From Pastor Kenny's Desk
December 23, 2018
Within a few days Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!”
Mary said: “My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior. For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant, and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed. For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name. Your mercy reached from age to age for those who fear you. You have shown strength with your arm; you have scattered the proud in the conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty. You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy – the promise you made to our ancestors – to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.”
~ Luke 1:39-55
Advent … signs and wonders … prophets and prophecy … lighting of candles and singing songs of hope, peace, love and joy as we wait for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the Holy-child. This is my favorite season of the year and I believe it’s magical. Not in the Santa Claus and flying reindeer kind of magic … although I love catching a glimpse of Rudolph during this time of year … but the sense of going back to an ancient time, a time before Jesus. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in the church when we begin exploring a new gospel … this year we will discover and be mindful of Luke’s sacred story … as we continue our journey of experiencing the ways God desires to more fully enter our lives and our world. The holy season of Advent gives us time to reflect how at the beginning of time God came into the dark world and transformed it … the earth was a
formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. ~ Genesis 1:2. Advent is a time in which we embrace anew the God who not only transforms the world but also transforms and redeems our lives through Jesus … giving ALL people the gifts of God’s hope, peace, love and joy.
Advent is where we show our roots, where we go back to the beginning. We look to the Hebrew prophets, speaking hope to a people who had gone into exile and had everything taken from them. As we read and hear these words of assurance we are reminded … and are given hope, peace, love and joy … just the way we are … as the people of God. In a time when people are displaced by hurricanes and fires, waiting to return home … without a move-back date can feel like exile. Some are unable to return at all and must find a new home. Others have had to leave their homes because of violence, rejection and overwhelming fear. Some are in exile while seeking asylum and refuge while also experiencing the horror of having their children ripped from their arms ... all in the hope of a better life, a future of possibility rather than a life of fear, violence and marginalization. There are those who are in exile to the realities of illness, homelessness, economic insecurity, emotional pain, anguish and brokenness, chattered dreams and loss of integrity, others are in exile because of race, gender and sexual identity and so much more … all longing for healing and answers to the questions of deep pain … longing to know their inner beauty and value … while being affirmed and celebrated as people of God … holy and beautiful … just the way they are. Through the ancient prophets, we learn of promises kept and promises still hoped for … of a new shepherd, a new king. A time when there will be peace. A time when ALL exiles find home.
The lighting of candles, singing songs of hope, peace, love and joy … waiting for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the Holy-child. This is my favorite season of the year and I believe it’s magical.
We light candles each Sunday of Advent … a long-held tradition in the church perhaps carried over from pagan traditions of lighting candles before the Winter Solstice. We are reminding ourselves that light is returning to us and to our world, but we also show that the darkness has purpose and is good, too. The darkness is when we dream, and angels come proclaiming good news. The darkness is when magic happens, when ordinary people working the night shift in the fields behold a vision of angels, and unexpected babies are born. When we are reminded that God’s justice will always be known and we are never forgotten. We are reminded of God’s deep, inner- transformation of possibility and realities of hope, peace, love and joy … no matter our circumstances and experiences. We are reminded that God’s grace and love for us embraces ALL of who we are as the Beloved of God … precious and holy … just the way we are.
We remember John the Baptist during Advent, who came before Jesus, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of our wrong-doings. In some traditions during Advent people fast and pray. These ancient practices are symbols of repentance and turning back to God. For a people living under the oppressive rule of Rome, they needed good news proclaimed and the hope of a new king … they needed to experience this renewal themselves: good news in their daily life and living. Some began to gather at the river, where this scrappy John came wearing camel’s hair and baptizing those who came to him. Calling upon the people to repent, to turn back to God. Calling people away from their homes and temples to something old, and something new. Even in our day there are those still living … or forced to live … under systems of oppression and violence due to race, gender and sexuality … who need … just as we do … to hear and experience this same renewal of hope given through the life and ministry of Jesus, the Promised One.
Advent is a time for singing our laments and praises … songs that empower and remind us of God’s hope, peace, love and joy. As we boldly sing we experience the Divine power of God’s help and healing. Our laments express our grief and fear so as to honor these deep and difficult emotions while simultaneously stripping them of their power to incapacitate and overwhelm us. Songs of praise and thanksgiving unite us with the One to whom we lift our voices. And canticles of courage and promise not only name our hopes but contribute to bringing them to us. Songs are powerful. According to Luke, when Mary sang she didn’t just name those praises but entered into them. As Mary sings she recognizes she has already been drawn into relationship with the God of Israel … our God … the one who has been siding with the oppressed since the days of Egypt and who has been making and keeping promises since the time of Abraham. Singing draws us into the actual experience and reality we voice. God has promised to change the world and in singing these promises we enter into that work.
Advent is going back to the beginnings but also a tearing down of the barrier between past, present, and future. The exiles of the past are on our streets today. The prophets are speaking out from the marginalized and oppressed among us. By going back to what is old, we recognize we have been watching and waiting for something new, and it is almost here. We light candles to wait in the darkness, knowing that there are good things that happen in the middle of the night.
The magic of Advent is all around us. Lighting candles, singing songs and saying prayers of hope that things will be different. Waiting for angels in our dreams and watching stars in the night sky. Telling the stories of old and singing the songs we were taught as children. A magic that reminds us we are not far from our ancestors, that there are exiles among us, prophets still speaking to us, and rabble-rousers calling us out of our comfort zones, to remember that our God is doing something new once again ... and our God often works through each and every one of us … just the way we are … to bring the realities of hope, peace, love and joy to others and the world God loves so much. Amen.