Sermons 2008
A refining fire, Advent 2B, 7 Dec 2008, Mark 1:1-8

Home | Light and Love, Christmas 1B , 28 December 2008, John 1:1-18 | The light and the darkness, Christmas Day, 25 December 2008, John 1:1-14 | What would you see? Christmas Eve, 24 December 2008, Luke 2:1-20 | What did you say? Advent 3B, 14 December 2008, John 1:6-8. 19-28 | A refining fire, Advent 2B, 7 Dec 2008, Mark 1:1-8 | Alert, alert! Advent 1B, 30 November 2008, Mark 13:24-37 | Where will we stand: sheep or goats? Proper 29A 2008, 23 November 2008, Matthew 25: 31-46 | The talents to...? Proper 28A, 16 November 2008, Matthew 25:14-30 | Choose this day, Proper 27A, 9 November 2008, Joshua 24:14-25; Matthew 25:1-13 | All Saints A, 2 November 2008, Matthew 5:1-12; 23:1-12 | Holy or not? Proper 25A, 26 October 2008, Matthew 22:34-46 | Things: God's or Caesar's? Proper 24A, 19 October 2008, Matthew 22:15-22 | The wedding and the allegory, Proper 23A, 12 October 2008, Matthew 22:1-14 | The vineyard and the rock, Proper 22A. 5 October 2008, Matthew 21:33-46 | Deference and disobedience, Proper 21A, 28 September 2008, Exodus 17:1-7; Matthew 21:23-32 | Be content, Proper 20A , 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Only one true church? Proper 18A, 7 September 1008, Matthew 18:15-20 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 22:1-16 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Holy Name and Holy Ground, Proper 17A, Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28 | What's in a name? Proper 16A, 24 August 2008, Matthew 16:13-20 | Dogs? Proper 15A, 17 August 2008, Matthew 15:10-28 | Time to get out of the boat, Proper 14A, 10 August 2008, Matthew 14:22-33 | Who, me? Proper 13A, 3 August 2008, Matthew 14:13-21 | LIKE what? Proper 12A, 27 July 2008, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 | Good seed, bad seed, Proper 11A , 20 July 2008, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 | Watch the Farmer, Proper 10A, 13 July 2009, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 | Easy Yoke? Proper 9A 2008, 6 July 2008, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 | Baptism of David William and Anne Tyler, Proper 8A, 29 June 2008 | The Twelve or the Dirty Dozen? Proper 6A, 15 June 2008, Matthew 9:35-10:15 | Jesus likes sinners?, Proper 5A, 8 June 2008, Matthew 9:9-13 | Lawlessness or not? Pentecost 3A, Proper 4A, 1 June 2008, Matthew 7:21-29 | What do you mean, if? Easter 6A, 27 April 2008, John 14:15-21 | Comforting words and St Thomas, Easter 5A, 20 April 2008, John 14:1-14 | Ordinary good shepherds, Easter 4A 2008, 13 April 2008, John 10:1-10 | Light for clarity, Easter 3A, 6 April 2008, Luke 24:13-35 | "Blessed are those who....", Easter 2A, 30 March 2008, John 20:19-31 | Hallelujah! He's alive! Easter Sunday A, 23 March 2008, John 20:1-18 | He had it all, Palm Sunday A, 16 March 2008, Matthew 26:14-27:54 | Lazarus: Waiting for Jesus, Lent 5A, 9 March 2008, John 11:1-45 | Miracles Physical and Spiritual, Lent 4A, 2 March 2008, John 9:1-41 | Living Water, Lent 3A, 24 February 2008, John 4:5-42 | God's unselfish love, Lent 2A, 17 February 2008, John 3:1-17 | Temptation, Lent 1A, 10 February 2008 | Ash Wednesday, 6 February 2008, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | They heard the Lord call, Epiphany 3A, 20 Jan 2008, Matthew 4:12-23 | Come and See! Epiphany 2A, 20 January 2008, John 1: 29-42 | Remember Your Baptism? Epiphany 1A, 13 January 2008, Matthew 3:13-17 | We Three Kings, The Epiphany, 6 January 2008, Matthew 2:1-12

