Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, December 30, 2012 John 1:1-18 “The King’s Speech”

In 2010, the movie “The King’s Speech” made a powerful impression on moviegoers. It told the story of King George VI, the father of the current Queen Elizabeth. He was never intended to be king: this was what his brother Edward was to do. But when Edward abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. George had to step up and be King.

There was one problem: George had a terrible stutter. He could barely get a full sentence out. And as war in Europe threatened England’s existence, the King needed to speak. It was necessary that his steadfast vision of a free England be conveyed to his people over the radio. And for that to happen, the King needed to speak fluently and powerfully. His wife, Queen Mary, found a very unconventional speech therapist to help her husband overcome his problem, because she too recognized that the King’s speech was a necessary part of who he was and how he would govern as sovereign in wartime.

We find a parallel about the power of speech in today’s gospel. John tells us that it is God’s Word that is sent to earth in human form. God’s Word. God’s speech, if you will.  If we had any doubt as to why God saw fit to send his Son in human form to earth, this reading from John’s gospel makes it very clear: it is so we, his children on earth, can understand who God is. It is only through God’s own speech that we can understand this God whom we worship.

John gives poetic voice to the problem. God is out there, not in a form we can recognize, but as pure power/spirit/voice. God is no more or less than the eternal energy that creates and powers the world that we know. Not an old guy in a flowing robe, with a white beard, sort of a cosmic Dumbledore but with more overt spiritual language. Not a person at all, but a being. Eternal.

That’s a little hard to imagine, isn’t it? And we human beings feel compelled to try and translate God into something we can understand, something more like us…which means a creature who is limited, as we are limited. And that shortchanges God, makes God into something smaller than God truly is. God becomes more accessible if we can fit him into our own perceptions of what a God might be like, but it leaves us with an unfinished portrait. It is not so much God’s Speech but a mere rough sketch of a speech, not the full power of it.

Well, John isn’t satisfied with that, and God most certainly is not, so they paint a different picture. Imagine, then, that cosmic God, so difficult to visualize or understand. Imagine that God is around forever, eternally, a time concept that is difficult for us to imagine as well. And God knows we cannot wrap our little human brains around these images. Imagine God has present with him and in him, through all of time, eternally, something that is the expression of who God is, a Word that shows all that is God. We might think it would take many books of words to describe God – certainly many theologians have tried to do that with mixed success – but God says no. There is simply a word that embodies all that is who God is.

We humans don’t really know the word, so we try to make pictures or stories or rulebooks that shape our understanding of who God is and how God expects us to relate to him. And God says, wait a minute. You’ve got it wrong, and it’s getting in the way of you knowing me as I know you.

Now, teachers know that you always start to teach, to explain a concept, by starting with what the learner already knows. You go from the known to the unknown. God, the first and best teacher, decides to follow this plan as well.

He says, “I love you. I want us to be together. I want you to understand who I am. You know about other people, right? That’s something you understand? Well, I will send you a person to help you understand me. I will make myself human in form so that you can see through this human form to see what I am about. I will send a son to earth to live among you who is me, in human form. I will send the Word, my own Speech, that one speech that expresses all that I am, that has been a part of me for all eternity, and the Word will come to you in a shape that you will understand. The Word will come to you and speak language that you will understand. The Word will not stop being Me, in all my divinity, but will be wrapped in human flesh and blood. That might make it a little easier to understand who I am and how very, very much I love you.”

This is why we received the gift of a human baby who did all that he could to show us who God is. God loves us. God wants us to love him, not because He needs our love, but because he knows that such love completes and perfects us.

In a way, these first few verses of John’s Gospel are a love song from God to God’s people. He is reaching out in love to us, who sometimes seem to understand him not at all. He is giving us the best resource he can to draw us in toward him. He wants us to know him through God’s speech, as King George wanted the British people to know him through his own speech.

If, in the first verses of Genesis, the story of the earth’s beginnings, we see God’s loving shaping of our world into a place where light warms and sparks new life, and darkness shelters and provides rest, in John’s gospel, this Word-who-is-light serves a new purpose: as a beacon to a world which had forgotten that first gift of light, for whom darkness was not rest and shelter but the absence of life. Jesus, the Word now in the world, tells who God is, what God has done, and what God will continue to do, to make the light the source of life and vanquish a death-dealing darkness.

