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3rd Weekend of Advent (B/RCL) Dec. 16 & 17: "The King & Queen of England, Christ and Us"

Third Weekend of Advent (B/RCL): “The King & Queen of England, Christ and Us”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 16-17, 2017

            “We’re in the pink!”  What does it mean?

            We’re good, right? Excellent things are happening; we’re happy.  Some say it may be a reference to having pink, rosy cheeks: being healthy. 

            This weekend we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  (‘Reminds me of a Christmas cartoon of the stable, Mary & Joseph, tiny baby in the manger.  The caption in the sky is, “It’s a girl!”)  This pink candle does NOT mean it’s a girl J.  This time pink is the color of joy.  The third Sunday of Advent is always Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!”  That’s the first word in the second lesson from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5:

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances….

            ‘Makes sense that joy would be on the front burner so close to Christmas.  Sure is for the kids.  So: how close does our joy at Christ’s coming approach a child’s joy at Santa’s arrival?

            The joy in the first lesson from Isaiah is anticipatory.  It’s still on the horizon.  It’s a promise made but not yet fulfilled.  We hear from someone called by God to sow seeds of joy for a future harvest by:

·         announcing good news

·         binding up the brokenhearted

·         comforting all who mourn

·         handing over floral leis in place of the burnt ashes of grief and repentance

God set apart this messenger of joy by anointing him.   Our Lord Jesus quoted this beautiful passage in his first sermon at his home synagogue of Nazareth:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

            because the LORD has anointed me….

                        (Isaiah 61:1a, Luke 4:18a)

That anointing with oil is more important than we probably imagine.  Who has watched any of the Netflix series The Crown?  It’s about the life of Queen Elizabeth II.  Last season in an episode about her coronation, she has a flashback to childhood, the day before the coronation of her father.  It was her dad whose life had taken a very unexpected turn after his brother’s abdication to marry the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson.  By that accident of fate, this man who suffered from a stutter (the overcoming of which is chronicled in the wonderful award-winning movie The King’s Speech), and who was addressed as Bertie by family members, became the reluctant-but-courageous George VI.  The grown Elizabeth remembers how her father called her in the day before he was crowned to pretend she was the Archbishop of Canterbury to “help” him practice his lines for the coronation ceremony. 

This tender father explains to his 11-year-old play-acting daughter:

 “You have to anoint me.  Otherwise I can’t be king.  Do you understand?  When the holy oil touches me, I am transformed.  Brought into direct contact with the divine.  Forever changed.  Bound to God.  It is the most important part of the entire ceremony.”1

Young Lilibet reads the archbishop’s script and pantomimes the accompanying actions:

Be thou hands anointed with holy oil. +

Be thy breast anointed with holy oil. +

Be thy head anointed with holy oil +,

as kings, priests and prophets were anointed.

Does any of that action look familiar at all?

            “Mary Virginia, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  After I pour the waters of Baptism over someone’s head I use holy oil to trace the cross on his or her forehead.  The oil used for this anointing (or chrismation, to use the fancy word) is called chrism.  It has the same root as Christ, which means the anointed one.  Christian means follower of Christ, the Anointed One.  None of us has been crowned as earthly royalty, but we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.   The importance of George VI’s and Elizabeth II’s anointing and coronation as sovereigns pales in comparison with their anointing as members of the Body of Christ in Holy Baptism.

Be thy head anointed with holy oil +,

as kings, priests and prophets were anointed.

That’s us!

            In today’s Gospel we hear for the 2nd week in a row about John the Baptist.  Remember, he wasn’t Baptist as opposed to Lutheran or Methodist or Roman Catholic.  He is called the Baptist because he was busy baptizing!  (It’s less confusing when he’s called John the Baptizer.)  He invites the people to be baptized as a sign of change of heart, cleansing from sin, new beginnings.  We believe that cleansing from sin and pristine new beginning happens to us, mysteriously and magnificently, in Holy Baptism.  Baptism isn’t just a cultural rite of passage like a Latina’s quincinera (15th birthday party) or a senior prom or bachelor’s party.  It’s a dying and rising.  Obviously we don’t literally drown in and rise up from those waters, but spiritually we do.  Martin Luther called baptism “the big death” and every other possible loss, including the end of our mortal life, a baby death.  Our presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton has asked, “If we really believe that in baptism we’ve already died the only death that matters, what are we afraid of?”

            After our dying and rising in the waters of baptism, we are strengthened by anointing with holy oil, chrism.  ‘Remember hearing how ancient athletes slathered their bodies with olive oil to make them strong?  We are spiritually strengthened, greased by grace, marked with the cross of Christ forever.  I’ve quoted before a poem by Pastor Kathleen Reed2 who talks about our baptismal anointing as being like cream that helps us slip through the eye of a needle, swim the freezing channel, sustain the burning sun, be like a greased pig in the devil’s grasp. 

            The anointing also transforms us, brings us into direct contact with the divine, as Bertie once told Lilibet.  It sets us apart for service, as it once did for prophets and still does for priests, kings and queens.  Our greatest cause for joy, other than our redeemer, Jesus Christ, is that the spirit of the Lord God is upon us, too, because He has anointed us, too, to

·         announce good news

·         bind up the brokenhearted

·         comfort all who mourn

·         hand over floral leis in place of burnt ashes

Allof God’s promises have not yet come true, but the promise of a Savior has.  So, in every season, “Rejoice always!”  Christmas and Easter have already come.  We have already died the only death that matters.  Amen

                        1The Crown, Season 1, Episode 5, “Smoke and Mirrors.”

            2Kathleen O. Reed, “At the Crowning Anointed” (Lutheran Partners, September/October 1994), p. 44.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham