Tag Archive | Advent

First Sunday of Advent, 2017

First Sunday of Advent, year B, 12/3/17

First reading:  Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 13-9

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:24-37


To be quite honest, I was hoping to be done with the “end of the world” readings.  This past month leading up to Christ the King Sunday is SUPPOSED to be “end of the world,” because it’s the end of the Church year, but now we’re in Advent.  But once again, Jesus is confronting us with “the end.”

We should be on our way to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem.  We are four weeks away from Jesus’ birth, and this passage is two days away from Jesus’ death.

I was railing against this earlier in the week, when my husband reminded  me that EVERY Advent 1 we begin at the end.  I had forgotten.

Maybe it’s because world and national events have been especially difficult lately, that I was really hoping for a break.

The worst hurricane season on record, the devastation to the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico.  The fires in the West which have destroyed the lives of thousands, even in they escaped physically unharmed.

Terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Philippines, Pakistan, England, and New York City, where we lost one of our own townspeople.

Horrifying gun violence on our streets and in Las Vegas and Texas.  Civil unrest in Charlottesville and wherever racism rears its ugly head.

I don’t want more “end of the world,” I want a cuddly baby.  But we’re not getting one.  At least not today.

Perhaps we read from near the end of Mark on this first Sunday of Advent because the messages Jesus gives is appropriate.

Jesus stresses “keep alert,” or “keep awake” 3 times in the last 3 verses, with good reason.

I think what Jesus is trying to tell us, is that if we don’t slow down and pay attention – when he DOES come, we’ll miss him.

Now, we could talk about keeping alert for the darkening sun and moon and for the falling stars.  We could talk about the “‘Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” and the angels.

Many preachers and people of faith focus on the apocalyptic parts of the passage to make predictions about when the end will come.  The people who were the first to read (or hear) Mark’s gospel certainly could relate.

For them, the destruction of the Temple was current events, and the persecution of Christians meant more than having to say “happy holidays” – it meant death.

For them, Jesus’ declaration, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” was in the tradition of the greatest prophets, calling the people back to faith.

But what do these words mean for us, thousands of years on from the time Jesus shared them with the original disciples?

The key for “the END” for us is in verse 32:  “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

We aren’t called to stand on street corners holding signs “the end is near.”  We certainly aren’t called to make predictions of the end.  We aren’t called to separate ourselves from society, sell all that we own, and wait on some mountain like a doomsday cult.

Jesus calls us to “keep alert” and “keep awake” not only for the end of all things (as if we could miss the sun going dark and stars falling from the sky!), but for how to live our lives UNTIL that day.

“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”

Jesus is not physically with us right now, but he has left us – his slaves, his servants, his disciples – in charge – each with our own work.

What does that mean?  What IS our work?  And how do we “keep awake and alert” until our master returns?

Our work, brothers and sisters, is to live faithful lives every day – to go about our business, loving God and neighbor in word and deed, until he comes again – whenever that may be.If we have a job, we go to work and are diligent in our working – whether we’re a grocery clerk, a cashier, a teacher, a business executive, or congressman.

If we have a job, or we’re in school, retired, and even if we don’t get around much anymore, our work includes serving our neighbor in Jesus’ name.

It means being kind to those who we see are struggling – sitting with the new kid in school, or the one who has no friends.  Reassuring the mom in Target whose little one is having a meltdown.  At this time of the year especially, being kind to those working in the retail industry.

Remembering those who might be dreading Christmas because of poverty or broken family relationships.

When we remember what Jesus told us in last week’s gospel – that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him – then loving our neighbor in word and deed is the best way we can keep awake, and be alert when the master comes.

Because in reality, the master is with us all the time, is here even now as we look into the faces of each other.

Are we awake to this – or are we sleepwalking through our days?

Because keeping awake doesn’t just mean looking for the stars to fall from the sky – it also means feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, being a shoulder to cry on, and praying for our enemies.

It’s kind of exhausting honestly.  Kind of why I wanted our gospel today to be warm and fuzzy.

But instead, it’s a good reminder that Advent isn’t just about the baby Jesus – but also about baby Lisa, baby Ellen, baby Michael, baby Vivian, baby Tom (mentioning those present by name) – and ALL of God’s children.

AMEN.

