Advent Sermon -Week 4 - December 23, 2012
Text: Luke 1:39-55
Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb
Today we find ourselves at the end of the season of Advent. The last Sunday in a string of Sundays that call us to anticipate and prepare for the joy of Christmas. By this point in the month of December our cultural nostalgia is high. We have expectations for family and the trimmings are coming together. The tree is up and the lights are hung. Depending on your shopping habits you are done and wrapped under the tree. Our recipes are being finalized and our making sure everything is ready.
Emotions are also deep at this time of year. Often good feelings, but it can also be a time of year that is hard for many. For our country our collective emotions are sill a bit raw this year. We are still reeling from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. And we know that all the gifts and food and lights in the world will not wipe away the tears that have been shed this month. This time of year is often a strange combination of joy and celebration and a raw awareness of the reality of our world.
This year, I was much more aware of the quick plunge into the season of Advent after the celebration of the last Sunday in our Christian calendar. The last Sunday in that cycle is Christ the King Sunday, and this year I was in Memphis visiting a church where Daniel interned in seminary. The focus of the service was on this bold claim of Christ the King Sunday, that Christ is Lord over all. That in Jesus all will be made right, In Christ we can have hope, and that it is only Christ who rules over all. The woman who led children’s moment’s that day in worship brought a Burger King crown and used it as a prop to talk about the what it is a King does: rule over the kingdom, caring for all people and ensuring there is food and shelter for all, making the kingdom safe and peaceful. And this Sunday, is the highest point of our celebration of Christ as that perfect King.
And then Advent. The very next Sunday.
We immediately enter a season of waiting and watching, realizing that we have not yet reached the fullness of the kingdom. It is a season of hope.
And this season, especially after the events in Connecticut, we ask: “O God, where is this king now?”
More than anything Advent is a season of hope. Where we match our deepest longings with our assurance that God will respond to them. Where our doubts meet our anticipation, our grief with expectancy, our questions meet hope.
And so I have been asking one question all month: For what do you have hope?
It has been a tough question for most, and words did not always come quickly. Many paused for a long time and you could see and feel the depth of their hope, but they didn’t know how to wrap language around it. Hope was big, mammoth, but an answer like world peace or and end to world hunger might land them in the Miss America pageant. They felt like stock answers. Somehow not capturing the depth of that desire.
Others were able to name things quickly. Usually smaller things that were more immediate. A hope that their family would be safely together at Christmas, that they would have good grades after a long exhausting semester, that they travel safely through the winter storm. People also named manageable hope, things reachable.
This collection of responses was a testament to the complexity of hope. It is both large and small, both expansive and personal. Elusive but ever-present for most. Things we hope to see tomorrow, next year, or in our lifetime. But also things we doubt we will ever lay eyes on. Somehow the big things weren’t little enough, and the little ones not big enough.
And yet those who dreamt big reminded me to not diminish hope too much either. Just because we do not think we will see and end to violence in our life, does not mean big things cannot happen. People have seen things they never expected before they died: an African-American president, LGBT folks welcomed and affirmed in the church, women in the pulpit.
Our small steps of hope lead us to the bigger vision. They are food for the spirit that longs for mammoth hope. For a peaceful world and full bellies for everyone on the planet.
Our scripture today reminds us to watch for those signs of hope in our midst. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth comes just after the annunciation where the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she is about to give birth to God.
And Mary left with haste! That is the first line of the next portion of the story. Mary left and sought out her cousin Elizabeth. And we wonder why she went. Was she seeking comfort? Confirmation that any of this was real? Maybe simple companionship?
An old woman, too old to give birth is pregnant. A young woman, not allowed to be pregnant by her community is expecting. Both swollen with uncertainty, both filled, literally, with life. In this moment God removes each of them from isolation, binding their lives, their bellies together. For they are, as one author put it, about to birth a revolution.
Their very encounter is embodied, it is fleshy, revealaing a God that dwells in us and with us. It is a glimpse of the incarnation – the human-God that is to come.
They seek solace in the other, and when the baby leaps they laugh and celebrate for a sign has been given. God is with them, these two unlikely mothers. And Mary cannot help but keep from singing.
