A Fox in the Henhouse: A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 17, 2019, is built around the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

A recording of the sermon delivered at the 10:30 service:

Here is a transcript of the recording:

Sometimes a preacher wakes up in the middle of the night on Sunday morning, and something comes to them that changes everything they’ve been thinking for the past week.  Sometimes that thing comes later in the morning when they get up and open the news sites on their computer, just to check, and they discover that what they’ve been doing all week is writing a sermon no longer works.

Those are terrifying moments.  But my experience this week was very different.  All week long I thought about a sermon. I took notes. I jotted things down.  And then on Thursday, when I actually set about to write, something about those words felt very familiar.  So, I went back and looked, and sure enough, I was writing the same sermon that I wrote about this passage six years ago, in Lent of 2013.  Now, while those middle of the night moments are pretty terrifying, you would think that discovering that I was re writing a sermon that I already knew really well would be a happy moment… but it was kind of terrifying for me to discover that that sermon still applies today, six years later.

I have adjusted this sermon a little bit to account for the fact that I have now been to Jerusalem and stood in the place where this morning’s story happened.  But hear again, a sermon that was written in February of 2013.

 

Jesus said that he longed to gather the children of Israel under his wings like a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings…  Is Jesus really talking about… chickens?

I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC…  Not a lot of contact with chickens there so I don’t know a lot about them, but the little bit that I do know got me in trouble one time.   The summer after I graduated from college, I was with a bunch of coworkers in central Pennsylvania who were sure that I was a “city kid,” and having worked all summer to dispel that idea I blew it when around the corner of a building came the first flock of live chickens I had ever seen.  I stood there transfixed, and when they asked me what was going on, I confessed that I was trying to figure out where the drumstick was…   A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing!

Now, I don’t know a lot about chickens but I do have a pretty good idea of what happens when a fox gets into the henhouse.  a Fox in the henhouse means panic, voices raised in terror and pain.  A fox in the henhouse means the sound of running feet, carnage, blood, death.

And when a fox enters the henhouse, there is nothing a Mother Hen can do but rush to her chicks defense, sacrificing herself to save them from the jaws of the destroyer.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is responding to a group of Pharisees who’ve come to tell him that Herod wants him dead.  And Jesus’s response to that threat, the threat from Herod the fox, is surprisingly dismissive.  He doesn’t seem to be worried about his own life at all.  And the language that he uses, the pictures that he invokes, his cry of lament over the children of Israel, shift our attention, and tell us that there is a greater threat here than the one posed by Herod.

Jesus is pointing out that the children of Israel have a choice to make and that they have, for a long time, chosen to follow not the loving mother hen, but the fox!

Herod Antipas, the fox who wants to kill Jesus, rules Galilee as a client state of Rome.  He is a traitor, a collaborator, a participant in the oppression of his own people.  He is also the son of Herod the “Great.”  It was Herod the “Great” who had the innocents slaughtered in an attempt to eradicate the newly born King of the Jews that the Magi were seeking.  Herod the “Great” had his own children executed for fear that they were plotting to steal his throne.  So, Herod Antipas came from a long line of people willing to do anything, including killing their own chicks and the chick of others to maintain their hold on status, rank, privilege and power.  You would think that a threat from this man would be enough to grab the attention of an itinerant preacher as he makes his way through Herod’s domain, and yet even here, with his life threatened by the “fox,” Jesus keeps himself focused on a larger concern.  When Jesus refers to himself as a mother hen, and laments the history of Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:34), we realize that the “fox” he is referring to is something bigger than Herod Antipas, first century Palestinian Jew.

Jesus is really, is really talking about an understanding of the world and it’s power structures that stand in opposition to the vision, the dream of God for all creation.  The “fox” in this parable represents our tendency to take what we need, to subjugate others to our agenda, to marginalize and to ride roughshod over the poor, the weak, and anyone else who doesn’t have or can’t wield the power that we think we have and deserve.  Jesus is telling us that the “fox” is already in the henhouse and that there is a choice to be made.  Are we going to align ourselves with the fox, in the hopes that we might be spared by the preservation of the status quo; that we might be allowed to continue to run our own little corner of the henhouse; or are we going to cast our lot in with the mother hen, who has been trying for so long to gather us under her wings and shelter us from the power that would destroy us?

There is a choice to be made and, given the choice between a fox and a Mother Hen, the fox at first blush, might seem like a better choice.  On the surface the Fox seems more powerful and attractive.  The Fox offers perks and benefits, privilege and status, rank and recognition.  The Fox would seem better equipped to defend itself and to defend us.  Surely we can cultivate and tame the fox’s rage and penchant for blood, using it to our own benefit.

But there is this little problem with putting the Fox in charge of the henhouse.  The Fox has a tendency to sneak in when no one else is looking, in the dead of the night, seeking to slake its hunger.  And when we finally wake up and take stock, we will see that some of us are missing, or injured, trampled into the hard scrabble of the henhouse floor by the Fox’s destructive rampage.  Once we have let the fox into the henhouse there is just no telling who might be deemed disposable, be discarded, be left out, or even go missing altogether.  Yes, the fox is powerful, but in the end, no one is safe when there is a fox in the henhouse.

Standing here this morning, the slope of the Mount of Olives at our back, the ground before us falling away to the Kidron Valley, the Garden of Gesthemane down there at the foot of the hill, and the Temple Mount rising before us across the valley, the slope is covered with graves.  The people of Israel have chosen the hill that is the Mount of Olives for a public cemetery.  And in that rocky and steep soil, burials are above ground in stone crypts.  And standing there you can see that the hillside is littered with the graves of the children of Jerusalem.

