your life, bear witness to Jesus in your own words and in your own way. Both our readings this morning are full of such witnesses to Jesus. John the Baptist knows Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - and that is the purpose of this service of Holy Communion: that we might behold the Lamb of God. The disciples know Him as Rabbi, Master or Teacher – the One who shows us the Way and instructs us on how to live an abundant life. Andrew knows Him as the Messiah or Christ. Philip recognizes Him as the long-awaited One foretold by Jeremiah. All of these figures speak to us about Jesus here this morning.
But Our Lord Himself speaks just three time – and He speaks to all of us. He speaks these words: What do you seek? Come and see. Follow me.
So do you see the logical progression in these three phrases? Jesus says first - “What are you looking for?” Well, we may not exactly know, but there is this yearning deep inside. Second, “Come and see.” And then as we stay with Him, we find what we’ve been seeking, and we are asked to commit, with Jesus’ third saying, “Follow me.”
Friends, as plainly as our Lord spoke those words to Andrew and Philip, He speaks them to you and me and to our hearts today. And Jesus invites you to come and see and to follow Him and to find what you long for here at St. James during this Advent season and this upcoming church year.
Next Sunday is actually our New Year’s Day in the church calendar; and I want to say something just briefly about the church calendar year and why we observe it. Whether you're new to Anglicanism or have been an Anglican for many years, we need to be reminded of why we observe the church calendar. We do not keep the rhythms of the church year out of mere traditionalism – because it’s what Anglicans have always done and it’s good because it’s old fashioned. That’s not why do it. Rather, we mark time in a Christian way to honour Jesus, who is the Lord of the Ages, the Ancient of Days, whose Advent has begun a new age in human history – and a new stage in our lives and our common life as a church.
So here’s some suggested New Year’s resolutions for you: First, Jesus asks you to be honest, at least with yourself, but with Him as well. What do you seek? Open and unburden your heart to Him in prayer, tell him honestly and perhaps awkwardly, what you’re looking for. Next, He invites you and me to come and see. We come to church to see, to behold, to embrace the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; to learn from our Rabbi and Teacher who teaches us how to live; to be assured of our salvation in our Messiah, Redeemer and Lord; to grow up in the Righteous Branch into whom we are grafted to bring forth the fruit of good works. And finally Jesus commissions us: Follow me.
U2 has another part to that song, after they admit they still haven’t found what they’re looking for. Here’s what they sing – and they sing clearly and unmistakably and directly to Jesus Himself: "I believe in the kingdom come Then all the colours will bleed into one Bleed into one Well, yes, I’m still running You broke the bonds And you loosed the chains Carried the cross And my shame - all my shame You know I believe it!"
In that same spirit of expressing our belief in song, we’re going to do something different this morning (right now actually) and that is to confess our faith musically. This is essentially the Apostles’ Creed set to music. In the words of our collect, or prayer of the day, I hope this stirs us up to a renewed and reinvigorated seeking, seeing, and following for this new Christian year.
[Based on a sermon by the Rt. Rev. Michael Hawkins, Bishop of Saskatchewan. See attachment below]
Artwork: Agnus Dei, A.D. 521-547. Mosaic. Basilica of San Vitale (Ravenna, Italy).