Saturday, December 30, 2017

1st Sunday of Christmas Dec 31 2017

What a wonderful set of readings we are given this morning! In Isaiah we hear, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” And in Galatians is the Good News that we are children of God. Indeed we are God's beloved. 

How do we begin to understand the awesomeness of God? I don't think we always understand God’s nature in an intellectual or a cognitive way. I think sometimes we understand God in a much more organic way, a way that touches the very truth of our being, and of our mortality. 

Our humanness is tied directly to language. We really are formed and shaped by language, however adequate or inadequate. That is why it's so important to read to our children and grandchildren. Expansive language has the ability to expand our imaginations. How we understand God, our relationship with God, the Divine Love Story, how we understand Jesus human and divine, how we understand the presence of the Holy Spirit, is all about the words that we employ to describe that experience, that relationship. For example, those who say they are atheists, are not necessarily people who do not believe in God, rather they may be people who cannot assent to a particular way of describing God. There are many ways to describe God, to imagine God, and our language is just not adequate.

Postmodern thought suggests that what is real is only what we put language too. But I differ with postmodern thought because I think that what is real is God and our relationship with God, whether or not we have the words to describe that. That relationship exists whether or not we have the language to describe it. The challenge is to find the words and the symbols and the actions to describe God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God. We do that every Sunday we gather together. It is not just the words we say together that invite us into the Love that wins, it is also what we do together, the meal we share together, the symbols we use, and the people who are here. 

The first chapter of the gospel of John “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is an absolutely beautiful and poetic song helping us to not only understand about God, but to feel and to see how we are related to God, and who Jesus is in that relationship. Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is the baby. But Word and baby are nouns that hardly begin to describe fully the incarnation of God.

Every time I read these words from John I hear the language of music. Some of you have heard me say this before. Sometimes for me the language of music speaks more clearly than words. When I hear this passage from John, I am encircled, enveloped, swaddled, if you will, in the awesome and abundant love of our creator. When I hear these words I hear a symphony. I hear the bass, the tuba and the tympani and the baritone, beating as the heart of creation. I hear the bass clarinets, and the bassoons, and the saxophones joining in the building of the harmonies. I hear the flutes and the clarinets with the melody of love and hope. And I hear the trumpets and the French horns with the blast of the proclamation that God has created the world and come into it as one of us. And I hear the sadness of the oboes, with the news that this world in which we live is not perfect, we are not perfect, and there is sadness and tragedy. 

But music is organic; as is the love of God. It is in the fiber of creation, the stones shout it out, the wind hums the word, the rain keeps the beat, the grace and truth of Christ is made real in the dance of the spheres. 

In A Wind in the Door, the second in a series of books by Madeleine L’engle, the first being A Wrinkle in Time, the author writes that for growth to happen there is a necessary death. The passage I quote this morning is a passage late in the book, when Meg O’Keefe, the main character, and her friend Calvin are really beginning to understand the interconnectedness of all things, and they are beginning to understand, birth, death, and resurrection. The reason I quote from this story and from this passage is that in it I hear what John is saying. 

“We are the song of the universe. We sing with the angelic host. We are the musicians. The stars are the singers. Our song orders the rhythm of creation. Calvin asked, “How can you sing with the stars? There was surprise at the question: it is the song. We sing it together. That is our joy. And our Being.” 

The Light has come, is coming, and will continue to come into the world. Not only is Christmas about the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, who enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. It is about God, the creator of the universe, who breaks into history. It is about Light that overcomes darkness. It is about the Word who is with us, the Word in our midst, the Word singing the song. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Incarnation is not an event, it is not just a baby born, incarnation is the Word singing a new song. And we must remember, when we finish eating the Christmas cookies, when we throw away the tree and put away all the decorations, when the weather starts to warm and the days become longer, the work of Christmas, the work of incarnation continues.

To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas 2017

This is from "The Nativity", illustrator, Julie Vivas

Just this morning, the 4th Sunday of Advent, we heard this story about an incredible, inconceivable incarnation. We wonder about how we see God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Jesus. We wonder how hope, and joy, and peace, and love, takes on flesh and blood. Because, that's what incarnation is, flesh and blood. We celebrate the birth of a baby. God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, breaks into human history, God shows up to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy. 

