Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Sunday 1 - A New Journey Begins

ADVENT SUNDAY 1: A New Journey Begins
By the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 11/27/2011)
(Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37)

The end of all exploring,” wrote the poet T. S. Elliot, “is to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first season in the Christian Calendar. We begin with one of Isaiah’s prophetic statements: “Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

Coming from the Latin word Adventus, Advent means “coming.” We are expecting the coming of the One whom we waited for so long. As the Psalmist prayed, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” The coming of the Messiah is God’s response to the cry of His people. I love one of the Advent hymns which says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appears.”

We, human beings are always on search for something, or someone. Often our activities are filled with seeking, with searching, with finding that which was lost---a lost cause, a lost love, a lost coin. A friend of mine said that he has three pairs of eye glasses: the first one is for reading, the second one is for driving and the third one is for finding those pairs of glasses. Yes, we go through life searching. We search for a job, we search for wealth, we search for education, we search for  relationship, we search for directions, we search for meaning.

Poets and writers tell us that behind all our searching for the things of this world, what we really search for, deep within, is God. For even if we found that longed-for success, that education, wealth, fortune, fame or power, we realize that our search for contentment eludes us. We realize, as many so-called successful searchers have realized, that no amount of wealth and power can make our lives secure, no amount of human achievement can lead us to peace. St. Augustine aptly spoke this illusion in his prayer, “Lord, thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.” There is indeed a God-shaped hole in our souls that only God can fill. Thus we are told by Isaiah that rather than simply leaving us to search for Him, God decided to act on behalf of those who search for Him. He shall come down from heaven in order to dwell in the midst of His people who wait for Him. 

The First Coming
The story of God and man sitting at table, comes to us in the person of Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. This is the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Carne in Latin means meat or flesh. This God, who is Spirit, has become flesh in the person of Jesus.  

Do you know what is an aardvark? You will know an aardvark by looking the word in the dictionary. Dictionary defines an aardvark as a “medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa, that eat ants.”  Now you have an idea of what is an aardvark. But you don’t know how it looks like, so you go to Africa or a nearby zoo. Then you would see an aardvark, feel an aardvark and even hear the sound of the aardvark. But yet that is as far as you can go with regards to knowledge. To really know what is an aardvark is to become an aardvark. 

That is what incarnation means. Not only that God created us, not only that God studied us, not only that God came down to see us. In His unbounded love and compassion, God became like us. He took on human form, being born like us, growing up like us, living life like ours and dying like our death. The hopes and fears of all the years, the ultimate divine-human encounter, was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth. Indeed, ‘no ear has heard and no eye has seen, besides God who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” 

Waiting for Christ’s Return
Yet the coming of Christ was not just a historical blip 2,000 years ago. In a sense, God has come, continues to come and is coming.  And this is the second meaning of Advent. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The actual day of Christ’s return in power and glory, no one knows. That is why we must live our lives with watchfulness. One theologian said, ”We must live our life as if one foot is on earth and the other foot is in heaven.” Another theologian said, “We must plan like we have hundred years but we must live like this is the last day of our life.” Of course, there is another theologian who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plan.” Yes, our times are in God’s hands.  That is why we must learn to live in faith and the only way to live the life in faith is to be aware of God’s coming again. “Be alert, be watchful, be awake,” Jesus said.

So let this Advent season, set you once again to a new search and longing for God. Let us all be seekers of the holy grail and remain faithful in waiting. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:4 “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way, in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…Therefore do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.”

May this season of Advent set us once again to a new journey to God who comes and will come again to meet us and dwell among us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


The world today is in crises. We have fallen in hard times socially, economically and environmentally. A Filipino comedian said, “Life is like a rock; it is hard.”

Chinese alphabet (character) always presents “crisis” as both danger and opportunity. You must have heard of the man who found a job at the city zoo playing monkey.  Daily he would put on a monkey costume and swing from tree to tree. The job was becoming ennui and he was having self-pity, feeling he was the only one who stooped to this level of work. One weekend, school kids visited the zoo and despite warnings, insisted on feeding the ‘monkey’ with peanuts and bananas. So as he swung from a tree, he felt dizzy and fell into a lion’s cage. Scared to see the lion approaching, he began to scream. The lion roared and said, “Buddy, if you don’t shut up, we’ll both lose our job.” It is comforting to know that in hard times, we are not alone!