 

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4th Sunday of Advent, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/20/15)

first reading:  Micah 5:2-5a

psalm:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Hebrews 10:5-10

gospel reading:  Luke 1:39-45


Church of the Visitation, Israel, photograph by Deror Avi

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel, photo by Deror Avi

Today’s psalm and gospel readings are part of the same story, what we call “The Visitation.”  Shortly after Mary became pregnant, she went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

We learn earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth was about 6 months pregnant when Mary’s visit took place, while Mary was still very early on in her pregnancy. One author I read commented that The Visitation is a wonderful human interest story, but that its primary function is theological.  I disagree.

I think it’s a wonderful human interest story PRECISELY because it tells us a great deal theologically.  And I think it makes an amazing theological statement PRECISELY because it’s intimately involved in humanity.  I don’t separate human interest and theology.  Not only that, I don’t think GOD does either.

So, what is so profound about The Visitation?  WHY is it such a good human interest AND theological story?

The human part is pretty clear.

Mary had been visited by an angel, who told her she would conceive and bear a son even though she was still a virgin. Elizabeth, who was beyond normal childbearing age and up till then childless, was having an “unexpected” pregnancy herself, after an angel appeared to her husband Zechariah announcing that their child would be born.

Both women had concerns and fears I’m sure.  We read earlier that Mary was perplexed and pondering.  Her condition was not easily explained – and in that time and place an out of marriage pregnancy could be a deadly scandal.

For Elizabeth, the concerns and fears might also have been deadly.  Many women died in childbirth, and for older women the odds were even greater.  As thrilled as she was to be pregnant, I’m sure Elizabeth was also frightened for herself.

So we have two women with very unexpected pregnancies that were announced by ANGELS.  That makes for a definite human interest story.  Not only that, but for a religious book that is dominated by men, here the men are unseen and unheard, except for a little leaping in the womb.

This story is all about the women – and of course about God.

Intertwined with the human story of the women is the story of GOD – God choosing to become part of human history.  That’s the whole point of Christmas after all, isn’t it?  God taking on our flesh – our flesh holding God.

God chooses not only to preside OVER human history, but to become PART of it, to step into our lives.

And by choosing to do so, God makes Godself part of every moment, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, success and failure.  When God became one of us in Jesus, God became a part of Mary and Elizabeth’s joys and fears – and even their grief – OUR grief.

It struck me, as I prayed and pondered these passages, that the story of The Visitation isn’t only about two pregnant women – it’s also the story of two women who would bury their children.

Elizabeth and Mary would know the joy of motherhood, but also its unimaginable grief with the death of their sons.

As I reminded (one of our parishioners) when I visited with her on Friday – we need to remember that Christmas isn’t just the story of the happy baby – it’s the story of the baby who would die.  The joy of this moment of visitation is colored by our knowledge that John would be beheaded and Jesus crucified.

God through Jesus CHOOSES to become a part of this mess we call life.

Not just the line from the popular song, “God is watching us, from a distance.”  NO.  God is NOT just watching us from a distance, God is WITH us.  God knows it all, experiences it all, WITH us.

This is the gift of Christmas.  It’s not happy or sappy.  It’s not “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”  It’s not about inflatable snowmen, or Santas, or mistletoe.  It’s more like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

It’s a couple with no place to stay.  A young woman with her husband, forced to give birth away from their family and friends – in a BARN.  It’s not about fancy nurseries and cribs – it’s a feed box filled with straw.  It’s what Mary sings in her song – that God has come to lift up those who are lowly and hungry – to bring MERCY.

Our culture puts a lot of pressure on Christmas to be happy and sappy, because our culture doesn’t want to deal with life’s underside.

People would much rather fight an imaginary “war on Christmas,” than look at their own shortcomings in loving their neighbors and themselves and God.

People don’t want to connect Christmas with Good Friday, but when we don’t connect the two – then the consumerism and the inflatable snowmen win.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday we feel guilt over our grief and/or sadness because we feel it doesn’t belong, that there is something wrong with US.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday then all we celebrate is a baby and we stay lost in our sin.

We need Good Friday to be part of Christmas if Christmas is to have any depth, any real meaning in our faith.

God CHOOSING in love to be with us in all our moments from life to death is a profound theological truth.