We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed. 

Life breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to rescue us from our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to rescue us from the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus, born to set us free.

Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. 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.

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.

Love breaks in, Love bursts through. Love shows up. We are here, we waited, ever patiently, ever watchfully. And love is born. The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God breaks into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins. 

And we have sung all during Advent, “From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn. My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

This birth calls us to change, to transformation, it calls us to be a part of the justice and mercy that God brings to this earth. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, 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. This birth calls us to show up, to say yes with Mary, to the love that changes us.

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.

This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world more than 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 and cold and mistreated. 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 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.

And in the person of Jesus, God calls each of us to show up. Incarnation is showing up in a way that brings hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the messiness of our lives, so that we may show up and bring hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the lives of others. Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 23, 2017

4 Advent Yr B Dec 24 2017

How do we begin to approach and try to understand this incredible, inconceivable story of incarnation? This impossibility? 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. Actually, I think Mary must have been terrified. The sort of terrified you get when your stomach just seems to fall out of you. 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. In this vignette that Marlene and Madelynn presented, we hear her fear, we hear hope.

“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. Mary voices the questions each of us have 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. 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. 

Mary’s yes was brave, and terrifying. Mary’s yes became fierce as her son grew into his fullness, his call, and she watched the powers turn against him. Can we be brave and fierce like Mary? Can we put ourselves aside and say yes to God in the flesh, incredible, inconceivable, incarnation?

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 and often scary. 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 should 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!  

Saturday, December 16, 2017

3 Advent Yr B Dec 17 2017

It was a dark and stormy night, and into the world comes the light, the light that will not, cannot, be put out. John’s gospel is all about this light. In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, it is the Life-Light that is the real thing. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is God in the flesh. The light shines in the darkness. The Word becomes flesh. These are all ways the gospel writer John shows us who Jesus is, and what that means to us, the followers of Jesus. The gospel writer John, through the baptizer John, points us to Jesus, the light, God in the flesh.

John, the gospel writer, points us to Jesus, the light, God in the flesh, not as a nice idea, but as the real thing. John, the gospel writer, points us to John who is not a Baptist, but a witness, who gives testimony to the coming of the Word in the world. John is not I AM, and John points us to who is I AM.

We really live in Advent time most of the time. Advent is a time in between. It is liminal. It is waiting, and preparing, and anticipating. Most of our lives are spent waiting for the next thing, waiting in excitement or waiting in dread. Our son says that’s what the military is all about, hurry up and wait. We look back at our lives sometimes with regret for mistakes made and perfection not achieved. Often we look back with joy in memories of those we have loved and who have loved us. We look forward with longing to what we wish may be. And Advent calls us to presence. Advent calls us to live in this liminal time with purpose, with intention. In this Advent time, we wait, but in our waiting we don’t do nothing. Advent is being fully present to what it is God births in us. In Advent we pay attention to the now of not knowing, instead of the nostalgia of what was, and the wish of what may be. And at the very same time, we are enveloped by the stories that have informed us our whole lives, the stories that call us to justice, mercy, and love. The stories that teach us who we are.

Today we find ourselves at this third Sunday of Advent, with John who points us to Jesus, the Light of the world, God in the flesh, continuing in our wait, our preparation, our anticipation. What is it that John who does not baptize Jesus, point us to? What does John the gospel writer want to show us?

Behold, here is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus makes the invitation to those following him, come and see. And right away, John points us to Jesus’ mother. In John, we meet her at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. We don’t meet her with the angel Gabriel announcing to her, her natal state. We don’t meet her with her sister Elizabeth, and we don’t meet her in the manger. There is no nativity in this gospel. We meet her with the words, “do whatever he tells you.” And the jugs of water become wine.

What John calls us to is to bear witness to the light that is Jesus, the lamb of God, Jesus the I AM, Jesus, the one who turns water into wine. We are to bear witness to the light that peeps through the cracks, the light that shines in dark places, the light that illumines those who are poor and those who are rich. John, the one who baptizes, bears witness to Jesus who is God in the flesh. We must bear witness also.

We understand what that means by reading Isaiah. God has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor; to comfort all who mourn. We understand what that means by reading Thessalonians. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Today, in this in between time, the time between Jesus’ resurrection and coming again, the time between what was and will be, the time of presence and intention, how do we bear witness?