It is a small sign, a moment in the everyday mundane miracle of pregnancy. A small step of hope, reachable, manageable, that carries them toward a hope more expansive. God comforts a mother who is scared, so that the light of the world, our hope, may enter.
Sometimes I hear people say that they no longer pray because they don’t hear anything, or they just need a sign from God. Most of us don’t believe God will come to us in a burning bush, but when we are uncertain where to watch for the signs, we get confused and think God may no longer speak in the world. But here it is. God grants a sign, reveals the presence of the Spirit, it is even a forceful push from within.
What Elizabeth and Mary do for another is the task of the church. The task of the faithful. To witness to the world this hope that is so huge and beautiful, and yet hard to grasp.
An image that has been helpful for me this season as I’ve been thinking about hope comes from something called Occupy Advent. I have been fascinated by this online movement. They are not an organization or a church, not even a group really, more of a presence, a virtual conversation, a hashtag for your tweeters out there. They have a presence both on facebook and twitter, and their profile description describes them as “Reclaiming the holy season of waiting and watching for the Lord. Simplify and Slow down.”
Utilizing a movement familiar to our day, Occupy Wall Street, these folks extend an invitation for people to consider the season of Advent. To Occupy it. To observe it, dwell in it, to take it up.
We might think about what it means to Occupy as to incarnate. To dwell within, to be present in the flesh. Like Mary and Elizabeth and their two growing boys. If Christmas represents the incarnation of God in our world, the presence of God among humanity, the Advent is our incarnation of God’s hope for the promise to come. We embody and carry the hope of God in the world so that all might be prepared for the coming of the light.
It is a season in which we prepare for newness each year. Perhaps we can name our hope well, sometimes we might be to cloudy to find language. But Advent is about the work of claiming that hope, and holding it up. For Christmas is the promise that will answer it. Christmas is the light that enters the darkest hours of the year, and illumines a path for us toward the kingdom.
Many have been critical of the Occupy movement. Regardless of your politics, or the specifics of their requests, they did accomplish at least one thing. It was a demonstration of hope. A vast, terribly determined, not always organized, but persistent demonstration of a world that can look different. And perhaps even their disorganization and lack of a central message was a testament to the complexity of our hope, and to its magnitude.
Their claim was not a light one. It required time, patience, sometimes they gave up food and shelter, work hours and time with family. And though they cardboard structures were flimsy, their hope resolve was not. Our hope in Christ in no different. Faith requires something of us. To hope in Christ is to Occupy Hope for the world. To take it up, to make space for it. Occupying hope means to demonstrate it. To show that hope in a world that is used to stock answers like world peace, and no longer carry meaning.
And just like hope itself, we do this in personal small ways, and in expansive broad ways. We both care for the friend who is going through divorce and dream and build structures and community that teach right relationship. We both care for the individual who struggles with mental health, and work for a society that can support them and care for them more fully. We offer our gifts and resources to specific people who need them, and we advocate fight for policy that is fair and just.
When we help a child learn how to read better, we demonstrate hope.
When we march in the Pride parade, we demonstrate hope.
When we help a student find their voice and teach them to use it in the world to speak passionately, we demonstrate hope.
In September when you signed a petition to Gordan Gee and the trustees at OSU to reconsider an apparel deal that utilized sweatshops and the university later chose not to sign that deal, you demonstrated hope.
When we gather at the Table and Font, we Occupy Hope. We proclaim the love of God for all people, and offer a visible sign of that love. This morning we will baptize Panda. This simple act of water reminds us of the powerful claim on our lives when we follow this King. God’s grace and love already hold this child. Our call as his church family is to hold him with God. To teach him about the love and grace and Christ, and help him find language for his own hope in this world. My hope is that every child in this church, every student who finds our community, every person who walks through our doors, will find God’s hope embodied in the lives of this amazing community.
May each of you be watchful, for those small signs of hope, that give you comfort that God dwells with you and in you. And may the collection of those signs sustain you and encourage you to hope big. To Occupy this hope for a world that struggles to see clearly the Kingdom.