Monday, November 29, 2010

Sermon on South Africa, 1 Advent

1 ADVENT, Year A November 27,28,2010

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matt. 21:36-44

Deacon Emily C. Holman     Christ Church, Toms River


"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."


Wake up!  Have you seen Jesus lately?  One of the questions people who have attended a Cursillo weekend ask each other when they have group reunions is "What was your moment closest to Christ?"


Have you seen Jesus lately?  Each day on my recent pilgrimage to South Africa with other members of our diocese of New Jersey began with morning prayers from Archbishop Tutu's An African Prayer Book.  On our last bus trip to the airport in Johannesburg Bishop Councell asked, "What was your moment closest to Christ?"


There were several on this trip.  On our second day in Cape Town, we visited Robben Island.  A half hour ride in a catamaran over 18 miles of choppy sea took us to this island, which had been used as a place of banishment or imprisonment since the 1600"s. Nelson Mandela's cell was one of 30 along three walls of a quadrangle.  In it were the two thin felt and sisal mats on which he slept on the concrete floor.  There was a bucket toilet with a shallow bowl containing water for washing and shaving.  There was a small cupboard and a shelf or stool.  In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela says,

"I was assigned a cell at the head of the corridor.  It overlooked the courtyard and has a small eye-level window.  I could walk the length of my cell in three paces.  When I lay down, I could feel the wall with my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side.  The width was about six feet, and the walls were at least two feet thick… I was forty six years old, a political prisoner with a life sentence, and that small cramped space was to be my home for I knew not how long."


Prison life consisted of long days of hard labor, chopping rock in the cell block courtyard, or extracting lime from a lime quarry, where the light reflected off the blindingly white stone eventually caused severe eye problems for some; they also found time to work on their legal cases, negotiate for better conditions -- it took three years for them to be issued long pants instead of shorts --, and study for college or university degrees.  Small infractions would result in being sent to a solitary cell for one to three or four days...


Seeing Mandela's cell, where he spent 18 years, rereading his book, revealed to me the immense dignity of this man.  Mandela's quiet strength and perseverance, his ability to lead his people even when locked away for a total of 27 years, and his hope of eventual release, remind me of the dignity, the strength, the love of Jesus Christ.


The Apartheid Museum, which you enter after being randomly classified black or white, reinforced the hard truth of the cruelty with which blacks were treated during the Apartheid era, the length and perseverance of the struggle against and victory over it.  The acres of corrugated iron huts that still serve as home for thousands of Africans revealed the suffering and inequality that continues.  I wrote a poem that was posted on the trip blog on the diocesan website:

Why? by Dcn Emily Holman

Why are we so cruel to each other?

From earliest Biblical times we have

    pointed our fingers at each other;

We have called each other names,

    separated, segregated, maimed, and



Why are we so afraid of each other?

We all seek safe homes, adequate food,

    education for our children, health,


Why are we so insecure in ourselves

    that we deny others?


It hurts, O Lord, it hurts. It hurts to

    see others' hurt; it hurts to recognize

    our own human capacity to inflict hurt.


When will it end, Lord? When will our

    pointing finger become a welcoming hand?


Heal us, Lord. Bring us together in love

    and respect.

    Bring us together in the broken body

    of your Son, and make us one.


Christ was and is present in this suffering and in the healing that has enabled South Africa to become a model of government for other African nations.  Christ as creator is present in the beauty of this country of South Africa.  Looking out over the soft rounded hills, lakes, and valleys of the ancient volcanic crater of Pilanesburg National Park, I felt as if I were looking in on the dawn of creation.  On our two game drives we saw elephants, giraffes, rhinoceri, kudus, impalas, and finally lions and even a hippopotamus.  In the Cape Town area we ascended Table Mountain by cable car, visited Cape Point, which is said to be where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, and saw seals, penguins, and even a whale.  It was awesome...


Christ was present in these places, in our safe travel, and is at home, in our wonderful service last weekend of confirmation and reception with Bishop Councell, and elsewhere.


What was your last moment closest to Christ?  Have you seen Jesus lately?


We go about our lives, as Jesus says people did in the days of Noah, "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage."  We go to work, to school, to church; we shop, we play; we talk on the phone, we use the computer.  We go about our lives in an  automatic daze.  That's especially true now when it's dark when we rise and when we come home...


But now it's time to wake up.  Paul tells the Romans that "now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near."


Jesus tells us to get ready:  "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected time; but about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."


How can we get ready?  What do we need to do to prepare for Jesus' coming?  Wake up; open your eyes; come out of your stupor of routine activity.  Start your day with prayer; end your day with prayer; live your day in prayer.  Come to the hymn sing this week, or the Advent program next Saturday.  Put your spiritual house in order.


Slow down; this season of preparing for our Christmas celebrations we tend to have a million things to do, and rush around trying to accomplish everything.  But in her Advent message to the Episcopal Church our Presiding Bishop Katherine Schoori tells us to slow down.  She tells us to pay attention to Advent, to savor the season, to savor the waiting.

Bishop Schoori suggests reading the psalms.  Read them in a slower rhythm, as poetry is meant to be read.  Come to the hymn sing this week and listen to the poetry of your favorite hymns; come to the Advent program next Saturday to learn about various Advent traditions. 



Start looking for Jesus.  Is Jesus sitting next to you?  Is Jesus in the check-out line?  Is Jesus sitting at the breakfast or dinner table with you and your family?  Is Jesus in the car with you?


Be alert; open your eyes to the sights of the kingdom.  As our collect for today advises, let us cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.


Wake up!  Look for Christ!


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