Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 2011

It is time. We have been staying awake, we have been preparing for the faithful one. Love bursts into our world and our lives. Love interrupts us. Love wins. Sing a new song, let the heavens and earth be glad! For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. It is time to join our yes with Mary's yes. We can hardly contain our joy for this good news.


Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. God with us, born in a barn, in the muck and the mess of the stable, to a young girl, not yet married to her betrothed, Joseph. The romance of the birth of this long awaited baby Jesus soon turns into the flight of his parents into Egypt, to escape the tyranny of the emperor. The stars in the heavens signaled his birth, showing the magi the way to find him, but they had to return to their home by another way, to protect the little one.


This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first. But this birth is not just about rehabilitation, it is about resurrection.


For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.


This is a scary proposition because we've invested a lot to keep our lives as they are, and it can be down right frightening to give up what we know. But that's what Advent has been all about, keep awake, prepare, be ready to give it all up to the love that is born in our hearts, our lives, our world. It is scary, and it's thrilling at the same time, because this promise speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time.


And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother, and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love and have heard the good news that "unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord." No wonder we sing, "Let heaven and earth rejoice!"


This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes to be with us, delivered into our world 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. This God comes to us when all will be fulfilled at the end of time.


This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.


Love wins, Alleluia, to us a child is born. Come let us adore him, Alleluia!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4 Advent Yr B

How do we begin to approach and try to understand this incredible, inconceivable story of incarnation? So far this advent we have heard, keep awake, pay attention, prepare for this one who is faithful. Today we hear yes to God’s offer of Love, Mary says yes, you and I say yes. But what if an angel came to you and said, “Fear not here comes God.” I don’t know about you, but I would be afraid. An angel comes and tells me not to be afraid, I’m gonna be terrified.

When I close my eyes and try to imagine this scene, I see Mary. In my imagination, Mary is a very young girl, and yet very excited to be a woman, and ready to be married to Joseph. Mary is a Jewish girl; she knows well the stories of God’s activity in the life of her people. She has lived her whole life in this community of faith. Mary has lived her whole life in the community of people who believe there is a special relationship between God and them. They believe that their story, the story of this community, day in and day out, through slavery, wilderness, kingdoms, and exile, is the story of God’s working through them to accomplish the divine purposes on earth.

God is trusting God’s people to have raised Mary in the right way, to have taught her the story of faith, taught her to recognize God’s hand at work in her life. Gabriel has made the proposition. The great archangel has announced God’s purpose, the heavenly messenger has posed the question, and the girl is clearly troubled.

Mary is perplexed. Perplexed in Greek leans much more towards “to be in doubt” or “not to know how to decide or what to do.” In my imagination, this is much closer to how I see Mary responding. Mary must have been terrified. She must have wondered what was happening to her, being visited by an angel was a new thing, there weren't stories of her people anyway about an angel visit.

“Not me, no way, I can’t do that. Don’t ask such a thing of me, I’m only a girl. You’ve got the wrong person. The God bearer should be royal, a person of honor, it can’t be me.” She must have doubted herself; she must have doubted her own capability to be the God bearer. Any young girl would. What must have gone through her mind?

And Gabriel responds, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Mary, you are the one. Gabriel does go on to remind Mary of the story she already knows, the story of her people, and who this son is to be. Mary wants to know how this can be, since she is so young and yet a virgin. Mary voices the question each of us has as we hear this story.

How can this be? This is incredible, inconceivable, incarnation is unreasonable. This doesn’t make sense. Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will take care of it, and then gives her evidence of the possibility, her old, barren cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, nothing will be impossible with God.

How can this be? How can Mary get pregnant by God? Is all of Christianity founded on this inconceivable possibility? I ask this question, because this question has been asked of me, by adults and children alike, by your children, by my children. I turn to one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle when I ponder these things. She writes in a book called Bright Evening Star, “It is not that in believing the story of Jesus we skip reason, but that sometimes we have to go beyond it, take leaps with our imagination, push our brains further than the normally used parts of them are used to going.” She goes on to write “I had to let go all my prejudices and demands for proof and open myself to the wonder of love. Faith is not reasonable because it wasn’t for reason, but for love that Jesus came.”

It is for love that Jesus came. And so, for love, Mary says yes. She actually says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says yes. And it is in love that we light the fourth candle on the advent wreath today.

Do you think Mary considered the implications of her yes? Of course there is the question, “What will people think?” But how does this particular baby change her, how does this particular baby change everything?

Today, I ask the question, what does Mary’s yes to the love of God, have to do with us? Mary’s active, engaged yes, empowers each of us to say yes to the possibility of God in our midst. Mary’s yes can be our yes. Indeed, it may be because of Mary's yes that Love wins. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “Hail favored one, the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with you, these are not just words spoken to Mary, these are words spoken to each of us and to all of us. Mary said yes, God waits for each of us to say yes.

The terrifying part of Gabriel’s invitation is what will happen if we say yes? What does God-bearing look like? Mary didn’t know, she risked everything when she said yes; she risked everything on the promise that God was with her. All we know is that saying yes to God changes everything and risks everything we have.