John is clear: not everyone will accept this new light, this speech, this Word made flesh. Some will try to destroy the light. But for those of us who believe, this tiny vulnerable baby grows into a powerful vision-caster, a beautifully rendered Speech that shows us all Godliness. This Jesus describes the God who loves his people so much that he is willing to start at what his people know by becoming human, before taking them to a deeper understanding as he sheds his human form and his divinity is revealed.

This is it in a nutshell: the ancient word Emmanuel translates as “God with us.” God chooses not to keep himself apart from us, even though we seem to make mistake after mistake in trying to comprehend him. God chooses instead to make it impossible for us NOT to know him. He sends himself in human form, simply because he loves us. Simply because he knows we can do better and be better when we know him. Simply because this is what God is about, not about his own glory, which is awe-inspiring, not about his own power, which is unimaginable, not about his creativity, which is endless. Simply because God loves us.

That is the gift we receive. Simply a Word. But what King’s Speech Jesus is!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2012 Luke 2:1-20 “A New Kind of Time”

The church is in the business of getting us to pay attention to time. Think about it: it was Pope Gregory the XIII, in 1582, who created a new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar, of course. It was meant to correct errors in the old Julian calendar, because it was important to have the dates of big feasts of the church right. Pope Gregory issued a formal church document, a papal bull, to make the new calendar both the legal and religious law controlling time.
Or think about this: one of the first big controversies in the Christian church was an argument over when Easter should be. You recall that Easter is on different dates each year.  The eastern churches first tied the date of Easter to the Jewish Passover, meaning that it might not occur on a Sunday, and then calculated it based on the old Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one. The western churches said it was to be on the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. This disagreement was one element that led to the split between the eastern and western branches of Christianity. Church leaders in both places were sure that they had the right understanding of time, and how it was to be treated in the church and in the world.
Popes and patriarchs argued about time. It was important: people’s lives were ruled by time, by the seasons, by the harvests…and time was ruled not by papal edicts, but by the stars. The measurement of the passage of time and the seasons was done by watching the predictable pattern of the movement of the stars in the skies.
Now you may have been wondering what all this talk about time has to do with Christmas, with the exception of wondering how quickly I will get to the heart of the matter so we can have communion and go home and get some sleep. But here is the spot where it all comes together: time and stars.
Time…we know that Mary’s time has come. The gospel says so: the time came for her to deliver her child. We have a physical marker in the form of Mary coming to term. This happened in a very particular time: Luke has given us some important historical markers by telling us this tax census that caused Mary and Joseph to head to Bethlehem occurred when Augustus was the emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria. So now we’ve got a historical marker of time as well. But something else happens: an astronomical event, which, as those old Popes reckoned, is also a critical marker of time, since all the calendars are tied to the movement of the stars.
Time matters. We measure so many parts of our lives and our stories by means of time. We know that December 24th is Christmas Eve, as sure as I know that May 9th is my daughter’s birthday and July 4th is Independence Day.
But what happens when time is twisted and reshaped into something new? What happens when heaven breaks in to our world and remolds it?
The first sign of that bend and crinkle in the fabric of time in the tale of Christ’s birth comes when shepherds are minding their sheep on the hillside. It is a dark, cold night. They are dozing, but keeping an ear out for predators. Suddenly, they hear something – music, but music stranger and more beautiful than anything they have ever heard before. It is an angel singing: heaven breaking through the dome of the sky. And no sooner than they realize this is an angel, there are many of them, all singing that wild glorious song of praise: “Glory to God in the Highest! On earth, peace on those whom God favors!”  
It is the same imagery that CS Lewis uses when he tells the story of the genesis of Narnia: ““Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”
That second wonder: the stars…heaven breaks through, with song and with light. Those stars, thousands upon thousands of them, something that did not match any of the charts of the ancient astronomers. Those markers of time, behaving in ways that didn’t fit the predictable march of stars across the sky through the seasons, visible proof that something wild and ecstatic and new was happening in heaven and on earth.
And it generates other strange events: shepherds go into town, even though they would never have done so because it would have disturbed their flocks, to share the news of what they had learned. A trio of men who had never been in Israel before are tramping across the desert, following a moving star, not a comet or shooting star, not a supernova, but a steadily moving star that feels to them like a beacon. A baby in a manger who has the aura of royalty despite the rude stable where he rests.
Heaven breaks through, and breaks into human time. Doesn’t the angel say it? “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” On this day, a very different flavor of time than the one spoken of at the beginning of the story “in those days.” On “this day”, in this time, something happens that puts aside “those days.” It restarts time in a new way. Heaven breaks through and presses a cosmic reset button, and on this day, we get a new beginning. A new beginning, in the form of the one who redefines what kingship means. A new beginning, in a tiny baby in a backwater town in a lean-to shack that sheltered livestock. A new beginning, and the final message that we take with us as we move into this new time, and these new rules, is the one the angels sing: “Be not afraid! Heaven has broken through. Time is reframed. A King is among you, not the King you thought you would get, but the one you truly need. Be not afraid! Your heaven is here in this baby. Glory to the God who rules in heaven…and sleeps in his mother’s arms in this place!”