Right at our back is a Franciscan chapel called Dominus Flevit, which means “the Lord has wept.”  And on the chapel altar is a mosaic, a picture of a mother hen with her wings spread wide, trying her best to look as ferocious as a mother and can look, with her chicks gathered up under her wings.

Here in this place Jesus is telling us your house is “left to you,” another way of telling us that our henhouse is left desolate, because we have refused to shelter in the shadow of the wings of the mother hen.  Why are we so unwilling to turn our backs on the fox and cast our lot with the love of the Mother Hen?

It’s a frightening thing to reject the fox.  It is even more frightening to step into the shadow of the Mother Hen’s wings because, as Jesus is pointing out when he shifts the definition of “fox” away from Herod and towards a view of the systems and structures that dominate and shape our lives, the choice we make will ultimately define the way that we live together, and who we are.

In an article published by the Christian Century in 1985 Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the Episcopal Church’s most gifted and treasured preachers asked,

“If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”

Now I said that in this passage, Barbara Brown Taylor asks a question.  But you may have noticed that the end of that quotation there was a period and not a question mark.  But you know… today’s Gospel reading didn’t end with a question mark, and there’s still a question there.  It’s implicit in the clear distinction between two ways of seeing, being, and living in the world.

Jesus is asking us to turn away from the way of the fox; to stop participating in structures that oppress, crush and destroy; to recognize that the fox under whose standard we are gathered, will not recognize our past loyalty and support, but will destroy as all without regard or distinction.

Jesus is asking us to take courage from his example; to have faith in God’s love and promise; and to stand, as he did, wings spread, breast exposed, and to gather his children under our wings; to fly at the fox in defense of the weak and the poor the widow and the orphan, the forgotten stranger, the marginalized, the other…

Jesus is asking us to gather under the shadow of his wings and to let him rescue our humanity from the hard scrabble of the henhouse floor.

Amen.

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Choosing the Way of Love: A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 10, 2019, is built around the readings for the 1st Sunday in Lent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

A recording of the sermon delivered at the 10:30 am service

Here is a transcript of the recording

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.   Amen.

Please be seated.

It almost seemed like a dirty trick yesterday afternoon at about 6 o’clock when the snow was blowing sideways past my kitchen window.  Here we are.  It’s the first Sunday of Lent 2019, the first day of daylight savings time, in the middle of the winter that just won’t let us go.  So I think it might be a good idea in this morning for us to turn our mind to some, perhaps, happier moments.  I’d like to ask you all for just a minute to close your eyes and remember how you felt in those moments that seemed to change everything.   Maybe it was the moment you got picked for the team, or for the show.  Maybe it was graduating, or being accepted to school.  Maybe it was when that one person said yes, or asked.  Maybe it was the moment you learned that you would become a parent…  Think about the joy that you felt in those moments, the astounding way that your body felt alive, your heart pounded in your chest, as the possibilities opened up before you.  And then, acknowledge with me if you will, the anxiety that came just a little while later.  Will I be good enough to stay on the team?  What kind of actor will I be?  What kind of student will I be?  How will I study and what will I study?  What kind of partner, what kind of parent will I be?  And how will I know how to do all of these things?

If you’re feeling that moment of question and doubt, imagine how a young man from Nazareth in the Galilee must have felt.  He’d heard the stories, the stories about an angel coming to speak to his mother.  He’d heard the stories about the birth of his cousin John, the stories about the day when his mother and his aunt came together and sang with joy because they were expecting children.  He’d heard the stories… and he had this recollection of sitting in the Temple at 11 years of age and answering the questions that the teachers posed, and then asking questions of his own that they struggled to answer.  All his life he’d sensed that there was something different about him.  All his life he’d wondered what it meant.  And then, having gone to see his cousin John the Baptist ministering there in the wilderness, standing knee-deep in the muddy waters of the Jordan River, Jesus stood up water streaming from his hair and dripping from his nose and chin, and heard a voice that made sense of it all.  “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

He must have been ecstatic to finally, finally understand and to be able to make sense of all of those stories…  I wonder if that joy even lasted until his feet were on dry ground there on the banks of the Jordan.  What does it mean to be the son of God, the Beloved?  What is it that I’m supposed to do?  How will I be this person?

The next thing that happens in Luke’s Gospel, after a short insertion of Jesus’s genealogy to give us the reader some evidence that this is in fact true about Jesus, Jesus goes into the wilderness.  Now it’s important to note that in Matthew and Mark Jesus doesn’t seem to go of his own accord.  In one of those versions he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  In the other he is driven into the wilderness.  But here in Luke’s Gospel it says that the spirit led him in the wilderness.  It’s like he went there of his own accord to work this out.  To think about it.  To ponder just what it might mean.  To ponder his vocation and how he would live it out…  and once he got there the spirit managed what would come next.

We don’t know when, during those 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus figured out what his vocation was, or his mission.  We do know that as soon as he returns from the wilderness he goes home to Nazareth, he goes in to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, they hand him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he says this,

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And then Luke tells us,

“And he rolled up the scroll gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, ‘today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Jesus returns from the wilderness with the understanding that his vocation, his mission, is to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  But an understanding of his mission and his vocation isn’t the only thing that he gained in the wilderness.  He also learned, or declared how, he would live out that vocation.

Luke tells us that the devil came to him and said, “If you are the son of God turn this stone into a loaf of bread.”  Surely, if it’s your mission and vocation to set the prisoners free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… if you can snap your fingers and feed people they’ll get right in line.  They’ll do exactly what it is that you ask them to do because you will be able to meet all their needs.  Jesus turns his back on that temptation.

So the devil tries again and takes him up and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, “If you are the son of God just take it it’s mine I can give it to you” and you will be in charge.  You can tell them what to do and they won’t get right in line.  You will have the authority to demand that they release the prisoners; they take care of the blind, the lame, and the sick, the poor…  All you have to do is worship me and you will have the power to make them do whatever you want.  But Jesus says no.  Certainly, he would be a benevolent dictator, a benevolent autocratic ruler, but that’s not the way that Jesus chooses.

So the devil tries one more time, and takes him to the pinnacle of the highest point of the Temple, and says growing yourself off.  Because if you’re the son of God the Angels will catch you before you hit the ground, and people will see that, and they’ll know without a doubt, in an instant, that you’re the one to follow.  And they’ll jump right on board with whatever you tell them to do, because it would be foolish to not do what you say.  And again, Jesus turns his back.

William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury for a few short years in the 40s, his tenure was cut short by his untimely death, speaks about The Temptations in the Wilderness as the temptation to coercion.   Buy their allegiance.  Force their allegiance.  Prove that it would make no sense to do anything but get in line and follow you.  All of those William Temple calls coercion because what God really wants, and what Jesus really wants in this moment, is not our allegiance.  It’s not our trembling obedience.  It’s our love.  God wants us to love. And love cannot be coerced.  I’m sure William Temple had never heard this phrase but you all have heard it, “If you can’t say no, it’s not love.”  If Jesus were to try and buy us, by turning stones to bread, that wouldn’t be love.  Forcing us wouldn’t be love.  Even proving, as a matter of science, who he was, would deny us the ability to choose.  And it’s only when we can choose, that love is possible.  So, Jesus instead, walks out of the wilderness and chooses the path of the suffering servant, and it makes himself vulnerable to us, in the hope we will love in return.

That’s really great news if you think about it.  Now it might be more expedient… It might have remedied a lot of the world’s problems that Jesus had chosen one of those other paths; if he was turning stones into bread, and feeding the poor; or making autocratic leaders who aren’t so benevolent step in line because he had the power to force them; or proving that it’s for our benefit, or to our benefit, to live the life to which he’s calling us.  But any of those paths would have made us less human than we are capable of being.  It would’ve denied us the ability to choose to love even when the evidence all points to the contrary, or when it might be easier to choose other paths to achieve laudable goals.  It’s good news that God wants us to love.

And I think it’s very instructive to us as we enter the wilderness of Lent, to spend our own 40 days trying to discern how to live out our identity, given to us that our baptism, as beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased; as we try to figure out how we will live in this world, seeking to realize God’s dream and vision for creation in our own lives and in the community around us.  It might feel good to get self-righteous and indignant and angry.  It might feel good to yell and demand.  But what Jesus does in the wilderness is turn his back on those behaviors, and to reach out, making himself vulnerable, and hoping that the relationships that are forged will lead to a community that lives its life together in light love and grace.

As we make our way through these 40 days we may have the opportunity to discover, within ourselves and in our lives, places where our anger, or our impatience, or our need to be right and to have the right answers, or to know the right way of doing things, gets in the way of love.  We may find those things within ourselves impacting our families, our workplaces, the people with whom we interact in the marketplace, and in the voting booth.  But in this moment, as we began our journey through the season of Lent, we are called to do the same thing that Jesus did; to walk out of the wilderness with our humanity intact, whole, loving, forgiving; willing to be vulnerable to change, to the needs of others and to their place in this garden with us.

Forty days.  Forty days in the wilderness.  Forty days in the season of Lent, with God as both our destination and our companion on the journey.  Today we get a true gift, the knowledge, the truth, the understanding that it’s all about love; loving ourselves, loving our neighbor, and loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; in the wilderness, at home, wherever we are.  Love.

Amen.

A Difficult and Perilous Journey: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, on March 6,Ash Wednesday, 2019, is built around the readings assigned for Ash Wednesday and the Invitation to The Observance of A Holy Lent found on page 264 of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Lectionary Readings for Ash Wednesday can be found here

The Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent can be found here

 

Here is a recording of the sermon delivered at the 12:00 noon service on Ash Wednesday:

 

Here is a transcript of the recorded sermon:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Please be seated.

It is to be sure a remarkable thing that we do this day.  Wednesday, a work day, the middle of the day, 16° outside, and we have come together to take the first steps on a difficult and perilous journey; a journey that will be marked by beatings, imprisonments, riots…  Oh, no wait.  That was Paul’s journey.  Our journey will be marked by self-examination and repentance, by prayer fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.  Not easy disciplines to keep.  If they were easy, there would be no need to invite us all to enjoin in these practices at this moment.  So, this journey through the season of Lent will be difficult.   And while we’re not likely to suffer imprisonment, riots, labors, it will be a perilous journey; because during this season of Lent we will be called to look inside of ourselves and to see with God’s eyes; and to dare to name those places within us that we would rather not expose to anyone, maybe even to ourselves.

We will be called to identify those places in our lives that don’t fill us with joy and life, but which cause us some degree of pain, and shame, and discomfort.  And during this season we’ll be called to wrestle with those things, and, perhaps limping for the rest of our lives, walk away from them, turning our backs on them, and turning back to God, the one who gives us light and life and joy.

