Prayer: God of Grace and Peace come into our lives in both expected and unexpected ways. Show us how to turn our conflicts and concerns into instruments of peace and love. Turn our lives toward the one you send to us humbly laid in a manger. Amen.
Advent is my favorite season of the Church year. It is special to me because it is a time when our hopes and dreams are invited by our ancient text to come alive. It is a time when possibilities expand from the world as we know it into a world as it could be. Advent is a season when hope, peace, joy and love prevail, and the woes of the world seem conquerable. Advent asks us, “What behaviors do we need to change to be part of the peaceful world Isaiah envisions?” Advent calls us to be persons who already have one foot in God’s new age and who picture ourselves already being the change we wish to see the world emulate.
Week after week, we stand up and wish the peace of Christ to those around us in this place, but today’s message from the ancient psalmist goes far beyond our cordial greetings to highlight the hope of a nation, the dream of Jerusalem.
Theologian, Scholar, and Pastor, Rev. Bruce Epperly claims:
Wishing another “peace” will transform the spirit of Jerusalem, and our nation as well. We need to get beyond alienation, and experience divine connection, even as we challenge the injustices of our time.
This season of waiting reminds us that we live in a time when people are searching for meaning, for understanding of their lives, but also trying to find something larger than themselves in which to place their trust, their faith, their hope. So, why do we pass the peace of Christ with each other? I would like to think that we do this simple act of kindness in order to fulfill what the psalmist of Psalm 122 proclaims: That the peace of the world must start with the peace within each person. A small seed that germinates within the dark. When we’re willing to allow that seed to break and root, peace becomes a way of life, available to pass along to each one we encounter.
We want to think that all of this means something, and is going somewhere, don't we? Perhaps we can find meaning within the words of Presbyterian Minister, Fred Rogers, who was also the creator and host of Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood, who said:
"When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deeper part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over the conflict of war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed."
These words were spoken over 40 years ago, but remain true today. They fit so well with the message of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus had been near the end of his ministry and life, and spoke in private with his followers, whose attention was consumed by their worry of when and how the great stones of the Temple would crumble. They had become absorbed in the physical and technical aspects of what Jesus was telling them; instead of truly hearing Christ’s message that they needed to be living in the moment with Him not focused on the ‘when’ and the ‘what if’s’. No one can argue that Jesus’ message was rooted in His hope in the healing and transforming presence of God. Jesus was telling them then, and us today, to live expectant waiting in the dark.
The principles of the energy work, Reiki are grounded within the following prayer:
Just for today I will give thanks for my many blessings. Just for today I will not worry. Just
for today I will not anger. Just for today I will do my work honestly. Just for today I will show love and respect for every living thing. Amen.
Just like Jesus’ words to his closet followers, here too, this prayer reminds us to live in the moment of each day, expectant and new. They invite us to ask, “Are we waiting for Jesus, or is Jesus waiting for us?
Often it appears our culture is more concerned about the future then focusing on the right now. Maybe that is because it can be painful to live in the reality today brings. But the point is, our faith does not live in the future, but should shine forth from us in the present time, transforming us into Beacons of light in the darkness.
When I counseled Summer camp with Kara a few years back, our focus was on the various “God Moments” each day brought. You know, those moments when you just know you are in the presence of the Divine. Such instants could be when a bird flies into your path, when the scent of the forest overwhelms you, or even when you help a friend who had fallen into the creek. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew as well as the original Reiki Master, invite us to live in these God moments, even treasure them, because within these simple seconds, pivotal life events may be happening. This is what it means to be in a time of Advent Waiting, not waiting for the prediction of Christ to come into our lives, but waiting in anticipation for how we will recognize the Christ Child anew.
Mr. Rodgers talked about such living from the heart and not by life’s many distractions. As a kid, I couldn’t wait until the Trolley pulled into Mr. Rodger’s living room ready to take us into an incredible new world. Little did I know such make believe really depicted a deeper reality. Who knows, perhaps well into the future, someone will be talking about the philosophical minds of Shaggy and Scooby!
Earlier, you may have noticed we did not sing a verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, listen now to the words of verse six:
O Come, O Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by your advent here; Love stir within the womb of night, and death’s own shadows put to flight.
There is a lot to consider within these words. First, what does it mean to welcome the Day-Spring? The hope of Christ brightens our time of waiting. Second, we are truly never alone in the dark, we are encompassed with love, a womb like love that buffers everything else. I have to admit this verse has always been the most troubling to me because it is the darkest of verses to one of my favorite Advent hymns. But in preparing for this message, I have come to realize that it is the most important verse, because within the darkness, love conquers all.
The Rev. Jo Hudson, The UCC’s Gathering Pastor of Extravagance, recently said, "There is a world of hurt out there that needs the word of hope from in here." How fitting for us to begin a new church year, to begin this time of waiting for the little baby who will fulfill our hopes and dreams by giving us the warmth of love and light. But before we get there we must learn to be alright with living in the darkness. After all, Jesus is grown and nurtured with the darkness of the womb. The circle of life we all experience. Rev. Hudson’s words speak to us as they did to those who heard the prophet Isaiah thousands of years ago.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!
I heard Rev. Hudson preach during the closing worship of our UCC General Synod, 2013, in Long Beach, CA. She spoke of our history as a people of God, of the many different types of healing over the generations, and of a hope for the church’s future. The
message Pastor Jo spoke was that of the hope of abundance. As we wait once again for the Divine Light coming into our world, there is always more. Our hope this Advent is steeped in the thought that God is so much more than we can ever imagine in our lives.
I am reminded of the words Barbara Brown Taylor uses in the introduction to her book, Learning to Walk in The Dark. She claims:
Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round and bright as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence. All in all, the moon is a truer mirror for my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.
What does your soul look like? How do the various shades of darkness stir your peace and shape your faith? My friends, as we wait, and trust, in that extravagant mercy of God, The Psalmist, Matthew and Isaiah give us very strong hints of how we are to live in preparation for the return of Christ; when, where and how this great reunion will unfold remain a mystery of our hope. Our text suggests it may be a sudden, unexpected return like a thief in the night. But until then our Savior appears all around us… on the corner in the face of a homeless child, in the food line of an inner city church supper, in the eyes of your parents, or even within the scowl of a cranky Christmas shopper. How we respond to Jesus in these terms will shape how we will offer the light of Christ to others.
Both Pastor Rodgers and Hudson remind us today of what we are waiting for, the peace of Christ which lives deep within each of us; and Barbara Brown Taylor gives us permission to play in the darkness. Advent is such a beautiful season because it reminds us that the darkness is necessary for us to be able to recognize the light when it comes into our world. It is a time of waiting, but it is also a great time of living in the moment, relishing each Divine experience and sharing them with each other. Advent is a time of offering peace not just to those within our own households of faith, but with those we encounter in the whole world that God loves. Amen.