The Abundance of God
The Abundance of God
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on December 2, 2018
Annual Meeting Sunday
The seasons of our common life change each year at this time. Having made the turn from the Thanksgiving holiday, our attention focuses on what some call the “most wonderful time of the year.” It’s a season of anticipation, of wonder, of festivities, of preparation, and most importantly of abundance. There is an abundance of sugar-laden goodies to both bake and consume, there is an abundance of presents to purchase, wrap, and maybe even to ship to far-flung friends and family. There does not seem to be an abundance of time, however, to accomplish all those tasks or to see all those people we want to see, and if we aren’t careful, we risk over-estimating the abundance of dollars we have to make it all happen. Through all the busyness and craziness of this pre-Christmas season, God, through the Church, offers us to a different way. We call it Advent. It offers us a different viewpoint of the anticipation, wonder, festivities, preparation, and indeed the abundance of this season of the Church year. It is a glorious season, possibly my favorite of the church year, and not just because these are my favorite set of vestments at Christ Church.
We spend this season no only in preparation of the yearly remembrance of the Word made Flesh and dwelling among us, but also the anticipation of Jesus’ return. We often think of the doctrine of the return of Christ, of Jesus coming back into the world, as something other than Episcopal, but it is right there in our catechism on page 862 in the Book of Common Prayer. As one colleague pointed out this week, Advent is about 25% getting ready for Christmas and about 75% getting ready for the Second Coming.
But no matter how you slice it, Advent is about the nearness, or the pending nearness, of the Almighty. It’s about how much God has already done for us and how much more God will continue to do for us. It’s about slowing down to see the magnitude of God’s love for you (yes! YOU!) even as the world says “You need something else to complete you.” It’s about being in the moment with God wherever that is when our calendars are screaming: “Be there! Do that! Don’t forget them!” It’s about pausing to recognize the face of God in every single person whether we see them in person or on TV or hear them on the radio or a podcast. Advent is about tuning out the noise of a society that wants to tell you exactly who is right and who is wrong, who to tolerate, who to admire, and who to disdain.
And Advent is about seeing the abundance of a loving God who desires so much to be near to us. This Advent season comes less than three months after Hurricane Florence laid a wallop on communities from New Bern to Conway, South Carolina, and many points in between. In the midst of that disaster, the Longitude of God’s loving reach continues to be seen and experienced in ways that we would have to work hard to miss. In the waning hours of the Hurricane, Cortney suggested we put a spot in the online giving portal of our website for hurricane relief. Patti was able to do that from New Jersey, and we began soliciting for needed funds to help those in New Bern and the surrounding area. In addition to the online giving portal, checks kept flowing in and are still coming into us each week. We have taken in over $70,000 in the past three months. We know that in the grand scheme of the 3-5 years they say it takes to recover from a Hurricane, $70,000 is not a lot of money. But it is far more than we were expecting. We were able to designate $1,000 to each household at Christ Church that was displaced by the hurricane, over 30 households in all. We are in conversation with at least one long-term aide group that could use a chunk of the remaining funds to establish their base in New Bern. If that’s the case, that sum of money will allow hundreds of people help the thousands in our area who still need assistance.
There are so many places where we see a need, and we only think scarcity. “How can we do that?” “There’s not enough people/money/time/energy.” But this season reminds us that in God’s economy, there is only abundance. It was out of an abundance of love that God created humanity and that same abundance of love that led God to take on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. It’s that same abundance of love flowing from God that leads so many people here to give of their time, talent and treasure to be the hands, feet, and voice of God in a world that so desperately needs to hear it. Out of the abundance of God comes all that we need to do carry on the teachings and ministry of Jesus in the 21st century.
Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need” tells of a man named Pahom who was a poor tenant farmer in a rural part of Russia. His crops always produced, his livestock was always healthy, but he was always itching for more. The story builds and builds as he searches for more and more land, a better and better deal. He hears of the Bashkirs, Turks near the Ural Mountains, who are giving away land for nearly nothing. You simply have to mark off all your land and return to the same spot before the sun sets or you lose both the land and the money. The story ends with Pahom arriving back at his starting point, only to die as he got there. His servant buries him at that spot. Tolstoy ends the story with “Six feet from his head to his feet was all he needed.”
And in the end, Jesus is all we need. It’s not the cars or the clothes or the neighborhood or the prestige that give us what we need. It’s Jesus who is the source and the example of the anticipation and wonder we experience in this world. And it is Jesus whom our preparation and our festivities honor. Before we start feeling too warm and fuzzy and self-confident in ourselves, remember that it is Jesus as found in the bread and wine that sustains us. It is Jesus as he is found in the migrant seeking a better life in our country that challenges us and our world view. It is Jesus’ life and teachings as we find them in the pages of the Gospels that will inspire us in seasons of waiting and in seasons of joy.
Bask in the anticipation and the preparation, the festivities and the wonder this Advent season. But most of all, I challenge you to bask in the abundance of God’s love and share the good new of Jesus.