“May the L ORD answer you in the day of trouble; May the name of the God of Jacob defend you” – Psalm 20:1
However, the readings anointed for today largely speak to Christ's second coming and not to the birth of Jesus. Truthfully, none of the assigned readings really appealed to me; they are not readings I would have selected for Advent. On first impression, none of the readings convey the sense of joy that I want to associate with Advent and the celebration of Christmas. I quickly narrowed my focus to two of the readings: Psalm 20, and Paul's first letter to the church in Thessalonica and its message about the second coming and the rising of the dead.
I chose Psalm 20. This Psalm of David is considered by the Jewish faith to be a prayer for stressful times; thus its positive tone and message of triumph. God will carry you through your troubles and set you securely on high. For me, the connection to Advent is that message of triumph and security made real in the birth of Christ. I heard a sermon this summer by the retired Bishop of Rhode Island in which he summarized Christ's teachings as an instruction to "love God, love your neighbor and don't be afraid." Don't be afraid is a powerful, liberating and, yes, joyful message. It is a message long embraced by the St. Stephen's community; we are not shackled by tradition. Don't be afraid of change; don't be afraid of our differences--embrace them; don't be afraid of death; love God; serve others.
This Advent and Christmas season, may God set you securely on high. Celebrate the joy of Bethlehem, and don't be afraid.
Tom Cordell has been a member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church since 1994 and attends the early service. He has served as a reader, acolyte, chalice bearer, lay Eucharistic minister, Vestry member, St. Stephen's Episcopal School Trustee and board member of the St. Stephen's Endowment Fund.