The economic hardship is felt by the Church. While Christians are “not of this world,” we realize we are still “in this world”---and not exempt from its worries and cares. At many church denominations, I have seen some of my colleagues losing their job, vital ministries losing their funding and church executives agonizing in making decisions. Restructure here, retrenchment there, lay off everywhere.

Whenever we fall on hard times, it is our instinct for survival that tends to override everything. We are prone to panic, to lose our direction and to give up. Therefore, it is in times like these that we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s people---a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power.

We are People of Faith.
One of the songs I learned in the ‘60’s had this lyric: “Walk with faith in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.” Faith is the opposite of fear. Fear distracts us but faith anchors us. The Bible says that we should walk by faith and live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7; Habakkuk 2:4). Those who walk with faith will have direction even in darkness for “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11).  Our ancestor Abraham was known as the “friend of God, “because he walked in search of a city not a visible, but one with a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God.” God promises to “lead us continually,” even in ways we do not know. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Faith is a bird that sings while the dawn is still dark.”

We are People of Visions
On the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy which says, “In these last days, God will pour out His Spirit. The young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). (I’m middle age, so I guess I’m supposed to have both visions and dreams.)

Visions and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit. In times of crises, we must see a vision of a great and mighty God, “who sits enthroned amidst the floods.” If your God is big, your problem is small; if your God is small, your problem is big.  I remember as a young priest, I joined a Clergy Retreat in Sabah, Malaysia. In our free time, a dozen of us decided to climb Mount Kinabalo. Halfway to the mountain, half of the group gave up. I was one of those who tried to persevere, but while we were about to reach the peak, there was a thick fog which covered our way. Not knowing how far the summit, with our strength ebbing fast, four of us also decided to call it quits and walked downhill, feeling defeated. Only two pushed through the foggy trail. When we returned to the camp, exhausted and spent, we were amazed to find the two successful climbers already there, rested and refreshed, telling their stories. I was amazed at their tenacity but even more amazed at their revelation: It turned out that the apex of the mountain was only a few yards after the fog, and when they were up there, they saw a cable car! In crisis, we should not give up. There is rainbow after the storm…or a cable car after the fog!

We are People of Power
St. Paul said the power within us is greater than the power that is in the world. With all the crises in our lives, we need to know, that in the end, God wins. We are clay pots but within us is a treasure more precious than gold or silver, not fashioned by human hands. Within us is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life. My Pentecostal friends often remind me, “You Episcopalians believe that the Holy Spirit is ‘resident’ in you; we Pentecostals believe, the Holy Spirit is ‘president’ in us.” In crisis or out of crisis, we need to reaffirm with St. Paul that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and that “what lies within me is greater than that which lies behind and or lies ahead.”

Indeed, in times like these, in crises, let us allow the Holy Spirit preside over our thoughts and our lives.  And when God take hold of us, we shall not only survive but we shall prevail. As God’s beloved, we are a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power. And we shall shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are shelter from the storm, light in the dark and rock of our salvation. You sit enthroned amidst the flood and speak peace to the wind. In your still small voice, you calm our fears; by your mighty hand, you lift up our spirits.

In these times of economic, social and environmental crises, we turn to you in humility and faith. You alone can answer our deepest needs, you alone can mend our broken hearts, you alone can wipe the tears from our eyes, and you alone can heal our land.

In these hard and trying times, we ask you to keep our hearts connected to you as the Ground of our being and the Source of all good things. Help us to reach out to those who struggle, especially those who lost their jobs as a result of economic recession. As they transition to new life, help them to see open doors of new opportunities. Give them faith to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit within them is greater than that which is in the world. Give them the hope of new life that lies ahead.

We pray for the leaders of the Church and the nations. Give them wisdom to harness the energy and creativity of the people. Let the power of love overcome the love of power so that justice and peace will flow like rivers and prosperity will return to the land. Replenish the earth and fill this world with your grace and glory, as the waters cover the sea. Amen.

*The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara is  Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church Center; Priest-In-Charge of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island; founder of Holy Child Episcopal congregations in San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada and Woodside, New York. He is also Moderator of Pacific Asian American Canadian Christian Education (PAACCE) of the National Council of Churches;He and his wife, Angela, live in Queens, New York.