It tells us that God loves us, strengthens us and carries us no matter where we are.

It tells us that God understands our fears, our grief and our anxieties.

So, as we approach Friday, some of us with joy and celebration, some with sadness, grief, or anxieties and fears, let us remember that God holds it all, and is WITH us through it all.

Emmanuel has come.

AMEN.

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/6/15)

first reading:  Malachi 3:1-4

Psalmody – Luke 1:68-79

second reading:  Philippians 1:3-11

gospel reading:  Luke 3:1-6


Today is John the Baptist’s day.  Every reading except Philippians points us right to him.

Assumption Cathedral of the Ryazan Kremlin. XVI century

Assumption Cathedral of the Ryazan Kremlin. 16th century

As Christians we immediately think of John when we read from Malachi about the messenger who will come to prepare the way.  Our normal psalm from the book of psalms is replaced today by Zechariah’s song – a song he sang about his newborn son John.  And of course, the gospel reading is ALL about John, placing him in a particular time and place of human history.  It’s practically a history lesson.

Of course it’s appropriate for us to spend a bit of time with John in Advent.  He preached about the one who was coming, and we wait for the celebration of that coming on Christmas Day.

Except today we don’t hear John preach his message.  We hear about the message, but not the message itself – we mostly read a description of John.  And it’s not even the graphic description of his looks we’re so familiar with – this is a description that Luke pulled out of Isaiah chapter 40.

After reading these passages I’m left wanting more – more MEAT, if you will.  Preach to us.  Give us something to do.  Rebuke us, forgive us – anything!

But these readings won’t do that for us, and maybe that’s the point.  Maybe it’s the point to leave us hanging a little.  To leave us thinking, “Now what?”

Faith often does that.  We experience it all the time in life – wondering or worrying about what comes next.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing probably more wondering and worrying than usual lately. Our world and our country has seen more than its usual dose of violence in the last month.  It’s left me with anxiety about the future, wondering what kind of world we are leaving for our children and our children’s children.

And unlike some people who might point the finger “out there” and blame others for the course of events, I tend to look at myself and ask, “How have I contributed to this mess, either by my action or inaction?”

I certainly don’t have the power or voice to speak to or act towards a global audience, say, like the Presiding Bishop or the Pope, or the President – but I DO have the power and voice to speak and act LOCALLY – to do and say what I can, that will either speak the love Christ – or “something else” – to those around me.

So I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on myself.  This fits in perfectly with the preaching of John the Baptist, and with the season of Advent.

John the Baptist calls us to repent.  To look at our lives, to face clearly where we have fallen short – that we are always falling short.

John the Baptist says – stop pointing your finger out, and start pointing it IN.  Ouch.  That hurts.

But no one promised that a life of faith would be easy.  Even Luke’s referencing of Isaiah to speak of John isn’t easy.  Luke’s and Isaiah’s words describe John’s ministry AND OUR LIVES as constantly being remolded, remodeled, reshaped and changed.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”

This is a rich picture placed before us.  It’s some serious roadwork.  Hard physical labor – and dirty – when you look at it from a purely literal point of view.

But of course, Luke and Isaiah aren’t literally talking about highways and byways; the paths and valleys and mountains and crooked and rough ways are metaphors for our LIVES, as individuals and as a community.

OUR paths need to be made straight.  OUR holes need to be filled in, and our mountains need to be made low.  What is crooked in US needs to be straightened out, and OUR rough spots need to be made smooth.

The truth is that none of us are perfect, and there are parts of ourselves that need work.  And even when we get one part of it “made smooth,” there’s still more to do.  And sometimes in making one part straight, other parts get crooked, so we’ve got to work on them then!

Right about now, when I’m doing all this self-reflection and realizing just how “not perfect” I am, I get the urge to say, “Bring on the baby already!  Why all this John the Baptist uncomfortable self-reflection stuff?  Let’s just skip to Christmas!”

But reflecting is a part of the Advent season.  Waiting is certainly a theme, and is probably more popular because it’s easier – but so are reflection and repentance.

If you think about it, what better way can there be to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child than to confront how very much we NEED him.

Jesus came to be with us – Emmanuel – not as a statement of cuteness or cordiality, but because we need a SAVIOR.  Jesus came to be with us because we have crooked part of our souls that WE can NEVER make straight – rough ways WE can NEVER smooth out.  We cannot do it.

