Looking for Jesus in Disguise: Bishop Sean’s Advent Message

First Sunday of Advent

Dear People of God in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York,

You might recall that, as we have been working toward a mission strategy for our diocesan partnership, I have been thinking a good deal about the story of Jesus and his disciples on the Road to Emmaus. I return often to this story because I have always been amazed that the disciples could have traveled with Jesus for so long during his ministry on earth and still not know who he was when they encountered him on the road.

But after a while of imagining myself in their shoes, I began to realize that their job was harder than it first appeared. In fact, for Christians, recognizing Jesus wherever we encounter him is the work of a lifetime. During Advent, in particular, we run the risk of believing that we will recognize Mary and Jesus easily because we are looking for them where we most expect them and where, if we are honest with ourselves, we think they belong—in church on Christmas Eve.

Dorothy Day, whom we commemorated in the Episcopal Church last week, understood the spiritual peril of expecting Jesus and his mother to be respectable. “If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, then people would have fought to make room for her,” Day wrote. “But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for himself, now when he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

This Advent, we will be heeding Day’s call to look for Jesus where he is disguised across our region. In meetings across our dioceses, called Emmaus Gatherings, we will build a shared understanding of where we find God dwelling among us and, in doing so, we will shape our mission across our region for years to come. I hope that you will join us.

May you seek Jesus in the most unexpected places this Advent, and may God’s peace live in your heart now and forever.