So, it is a difficult and perilous journey that we undertake this day.  And even more remarkable, I think, because in just a few moments we’ll come forward and kneel at this rail, and be reminded of our own fragility, our mortality.  We’ll kneel here at the rail and have ashes smeared on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, and hear the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” a reality that most of our culture would like to ignore or even deny.  And yet, we will come forward today and volunteer both for this journey and for this reminder.

Then, just a few minutes later, we’ll return to this rail, and we’ll hold out our hands, and ask for help.  We’ll hold out our hands and receive the symbol and the sign of God’s ongoing presence in our midst and in our lives.  We’ll hold out our hands and we’ll be reminded that, even as we walk this journey, seeking to rid ourselves of the things that hold us back, the things that chain us, God is walking by our sides.  Even as we seek absolution, we are being forgiven.  Even as we work to come closer to the heart of God, God is before us, behind us, beside us, within us; moving us along this path, holding us up and showing us the way.  I think it’s probably accurate to say that without that reassurance of God’s presence, and love, and forgiveness; without the promise of that new light that will break at the end of this journey, we might not dare to take these first steps.  Even together, this journey would be terrifying, if not for the truth, and the faith, and the belief, that at the end of this journey is God; and for this reminder that on every step of the way, as we make that journey to our destination, God is by our sides.  So, this day we come together to begin a journey that will lead us ever deeper into the heart of God, and allow God’s light, and life, and love to shine more brightly within us and around us.

The world may wonder as we walk among them today with this symbol of death and mortality on our foreheads.  And they may expect, as they look on us with that sign on our heads, to seem grim, disheartened, downcast, even afraid.  I think that as we walk this earth with Earth smeared on our foreheads, we can do it with our eyes lifted up, with confidence, and faith, hope, and even joy.  Someone greeted me after the early service this morning in the Narthex, and she said I guess is probably not appropriate to say Happy Ash Wednesday.  But you know if you listen to this Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent, it says “Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the gospel of our Savior…”  I can’t think of anything happier than a message of pardon and absolution.  So, if someone looks at you questioningly, and starts to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got dirt on your forehead…”  You just look at them and say Happy Ash Wednesday.  Amen

Peace,

Andy+

Remember What God has Done and Do Not Be Afraid: A sermon for Christmas Eve

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin on December 24 2018 is built around the readings for Christmas I in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

 

Wow!

It’s really great to see you all as we gather around the manger to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us…!

And it’s pretty wonderful that we have this luxurious, spacious birthing suite here…  But I think I need to check with my supervisor.  I’m not sure we’re allowed to have this many people in here at one time…

(Looking up…) What’s that? Oh.  OK.  Yup it’s fine.  But just this once…

You know nothing draws a crowd like a baby.  They’re like a magnet.  Sometimes, when there’s a new baby here on Sunday morning, the parents never make it to coffee hour because people swarm around them up here in the nave, just wanting to get close to the baby.  But who’s to blame us right?  Babies are amazing.

There’s the pure wonder in the physicality of them, the little tiny fingers complete with nails and wrinkles at the knuckles, the smell of their hair, why does a baby’s hair always smell so good?  There’s the faces they make when they are waking up, the brightness of their eyes with they are alert, soaking everything up, learning…

And then there are the intangible wonders… the miracle of new life, the bond between mother and child, the tenderness, the love…

When we are around a newborn child we feel a special sense of connection, wonder, and awe.

But I would suggest that there’s something else about babies that draws us in.

They are dependent on us for everything.  They need us to feed them, change their diapers, to protect them, to shelter them.  They need us to interpret and understand when something is wrong and to know what to do about it.  And the miracle in all of this dependency… Is that it doesn’t push us away.  It actually draws us in.

In one of her TED Talks, Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, tells how her research has found that people who express a true sense of connection with the people and the world around them are people who embrace vulnerability.

They believe that what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful.  They are willing to risk, “To do something where there are no guarantees.  To invest in a relationship that may not work out.  To say ‘I love you’ first.”

Taking risks, making ourselves vulnerable may, at times, leave us hurt or wounded but, according to Brown, “it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love…”

Hear that again, the willingness to be vulnerable “… is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, of love.”

That might sound strange to you because we are taught early on that revealing, expressing sharing our vulnerability is a risky thing to do…

If we are vulnerable we may be seen as “weak.”  And in today’s economy, being vulnerable or weak means that we will be judged as lacking.  We won’t get picked for the team.  Someone else will get the job, the promotion, the recognition.  And pretty soon that “place” of “joy, creativity, of belonging, of love,” the place that requires us to be vulnerable, becomes a place that we avoid, deny, even resent…

We see a baby, totally dependent on us for everything, and their vulnerability draws us in because, somehow, we sense in that moment the possibility of something of which we can never have enough, joy, creativity, belonging, love.

There are other “places” where we might risk being vulnerable; music, art, the theater, even at the movies.  But these can be solitary places.  We close our eyes.  We go inside.  We may sit “together, but we do it in a darkened room.

But when we come together around that miracle of new life, when a newborn child is placed in our arms, when we see the potential that child represents, the risk undertaken in coming into the world; we can be moved to a place of vulnerability ourselves.

We find ourselves willing to invest our love in one who can’t yet, and may never, reciprocate.  We become willing to share the things we hold most deeply, we find ourselves wanting to connect.  And there, in the company of other people, maybe even looking them full in the face, we find ourselves, as a community bound together by our vulnerability, in “the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love.”