As much as we can do little things, as much as we can do some work on the roads of our souls, they’ll never be pothole free.  We need a savior.

We need God to come to us and save us from ourselves.

We NEED that baby, because that baby will go to the cross to make sure we see the “salvation of God.”

John the Baptist preached repentance because we need it, as uncomfortable as it is for us to admit that.

In order to come CLOSE to appreciating who Christ is, and the gift of Christmas, we need to stop making excuses – and confront in ourselves how much we need him.

If we do only that this Advent, then we have done it well.

AMEN.

1st Sunday of Advent, 2015

1st Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 11/29/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25:1-10

second reading:  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

gospel reading:  Luke 21:25-36


IMG_8870More end of the world stuff.  More talk about – the “days” that “are surely coming,” “those days,” what the Lord “will” do, all the things that “will” happen – at some unknown point in the future, perhaps some events even happening now.

I preached about this a few weeks ago – how our preoccupation with “when” these things will happen just isn’t productive OR faithful.

What we learn over and over again (and AGAIN in today’s readings especially from Jesus and St. Paul) is how to go about waiting UNTIL “those days” arrive.

This is the focus of the season of Advent – waiting.

We wait for the birth of the Savior, but we also wait for “those days” that are surely coming – what we call the Second Coming.

But of course we hate to wait.  Stores have had Christmas decorations out along with the Halloween merchandise.  I saw houses decorated weeks ago.

I’m not going to be the liturgical judge and jury about Advent – there are many Christians that don’t observe Advent – but I think there is value in it.  I think observing Advent is good for us, because Advent teaches us about waiting, even if we really don’t like it.  Advent has been celebrated in the Christian Church since the 6th century, so it’s one of the more ancient traditions we have been given.

But waiting is HARD.  The anticipation involved in waiting is truly hard to live with.  Whether we’re waiting for medical test results, vacation to come, a phone call, the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one – waiting is hard.

We’ve all been the children in the back seat of the car, pleading, “Are we there yet?” only as adults we may use fancier language.

Usually waiting is hard because there is nothing else for us to do.  But this is not the case for us in our life of faith.  Jesus gives us plenty to do in the waiting time.  We’re not meant to bury our heads in the sand, circle the wagons, hunker down or disengage from the world.

We have a life’s worth of work to do while we wait!  We have work to do on ourselves and for each other.

Jesus tells us to “be on guard,” not against all the signs that are coming, or that even might be here already, but on keeping our hearts close to him.

And it’s interesting and telling, that along with the more obvious temptations of drunkenness and dissipation that weigh us down and distract us from faith, Jesus also mentions “the worries of this life.”  Almost nothing weighs me down more than worry.  And what is worry but the anxiety and anticipation of something bad that “might” happen.

Jesus warns us that amidst all the signs, temptations and worries that might distract us, we need to keep our eyes on the prize – life with him.

And St. Paul shows us what that life needs to be like.  He writes to the Thessalonians in vs 12-13:  “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

There’s A LOT going on here.  Like I said a few moments ago, enough to keep us busy for a lifetime while we wait.  St. Paul writes about inward and outward states of being and doing.

He speaks about our hearts, just as Jesus did.  But Paul brings it up in prayer, that the Lord “strengthen” our “hearts in holiness.”  He prays that we be continuously drawn closer to God.  The answer to this prayer is an ongoing journey that we travel even beyond this life.

But our journey of faith while waiting isn’t only internal, it is external as well.  As Paul writes, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

The love Jesus has for us needs to overflow from our lives to the lives of others.

In the life of faith love isn’t just a feeling.  Love is a VERB.  Love is something we DO.  And St. Paul tells us our job is to “increase” and “abound” in it.  That means we’re never done with it.  We can never retire from our calling to love.

And we are not just called to love one another in our little group – a fact that we are often quick to forget.

When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor – sometimes that neighbor is someone we don’t like very much.  Sometimes that neighbor is someone who has hurt us.  Sometimes that neighbor is a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, or is a different religion.  We forget that the greatest example Jesus gives us of a neighbor is a Samaritan, and Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus’ time.

