Der Vasken's Sermon on November 26, 2017

Nov 29, 2017

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We are living in that time of the year where we commemorate a handful of very celebrated feast days around the country.  I have mentioned these feast days before because they seem to catch the attention of larger and larger crowds of people every year.  These are not feast days for the Armenian Church or any other church for that matter, but they are days where people are encouraged to feast away with greater enthusiasm and greater eagerness every year.  These feast days fall equally on both sides of today. 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  It's an important Sunday.  And these popular feast days began last Friday and will continue again tomorrow and on Tuesday.  What are these feast days?  

  • The first was called Black Friday;
  • Followed by Small Business Saturday;
  • And beginning tomorrow we come upon Cyber Monday;
  • And one more on Tuesday called Giving Tuesday--where we will be encouraged to donate to a charity of our choice if we have any money left over after all the shopping feast days received their portion first.

When I hear about these feast days, I feel like many of you feel, I'm sure.

  • Charity isn't and never should be an afterthought.
  • Charity comes first.
  • Charity goes hand-in-hand with the spirit of Christmas.

If charity is an afterthought, it really isn't charity in any Christian sense of the word because charity reflects the spirit of God.  To remove God from giving or to place charity after shopping, places God second in our lives.  Remember the words of St. Paul: "Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."  In the earlier versions of this famous Bible passage, the passage actually read like this:  "Faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is charity."  Charity is basic to our faith and to how we are to see the world around us.  But, unfortunately, the world around us seems to want to change all of that.  Now it is considered more appropriate to fulfill our material needs first, and if you have any change left over, you can then give that to charity and feel good about it.  But charity is a gift--plain and simple.  It's not about giving what is left over.  It's about giving from the heart.

We've all heard the expression: "Gifts come in all shapes and sizes." Well, that's very true, especially during this time of year.  Today, our Church Fathers point our attention to one of those "gifts" as well.  It's a gift that is shaped and sized and wrapped around time.  It's the gift of the Season of Advent.  Advent is a special gift.  This is a gift that can't be purchased in a store.  This is a gift that God gives--given to us with open arms and given to us as only He can.  God's Advent gift to us is the chance to grow closer to Him.  It's finding a place in your life that we only allow Him to enter and it's the gift of seeing life with clarity like never before.  

So let's look at what Advent is.  In Armenian, Advent is called Hees-nag.  Today is the first Sunday of Hees-nag.  Hees-nag is a 50-day period of time to prepare our hearts, our minds and our thoughts.  Advent is the beginning of a cycle of praise and prayer centered around the birth of Jesus Christ.  The Advent Season is a great time for Christians for we begin at the beginning.  And one of the many messages of the Advent Season lies in the fact that it points us to the future.  The Christian faith is a faith focused on the future.  "Thy Kingdom come..." we say.  The focus is on the future to prepare ourselves for what is to come.  We say those important words every time we pray the Hayr Mer prayer--the prayer that Jesus Himself taught the world.

The Christian faith is the faith of the new dawn, of the morning, of the new day.  I say this because, think about Easter, the passages that tell us about the focal point of the Christian faith--the Easter Resurrection--all begin in the morning, at dawn, at the start of the new day, at the rising of the sun.  These passages put away the past and face the future for the direction of the Christian faith is forward, ahead of where we are at the moment and always a companion that walks with us into new days and uncharted days.

It always seems to me that, during the Season of Advent, God's presence grows in people.  Maybe during Advent, they look for a deeper life than they have known.  Maybe during Advent, they realize that they can experience a wider love than they have known.  Maybe during Advent, they realize that they can experience forgiveness by God and acceptance by God, or maybe they experience the blessings of a fresh start in life.  Advent is a wonderful time to prepare.  Advent is a time to put our faith, hope and love into practice and experience love in a way that God created it to be and not as the world around us tells us it should be.

Advent is that time to be spent away from the distractions of our everyday lives.  It's time away from the drama and disagreements that surround us all year long.  Advent is a time to carve out space each day to walk with our God through prayer and opening the Bible and through receiving Holy Communion so that we ready a place in our hearts where God will speak with us, and we can see the world through His eyes.

We are people of a new dawn; people of the new day; people of the day that is to come; and we are never too old, never too young to embrace a new dawn and a new day.  So as you listen to my words, ask yourself:

  •  Is it time for you to let go of burdens from your past and welcome in a new day?
  • And is there something from your past that you need God to help you carry as you face your future?

The Church calls these days leading up to Christmas "Advent."  They are days meant for far more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Advent is a time to prepare the place where we will meet God.  So as we think ahead to the gifts of Christmas, let's not forget about ourselves and open the gift of Advent. 

  • Is it time for you to let go of burdens from your past and welcome in a new day?
  • And is there something from your past that you need God to help you carry as you face your future?

Advent is a gift to us from God because, remember, no matter our age, we are all children of God.  Open the gift of Advent and invite God to walk with you into the future.

Amen.