No wonder we’re all here.  No wonder we need to bend the rules to let everyone, and I mean everyone, into the delivery room tonight.  The birth of a child is a gift that can help us to enter into a space for which we all desperately long.  And this crowd?  All of us here tonight, squeezed in around the manger?  Well, this isn’t just any child.

This is God coming into the world, Emmanuel, God with us.

And even as this birth draws us into that place, allows us a moment to be vulnerable, our hearts are opened to a new reality, a new way of being…

Here by the manger we begin to realize that this place, this moment of tender connection, of risk, of vulnerability is the “place” where God lives.

That’s really hard to imagine.  But joy, creativity, belonging, love, those things sound like God, don’t they?

God is here with us, as a newborn child, defenseless, dependent on us for everything… to affirm the value of vulnerability.  And to model a way of being that will help us to see, to experience, to live in the world in a new way; a way that leads to the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Tomorrow, or later this week if you are lucky, when you go back into those other places, those same pressures will be there, trying to discourage you from being vulnerable, trying to get you to rebuild the walls that separate us one from another, from God, and even from ourselves.  Those same pressures will be there, asserting that this was only a dream, that it isn’t real; trying to drag us from the manger and the truth that we have found here.

But when that happens, when allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be who you are, to live in the birthplace of oy, creativity, of belonging, of love… remember what God has done here in this place and,

“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Amen.

 

 

 

Mary, Not So Meek and Mild: A sermon for Advent 4C

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin on December 23, 2018, is built around the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

Here is an audio recording of the sermon

 

Here is the text:

I almost made it.  I’ve done a lot of my shopping on line.  I’ve stayed out of the mall all season.  I thought I had escaped.  But on Thursday this past week I took the day to run some final errands.

I walked into the SERV store on State Street and it got me, an instrumental, made for the elevator in a doctor’s office version of…. The Little Drummer Boy!

I don’t know why I dislike that song so much.  It might have something to do with that awful, Claymation, made for TV Christmas Special and the way it scared my kids when they were growing up…  More likely it has to do with repetitive melody, and the lyrics… pa rum pum pum pum?   Come on.

I hope that I’m not offending any of you, but I was greatly cheered this year when I saw a cartoon on Facebook with the Baby Jesus sitting up in the manger, looking at the Little Drummer Boy, and saying, “That has got to be the stupidest song I have ever heard…”   I felt very vindicated…

But this week I’ve had a change of mind.  All week long, as I worked with today’s lessons another song kept insinuating itself upon my consciousness. I didn’t think that it was possible, but this song has supplanted The Little Drummer Boy at the top of my Christmas no play list.

It’s not the melody.  The melody is beautiful.  It’s not the performance.  The song is sung a’ Capella and is really well done.  It’s the lyrics… well not exactly the lyrics, it’s the theology behind the lyrics, it’s what they teach us… or to put it more precisely what they rob us of…

In order to explain this, I need to back up a little…  not that far really… only about 13 verses…

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you’” (Luke 1:26-28).

Now the Lectionary doesn’t have us read this part of the story, The Annunciation, this year, but it’s key to understanding why this song has me so worked up…

The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary to tell her that God has favored her and that she will give birth to Jesus, the Son of God.  At the end of this portion of the story Mary says,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

The Angel leaves and in the very next verse Mary is on the road to the hill country of Judea to see her Cousin Elizabeth.  Now it’s important to note that the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth, who was way past her child bearing years, was six months pregnant.  It would have been about a three week journey for Mary to reach Elizabeth, and today’s reading tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months.  The lines immediately following Mary’s departure from Elizabeth tell the story of the birth of Elizabeth’s son, John…   So, do the math…

Elizabeth was already six months when Mary got the news, add to that three weeks of travel and the three months that Mary stayed with Elizabeth before she gave birth.  That tells us that Mary didn’t waste any time getting on the road to go see Elizabeth.  She must have saddled up her donkey and left the next morning!

What was going on in her head?  Nobody knew about this but her.  Why the rush?  She wouldn’t have felt anything different in her body, no signs that new life was stirring within her…

Maybe she rushed into the country side to see Elizabeth because she needed some confirmation, to hear that something, anything, that the angel had said was true.  If Elizabeth was indeed expecting a child, then maybe the angel had been right about what would happen to her!

She was in a hurry but she had plenty of time to think.  Three weeks on the road, to ponder what it meant for her, an unwed woman, engaged but not yet married, to be found pregnant.  What would Joseph say?  What would her family say?  What would the people of village say when they found out?

Talk about your strange mix of emotions…  You have to wonder how all of those fears play in her mind alongside the words of the angel Gabriel…

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1: 31-33).

“…the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35b).

Three weeks to ponder, to wonder, to think about how she might be received if she returned home pregnant; and what it might mean if God did indeed come into the world through her, an unmarried peasant girl from a small insignificant village in the Galilee.

So, can you imagine how she felt as she drew near Elizabeth’s house?  I am sure that the closer she got, the more excited she became, the more her heart raced.  I can just see her running from the yard to the door, calling out to her cousin…  Elizabeth?!?  Elizabeth?!?

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:41-45).

It’s incredible, almost beyond belief!  Elizabeth is pregnant!  Her unborn child recognizes the presence of the child that Mary is carrying!  And Elizabeth knows without Mary even telling her, that Mary is pregnant!

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;  for the Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name’” (Luke 1:46-49).

