Friday, December 03, 2010

Sermon for November 28th 2010 (Flesherton Pastoral Charge)

Mary, Nazareth girl:
What did you know of ethereal beings with messages from God?
What did you know of men when you found yourself with child?
What did you know of babies, you, barely our of childhood yourself?
God Chosen girl:
What did you know of God
that brought you to this stable blessed among women?
Could it be that you had been ready
For the footsteps of an angel?
Could it be there are messages for us
If we have the faith to listen?
(Mary Nazareth Girl – Ann Weems)

In preparing for the begining of Advent, I uncovered in my files, an older reading entitled “A time for active waiting”. It is a reading that offers up a wonderful metaphor for the Advent Season and for the tasks that we have before us as we begin to make the journey towards Bethlehem.

The author likens Advent to the waiting that is part of pregnancy and anticipating the arrival of a baby. He even notes that often in such times like anticipating the arrival of a newborn, we hurry up and make all the preparations weeks and weeks in advance, then are left with a time of anxious waiting ...

The intent of the article is to refocus our advent journey on what needs to be done, and to create in Advent, a place of actively waiting. Actively waiting which means not getting too far ahead of ourselves, or the season.

It is too easy to rush head long into the season, and make the jump straight to the streets of Bethlehem and immerse ourselves in the familiar sights and sounds of the Nativity story ... it’s easy, but what is needed is a slow and steady journey, taking time to let the season unfold ... taking time to enjoy the events as they happen.

If we take time in Advent to wait for the coming of Christmas, we have the opportunity to rediscover the meaning of the season and to be open to new discoveries and new experiences in the midst of a familiar and comfortable time. I have liked the view of Christmas that Bishop Spong, the controversial American Episcopalian Bishop has offered of the Christmas Season.

Spong welcomes the traditional Christmas celebration with its familiarity ... the stories, the music, the traditions, the observances – ALL of it very familiar – ALL of it very comfortable – ALL of part of the fabric that unites us as a people and as a culture ... yet, in the comfortable familiarity Spong says that allowing it to wash over us and immersing ourselves fully in the Christmas Narrative and its tale of awe and wonder will take us back to the place from which it arose ...

Much of the Christmas story stretches our ability to accept and to believe it ... it is in the fullest sense of the word – a myth. Yet rather than dismissing it as simply a myth, Spong and others would challenge us to reclaim the formative power of our myths and ask WHY were they told and retold and passed on from generation to generation in the first place?

What is the TRUTH that the Christmas Story seeks to tell us?

Think about the cast of characters that peoples our Christmas narratives ... Scrooge, The Grinch, George Bailey, Virginia O’Hanlon – all of the stories that we associate with the Christmas season, including those that are part of our Canonical story are about the transformative power that is possible if we simply dare to believe. Christmas is about transforming our world – our lives – through the power of God’s presence and love.

And so, in the Advent Season, our preparation is not just about hanging the decoration and putting up the lights and getting the christmas cards sent. It’s about readying ourselves for the transformation that is imminent to this moment ... the reading I rediscovered this week notes that Advent is traditionally about three things.

We remember Jesus coming in the past, we look forward to celebrating his presence in our midst in the present, and at Christmas, and we hope for his return with the fullness of the Reign of God at the end of time. He notes that active waiting is the unifying characteristic of these three meanings in the Advent Season.

So, what then is active waiting?

How do we engage in active waiting as we begin and continue our journey through Advent, and as we encounter again, the familiar stories, traditions and happenings in our pending Christmas Season. To quote further from the reading:

“God’s people are committed to seeking what God wants in the world ... our preparations for Christmas cannot be passive. We should prepare with our whole selves, and such preparation involves not only parties and gifts, but also a renewed reception of Christ into our hearts. As we look for Jesus return at the end of time, we know that somehow we must enter into preparing for that return by working to enhance human life, here and now, in our world.

Yet, in both Advent and pregnancy, active waiting is colored by ambiguity. Both are expereinces of exhilaration and of sadness, of joy and of fear. In a pregnancy, the prospect of new life is a great gift, yet it is also an immense responsibility. A couple’s love has, in a real sense, become incarnate and is celebrated. Ironically, the very incarnation of their love will now change – and perhaps even threaten – the intimacy of their life together. At any rate, life will never be the same for them because of the new life in their midst.

Advent carries the same ambiguity. Even as we look for Jesus to enter our lives ever more powerfully, we realize that real openness to him demands repentance and change.

This is even more true when we hope for the coming of the fullness of the Reign of God as the end of time.”

The writer then goes on to lift Jesus’ Mother Mary as the example of active waiting, and sees in her an example of how that active waiting can and should happen ... “Mary is understandably troubled and afraid.” He notes. Mary is very very young, she is unmarried, she is pregnant and as a result is facing the harsh judgement of her family, her small community, and her entire world ... BUT ... Mary opts to chose GRACE as her entry into the active participation in God’s work. She engages uncertain waiting that trusts fully in God despite her difficult and ambiguious situation.

Mary trusts in God fully to carry her through this moment, and to allow her to be part of the unfolding of God’s plan for humanity ... in this Mary avoids the danger of trying to bring the Kingdom of God into being by our own effort and our commitment “to do it myself”.

Instead, Mary offers up her life and the child she is carrying as her contribution to the coming of the Kingdom, and she steps back from actively trying to bring about the Kingdom in its entirety. Far from simply being passive, Mary opens herself up to the work of the Spirit within her, but allows this present moment to unfold as it should and as it needs to ... she waits ... actively, attentively, and with awareness – trusting in God in every moment.

At the end of the day, the process of active waiting means trusting in God while we wait, and being open to the moment in our lives when God’s grace gives birth anew to the Word of God in our midst that heralds the coming of the Kingdom.

Our scripture readings today, and our candle lighting liturgy that began our service are ALL about actively waiting ... preparing, waiting, anticipating and standing fully in the presence of God and trusting wholly in the promises that are part of the season.

Actively waiting means curtailing our enthusiastic action that tries to bring about the coming of the Kingdom, and simultaneously doing more than just twiddling our thumbs and waiting for things to unfold ... it’s standing in the middle place of balancing work and waiting ... preparing the way but not being so involved in the preparation that we get in the way of the Spirit ...

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars nor hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this things that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of our shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places.

(In Search of our Kneeling Places – Ann Weems)

May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...

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