We bear witness by showing up with Jesus’ light in all sorts of places. We show up, we bring communion, we bear love and we bear witness to the peace, the justice that can be. In the midst of brokenness, in the midst of the disarray and disappointment, we carry the love that can pick up the pieces and put them back together again.

In the midst of mistreatment, we stand up and speak out for dignity. When words of hate and derision are slung like manure, we stand up and speak out for belovedness. When power oppresses, we share what power we have. I came across something this week that Toni Morrison, who is an author and teacher, said to her students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

I think this is what bearing witness looks like. If you have been broken, and if we really tell the truth, all of us have been broken, your job is to help another pick up their pieces. If you have been mistreated, if you have been bullied, you empower those around you who have been mistreated. Sometimes that is the bully, Raanen Mogenson taught me that. Bearing witness is standing up and standing for dignity, the dignity that is in our very bones and sinews, the dignity of creation.

Bearing witness is seeing, hearing, smelling, the wonders of this amazing time of Advent. It is helping to name incarnation for those who are having a hard time seeing, or hearing, or smelling the wonders of new birth. In this darkest of time, in this time in between, where do you see new birth? And how are you bearers or midwifes, of that new birth? In this darkest of time, in this time in between, where do you bear witness to the freedom found in belovedness? In this darkest of time, in this time in between, how do you bear witness to the gift of grace and thanksgiving?

Be a Christ bearer, be a light bearer, be a love bearer. Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

2 Advent Yr B Dec 10 2017

Are you ready for Christmas? If that means do I have my Christmas tree up, my cookies baked, my presents purchased and wrapped, I am not. If that means dressing like John the baptizer in clothes made of camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey, again, I am not. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to show up for the nativity? Are you ready to be present for incarnation? Well, I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. I still have some time.

In the church we tell time differently than the world tells time. In the church, the beginning of the new year is the first Sunday of Advent. One of my favorite stories to tell with children is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way the calendar tells time. The mystery of Incarnation is so broad, and wide, and deep, we need some time and some space to prepare for it. It's not something we can jump into right away.

When we tell time the church’s way and our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, 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 helps 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. 

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 we raise our voices and shout, Here is your God! And in second Peter, we are presented with another experience of time, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.

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. So our waiting and preparing and anticipating are for incarnation, for God with us, for Christmas, and all of that waiting and preparing and anticipating are also for all that God promises. And that, perhaps, is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our cries of fear and concern and doubt at our lowest points and responds. God hears our praises and thanksgivings and rejoices. And because of all of that, God is present right here and right now.

And, my goodness, but the headlines seem full of low points. Our elected representatives behaving badly, people we see on our screens behaving badly. Gun violence is epidemic in our country. And here at Trinity, we try to be part of the high points, we try to be part of the solution, by being active with GIFTS, by giving of ourselves and our time and talent and treasure.  

And to the cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What if God’s promises are not all something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the end of time promises of God by contributing to them in the present? What if part of how God keeps God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice? I believe that is true. I believe that is true because of what God does in Jesus Christ. I believe that is true because of this inconceivable incarnation, this mystery of faith.

I think John the baptizer knows something of these things. John's call to prepare the way for the Lord; to make his paths straight, is a call to us to recognize the impediments that are in the way to realizing God's promise, God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. It is a call to turn around, to turn away from all that keeps us from love and mercy. It is a call for us to get on with the work that God calls us to do. 

I'm not sure what all of the impediments are that are in our way to God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. But I think they may be big huge things like racism and bigotry and lack of concern for the environment and this planet we live on. But I think those impediments may be removed when we look into the eyes of the one who is across from us and we acknowledge their humanity. Those impediments are removed when we turn around, when we turn toward God. 

That brings us right back to the present. What kind of waiting do you want to do? How can you spend your time, energy, wealth, and lives making a difference right now? Because we are all called to cry out and prepare the way. It’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively, if you will, by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words and actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities this very week to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.