The Meandering Sheep

It is a commonplace of children's Christmas pageants that toddlers get dressed in lamb costumes because it is just so darned cute. Invariably, the lambies don't follow directions very well and sort of wander around the sanctuary aimlessly, despite the attempts of the 8 year old shepherds to herd them up to the creche.

My friend Diana has chronicled this in a rather unusual way. She and her husband John, a bike-riding buddy of my husband's, have a tiny plastic Nativity set in their bathroom. One of the sheep has this habit of meandering all over the bathroom. They take turns putting the sheep in unlikely places, and it has reached epic levels of creativity. (The sheep watching their border collie, Lacey, for example.)

If you want to see the travels of the sheep, check then out here. Even grown-us can have fun with Christmas, especially grown-ups with as well-developed a sense of the playful as these two do!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon for Advent IV 2012 Luke 1:39-55) “Third Trimester”

It has been a long journey, this unorthodox pregnancy that Mary experienced. She was barely a child, perhaps only fourteen, when the Angel came to her and told her what God had in mind. She may not have understood what she was agreeing to when she said “Let it be with me according to God’s will.” She endured the difficult conversation with her parents and her fiancĂ©, who by rights could have broken their betrothal but stood by her. As she began to show in the months that followed, the women in her town gossiped about her, and all she could do was get through their snickering and snide comments. She could not tell them the whole story of this child in her womb.

It must have been exhausting, above and beyond the normal aches and tiredness of carrying a child within you. How do you know a secret so large, so life-changing, and not be able to share it, to shout it all to the world?

Mary was not alone in keeping a secret. This business of an angel coming and saying that a child was on the way didn’t start with Mary…in the Gospel of Luke, the story begins with another annunciation: the angel comes to Zechariah, a priest married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous people who have had no children, despite all their prayers. They are now beyond child-bearing years. Zechariah is serving at the temple, and when he is in the sanctuary, the angel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are to have a son, who will be named John, who has a special role in God’s work: he will tell of the Lord. Zechariah, not surprisingly, doubts what the angel says…and the angel says, “you didn’t believe the message? Alright, you will be struck mute until the child is born.”

Zechariah comes out of the sanctuary, and he cannot tell anyone what has happened. He cannot tell anyone anything. But shortly thereafter, it becomes clear that the angel was right: Elizabeth is pregnant. Zechariah cannot tell his wife the story of the angel…the secret is within him, unable to be shared.

All Elizabeth knows is that she is finally, after so many years and prayers, pregnant, and she is rejoicing. Perhaps the women in Elizabeth’s town have also gossiped about this surprising turn of events, but no one knows what is going on, except for Zechariah, and he cannot tell.

A secret, unable to be shared.

There’s something of that in every pregnancy, sometimes good, sometimes bad. I recall a mother of a baby in the hospital where I served as a chaplain intern: the baby suffered from a genetic problem that would lead to his early death. His mother was an obstetrician, and knew exactly what the sonogram done early in her pregnancy meant: her child would most likely die. Her doctor suggested termination of the pregnancy, but her religious convictions meant that she could not do this, so she carried the child within her, knowing that his prognosis was poor. She told very few people of her situation, because she knew that many would not understand. Her husband and her priest stood by her side, and after the boy was born, comforted her as they tried medical intervention after intervention until it was clear that nothing more could be done. Perhaps she could have told more people about what was happening with the pregnancy, but she chose to keep the secret. It was something she felt she needed to keep close.

