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First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 64: 1-9; Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 24-37

Happy New Year.  Today begins the Church year for it is the first Sunday of Advent.  The Gospel reading from St. Mark sounds the theme for our living into this new year.               

Beware.  Keep alert. Keep awake.

For our ongoing lives of faith discernment is the key.  Like the sign at the railroad crossings, we are to “Stop”; we are to “Look”; and we are to “Listen” as we proceed.

As some of you may know, for twenty years I coached soccer, beginning when Ashley and John were four.  As they grew, I continued to develop as a coach.  When A.Y.S.O. decided that girls needed to have their own teams, I went with Ashley.  There were plenty of Dads willing to coach sons, but in the 1980s not many were willing to coach the girls.  When coaching I joined the National Soccer Coaching Association of America and attended the conventions when they were nearby, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia.  At one convention I heard the North Carolina women’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance speak.  He said something that I took to heart, and I have tried to live by it on the soccer field, and in life.  Coach Dorrance said,                                                                                                                          

Catch them doing good; Catch them doing good.

Rather than critiquing poor play, work on reenforcing the good play.  Cheer players on.  Encourage the good.

That’s the kind of discernment that works on the pitch, the soccer field.  That is the kind of discernment that works in any arena of life.  That is the kind of discernment that works on our journey of faith. 

St. Paul in his letter to the small church in Corinth was catching them doing good. First, look for “the grace of God that has been given you”.  God’s grace is easy to see once we note what is happening around the planet – war in Israel/Palestine, war in Ukraine, drought in Africa just to name a few.  We are so blessed. Second, “in every way you have been enriched by [God]”.  We, gathered here today, have clothes on our backs, heat in our homes, food on our tables, plus we have family and friends.  We are rich, indeed.  Third, “you [all] are not lacking in any spiritual gifts”.  Among us we experience love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control.  All these gifts are present here in this room, while recognizing that some have stronger suits in some areas than others. Here, in this room among us, all the spiritual gifts are present.  St. Paul’s fourth point in today’s reading is the greatest gift of all, “God is faithful”.  As he would later write in Romans, chapter 8,                                    

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship,                                               or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,                              or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors                                    through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither                                            death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor                                         things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything                                   else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of                                               God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

This is what we are to be focused on when discerning how to walk faithfully in our own times. 

Beware. Keep Alert. Keep awake.  Look for God’s grace.  Look for God’s enrichment.  Look for God’s spiritual gifts.  Look for God’s enduring faithful love. 

When we focus on the goodness we have received, we live into what the author of Psalm 80 repeatedly declared,                                                                                                          in “the light of [God’s] countenance…[there] we shall be saved”.

So today we lift our voices in thanksgiving for the New Year, a new year of rejoicing in God’s grace, in God’s enrichment, in God’s spiritual gifts, and in God’s faithfulness. 

            “It is meet and right so to do.”

            “It is right to give [God] thanks and praise.”

Thanks be to God.

Amen

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