December 16, 2012
Third Sunday of Advent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Welcome to the Sunday when the churches that follow Advent traditionally light the candle for joy, and where every sermon by every preacher that I have talked to has changed over the past two days.
I want to be able to put the shooting in Connecticut into context. But I find myself at a loss. There are only so many times we can avoid talking about meaningful gun policies or the lack thereof and available and effective mental health treatment and the lack thereof. Even when we do start to talk about them, we suffer from our allergic reaction against real dialogue, and in our pain and in our fear we fall back on platitudes and bumper sticker slogans. Even if we find the willingness to dialogue, how many of our words feel cliché, falling short of meaningful entry into the grief that we feel and the sadness that this brings upon us during what the church proclaims to be a joyful time.
Like many of you, I have cried and I have held my family a little too tightly. I have turned off the news with its repetition of the same photos shown over and over, and its stumbling attempts at trying to broadcast information that it is still gathering. I have started to read Facebook about the same way I did during the political season. It seems all of that leftover political energy has found a new focus.
The readings this morning point us to joy, and that is good and necessary. But rushing to joy seems as much an act of denial as ignoring joy would be.
As we read and hear these passages where Isaiah speaks of a barren woman being granted more children than one who is married, of the need to enlarge her tent, of the promise of growth and life and abundant love that is given, we ought to pay attention. While the image and the metaphor are individual and personal, Isaiah is speaking to all of the people who are in exile and all who have been left behind and all who fled to foreign lands to escape. Isaiah is speaking to a people for whom hope was tenuous, for whom the presence of God seemed a distant memory, for whom grief and sadness we constant companions.
As individuals who experience loss and grief and pain, this word is for us. It is a word of God not giving up on us. The absence of God which we may have felt so deeply is never the final word of God.
Mary, in faithful echo of this passage, has said yes to the plans of God. She speaks as an individual, and yet she sings of God’s salvation for all. Lest we get ahead of ourselves, let us remember the difficulties and ambivalence she is facing.
Betrothed, but pregnant. Scandalous among her neighbors, but finding joy in the new life within her. To be married to a man who is still unsure about this whole “not my baby” thing. About to go on a long journey while very pregnant to a place where her husband’s family is from, but she has no relatives or support there. And in the midst of this worry and these difficulties, because of the promises of God, she is able to give thanks and rejoice.
Mary is a part of the covenant. She is concerned not just with herself and her family and her yet to be born child, but also with the state of the world, with the problems besetting her people, with the need for justice and mercy. In other words, she is a mom.
I want us to think for a moment of the world into which Jesus came. What do we know of this world from the Gospels?
- Innocent children killed.
- Many people reacting to life out of fear.
- Some people using violence as a coping mechanism.
- Some people being cast out and rejected because of who they are or how society perceives them.
- The poor getting no relief.
- Imprisonment used as a means of social control.
- People in power looking out only for themselves.
- Some people using religion to shore up the status quo, others using it to violently oppose the way things are, and still others trying to find how God will make all things new even in the midst of the same old same old.
That is the world into which God’s anointed, the Messiah, our Jesus, was sent. Not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved. To people in such a world Jesus came to offer a more excellent way. Into such situations God poured out God’s self. For such people, even the violent ones and the ones with whom we disagree and the ones we fear, Jesus lived, and for all our sakes, died.
This morning my favorite Sunday morning radio show, On Being, was a rerun of Krista Tippet interviewing Kate Braestrup, a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service, author of the book “Here If You Need Me.” She noted that at the scene of a death, or while the wardens are searching the woods for a missing person, or any number of other moments when people are likely to ask, “Where is God in this?”, her answer is “look for the helpers.” Look at the people who are searching, the people who are tending to the wounded or caring for the survivors.
It reminds me that we all have a part to play. We all have the opportunity, like Mary, to trust in the crazy promises of God, and to say yes to what God is doing even in the midst of a world so messed up.
For it was just such a world into which Jesus was born, and for such a time as this that God made real a love beyond violence and a hope beyond death. For if grace is real, then it is real enough for difficulties like ours. And if compassion is true, then it can be lived out in a world such as ours. And if God comes into messy places with the power of healing and reconciliation and hope, then surely God is present these moments and these days.
For this we can pray and sing and hold one another and, even as we shed tears of grief and struggle to understand, we can find a way to magnify the Lord and let our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.
Thanks be to God.