For other folks the secret within a pregnancy is more joyful: twins, or the child’s gender. The child itself is a secret: he or she will reveal elements of personality, gifts and talents, the color of their hair and eyes, only after the birth.

But as the time of birth approaches, perhaps the mother has a sense of who this little one is. Does she kick a lot? Perhaps this is a future soccer player. Does he move at night much more than during the day? Perhaps this is someone who will be a night owl. Does the baby react to spicy food or ice cream? Is that a clue? Perhaps the secrets are being revealed.

For Mary, she of the unorthodox pregnancy, the secret of the child within her is both blessing and a source of curiosity: who will this child be? Will he be an easy baby or  a difficult one? Will he know from the first that he is the Son of God, or will this be something that he will be aware of only over time?

It must, indeed, be exhausting…and Mary is tired of the questions she cannot answer, so she takes a little trip to go visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who is surprisingly pregnant in later life, whose husband Zechariah has been struck with some mysterious malady that has taken away his voice.

And as she approaches their home, her cousin comes out to greet her, and cries out, “You are blessed, and the baby in your womb is blessed as well. How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to see me?”

Mary is shocked. How does Elizabeth know that this child she is carrying is the Lord for whom all Israel has prayed?

How is her secret uncovered?

And Elizabeth says, “The baby in my womb jumped for joy when you approached. My child is a promise fulfilled for Zechariah and me, but your child is a promise fulfilled for the whole world.”

Elizabeth knows. What a relief to have someone with whom to share the secret! And they sit and talk and laugh, and Mary stays with Elizabeth for quite some time before returning home as the end of her own pregnancy approaches.

Secrets of the third trimester: all who have babies start to dream and imagine what their child will be like. They may be dreams that express the mother’s hopes and dreams, or they may be dreams that express the mother’s fears, but they all have the intimation of the future in them.

We know in the story of this particular birth story, how the third trimester will end: a journey to Bethlehem, a stable, the birth, the shepherds, the wise men. For us the secret has already been revealed…or so we think.

One of the reasons why we retell this story is that in doing so, we can re-examine the secret revealed, and see if it has something new to teach us. What we hear in the story as children is the joy that the mother feels in cuddling her newborn baby, despite the surroundings, and the mischievous shepherds and their gamboling lambs. What we hear in the story as new parents is the exhaustion of the task completed, the baby delivered, and the question of what will come next in this changed life. What we hear in the story as we are in our advanced years is the poignancy of knowing that they have no idea of what is ahead, and how hard it will be. And in the cracks and crevices of our lives, there are new insights into the meaning of this pregnancy and this birth. Warm milk, pain, light, singing, cold, soft murmuring, all  discovered in a simple and familiar story, told the same way as the year before, and yet different somehow.

That is the gift of the Child and of the story: there are secrets that God has for us, that God reveals in God’s own time, as God sees fit. When we try to sort them out ourselves, we get nowhere. But hidden deep within the story are the answers that are made known by the Spirit working within our own hearts.

So even as we face twenty four more hours of preparation, of wrapping and cooking and cleaning and decorating, even as we wonder if our dad will like the gift we bought and if the roast beef will be tender instead of tough, even as we long for the rest on Christmas afternoon when the chaos has subsided, we need to keep our ears open.

If we listen carefully in the coming hours, we will hear a baby’s cry, and in that cry a song that will resonate in our souls in a new way. Secrets will be revealed. We will rejoice, we will feel the child’s presence, we will be changed, even as Mary and Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph were changed…even as that baby changed each day and week and hour in his mother’s womb. Listen for that baby’s cry, and say “Amen!”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon for Advent III, 8:15 service Luke 3:7-18 “Something Must Change”

It’s an odd juxtaposition in our readings this morning. Three are unalloyed in their joy: the gift of the Lord is among us. God-With-Us is the Lord who will change everything.
The last, however, is darker in tone. John the Baptist cries out that the One is coming to change everything, but there is an additional message: not only will the Messiah change everything, but we, too have to change, both in anticipation of the Messiah and in response to him. John’s names some of his audience as a brood of vipers, the same language that Jesus will later use to vilify those who have misled the people in their teachings. John warns them, telling them that “even now the ax is laid at the root of the tree” that does not bear good fruit. He exhorts them to change, to give to those in need, to avoid exploiting their office or power, to live, in short, as righteous persons who love God and their neighbor, whomever their neighbor may be.

