The worst thing a preacher can do is believe what is said in the receiving line. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I know it to be true, especially, I suspect, in The Episcopal Church. Human beings tend to be conflict averse. Most of us don’t like confrontation, so when we’re forced to shake hands with our preacher on the way to coffee hour, we follow grandmother’s advice, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Clergy, typically, only hear that their sermon was “nice” or that the service was “beautiful” and rarely, if ever, get called out on the crummy, slapped together, mess of a sermon they just preached.
If we only listen to and believe the words that come in the receiving line, we’re doomed to failure because the temptation is to forget where the praise should actually be directed. I’m thankful each Sunday that I have to stand and shake hands for the final paragraph of the preamble to the Examination in the Prayer Book liturgy for The Ordination of a Priest, “In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” In other words, it ins’t about me. It’s never about me.
The Third Sunday of Advent in Year B is an “It’s not about me” Sunday. The lesson from the Prophet Isaiah makes it clear that the source of his strength isn’t from within himself, but rather “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [him].” Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, is a song about how God is going save the world through her. The lesson from 1 Thessalonians wraps up with a promise that the God who calls us to holiness is faithful and will help us. Finally, the short narrative about John the Baptist that we hear from John’s Gospel is all about John pointing the people to someone else.
Even the Collect for Advent 3 is couched in language that reminds us that the source of our strength, our hope, and our redemption is a God who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.