Not that can bring ultimate healing or comfort or peace or justice. That’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises to the fullest in the fullness of time. But we don’t have to wait for that passively but are invited to throw ourselves into that venture both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now. This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites. "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

~ Howard Zinn

And why not get started now. There is no time like the present. Show the world that love indeed wins. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

1 Advent Yr B Dec 3 2017

The church year turns to another beginning, another new year. We look to new years with hope, expectation, anticipation of better relationships between people, and even countries, even when the reality of our lives may be much more bleak. But, Advent, the church’s new year, invites us to stay awake, don’t fall asleep or cover our eyes when the going gets tough. And. there is a Caribou coffee tag line - life is short, stay awake! I feel that way about Advent, Advent is short, stay awake, stay alert, or you'll miss it and all the Good News.

Indeed, our culture has already missed it. Christmas carols, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations. Christmas is all around us, and today I encourage you, at least in this sacred space, to make room for Advent.

In the cacophony of Christmas, make room for quiet. In the race to Christmas, make room for waiting, preparing, anticipating. Advent really isn't that foreign to us, it is where we live most of our lives, in the tension of what has been and what is to be. Advent calls us to live that tension intentionally. Rather than be lulled to sleep by the shiny balls and blinking lights, stay awake, stay alert, listen, and turn toward God.

Advent calls us to occupy the space between the inconceivability of incarnation and the mystery of resurrection, the messiness of birth and the hope of new life, the reality of brokenness and the joy of healing. Advent calls us to be fully present in each event and activity, and to be fully present with each person. Advent calls us not to walk through this time with indifference, but to shine the light of love and hope in all places and at all times. Advent calls us to sit with the other, to look into the eye of the other, and to listen, not to talk. Advent calls us to stand next to the one that you really cannot stand, the one you really disagree with, and look toward love and hope together.

This is the very darkest time of the year. We look for light, that's why we hang twinkly lights on everything, that's why we light candles. But here, in the church, we don't light them all, not yet, we light them one at a time, watching the light build, preparing for the light that is Jesus to be fully blazing.

And, on this first day of Advent this year, and next week as well, we have before us the gospel of Mark. This is a story of assurance. We know that God is love, and love drives out darkness and fear. And, some of these passages we read during Advent may seem to be pretty scary reading.

But Mark is not pointing us to end times. There is no mention in here of the end of the world, no indication of final judgment, no call to flee the day-to-day realities and obligations and responsibilities of life, only the promise that the Son of Man is near. Indeed, if we recognize that the key temporal markers of the parable that concludes this passage – evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn – as identical to the temporal markers of the passion story about to commence, then we realize that much if not all of what comes before – darkening of the sun, the powers being shaken, etc. – also correspond with key elements of the passion narrative. Mark, in other words, isn’t pointing us to a future apocalypse but rather a present one, as Christ’s death and resurrection change absolutely everything. Jesus suffers all that the world and empire and death have to throw at him…and is raised to new life!…and nothing will ever be the same again. Including our present lives and situations.

The church has long counseled keeping Advent as a season of active and vigilant preparation for, rather than constant celebration of, Christmas. And so it is the Good News, the Incarnation, that is spoken into any fearful time, as it is the Good News and the Incarnation that is spoken into the fear of our time. It is god-in-our-midst that is hope and promise. It is into all of this that Mark cries stay awake! Stay awake!

So maybe that is what staying awake during Advent can be all about. Maybe in the midst of the cacophony of Christmas, in the quiet we can hear the voice of Good News. When the herald of consumerism speaks more loudly than does the angel Gabriel we need to stay awake to hear the announcement that a child will be born and that the world is about to turn. When the blast of trumpets announcing sale after sale drowns out the voice singing “my soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait” we need to be quiet to hear the music.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the beat of our own heart, and the beat of God's heart within us, the beat that says there is nothing you can do that will make me turn my love from you.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the love of Jesus moving in our blood, giving nourishment to our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the movement of the Spirit, enlivening us with new birth, connecting us to one another, connecting us to the ones who have not yet said yes to the Good News of Jesus, connecting us to all those who are broken and hurting on this most amazing day, at the beginning of this, most amazing season.

Today we light the first candle of Advent. We watch its quiet light flicker in the darkness, anticipating the light and the love and the hope of Jesus.
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to hear the word of Love?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to share the Light of Jesus?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to speak love and hope into fear and darkness?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent to proclaim the love that wins?

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020 Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:1...