John also preaches of the One who is to come, the Mighty One foreseen in ancient prophecy, the one who will change things. But the people cannot simply sit back and wait for this One, and think that everything that changes will result from His presence. He is not merely a fixer of their problems. No, they have to change in some very fundamental ways.

They might be joyful in their anticipation, but until He appears, there is preparation to do, and some things must change.

In this season of love and joy, we have preparation to do as well. We are decorating our homes, wrapping gifts, mailing packages and Christmas cards, planning trips, baking cookies. We may be stressed out about it all, wondering if everything will get done in time, and we breathe a sigh of relief with each task scratched off our list. But there are other kinds of preparation to do as well…

How are we preparing our souls for this newborn King?

What needs to change in us, to make us ready to welcome Him, to receive Him into our hearts?

What needs to change in our world?

This is a season in which children are romanticized. Think of all the to-do about Santa and stockings and stories like “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.” Think of how warm we will feel as we have the annual Christmas Pageant at our 10:30 service later this morning, when little ones dressed as wise men and lambs meander up the center aisle.

In this season, we have a vision much like a family photo I saw many years ago of a family with four boys. In the picture, each boy wore a red choir robe with a white cotta on top as they were artfully arranged on the stairsteps, an imaginative representation of a boyish cherub choir. Now, I knew these boys. They were the least angelic tribe I knew. But in the picture, they were the fantasy of good little children singing in the arrival of Santa and Rudolph and Little Baby Jesus.

We romanticize children at Christmas.

But children are not romantic fantasies, as much as we might wish for it. This was brought home with terrible clarity this week, to our deep sadness, as we heard of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, near where two of my own grandchildren live. Those twenty children who died there were not alone as child victims of gun violence: in America in 2008 and 2009, almost 6000 children died from guns. Over 40,000 children were injured by guns.[1]  No romantic Christmas for those families, no pictures of little boys with red choir robes, no letters to Santa, no children’s pageant with the story of that other little child, that baby who would be a King, whom angels and shepherds adored.

And despite our romantic idea of that baby in the manger and the sweet singing of angels in the heavens, the reality was a little closer to what John the Baptist was talking about: this child was probably cold –despite our fantasies about the warmth of the cows’ breath and a sheepskin offered by the shepherds – and his mother was probably scared half out of her mind having to deliver without her female relatives to help her – despite the fantastical notion that she delivered without any pain – and his father was most likely wondering how he was going to get his new family back home – the getting to Bethlehem was difficult enough – with roadside bandits and Roman soldiers who would demand money for them to pass and might even demand their food. Life, even at birth, was hard, and would get harder in 1st Century Jerusalem and its environs.

And the child’s future was a difficult one as well. He was intended to change things in some rather shocking ways. He would challenge not only the Roman power structure but the Jewish religious leadership of his time. Not idealistically warm and comforting, but the one who would say “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34).

So what do we make of this warning from John the Baptist, this harsh reminder that the King to come is not a figure from poetry or ancient mythology, but a radical agent of change who demands much from us?

Perhaps the place to begin to figure this out is once again with children.

What would happen if we laid aside the visions of Tiny Tim and Johnny on Santa’s lap and cherub choirs? What would happen if we stopped romanticizing children – that very act that makes them a bit unreal – and started to consider their real needs?

What would happen if we said it was time to worry more about the number of deaths and injuries of children as a result of guns than about Second Amendment rights that have little to do anymore with a well-regulated militia and much more to do with an industry seeking to grow its purchasing base? What would happen if we said it was time to take seriously the problem of providing care and treatment for mentally disturbed people who act as Adam Lanza did in Newtown, or Jared Loughner did in Tucson, or Seung Hui-Cho did at Virginia Tech, rather than saying it might raise our taxes too much?

