Come, happy December, who shall observe you, who shall preserve you?
Since golden October declined into sombre November
And the apples were gathered and stored, and the land
Became brown sharp points of death in a waste of
water and mud,
The New Year waits. We wait with it.
Here let us stand, close by the cathedral. Here let us
There is no safety in the cathedral. Some
Presage of an act
Which our eyes were compelled to witness, has forced
Towards the cathedral. We were forced to bear witness.
How could we have known. By God’s grace, we will stand firm.
One thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-two years after the King was born in the City of David, long before any of us were born, He called you out of the muddy plot on Twentieth Street and Sixth Avenue, saying, “Live!” And you lived. A descendant of the King’s apostles, the Right Reverend Richard Hooker Wilmer commissioned you to build a church where her “enduring principles” would be reflected in “the strength of her towers, and the beauty of her palaces.” After many fits and starts, a bare foundation was laid. “How firm a foundation has the Church of the Advent,” Bishop Wilmer preached, “Firm and enduring!” One of your first rectors, the Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Beard, saw with his own eyes the visage of the Blessed Lord Jesus outlined on your cornerstone. A tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.
He made you flourish like a plant of the field. You grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. But do you remember the early days? Rev. Phillip A. Fitts and meeting in the Sublett Hall? He ministered through the cholera epidemic, even when he too fell ill. The little frame church and the Phelan sisters’ altar? They made it out of dry goods boxes. They adorned it with baize and calico, and your altar cross with gold foil. It lasted four years.
There were six people in your first choir, seven for your first confirmation. One of your first communion sets was purchased for $250, the proceeds of a children’s operetta. They used to put on shows at O’Brien’s Opera House so you could finish raising your walls. After the fire, you had to meet in the music hall again. You labored on, offering psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the King.
He spread the corner of His garment over you, covered your nakedness. There was so much excitement over the opening services in the new church. The weather was perfect. Your little reed organ was dwarfed by the space, but you were happy to have a roof and four walls. Missions grew out of you, bountiful grapes from the vine: St Mary’s and the mission of that faithful deacon, Rev. James A. Van Hoose (what was its name?).
He adorned you with ornaments. Bracelets on your wrists. A chain on your neck. Your deacons became priests, priests became bishops. Their portraits still hang in the Commons. Bishop Murray. Bishop Barnwell. The Right Reverend Charles Clingman! Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter, the Giant! Through the Depression. Through the Wars. Through the Sixties. Selling Easter eggs in grocery stores, fifty-cent tickets to the garden pilgrimage. How many funerals, ordinations, marriages? Through loss, tears, debt, organization, administration, staffing, schooling, planning, praying, peeling, sweeping, sighing, building, stooping, standing, listening, speaking, singing. Always singing.
And when the foxes took the vineyard and a little leaven had leavened the lump, the Dean raised the Black Flag over Twentieth Street. Do you remember? His portrait is in Clingman Commons as well. Blood on the lintel. There was still light in Goshen. You resolved to glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified to you, and you to the world.
But you trusted in your beauty.
Seven years and the summer is over.
Seven years you lived quietly,
Succeeded in avoiding notice.
But kings rule or barons rule:
The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.
They have but one law.
The Mitred Pretenders to the King’s throne would no longer endure the troublesome priest. Four knights solemnly descended (filled with significant sadness). “We know that you may be disposed to judge unfavourably of our action,” the audience is calmly assured. “At least give us the credit for being completely disinterested in this business. He had deliberately exasperated us beyond human endurance. He could still have easily escaped. He insisted.” How else to lay a new (though admittedly costly) foundation for the sake of continued and generational peace? What confidence! So lively. And daring!
So you have your towers. You have your palaces. But the principles endured long enough. You were long past due for a new cornerstone, one not so given to stumbling or offense. Time to lower the Black Flag and raise something a bit more colorful.
And what palliative pastoring was carefully administered after the newly enthroned literally forced your hands, dutifully laid, in the motions of utterly degrading orthodoxy. Nothing’s changed? Everything’s changed! No one knew? Having eyes, do you see not? Having ears, do you hear not? “The Lord is at hand,” you tell us, as if this should be a comfort where the same Lord is not obeyed. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes! But for the servant who knew his master’s will and did not get ready? Did not act according to his will? Advent ends; then judgment.
Brothers, we hold our stoles, tippets, and preaching bands in trust. As stewards. The chair on Twentieth Street is held in trust. Adveniat Regnum Tuum. And it will. But remember Cranmer. Remember the unworthy hand given to the flames in final repentance. It need not end like this.
Saint and Martyr rule from the tomb, and a star rises in the east, the star of Emmanu-El. A cold coming you may have of it! Just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter. But at dawn you will come:
to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloping away in the meadow.
And to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
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