I know it must feel like it was a long time ago, but remember when I was going on about a Christmas song that has been on my nerves all week? Here’s where it wants to play.

A music video opens, the a Capella group Pentatonix, with candles in their hands, gathered in a cave probably very much like the one where Jesus was born on the hillside in Bethlehem, starts to sing and they ask… Mary did you know?1

“Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water, Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?”

On and on the song goes, asking Mary if she had known all the things that Jesus would do, and finally, the song asks

“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.  Mary did you know?”

It’s a beautiful song, and I can certainly understand why people find its presentation attractive, but it robs us of an essential part of Mary’s story.  A part of her story that we really need to hear, now, today!

Listen to more of what Mary says in this moment:

“He has shown strength with his arm;he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;  he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).

Mary knew!  Mary knew that God was coming into the world, not in the palaces of the wealthy, not in the company of the proud, not among the powerful seated on their thrones…  And Mary understood that God coming into the world in this way would turn things upside down.  Feed the hungry and lift up the lowly?  Mary knew!  And here, in the first chapter of Luke, Mary and Elizabeth are together, celebrating, laughing, singing at their wonder and joy that, at long last God,

“…has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever” (Luke 1:54-55).

Mary did you know?  Yes!

This isn’t Mother Mary meek and mild.  This isn’t a Mary who doesn’t understand the implications of what she is doing, who doesn’t understand what her participation in this moment means.  In fact, as author D. L. Mayfield wrote this week in the Washington Post,

“Here, Mary comes across less like a scared and obedient 15-year-old and more like a rebel intent on reorienting unjust systems.” 2

It’s important that we recognize, and not diminish or romanticize Mary’s part.  Here, in the Magnificat, in Mary’s song of exultation and joy, we hear her full-throated, rebellious, proclamation that God is doing a new thing and setting about to change the world on our behalf!

Yes, Mary knew!  And that’s a part of the story that we can’t afford to lose.

It’s important for us, here on the fourth Sunday of Advent, after weeks of longing and waiting, to be sure we understand what we are asking for.  And Mary is here, singing her own song, in her own voice, to help us see the truth of the choice that lies before us in these coming days.

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Christmas is two days away.  Elizabeth has delivered her child John the Baptist, and his father Zecchariah has sung:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,” (Luke 1:76)

Emperor Augustus has decreed that all the world should be registered.  The whole world is on the move crossing borders, looking for home.

Mary and Joseph are almost to Bethlehem where they will be looking for a place to give birth to the child… to bring the Light of God into the world.

Tired, hungry, road weary, having traveled a great distance, they will come knocking on our door, asking us if we have room to let God in.

What will we do?  Will we decide that we have too much to lose?  Will our wealth, our abundance, our pride, our need to preserve our own power, lead us to tell these travelers that they need to move along.  Find another place.  There is no room here for what you bring.

Or will we, like this powerful young woman, have the faith to say, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word…’ throw open the gates, and let them in?

__________________________

1 “Mary, Did You Know?” lyrics by Mark Lowry and music by Buddy Greene, 1991

2Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her.  By D. L. Mayfield, The Washington Post, December 20, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Proclaiming the Good News: No Wrath, No ax, No Winnowing Fork or Fire

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones and St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on December 16, 2018, is built on the readings for the Third Sunday in Advent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

Good news?  Really?  John the Baptist is out here in the wilderness calling people vipers, talking about the wrath that is to come.

He’s telling us that there is an ax lying at the root of our ancestral tree and that the Messiah is coming with a winnowing fork in hand, to burn the barren branches and the chaff with unquenchable fire!  That doesn’t sound much like good news to me!  But people are flocking to him, anxious to hear what he has to say!  Why?

Are we rushing into the wilderness to hear good news?  Because I don’t hear much of that…  Or are we coming to John in fear of judgement hoping he knows how we can save ourselves, asking in desperation, “What then should we do?”

That must be it because John asks us, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  Are you serious?  You did John!  And you’ve got us scared to death!  That’s why we’re here!  We are afraid!

But that doesn’t sound right… does it?  I mean… I hope that we aren’t here because we are afraid.  We’re not afraid…  Are we?

No.  We’re not afraid.  We came her for the Good News and there must be some of that in here somewhere… right?

Yes!  There is… There is good news in this story.

There is John, the voice crying out,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  (Isaiah 40:3)

And John has got it right!  We need to prepare!  There is one more powerful than John who is coming  to baptize us with the Holy Spirit.

John is right!  God is about to fulfill God’s promise.  The Messiah, the Christ, is coming into the world, and that is Good news!  Luke is right when he says that this is good news!  John has it right!

But I have to tell you that that there is even better news in the fact that John… has some of it wrong!

John thought, and so did pretty much everyone else, that the nation of Israel was suffering because they had failed to follow God’s law, because they had sinned in the eyes of God.  And John was sure that the Messiah would come with power, great might, and seething with wrath.

An ax lying at the root of the ancestral tree, chopping off the barren branches and dead wood, saving the wheat and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire…  This was how people believed God would intervene in the world, how God would make things right.  This was how people believed that God would help and deliver God’s people.  But John didn’t understand some of the prophets who came before him.  So the people weren’t prepared.

We, none of us, were ready to believe that the Messiah, God Among Us, would come into the world naked, bloody, crying, cold and shivering in the night air; not in a royal court, but in a manger, among the animals, defenseless, dependent on us… given into our hands… a child.