John the Baptist was clear about who Jesus, this Messiah, was to be: tough, surprising, a change agent. Yes, he started out as a baby, then a child, before he grew into his adult ministry. Jesus wasn’t about sweet carols, as much as we cherish that part of his story. He was once a cold, fragile baby who somehow survived in a difficult world. As he grew, he knew that his mission was simple: something must change. Something must change in our relationship with God and each other. Something must change in our understanding of our responsibility to our neighbor. Something must change, for the children.

Sad, then, isn’t it, when it feels like nothing has changed since then? Something must change, for the children.


[1] Data from The Children’s Defense Fund Report “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” For more information, see

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not only gun control, but mental health services...

In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Newtown yesterday, there will be calls for tighter gun control. I am 100% behind that. Recent laws that preserve the gun show loophole and broaden concealed-carry permissions are a travesty. This isn't about constitutional rights to preserve the ability to field a well-regulated militia. This isn't about folks who go out in the woods to take a wild turkey or a buck in season. This is about acquiring guns that serve no purpose but to kill other human beings, and getting to carry them in all sorts of places that surely don't need to have guns in them.

But the other part of the equation in trying to reduce the number of tragedies like yesterday's (number 13, if you count ones in Norcross GA, Chardon OH, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Tulsa, Seattle, Aurora CO, Oak Creek WI, College Station TX, Minneapolis, the ironically named Happy Valley OR, and Newtown) is getting whole lot more serious about providing mental health services to those who need them.

I know what you're thinking: we can't force troubled people to get these services. But we can make them available, especially for young people as they begin to manifest some difficult mental illnesses that may open them to turn into Adams and Jareds and Chos. We can make it possible for them to have residential treatment when appropriate, and medications that mitigate the effects of their illnesses. We can recognize that sometimes folks are a little odd, and then there are those who are more deeply troubled. We can love them all, and we can also provide help for parents who are trying to sort out "quirky" from "something's really wrong here."

 Until we do, these stories will continue to horrify us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Five: Still Advent, Baby!

A great Friday Five from Rev. Pat:
Those of you who are my friends on Facebook know I've been trying to post Advent music in this season, which is no small trick because, as you well know, it's been "Christmas" since Halloween in the world out there! So today we focus on Advent and its music-- the good, the bad, the new and the as-yet-unheard!
1. First, do you come from a tradition in which the Advent season is embraced? This is not true for all of us. If you do, what is your personal preference? Do you love it or hate it? Embrace it or want it to go away already? How enthusiastically does your church enter into Advent?

Oh, my goodness, we're Episcopalians! Of course we embrace Advent. It's a chance to do all that beautiful music such as "Gabriel's Message." I like the focus on waiting in the darkness for the coming of the Light. Our folks love Advent, but also get trees up and decorated early in Advent, which is not entirely true to the Advent focus, but that's not something that bothers me.

2. What is your favorite Advent music?  Link to a favorite piece if you can.

During Advent, our Bell Choir leads our procession at the beginning of each service with a beautiful and evocative arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Here's a link to a similar arrangement, although we do not sing along during Advent - we along sing on Christmas Eve.

3. What Advent music makes your skin crawl-- or at least annoys you and makes you wish it were Christmas already?

On Jordan's Bank. A boring, foursquare hymn with nothing of the mystery of it all in it.

4. Any Advent discoveries or re-discoveries? Again, we love links-- share your music with us!

Peter Mayer's "Where is the Light?" - a joyful great big question. Check it out here. There are other really wonderful songs on this CD, including "God is a River."

5. Tell us how your Advent is going this year. Lost in a haze of church busyness? Finding ways to sit quietly in the darkness and wait? Give us your tips for a really rich Advent experience!

It's busy, but it's beautiful. This year, I don't have any parishioners who are standing at the edge of the transition to heaven, which is in itself a blessing. I'm being very intentional about having quiet time for prayer and meditation in the midst of the busyness, saying no to some invitations, and finding myself enjoying it all more.

So how is your Advent going? Feeling swamped? Looking for the light? Stop. Breathe. Smile. Pray.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sermon for Advent II 2012 Canticle 16 Luke 3:1-6 “Second Trimester”

There comes a time in every woman's pregnancy when she has to face the hard truth: she can no longer fit into her clothes. That cute little muffin-top bulge has morphed into something larger, firmer, rounder than her skinny jeans can accommodate. If last week was all about the subtle hints that change is coming, we are now in the land of no subtlety whatsoever. It is increasingly obvious to anyone with decent vision that she is expecting.