When we say yes to God, no longer are we the central character in the story. The story is about God and God’s love for us. It’s about the promise God made to Mary and God makes to us to bring us out of a life of greed and why not me, into a life that bears hope and promise. The real world is the world in which Mary said yes to God, and the world in which each of us says yes to God. It is living fully and completely, it is feeling pain and joy, it is giving and receiving, it is life, and it is death. This world is messy and confusing. A world into which God is born in a dirty barn, so that love could burst forth. It is a world in which we enter into relationships with one another, where we see each other face to face, it is a world in which how God created us is wonderful, it is a world in which we understand the sacred in each of us and treat each other as if we were all God-bearers.

“Fear not, here comes God.” We may be terrified, and reassured at the very same time that our yes brings Christ into this world. We Christians have been taught to look for the Christ in everyone we meet, to practice a radical hospitality to serve the Christ in each other, for in serving them we are serving Christ himself. What do we -- each of us -- have to offer the Christ this year? Where do we see the signs that Christ has been born among us?

Mary’s yes didn’t just happen all those years ago, Mary’s yes happens everyday you and I bear love ourselves. God is still up to something. God continues to burst forth in our lives. Love wins.

Keep awake, pay attention, prepare, fear not!
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3 Advent Yr B

Keep awake, repent and forgive, prepare, bear God's light and joy. This third Sunday of Advent we are so close, but not there yet. The path takes us through the waters of baptism with John and by the oaks of righteousness with Isaiah, to the place where our anticipation of the incarnation soars. In the Christmas season, where shopping and party’s have traditionally been the activities, we are reminded in Thessalonians that the one who calls you is faithful. Keep awake, pay attention, prepare for this one who is faithful.

The way we prepare is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances. I don’t know about you, but that sure isn’t the way I hear the Christmas message coming from my TV, or the newspaper, or from what's trending on yahoo. The Christmas message that I’m getting is that the key to Christmas is to buy and buy and buy.

We are in a place and a time where this message; rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, the one who calls you is faithful, couldn’t be more appropriate. Here is where hope lies. Today we light the third candle on our advent wreath, the pink candle. We are filled with hope in the one who is faithful, the one who is to come, the one who has come, the one who will come again. We positively burst with excitement at the possibility and the reality of the light coming into our dark world.

The hope that we look at today is not to be confused with wishing. That often happens, wishing gets confused with hope. We misuse hope all the time when we say, hopefully, things will change, or I hope I get a new iPhone for Christmas, or I hope those Twins can sign Michael Cuddyer. Those are really wishes. We can wish for much, but it still isn’t hope. Christmas as we see it presented in the marketplace is all about wishes, but not about hope.

Hope lives in the reality of God with us, hope lives in the reality of the incarnation and in the resurrection. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. Listen to this Good News carefully. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. For me this is truly good news, hope is not in my ability to have enough faith, or any faith at all, those things live much more in the realm of wish, sometimes I may say to myself, I wish I had more faith. Hope is not in my ability to earn more money and buy more things; hope is not in wall street or the marketplace. And wishing all that won’t make it true. What is true is that the one who calls you and me is faithful. The one who calls you and me is trustworthy, reliable, devoted. This is the one in whom hope lives. This is the one who has made you and me new creations; this is the one who delights in us. This is the one who we prepare our hearts and our minds and our souls to receive into our lives now, this is the one who came 2000 years ago, and this is the one who will come again.

Joy is a result of this hope. Hope is similar to joy as wishing is similar to happiness. Happiness is something that the marketplace wishes to fulfill. You will be happy if you build a bigger house, you will be happy if you buy a nicer car, you will be happy if you make a lot of money, none of this has anything to do with joy. Joy lives in the reality of being the beloved of the one who created us, joy lives in the incarnational wonder of the one who created us.

Hope and joy are the realities of Emmanuel, God with us. The response to hope and joy is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a compelling reminder of the faithful response of a community that celebrates God’s saving actions in Jesus Christ.

How can we faithfully witness to the joy of God’s delight in us? And how might our actions and responses move us away from a climate of complaint to the creation of a climate of rejoicing? I turn to John's gospel. I am reminded of a mirror that reflects light. The mirror itself is not the light, but just think of a world in which each of us reflects the light, each one of us testify's to the light, just think how much light there would be, when we bring light into every dark place. We are in desperate need of light, we are hungry for God's glory to be revealed to us. Be a piece of that mirror, reflecting the light, all of us together reflecting the light, like John, begin to approach God's glory.

Keep awake, repent and forgive, prepare,
reflect God's light, watch for God with us.
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

2 Advent Yr B

Last week, the first week of Advent we heard stay awake! Stay awake, something amazing is about to happen, stay awake, you don’t want to miss it, you don’t want to be so busy doing paying attention to something else that it passes you by. Stay awake!

