Advent Preaching Series: “O Radiant Light: Come and Enlighten Us.”
This evening is the second in a three-part Advent sermon series on the “O Antiphons,” which have been prayed in Christian monasteries since about the 6thcentury. An antiphon is a short focusing sentence that precedes and follows the singing of a psalm or canticle. The seven “O Antiphons” are sung at Evensong before and after the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, between December 17th and December 23rd, in anticipation of Christmas. Each of the “O Antiphons” uses a title for the Messiah found in the prophecy of Isaiah.[i] These antiphons begin with “O,” in the sense of when something dawns on you, and you say with exclamation, “Oh!” This evening our theme is “O Radiant Light: Come and enlighten us.”
Light figures very importantly in this season. Look around. Candlelights appear here on the Advent wreath. Outside we find strings of light thread across streets, in shop windows, on housetop gables, on fireplace mantles, and on Christmas trees. These festive lights this season of the year actually have a Christian history, but not a Christian origin. Let’s take a step backward in history before we move forward.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Today we remember the Saints of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Brothers who have gone before us. We remember them one by one reading aloud their obituaries at Compline.
They came from various backgrounds with a range of interests. Writers, poets, architects, artists, book-binders, and insect enthusiasts who served in England, Scotland, India, South Africa, Japan, Canada, and across the United States.
They were pastors, preachers, spiritual directors, teachers, retreat leaders and more. Sometimes much at once. I like the story of John Hawkes who during the Great Depression presided at a marriage, baked and iced the wedding cake, and supplied the rings.
1 Peter 4:7-11
It’s oftentimes quite fascinating to read the scriptures forensically, that is to search the scriptures like a good detective. If what we’re being presented in a scriptural passage is the answer to a question, or a solution to a problem, or the right way to live and act, what’s the presenting issue? Why does this need to be said, whatever we’re being told? So in the First Letter of Peter – our first lesson today – why are we being told what we are being told? If this is the solution, what’s been the problem? What’s the “back story”?
- “Maintain constant love for one another…” (What’s that about? There’s been a breakdown in love. Love has been patchy, inconsistent, unpredictable.)
- “Love covers a multitude of sins…” (“Sins,” plural. The people around you have been disappointing and disingenuous… repeatedly, which has elicited disdain, not love.)
- “Be hospitable to one another…” (To be hospitable is to be welcoming and generous to others… especially those whom you otherwise find irritating and off-putting. Have space in your heart and space in your home for those whom you could easily distance. Be hospitable.)
- Don’t be “complaining.” (The issue here is not about expressing a complaint, a dissatisfaction, a disagreement. No, the problem is not about a complaint. The issue here is about being a complainer. Having a predisposition that someone or something is always wrong and should be different. The issue here is about a state of being: being a complainer.)
- We’re to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (So what’s that about?) Peter writes we are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serving one another with whatever gift each of you has received…” (So each of us is gifted, but not gifted in the same ways. Our gifts are not our possessions. Our individual gifts have been temporarily entrusted to us. We are to be “stewards” of our gifts, not possessors. If we don’t learn about our temporary stewardship of our gifts earlier in life, we will learn later in life… because our gifts are fleeting. Our gifts diminish and then go away.) We’re to be temporary “stewards” of the gifts we’ve received from God. And we’re to use our God-given gifts not to lord over one another but to “serve” one another.
Read by Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
I Thessalonians 5:18
I have a memory of my 5th-grade teacher asking us to write a short paragraph describing the things in our lives for which we were thankful. I don’t recall any of the specifics of that assignment, but I do recall having a terrible case of “writer’s block.” I sat for the longest time just staring at that piece of paper. I couldn’t think of a thing for which I was thankful.
Recalling it now, it seems shocking to me that a 5th-grade boy growing up in suburban America, with plenty of food and warm clothes and a comfortable home and a loving family, couldn’t think of anything for which he was thankful. I was surrounded by gifts, but I didn’t recognize them as gifts, and so I couldn’t begin to express my gratitude for them. I suppose I naively assumed that everyone had food and clothing, a loving family and a comfortable home. I was unaware of how privileged I was to enjoy these things on a daily basis, and simply took them for granted.
Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
Today, we celebrate in the calendar of the Church, Saint Francis of Assisi who died on this day in the year 1226. Born 44 years earlier to wealthy parents, Francis grew up in the lap luxury and as a young man enjoyed a care-free lifestyle, gallivanting with the other upper-crust youth of Assisi with whom he was popular. Upon returning home from fighting in the Crusades, Francis had a conversion experience. After a prolonged illness he stumbled upon the ruins of a church in San Damiano where he heard the voice of Christ say, “Francis, repair my falling house.” He returned home and sold some of his father’s expensive silk to pay for the repairs. Angry, his father brought him into the public square where, with the citizens of Assisi witnessing the display, disowned and disinherited him. Francis likewise renounced his father’s wealth and tradition says he took off his expensive clothing and laid them at his father’s feet and walked away naked. He left Assisi and began to rebuild the church at San Damiano all by himself.While engaging in this work, he ministered to the poor of Assisi, especially the lepers who were feared by the townsfolk and were literal outcasts. Francis would sneak back into town and scavenge for scraps of bread and vegetables to provide nourishment for those he cared for.
"I really appreciate it."
How often in a single day do you speak or hear these words? We Brothers hear them day after day, from our Friends, who write to thank us for a word we've shared, or a sermon we've posted. We are so grateful for this stream of thanks, which inspires and heartens us, that we wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect on how just powerful gratitude can be in our lives.
As our friend Anders sums it up: "Gratitude seems to be shortest path to love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love one another as ourselves . . . In gratitude, we are co-creators with God, and it is good."
Gratitude is so important that the fundamental action of Christian worship is the Eucharist, an act of gratitude that literally means "great thanksgiving." "Let us give thanks to the Lord," the celebrant invites us. And we respond, "It is right to give God thanks and praise."
Gratitude is a great gift, which we are made to receive and offer back to God. And to do that, we need to practice!
Our friend, Ruth put it perfectly: "How often we see the hole instead of the donut! How blessed we are from day to day! May God grant us the ability to see those blessings!"
Living a Day Full of Gratitude
Gratitude, like any other spiritual practice, is something we do, not just something we feel. And it's something we need to practice. To practice gratitude, we don’t need a special cushion on which to sit, nor a special lamp to light, nor a special icon on which to gaze, nor special incense to smell, nor special prayer beads to finger, nor a special prayer or mantra to recite. (None of that is in any way bad or inappropriate. It may well help. It is simply not enough.)
What is enough is here and now. The Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24). Gratitude consecrates our life and makes us real, because it makes us really available to the real presence of Christ, who is at work within us and around us – now.
We hope you'll try out these four simple invitations and see how they change your day.
6 AM: Pray your gratitude
The Psalmist asks rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Ps 116:10). Start with gratitude. Br. Geoffrey suggests that the best time to practice gratitude is first thing in the morning – even Monday mornings! (God Loves to be Thanked – Br. Geoffrey Tristram) Before you ask God for anything, say thank you for one thing or many things.
Noon: Keep your ears open
People will want to thank you today. Let them. (This can be a hard one!) They need to speak their gratitude; you need to hear it. Respond to them, “You are welcome,” and say it from the bottom of your heart. And keep your ears open to hear God’s gratitude for you. There is no one else like you, and God – believe it or not – is immensely grateful for who you are and all the good that you do.
6 PM: Express your gratitude to others
People are so easily taken for granted. Whether they be people whose labor is menial or in leadership, or whose lives are closely linked with yours, people are so easily taken for granted. You'll change their day, perhaps change their life, by expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do. Stop throughout the day and thank someone. Make an unexpected phone-call to say thank you for something that happened, even long ago. A handwritten note can be equally powerful.
9 PM: Savor your life
Take time to remember and reclaim what is so amazingly good in your life. (Br. Luke Ditewig offers tips on how to do this in this short video.) Gratitude means saying “Yes” to the life you’ve been given, accepting the good gifts of life without resentment for what is not there, or no longer there. Try to complete the daily chapters of your life by remembering and appreciating what has been so very good today.
Read, Listen, and Watch More from the SSJE Brothers on Practicing Gratitude
- Does prayer elude you? In his article "Living Gratefully," Br. Curtis Almquist encourages a practice of gratitude, assuring us, "Gratitude in prayer is like oil to a frozen gear box." Get some tips here >
- “Our whole life is a life of gratitude,” said Thomas Merton. But how can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in all things? Br. David Vryhof offers some suggestions in his article Life Becomes Rich: The Gift of Gratitude >
- In this short video, Br. Robert L'Esperance makes a passionate argument for how gratitude helps us embrace the newness of every moment. Watch it here >
- "Our life should overflow with thanksgiving to Jesus. Thanksgiving should be the driving force in our daily lives." Say a simple Thank you, Jesus with the late Br. John Goldring.
I first learned the power of gratitude as a young boy at a theater performance. The playbill was so carefully scripted – except, it turned out, for one thing that happened at the very end. As the curtain dropped and the stage lights dimmed, the audience spontaneously sprang to its feet with a thunderous applause and great cheers. The actors undoubtedly needed to hear our gratitude, but what brought us to our feet was our need to express gratitude. Expressing gratitude completes the experience.