And one of the things that happens when a woman reaches this stage of pregnancy is that your body is no longer your own. Friends and strangers alike feel it is just fine to pat your baby bump, and are surprised if you pull back from their hand. Everyone - and I mean everyone, including the bus driver, the post office clerk, and the girl checking out your prenatal vitamins at Walgreens - has a story to tell you. It may be about how the way you're carrying the baby means you are going to have a girl. It may be someone's speculation that you sure are old - or young -  to be having a baby - did you plan it or was this a surprise? it may be about that person's delivery - oh, the labor was forty-eight hours, so don't be brave and try to go without an epidural, because you don't want to wait until it's too late to get pain relief. Suddenly your pregnancy is not your pregnancy, it's everyone's, and they sure do want to tell you about it!

This shouldn't be a shocker. After all, it's been happening for eons. I wonder if Eve's daughter-in--law got lectured by the first woman: "You think you have problems? You should have tried delivering with no one around to help except your useless father-in-law...and we had just been kicked out of Eden, and we didn't know squat about having babies, except that warning from the Big Guy that it would be labor. Labor? Hah! He didn't know the half of it."

I expect the women in Nazareth, once they realized that Mary was pregnant, did the same thing.

And it makes sense, in a way. Our bodies are no longer simply our own when we are pregnant. We have a passenger on board, and we have to do all sorts of things to accommodate the passenger's wishes. We should eat healthy, and get some exercise, but not too much, and not be stressed (hard to do with all the stories every woman we know is telling us), and did you know that dying your hair when pregnant is bad for the baby? That's one of the things I heard when I was expecting...

But for Mary, it was even more complicated. The child in her womb wasn't an ordinary child, this was the Son of God. Nobody knew that part of the story, and for better or worse, that meant that there was no advice that could be offered for her particular situation.

And talk about your body not being your own! The child within was owned by the whole world. The story of the child had been trumpeted by prophets for generations. He even had his own personal announcer-in-chief, his cousin John, who was at this point also not even born yet...but his task was already laid out for him - tell people that the Messiah is coming.

This is the piece of the story that we sometimes forget. This baby in the womb, who had not yet drawn a single breath, was the fulfillment of a much larger story that people had been hearing about for centuries. There were already expectations about what this child would mean and who he would be.

An expectant mother sometimes bristles at the suggestions that well-meaning family and friends offer about her pregnancy and her baby. "Oh, I'll bet that baby is going to be a quarterback just like his daddy! All the girl babies in this family are redheads. Betcha that little one will be a doctor just like her mom." How dare they? This is her baby! He or she will be exactly who he or she is, not someone else's projection of who the baby should be!

But what if your child is the fulfillment of an ancient promise, one that everyone has heard for as long as anyone can remember? What if, when the child is kicking, you cannot help but think "this is the Messiah who is tumbling around within me." What if you wonder what raising such a child will be like? what if you think, "all these ladies around the well giving me advice and snickering because I was pregnant before Joseph married me, if they only knew the story?"

What if there is no frame of reference for what is happening, and all you can do is roll with the passage of the days as your belly grows larger and your heart and soul love this child more and more?

It is clear what is happening now. It isn't like the first trimester when it was all a secret and a mystery. Mary, like all second trimester mothers, looks healthy and fruitful and happy as she moves through her days. But perhaps she is already feeling the separation. Her child, like all children, is not entirely her own. Her child, like all children, will be born from her body and begin the long journey to adulthood and the leaving of the family home. But unlike other children,  his path is planned, has been for a long time, in ways that most people did not fully understand, but that she senses in the deepest part of her heart. So even now, well before the child is due to be born, she must face the fact that it is not only her body that is not her own anymore, her child is already not her own either. It is bittersweet, but she knows her part. She will nurture him, birth hhim, raise him, and then let him go. All mothers must let go, we know. But her letting go is shaded by the knowledge that his future will be, let's say, complicated. So remember Mary this week, in the fullness of her pregnancy, with rosy cheeks and a happy smile, and just the faintest hint of what is to come etched on her brow.