Sermon by Father Daniel Gunn
Advent 3 (16 December) 2012
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, WB
May we seek Truth together in humility. Amen.
Today we arrive at the third Sunday in Advent. This is supposed to be a day of rejoicing with Mary. It is supposed to be a brief respite as we anticipate the advent of our Lord. Thus we hear the voice of the prophet Zephaniah telling Zion to “Sing aloud” and “shout . . . rejoice and exult with all [our] heart.” And today’s Epistle bears much the same message to Paul’s pet congregation: “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice” he says. Yet we should take note how these lessons of joy are juxtaposed with the Gospel, which probably better tells where we are today. In that Gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist seemingly condemning us, and so we ask as those who came to hear John, “What should we do?” In fact, I would wager that we are filled with many questions today in light of the events of this past Friday. I am speaking, of course, of the cold murder of 27 people, mostly children, in Connecticut. This horror is in many ways no worse than the other mass shootings we have witnessed in recent years, but to many it feels worse. Before asking “what should we do,” we are compelled to first ask, “Why?” If God is good, then how and why would God allow such evil to exist as we witnessed this past Friday?
Questions of this nature belong to a branch of theology called Theodicy which examines why a good God allows evil to exist. Many better minds than ours have grappled with this, and came to unsatisfactory conclusions. Some have said that God is not all benevolent; others that he is not all powerful, still others have tried to explain how all goodness could coexist with evil by saying that because God is good evil must exist to prove his goodness. While still others have speculated that God limits God’s self thus allowing evil to exist. I have read and studied them all, and find that every answer falls short. Ultimately there are no satisfying answers and we are left with the paradox that two things can be true at the same time: God is good and evil exists. All other attempts to explain become straw, and so we fall upon our faces before that good God and ask for mercy, forgiveness, and peace. We humbly pray that God would deliver us from evil.
Forgive me my soapbox moment: If I had my way today I would call for a moratorium on gun sales, but having grown up around guns I know this alone is not the answer. Guns are but one symptom of a greater problem. What I do pray for is that we will get beyond our romance with weapons and in every way possible work to end our culture of violence. The fundamental message of John was for the people to change their ways. In a word: repent. What should we do? Repent. It is in the act of repentance that we change our culture. It is in the act of humbling ourselves that we change our world. It is in the act of growing to love our neighbor as we love ourselves that change our culture. And may we teach that love and humility to each other as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Many of us will object, “I have done nothing wrong. I didn’t kill 20 children. Why should I repent?” And we hear the voice of John crying out to us in the crowd: Bear good fruit. Inasmuch as we participate in our culture in any way and in any part, we are called to repent. The redemption of the world depends on the action of one person, Jesus the Christ, that is the message of Christianity. It still depends on the actions of individuals—each of us. Ending violence in our culture begins with you, and it begins with me.
Last week I was watching that hard-hitting news program called The Colbert Report as the anchor interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, the organizer of “Nuns on a Bus.” Sister Simone explained the mission of the Church and of every Christian. She said we are called to “Touch the pain of the World.” Even before the events of this past Friday I was moved by her words.
So where is our hope today? Our hope lies in the love of a God willing to live among us as one of us. Our hope is in the fact that our God was willing to “touch the pain of the world.” Our hope is in the fact that evil will never conquer good, darkness will never conquer light, and violence will lose to peace. When we ask like those in today’s Gospel whose hearts were piqued: “What should we do?” we have the answer already.
In these thoughts may we find truth. Amen.