My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Welcome to a new year according to the Christian calendar. Welcome to the holy season of Advent. There are four Sundays in this season, each leading us closer to the great celebration of Christmas. It is a time during which we are to pay particular attention to Christ’s promise that he will return at an unexpected moment. One of the great spiritual disciplines encouraged in the life of every Christian is to live in readiness. Thus, Advent is a season of expectation marked by individual and communal acts befitting such preparation.
These preparatory acts include slowing down, waiting patiently, and living each day hopefully. Frankly, none of these practices are much honored in our world today. The lead-up to Christmas tends to be both frenetic and stressful. Waiting patiently for God is replaced by a seemingly unquenchable desire for instant gratification through material possessions wrapped in ribbon and foil. Furthermore, the fears and concerns we have about what is going on in our world today tend to overwhelm whatever hope we hold for Christ’s coming again. There is so much noise, worry, and distraction. It makes standing still and looking up into the night sky for that one bright sign of “God with us” almost impossible. But that is the reason why we need this season of Advent all the more.
This year, as I prepare to depart this wonderful congregation, I am particularly mindful of one of Advent’s great themes, the theme of light. While I remain excited about “the next chapter” and the possibilities that the new chapter holds, I will not deny both the sadness and anxiety of this time. Any departure contains an element of death and we often associate death with darkness. I have served as a parish priest for over thirty-three years now, the last eleven years as Rector of this congregation. I have had the privilege of working beside so many saints in the course of this journey. I have had the blessing of being with you in the moments of great joy, deep grief, and all the other states of heart and mind in between. This has been my life and my vocation and it is not easy to let go.
But this I know. The light of Christ has been with me my entire life. That light will remain with me and will guide me until the moment that Christ comes again, one way or another. I also know that that very same light is always present in each of your lives. As we move through this Advent season, we will light an additional candle on the Advent Wreath each Sunday until we get to that blaze of light revealed in the morning star of that holy night. Yes, this is the darkest time of year. It is into this time that God sends us His son, who is the light of the world. Darkness turns into morning. Death becomes the gateway to resurrection and eternal life. New life begins.
Many years ago, I played the part of Mortimer, “the man who dies”, in “The Fantasticks”. His colleague was Henry, “the old actor”. As Henry departs the stage for the last time, he turns to the audience and says, “Remember me…in light”. Please know that I will remember each of you, and pray for each of you, in the light that is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope that you will continue to hold Janie, Holland, Lee, Will, and yours truly in that same light as well as we all move into the next chapters of our lives.
Thank you, Trinity. Thank you, Staff. Thank you, the people of God who comprise this great congregation. It has indeed been the greatest of honors and blessings to serve as the Rector of this parish family.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.