St. Paul reinforces this broad vision of love when he exhorts us not just to love each other, but to HAVE love, to DO love for ALL.

This means everybody.  No exceptions.  Love is a hard thing to do.  It’s especially a struggle to love those who hate us or wish to do us harm.  And we’ll never be perfect at it.  My goodness, we’re not even perfect at loving those who love us, loving those we really love!  But it doesn’t mean we give up.  In fact, Paul tells us to do more and more and more of it!

Our waiting for the birth of the Savior to us, and our waiting for the days that are “surely coming” are NOT empty.  They are filled with reflection and soul searching and clinging to the cross – and they are also filled with actions of love, of “being” love, of representing the love of Christ, to all those we meet.

To love one another as he first loved us.

AMEN.

 

4th Sunday of Advent, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent, year B (preached Dec. 21, 2014)

first reading:  2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Psalmody – The Magnificat:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Romans 16:25-27

gospel reading:  Luke 1:26-38


The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Today is Mary’s day.  Our gospel reading is the story of The Annunciation (the fancy title for the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus).  In the place of our usual Old Testament psalm, we have Mary’s song, called The Magnificat, which is her response.

Today we celebrate the closeness of Jesus’ birth by hearing the story of his conception:  that God chose Mary to bring the Savior to us.

We don’t talk about Mary very much in the Protestant tradition, which is really too bad.  I think in reaction to those we think pay too much attention to Mary, we end paying too little.  But God did an extraordinary thing through this simple young woman – a miraculous thing, a once in human history thing – and it is to our detriment to overlook it.

Why?  Because Mary’s story is also our own, and when we overlook her story, we miss ours.

There was nothing special about Mary.  The angel Gabriel says she has found favor with God, but that “finding favor” is more about what will be done through her, and less about what she has done already.  She is an ordinary young Jewish woman, going about her business, and God decides to use her for a miracle.

New Testament scholar Donald Juel says, “No one would suspect that someone like Mary would be chosen as an agent of salvation, but this is what God does.”¹

THIS IS WHAT GOD DOES.  Throughout history God has chosen ordinary unexpected people to do miraculous things.

Who would’ve thought an ordinary baby desperately hidden in a basket would become part of Pharoah’s family, then end up freeing a whole race of people from slavery? (Moses)

Who would’ve thought a Moabite woman, who through her devotion to her mother-in-law, would end up in the geneaology of Israel AND Christianity, and have a biblical book named after her?  (That’s Ruth, by the way…)

Who would’ve thought the youngest of many brothers, a farmer’s son, would become the great King David?

Who would’ve thought that a man who persecuted the first Christians would convert and be responsible for a HUGE chunk of the New Testament? (Paul)

We should know by now that God chooses the unexpected to carry out God’s Will.  I guess you could say with God, we should expect the unexpected.

Perhaps the reason many of us don’t want to look at Mary, and these other biblical figures too carefully, is because if we realize that God uses these unexpected ordinary people, then that means that maybe, just maybe, God can use US.

For me, the greatest thing about Mary is that any one of US could’ve been Mary.  Every one of us IS Mary.

It’s the greatest thing, but it’s also the most frightening.  Frightening, because if God could work through you and me, that means we need to be ready.  That means our response can’t be, “Not now Lord, I’m busy,” or “I’ve got these other things to do.”

If we are Mary we need to say, “Here am I… let it be with me according to your word.”  If we are Mary, then we need to be open to God’s Will, ready to act even if it’s not convenient.

It will probably mean leaving our “comfort zone,” which is so incredibly hard.  But, then again, being unwed and pregnant was probably out of Mary’s comfort zone too.

Chances are we won’t be called to do or be something that extraordinary, but we are each called through baptism to share God’s love and be God’s witnesses in the world – and that takes work and stretching our imaginations and even going beyond what’s comfortable.

And it’s ok to be afraid.  Mary must’ve been scared too.  Otherwise the angel wouldn’t have said, “Do NOT be afraid.”

The good news is that we aren’t required to be superhumanely brave, pure, holier than everyone else, perfect or sinless to serve God.  God uses us, with all our imperfections and sin.  God accepts us just as we are and uses what we are to reach others.

There is no application to fill out, no test to take, no fear of rejection with God – for all our tests were passed by Jesus.