God comes to us as a child, and upon that child’s shoulders authority will rest, and that child will be named

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)

John, we, didn’t understand, couldn’t imagine that God’s power and great might would manifest in the world as vulnerability, surrender, and love…

So, it seems pretty clear that, while John had the big picture right, his grasp of the finer points left a little to be desired…

No wrath.  No ax.  No unquenchable fire.

But then, you know, that sort of begs the question…

If we’re not here asking “What then should we do,” if we’re not here because we are afraid.  Why are we here, in the wilderness with John?

There sure seems to be some urgency about our gathering this morning. Listen again to the Collect of the Day:

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;”  (BCP. 212)

Stir up your power, and with great might come among us…  Let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us…

Those words convey urgency, they reflect desire, they speak of longing.

Jesus Emmanuel, God Among Us, came into the world and offered us something unimaginable, the opportunity to experience, to participate, in a life colored by, infused with, the love of God… life eternal.

And having been given a glimpse of that life, of God’s dream for us, we find ourselves groaning with the psalmist:

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; * my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.”                                                              (Psalm 63:1 BCP)

If only, if only we could live and move and have our being in God and experience that life that Jesus offers us.

Longing, desire, urgency!

We are here today with a real sense of urgency, but driven by love, not by fear, in the wilderness with John and his followers, asking with longing and desire, “Teacher, what should we do?”

Because… and here we go back to the Collect of the Day,

            “…because we are sorely hindered by our sins…”

Hindered by our sins…  hampered, impeded, prevented, thwarted in our desire and attempt to live, and move, and have our being in God… by our sins… or, as we will say in just a few minutes, by:

“The evil that enslaves us,  The Evil we have done,  And the evil done on our behalf”  (Enriching Our Worship 1, page 19)

“Teacher, what should we do?”

Suddenly John the Baptist, having discreetly moved his seat to the back of the class, raises his hand, and with a smile on his face, stands and says, I know, the Messiah is coming, God is coming into the world, and you want to live the life that God dreams for us, free to love god and your neighbor, and to love yourself… oh to love one’s self… so let me just say it again… a little more slowly this time…

To the crowds I say,

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11).

Cultivate a sense of abundance by giving some of what has been given to you to those who have not.  You’ll be amazed by the way it feels to give without expectation of return.  Give out of love, give for giving’s sake and you will get a taste of the life God dreams for you.

To the tax collectors I say,

“Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3:13).

Insist that giving for the common good benefits those who need it most, doesn’t become a burden on those who have the least to give, and that what is given to provide the things we all need isn’t used to enrich the few, but to care for the many.

Give the needs of the community the same priority that you give your own and you will be taking the first steps in realizing the life for which you long.

To the soldiers, the police, I say,

“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:14).

Or to quote my predecessor Amos,

“…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”   (Amos 5:24)

Work to make your justice blind, equitable, fair, and be sure that it is shaped and informed by God’s love, mercy, and grace.

Be sure that the law isn’t twisted and used to uphold the powerful at the expense of the voiceless, and you will begin to balance the scales in a way that leads to the love and peace that you so desire…

John sits back down, and Luke, our narrator this morning steps into the frame and says,

“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

It really is good news!  Jesus is coming to show us the unimaginable, a life lived in communion with, reconciled with, God, one another, and with ourselves.  It can be awfully hard, seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  And sometimes it feels like too much, an overwhelming task, to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

And so, the best news of all, is that God isn’t coming to judge us for having fallen short of the mark.  God isn’t sending Jesus

“…into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17)

God is coming into the world to help us to realize, experience, live and move and have our being, wrapped in the truth and light of God’s love!

And so, our prayer this morning:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unimaginable Words: A sermon for Advent 1C

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, on December 2, 2018 at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, is built on the readings for the First Sunday of Advent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

 

What will it be like?  What will it be like when God intervenes in the world?  How will it come to pass that we all finally understand without a doubt that God loves us unconditionally?  How will we discover that we really are bound to one another, brothers and sisters responsible for loving and caring for our neighbor?

What will finally cause the powers of this world, the people, the governments, the systems, that oppress God’s children, stealing their liberty and exploiting them for their own selfish needs… what will finally cause them to reexamine themselves and to become life giving instead of life taking?

No one going hungry, no one suffering under the threat of war, no one struggling against injustice, prejudice or hatred…

Trying to imagine a world like that can fill us with a longing so deep that is almost painful…

So painful that we might be tempted to turn away and dismiss it all as a fairy tale.

But we, the church, do an interesting thing in Advent.  We don’t turn away.  We don’t try to escape or deny our sense of longing.   We embrace it.  We enter into it.  We actually take steps to heighten it, in order to make us lean ever more fully on hope: hope for that moment when all things will be made new, when we will all be restored to one another and to God in Christ Jesus.

To that end we’ve emptied the crèche, taking out the animals, shepherds, Maggi, even the Baby Jesus; all in an attempt to find ourselves in that same place of deep longing and desire for deliverance, that the people of Israel experienced under the oppression of Roman rule.

We’ve taken away the flowers.  We’ve removed the altar frontal; all in an attempt to find ourselves in a world where the coming of the Christ is still just a prophecy, a rumor, a promise.

What happens, what does it feel like, in a world like that?

Here today, from the darkness of Advent that we have entered, we look at the world around us and we long for God to do something, to do anything, to rescue us, to change the way the world moves, to bring God’s dream for creation to fruition.

We wait and we cry, “how long O Lord?  How long?”  And we hope and we pray for deliverance.

