19 December 2016

Welcoming Christ in the stranger
who arrives at the cathedral

The Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on the Fourth Week in Advent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

19 December 2016, Monday in Week 4 of Advent,

12.45 p.m., The Eucharist

Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Gospel: Luke 1:5-25.

In the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know it is not normal to have a sermon at this mid-day Eucharist in the Lady Chapel, but I thought it might be a good idea to share a few thoughts on our Gospel reading this afternoon.

This is the Fourth Week in Advent, and serving as the deacon at the Cathedral Eucharist yesterday [18 December 2016], before reading the Gospel, I lit the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

The candles we have lit so far recall the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and Saint John the Baptist, and this week’s candle reminds us of the role of the Virgin Mary in the salvific story, the story of the Incarnation, the Christmas story.

Today’s Gospel reading invites us to make a number of comparisons: between Zechariah and Joseph, between Elizabeth and Mary, between John the Baptist and coming Christ.

It has fallen as my lot, for various reasons, as a canon of the cathedral, to preside at the Eucharist today. And in the Gospel story it had fallen on Zechariah as his lot to serve the liturgy (see verse 23) in the Temple.

Zechariah and Elizabeth have no children. Elizabeth is ‘getting on in years’ (verse 7), meaning perhaps she is now in her early 40s. Yet she is a cousin of Mary, who is probably in her early teens. Two cousins, separated in age by a few years, and by many miles from each other, are about to become pregnant.

But compare Zechariah and Joseph. Both have dreams and the angel speaks to them. Joseph has no spoken part, he is silent and he obeys. Zechariah cannot believe what he hears and is made silent.

But both do. They don’t just listen; they listen and in their action they show what they truly believe.

What was Zechariah expecting in the Temple? Was he expecting to meet God? Was he expecting in serving the liturgy to prepare the way for God’s presence among us?

This afternoon we are meeting Christ in Word and Sacrament in this cathedral. But there is a third way we meet Christ in this Cathedral.

The Rule of Saint Benedict reminds Benedictines to welcome all who arrive at their doors as if they are welcoming Christ himself. ‘All who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me”.’

Presumably, Zechariah was welcomed home by Elizabeth (see verse 23). Later Elizabeth welcomes Mary. Within the next week, we welcome Christ into our homes and lives once again at Christmas.

But as volunteers and staff in this Cathedral, we need to be aware that people come to this place as visitors and tourists, yet also have an opportunity to meet Christ. Do we welcome them as Christ, and do they encounter Christ in our welcome?

This is a challenge in today’s Gospel reading.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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