Over and over again, as I said at the beginning, God has chosen the unexpected, to do the unexpected.

If Advent is a time to prepare to receive the Lord, these are good lessons for us to hear now – to prepare ourselves, to ready ourselves, to be OPEN to hearing and discerning how God wants us to serve and share the gospel.  To acknowledge our fears, but to move forward, knowing EMMANUEL, God is with us – and that God will use our strengths AND our weaknesses.

It’s an amazing thing that God can even use our weaknesses.  It’s instinctive for us to try to hide them, certainly from others, but also from God.  But we don’t have to, indeed we waste precious energy doing so, because God sees all of us, even parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there or don’t even know.

Instead of trying to hide, God calls us out of hiding, and says, “I will use you – all of you, to bring others my love and salvation.”

If God can use Mary – young, plain, unremarkable Mary – and give her such a great role in the story of our salvation – then God can also use you and me:  the young and old, weak and strong, male and female, rich and poor, smart and not-so-smart, the healthy and the sick.

After all, remember God makes the cross a throne, bread and wine into forgiveness, and grants us life through death.  With God ALL things are possible.

It may not be what we or the world expect, but again, in the words of Donald Juel, “THIS IS WHAT GOD DOES.”

Amen.

 

¹I wish I could give you more information on this quote.  I had written it in my sermon file notes with only the booklet title which is, “Exploring the Yearly Lectionary,” and the page number.  At the time I didn’t think I’d need to write the full information, and I’m pretty sure the booklet (small, spiral bound) got packed away in the attic a few years ago when we were doing some home improvements!  I tried to google it but nothing came up.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song

If you ask people what their favorite Advent or Christmas song/hymn is, chances are you’ll get one of the old standards – Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Away In a Manger etc…  I love all these, in fact, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem is right near the top of my list.  But it’s not my favorite.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” probably IS my favorite hymn for congregational or choir singing, but there is another song that has a much deeper personal meaning for me.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song is a contemporary song by Amy Grant.  It’s called “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton, and you can listen to it here if you want.  Or you can just read the lyrics:

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father you have come

And chosen me now

To carry your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone

Be with me now

Be with me now

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of your plan

Help me be strong

Help me be

Help me

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven…

It’s not an obvious favorite.  It’s a more “psychological” song – not focusing on the events, or on the person/mission/ministry/divinity of Jesus.  It imagines the thoughts and prayers of Mary as she approached giving birth, which is why it’s subtitled “Mary’s Song.”  The music is sad and almost haunting, the lyrics filled with uncertainty and fear.  But I think that’s what the approaching birth of Jesus must’ve really been like.  Poor Mary.  And poor Joseph too.  Mary is afraid, yet trusting that somehow God will take care of her.  That is faith.

My third pregnancy was unplanned.  I was SO looking forward to getting my life back with my youngest soon going off to full-day preschool (she was in special education, so preschool would be full-time).  Yet, late in September I discovered I was pregnant – there would be NO getting my life back.  My husband and I were frightened.  We had decided we did not want more children, especially after it became clear that our second child had so many problems.  Yet there we were.

As Advent came upon us I was nearing the end of my first trimester, the sunlight was waning, and the fear seemed to grow in me along with that new life.  I was 40, which put me in a higher risk pregnancy category.  It put my baby at a higher risk for “problems.”  How would we manage three children, especially with one already having special needs?  What if this child had problems too?  We hadn’t yet told anyone about the pregnancy except our closest friends and family because it was almost too hard to say out loud.  Then one Sunday in church a woman sang “Breath of Heaven” as a musical offering, and although I’d heard it before, I hadn’t paid real attention to it in a long while (the song had been out 13 years by then).  Right there in worship I was overcome.  It was all I could do to keep from sobbing.  It was MY song.  All the cold and weariness, all the fear and longing were mineI was Mary – hoping against hope that God would take care of me, that this child God had given to us would be okay, that somehow we’d be able to manage.  That song became my prayer.  I went home, dug out the CD and played that song over and over and over again, and cried and cried and cried – and prayed and prayed and prayed.