But just what is it that we are hoping for?  What will that deliverance be like?  And how will that deliverance come?

Hard to imagine isn’t it?  Our vision has been so distorted that we can’t even see the pain on the faces of the people around us.  We are so inured to the way that things are that we can’t even see the faults that lie at the root of the mess in the world around us.  We are so used to life in the status quo that it is hard to imagine life in the kingdom.  The life that God offers, that God calls us to; that life infused with, colored by the eternal…  has become almost unimaginable.

And then, as if that life itself weren’t hard enough to imagine… it’s even harder to imagine how that promise, that vision might become a reality!

We watch the news and we see how hard those with power work to keep their influence and control.  We see people inflicting terrible cruelty and pain on one another in the effort to further their own agenda, to spread their influence, and to gain more power and control.  We see people casting aside their integrity, their credibility, their center, in order to further their own ego, and perpetuate their epic, mythical, self-image.

It is hard to imagine anything that would turn this mess around.  What could possibly happen to change things so dramatically?  It is… truly unimaginable.

But here we are, in Advent, waiting, hoping and praying…

If we are brave enough to tell someone what we’re doing,  if we’re brave enough to tell them that the Advent Wreath is marking time as we hope and pray… they might just ask us what it is that we are hoping and praying for.  They might just ask us for an account of the hope that is in us.  They might just ask us to describe the unimaginable.

If someone asked, what would we say?  What would we tell them?

Maybe if we were to attempt to describe the unimaginable world we are waiting for, we would use equally unimaginable words.

We might use the words from the sculpture of St Francis that hangs in our entryway, words that come from the Prophet Isaiah:

6 “The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea”(Isaiah 11:6-9).

Wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, lion and fatling, adders and asps… and a little child shall lead them?  Those are pretty unimaginable images aren’t they?  But perhaps that is the best that we can do in our effort to describe something that is as unimaginable as the world God imagines for us all.  Perhaps the best that any of us can do in our attempt to describe unimaginable things is to use unimaginable words.

If that’s what it will look like, “no one hurting or destroying on God’s holy mountain,” how do we think that will come about?  How will it happen?  What will cause the changes in the way that the world works that would allow that vision to come to reality?  It would have to be a pretty dramatic event, or series of events, for those who hold the reigns of power and authority to bend and give enough to make room for God’s dream for us.

Maybe if we were to look for words to describe this unimaginable occurrence we might, once again, choose words that are equally unimaginable and say:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).

Jesus was one of a long line of Hebrew prophets who knew how to use unimaginable words to describe unimaginable events.

Were these unimaginable words ever meant to be taken literally, as blow by blow accounts of the way things would happen?

No! 

They were poetry, they were hyperbole, they were spoken to impress upon us the incomprehensible magnitude of those events and the change that they would bring.  Again and again, the prophets use unimaginable words to describe unimaginable events that we have to work and struggle to get our minds around.

So this is pretty tough stuff!  Unimaginable words for unimaginable things and events that we have to struggle to wrap our minds around…  Why don’t we take a break and turn our attention to something a little easier for us to grasp, something that we know how to describe and talk about…

Today is the first day of Advent!  And look, the crèche is out, the frontal and the flowers are off the altar, the color is blue, and we have lit the first candle of the Advent wreath.

That’s just what we need; something familiar, comforting, tangible, real; something to help take our minds off of the unimaginable realities that have become our daily lives!

But you know…  maybe we had better take a few minutes to talk about the baby in the manger,The incarnation, Emmanuel, God Among Us.

I wonder what would we say if we were asked to explain the whole “Christmas thing.” How would we account for the faith that is in us?  How would we explain our belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah?  How would we explain that God, the God who had sought us, even pursued us; the God who had made goodness and love known to us in the creation, in the calling of Israel to be God’s people, and in the word spoken through the prophets…

How would we explain that this same God, in these last days sent Jesus, to be incarnate from the virgin Mary, to be the savior and redeemer of the world?

Maybe if we were to look for words to describe this unimaginable event we would borrow the unimaginable words St. Paul borrowed from the worship of the early church for his letter to the Philippians:

The Christ,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)

Really?  God, a slave, humbled, obedient even to the point of death on a cross?   That sounds pretty unimaginable doesn’t it?  God, holy and pure, creator of all that is coming to be with us in the midst of our pain, where we waste away dragging around the chains we have forged in life?

That would be like mixing matter and anti-matter wouldn’t it?   How can God become one of us and still be God?  How could that happen?  It’s almost… unimaginable…

Maybe if we were going to something so unimaginable we would use words that were just as unimaginable:

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.   And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”   But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.   The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.   And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:26-33)

Unimaginable words to describe unimaginable events that we have to work and struggle to get our minds around.  Unimaginable…  Who would dare to use such words, much less dare to believe them?

And yet we are a people bound together and formed by these unimaginable words. We dare to imagine.  We dare to believe.  We dare to proclaim the truth of these stories.  We believe that God has intervened in the life of the world, that God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and changed everything.  We dare to hope, to believe, that God will prevail, that Christ will come again.  And that the kingdom that was ushered in when Christ came among us will someday come to fruition and be completed.

We dare to believe that we will all finally understand without a doubt that God loves us unconditionally, and that we are bound to one another, brothers and sisters responsible for loving and caring for our neighbor?

And so, here in Advent, we choose to wait in the dark, not in despair, but in hope, longing for, believing in, trusting in the unimaginable….

Amen