Advent 2B 2008                                                       Mark 1:1-8


Even before Thanksgiving Christmas trees were on sale out in front of Food Lion in both Kilmarnock and Heathsville.  From New York City’s Rockefeller Center to Kilmarnock , the lights and trees are already in  position, brightening a dark early winter's night.  Around the United States there are department store Santas and an abundance of toys made in China.  There are gaily decorated houses, with Christmas lights shining warm and bright, and at night the children are all snuggled in bed, with dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

But there is already a dark side to this Advent.  Black Friday was well named this year indeed.  To our everlasting shame a mob of 2,000 shattered the locked glass doors at a WalMart only five minutes before it would have opened anyway.  The mob trampled to death the employee standing there to open the doors at the appointed time, injured a pregnant woman and three other people, and ran over the employees trying to help him.  The editorial writer Leonard Pitts pointed out the all too obvious irony:  “Black Friday is the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season, Christmas being the holiday when, Christians believe, hope was born into the world in the form of a baby who became a man who preached a gospel of service to, and compassion for, our fellow human beings.”  (1)

This year some of the scripture readings for early Advent seem appropriate.  Last Sunday the prophet Isaiah, in a fiery mood, cried out to the Lord:  “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence -- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil -- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! “

 And this Sunday the words of wild eyed prophet John the Baptist seem to come from a different world.  John speaks, not of the warm glow of Advent candles, but rather of God's judgment and our need for repentance.  The coming of the Messiah is serious business:   "Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?" These questions, repeated over and over again in Handel's Messiah, remind us that the real message of Advent is more difficult than we might be prepared to hear.  It tests the easy promises and sentimental slogans of holiday greeting cards. "Who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner's fire."  Handel from the fiery prophet Malachi.

 We are reminded during Advent that, despite the peaceful Christmas scene in Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger, the world is in turmoil all around us.  Even as we prepare for Christmas we are aware that this deepening recession darkens our world with the economic version of earthquake, wind and fire.

Advent liturgically and literally is a season of fire. Winter’s cold season is when the most people are injured by fire.  Fires are set by landlords to collect insurance money for unprofitable unrepaired buildings; poorly maintained furnaces and kerosene heaters cause fires in ramshackle trailers and tumbledown shacks; fires strike rundown neighborhoods; emergency rooms in our hospitals are crowded during the Christmas season when people are too desperate for more warmth.

Isaiah and  Malachi compared God to a fire. For they saw that the power and the creativity of fire ultimately belong to God.  On one hand there's the beauty, the fascination, the power, and on the other there's the tremendously dangerous heat of the fire.  Prophets  like Isaiah, Malachi and John the Baptist saw these two very different qualities in God:  a God of mercy and love but also a God of judgment, even an angry God who leads us through many a trial by fire.

            And it's the theme of judgment that we shy away from in the scriptures of Advent.  In our day we prefer an upbeat God, a God who will forgive and forget our faults.  It's much easier to see God as the kind of warm, fuzzy presence like the warm fire in a luxuriously appointed sitting room.  We prefer that God to a God of earthquake, wind and fire.  But do we want a God of the comfort of the moment, or a God who works in life as it actually is?

            God is not a warm glow somewhere off there in the corner of our lives.  God is a consuming fire and that fire rages within us until the frail and shakable things are burned away.  In the fire of God's passionate love the solid and the most beautiful things are brought forth.  So from the fires of desire there is born a stronger and deeper faith.  Advent reminds us that in the fires and trials of life our faith is born and strengthened.  This is Advent’s deeper demand; the lesson that lasts beyond Christmas when we must turn to those inner resources to keep us going in the darker, more dangerous seasons now ahead of us. (2)





1. Leonard Pitts, “Trampling shows our true priorities”, Paul Greenberg, “Tells us where true crisis lies”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Thursday, 4 Dec 2008, Op/Ed page


2. Adapted from “The Refiner’s Fire”, a sermon by The Rev. Charles Henderson,