Our collection of readings this second week of advent shows us how to tell time. One of my favorite stories to tell in Sunday school is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way our culture tells time. I’m reminded of a very old song by Chicago, the lyrics are, “As I was walking down the street one day, A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, And I said, Does anybody really know what time it is, Does anybody really care, If so I can’t imagine why, We’ve all got time enough to cry.” And then, “I was walking down the street one day, Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, And I said, People runnin everywhere, Don’t know where to go, Don’t know where I am, Can’t see past the next step, Don’t have time to think past the last mile, Have no time to look around, Just run around, run around and think why.”

When we tell time the church’s way our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way causes us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully alive, fully engaged, and not to run around in circles, always wondering why we are alone, always wondering why we never get anywhere.

In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, even the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is being rearranged for the day when it can be shouted, Here is your God! And in second Peter, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the fulfillment of all things, as God promises. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

John the baptizer knows something about time. In fact I think he really does know what time it is, and he really does care what time it is. John knows that to live fully in the present, it’s time to repent; it’s time to be forgiven. It’s time to be prepared for the One who is to come. All creation is getting ready; it’s time for us to be ready. How are we to be fully present to God who is with us, and how are we to get ready for the One who is to come?

I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with repentance and forgiveness. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being fully present to God in our midst. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being ready for the One who is to come at all. But if it really is time for repentance and forgiveness, we’d better get around to it. Repentance and forgiveness are about turning away from that which keeps us from a relationship with God and with others. lf it is time for repentance and forgiveness, as John the baptizer says it is, what is it that we need to turn away from? Where is it that we miss the mark? Not only individually, but collectively. How do we even know where the mark is? I think we can find the mark in our baptismal covenant. Seeing as this story from Mark is a story of baptism, maybe it is good to look at our baptismal promises as the mark.

As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, we may measure ourselves against this: we are to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers; we are to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; we are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; we are to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

This is the mark to which we point ourselves. And when we miss the mark, when we fall short, we repent and ask for forgiveness, and we try again. Does anybody really know what time it is? According to John the Baptist, it is time to repent and seek forgiveness.

As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, like Mary and Elizabeth, like the Shepherds, we may also look for those signs that show us the way, those signs that tell us that this is Advent, the time of preparation for Immanuel, God with us. God signs. What are the things, the people, the circumstances that call us to be fully present to God with us, fully alive as the new creations we are. What wakes us up and causes us to say, hummm, that was a God sign. There are God signs all around us, signs of God with us, signs that may even cause us to see how we miss the mark, signs that help us to know what time it is, signs that show us that Love wins.

I encourage you to spend some time this advent being fully present to God with us, I encourage you to spend this new year fully awake and aware of God with us. I encourage you to share with one another the God signs in your life. Keep awake, prepare, repent, and watch and wait.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feast of St. Andrew

In the Jewish tradition, the name you give your child has everything to do with your hopes and dreams for who that child will grow up to be. Many people name their children for beloved aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. Names have meaning. This community of faith is named for St. Andrew. I’m thankful we are St. Andrew, and not St. Barnabus, after the red barn that our forebears met in during the early years, and that burned down.

Andrew was a fisherman, a very obvious occupation for a boy who grew up on the Sea of Galilee, and who probably sat by his father in his father’s boat, and had it not been for Jesus, Andrew would have raised his boys to be fishermen too. But Andrew encountered Jesus, and Jesus said to Andrew and some others, Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

This encounter changed Andrew’s life forever. Andrew left a sure occupation, a certain paycheck, to follow Jesus, who he really only knew by reputation, the teacher, the rabbi. Not only did Andrew leave his livelihood, he also left his family, and in Andrew’s culture, it is the family that confers any honor and status. Now being a fisherman wasn’t a lofty profession, but being a hardworking son had a degree of respect. Andrew and the others left that to follow this teacher, this one who had no home to lay his head, had no discernible livelihood, had no food to eat, for the promise that he would fish for people.

I can’t even begin to imagine what that meant to Andrew. Maybe it was just about adventure, maybe it was about hanging with a brotherhood, maybe Andrew experienced something in this man, Jesus. What we know from this side of the story is that something amazing did happen, but Andrew couldn’t have known that.

I look toward Andrew as an example of discipleship. Jesus encountered Andrew and Andrew was changed. He didn’t have all the answers, but he knew greatness when he saw it. He may have been judged by his boyhood pals he left behind as being stupid, or even wrong. But discipleship is not about being right or being wrong, discipleship is about being changed by this encounter with Jesus.

Jesus’ life and death and pain and suffering and resurrection from the dead is about the new life that God offers us, and that new life, that new creation, changes us, transforms us. Living in the new life that Jesus begins for us, is exciting, and scary, and it isn’t easy. Discipleship isn’t easy. But as Andrew did, when we are changed by this encounter, we invite others to join us. We invite others into this transformation that God offers.

New life is about hope in the midst of difficulty, hope when all hope seems lost. You and I, just like Andrew, can offer hope in this broken world. We must be the ones who invite, come and see, come and see what this new life looks like, come and see, what wholeness and peace looks like. Come and see.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come and see.