Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4: Preparation

Advent Wreathe, Week 4
I have stayed quiet on this blog since the incident in CT. At first, I couldn't contain the sadness, the grief, the anger and write coherent, sensible things. Others were writing far more succinct and wonderful reflections. As the week progressed and I began to develop this sermon, it felt right to hold off posting here until this was done...So, the Advent 4 Sermon......

jfd+                                                                                                   Micah 5:2-5
Advent 4 C                                                                                     Hebrews 10:5-10
Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, 12/23/12                Luke 1:39-55

y friend, The Rev. Jessica Hitchcock wrote on Facebook this past week: “Just an observation: I am feeling fragile and easily annoyed today, yet I want to be kind and generous in spirit to my brothers and sisters that I meet along the way because this is a time when we especially are called to be kind to one another. I want to cut myself and others some slack but I don’t want off the hook. I want this bleary haze of “not again” to haunt and harass me because this is my sin, and I have some repentance to do.” Jessica is referring to her torn-desire: to be able to move on from the tragedy of what happened in Connecticut nine days ago, and then catching herself, knowing that letting it go only pushes the problem down the road. She is also owning-up to the fact, as we all must, that we all bear some measure of culpability for this tragedy…Jessica’s reflection is an example of Advent preparation and a living into the prayer that is our Collect: that we may create mansions of love within ourselves.

Jessica’s self reflection and honesty also mirrors what we hear Elizabeth and Mary say in our Gospel reading from Luke…What are we to make of the unlikely pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth? How are we to make these hymns of self-reflective, joyous-wonder relevant to us today? We hear echoes of early Biblical stories of women and impossible births in the accounts of Elizabeth and Mary and they echo a resonance of real-life drama.

Marcus Borg describes these Christmas narratives as summaries of themes we hear throughout the Gospel of Luke. In these two birth narratives, we hear about the importance of the Holy Spirit, the significant role women play in Jesus’ life and ministry, the importance of women in the life and ministry of the church and new community forming around that new church, the concept of joy that permeates so much of the Gospel of Luke, and the importance of the oppressed and God’s interest in seeing justice done.

Elizabeth and Mary’s encounter with each other is really, at its root, about choice: Mary’s decision to find help and solace from Elizabeth; Elizabeth choosing to welcome and be joyous about a single young teenager’s pregnancy. Both choosing to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and Her urging to look within themselves and then express the joy and wonder and thanksgiving about the new and unexpected trajectory their lives have taken.

Elizabeth could have spurned her cousin, sent her away as shameful. She made a choice to protect this child…Now, no early teen likes to referred to as, (or considers themselves to be) a child…but they are: developmentally, psychologically, emotionally, experientially. Elizabeth did not abandon Mary, but did what she knew was right: help and protect and support Mary.

That small and just action by Elizabeth helped to change the world. I am sure that if Elizabeth had turned Mary away, God would have protected Mary in some other way…What about those 26 children in Connecticut…where was God on that terrible Friday? We are subjected to all kinds of trash-talking celebrity-preacher-types saying this tragedy is somehow God’s judgment come upon us. That is utter nonsense and lies. The God we believe in, have faith in, the God we know, does not act in this way. The God, resident in the babe in the manger, is not a vengeful, hate-spewing, bigoted and prejudiced God. Our God, the one resident in Jesus, is a God of love and hope and joy. God did not cause that troubled young man to buy a weapon and cause this grief and heartache and loss. Where we find God in this unholy mess is in the bravery of the teachers and administrators protecting those children. We see God in the outpouring of support for those who have suffered this unthinkable, unbearable loss. We find God in the love pouring out to those people who have lost such innocent loved ones.

And we find God in our own honesty that we bear some culpability in this loss. My friend Jessica’s self-reflective honesty about the warring desires of leaving the uncomfortable behind and moving on, juxtaposed against the knowledge that those kinds of actions are what helped cause this tragedy is a key component to our understanding how today’s Gospel is relevant to us right now.

We are charged as the living members of the Body of Christ to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Jesus says over and over again protect, care for, do not make children stumble. We have failed at this command. We have turned a blind eye to corporate lobbyists interested in turning profits for manufacturers of these weapons of destruction. We must hold accountable our elected officials who coddle and care more for the welfare of corporate interests, than the protection of children.

We have a choice, much like Elizabeth…The babe in Elizabeth’s womb, who is John the Baptist, leapt in her womb at the appearance of Mary. A more accurate translation of that word leapt is danced for joy. That baby danced for joy at the appearance of God in their midst, being reminiscent of David dancing like a fool before the ark of the Covenant on its way to its new home in the Holy Land. We…all of us…must dance with joy at God appearing in our midst as a babe…as a child. Dancing like fools for God…and following our charge to do our best to protect all children from threats: whether they be from guns or abuse or manipulation or enslavement or any kind of danger.

There are times in life when we are presented with choices. Our actions in response to this preventable tragedy in Connecticut will be very telling about our willingness to truly be Christ’s Body in this world today. Living into the un-comfortableness of our sin of not protecting children from harm is part of our journey to be genuine in the work necessary to see sane and safe and appropriate gun control in this country. I am not attacking responsible gun owners nor hunters. I do believe there is a difference between hunting, hobby-target-shooting on the one hand, and the ownership of automatic weapons capable of mass killings by the pull of one trigger, on the other.

Our harassment of ourselves for putting up with the status quo can spur us into taking action. Our smallest acts of love, like Elizabeth’s, can change the course of history, and bring hope and joy and peace. Our refusal to accept the gun laws as they currently exist can be part of our preparation this last Sunday of Advent…our preparation to see the world turned on end by the birth of God in a manger. We cannot let time assuage and soften the keen loss of these innocent lives nine days ago. We need to do all we can to make the loss of these innocent lives be the last ones lost because of the uncontrolled corporate interests of the gun-lobby. The protection of children, the right of a child to live, trumps anyone’s perceived right to own an instrument of such destruction. Our Gospel is one of love, demanding that we make choices that aid and protect children: these choices are stirred to right action by the mansions of love resident in our hearts.

Copyright © 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

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