Eight and a half years later we have a healthy son, and though it’s not always easy or pretty, so far we’ve been able to navigate three children and autism too.  Our son has been a wonderful gift and we cannot imagine our lives without him.  Even so, I remember the fear and uncertainty as we waited for his birth – and so that song is still mine – it will forever be mine, because I remember.  No matter how many times I hear it, I still get chills…

***Not all the stories around our favorite songs have to be quite so heavy!  What’s YOUR favorite song of the Advent/Christmas seasons?

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, year B, 2014 (preached December 7, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

second reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a

gospel reading:  Mark 1:1-8


In our gospel reading this morning we hear, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  St. Mark tells us that this messenger is John the Baptizer.

Through his preaching and baptizing, he made people ready to receive the One who would come after him, about whom he says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”  John is the baptizer, the announcer, the preparer – sent by God to make the way for Jesus the Christ.

The word “Advent” means arrival.  This reading tells us about Advent in the past tense – how John prepared the people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus.  But how can this reading apply to Advent in the present?

What does it say to us, who in this season of meditation and anticipation, are trying to find new ways of inviting the Lord into our life today?

Scholar Reginald Fuller states, “The Church must allow John the Baptist to perform his distinctive ministry of forerunner in its midst today.  How is he to do this?  By the preaching of repentance.  Unless people are first convicted of sin, they cannot know the need for a Savior.” (Preaching the Lectionary, 2006. p. 208)

Have we been convicted of our sin?  Have we come to the realization that we are far from perfect creatures, and NOT the Creator?

As Christians we need to be constantly aware of our sinfulness and brokenness.  That was the calling of John the Baptist.  He held up a mirror for each person to look at to see their true selves – the kind of mirror that strips away all the makeup, all the images we put on to make ourselves look better on the outside.

And what needed to be done 2,000 years ago still needs to be done today.

In some churches there is little talk of sin.  But how can God’s grace mean anything to us unless we recognize how much we are utterly dependent upon that grace?

Confronting our sin is not popular, it doesn’t make us feel good.  It strips us of all “holier than thou” pretenses, all notions that we’re better than anyone else.

This is so necessary for a life of faith, this is why confession is SO important, to strip ourselves bare before God, who sees us naked anyway, so that we can experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.

Because we’re called to repentance, not so God can lord it over us, hold our sins against us and keep us down.  John the Baptist called the people to repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

We need to confront and confess our sinfulness, come to repentance, so that we can experience in a profound way, the love and forgiveness that God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news – not our sinfulness, but God’s boundless, all-encompassing love for you and me.

In our Old Testament reading we have a wonderful image of God – and the last two verses are quite meaningful.  Isaiah gives us an image of God’s awesome power and how it’s used.

“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  God sounds like a real tough guy.  Watch out for this God – he means business.

But that’s not the end.  In the very next verse Isaiah explains how God uses this power – the power of his arm.  We read, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

God has the power to crush us – but loves us in spite of all the mistakes we have made and will make in the future.  God is loving, forgiving, merciful, kind and gentle to all the sheep.  This can give us comfort and strength as we examine ourselves, as we realize our sin and how much we need the grace of God.

I’d probably be negligent if I didn’t mention the unrest and protests that have occurred across the country in light of the events in Missouri and New York.  Hard to look at God’s model of power and NOT think of it.

God uses God’s power, not to crush, but to bring love – this is the ultimate example of the use of power for us – whether we are in law enforcement, involved in protest, or watching and wondering how to respond.

I think if all sides could come together and acknowledge their mutual sinfulness, both institutional and individual – if WE could each examine OUR hearts and how we treat one another – it would go a long way toward bringing real peace and justice to all our communities.

When John the Baptist says, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming,” he means the One who uses his power for love.

When John the Baptist says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he is talking about the One who stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals, and even washed their feet.  God’s love for you and me knows no bounds, it goes the extra mile and beyond our greatest expectations – and this isn’t just good news, it’s the best news of all.

But how will people know this best of all news?  How will the ministry of John the Baptist be carried out today?  How can people come to confession and repentance so that they can know how far God has gone to love them?

Through you and me.  WE are the Church.  WE have the mission to carry on where John left off.

But not to talk about sin so that we can beat people down.  Not to talk about sin so that we can pass judgement.

But to talk about sin, to acknowledge it, so that we can experience the awesome forgiveness of God that is waiting for each one of us, to make us free.

AMEN.