The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge
Advent 3B 2014
December 14, 2014
Are you ready? It’s the one time of year when people seem to have permission to ask this question. “Are you ready for Christmas?” And I always marvel when I hear people, even before the Thanksgiving holiday, say things like, “Yes, the tree is up, cards are ready to mail, gifts almost wrapped.”
Am I ready for Christmas? Well it depends on what you mean. I will be honest, I am not very good, nor really that interested, in the celebration of a Hallmark Christmas. Heck, I have not even opened up one box of decorations yet. But if you mean– are you ready for Christmas, on a psycho/spiritual level, then I am on board. I may not be prepared for Christmas, but I am ready. I long for a birth. I long for the in-breaking of the kingdom, for a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I long for all who sit in darkness to be present to the coming light.
For many of us, the dawning light of Advent and Christmas is illusive. I know many people who if not dreading the holidays, they at least merely cope with getting through them. Many of us are reminded of painful losses during this time. In our own congregation we have attended many burials this fall. And while those deaths have left several vacancies in our pews, think of the gaps that will be felt this coming holiday in the lives and families of their loved ones. Light for many is a gift longed for but not yet realized.
And so we need today’s scriptures which speak of joy beginning with Isaiah, the comforter. Like a warm blanket on a chilly night, it is comforting to be wrapped in Isaiah’s images of good news. All those who mourn and suffer are promised a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances says St. Paul. The light is coming says John the Baptist. As for the John the evangelist, his proclamation throughout the entire Gospel, is that the light is here.
The light is here. The central message of Advent is that God is not a light at the end of a dark tunnel. It is rather, that God is in the dark tunnel with us. We all have our struggles with the pain brought by grief, fear, illness. But what I love about Advent and winter, (ah winter, an aside–gosh, I am glad to know that the weather here does get a little dreary.) I love dark and cold days because they are reminders that God is with us in the darkness and in the suffering. Remember that God often does the best divine work in the dark. Perhaps even in difficult time we can learn to rejoice.
Once upon a time there was a little boy who was determined to become the greatest baseball player of all time. And so at the age of six, he decided that there was no time like the present to get started. He walked out into his backyard, wearing his baseball cap and carrying his bat and ball. “I am the greatest hitter in the world,” he said, in his loud outside voice. Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. “Strike one!” he cried. He picked up the ball and said again, “I am the greatest hitter in the world!” Again, he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it and missed. “Strike two!” he cried. The boy looked at his bat, straightened his cap and said with more determination, “I am the greatest hitter in the world!” A third time he tossed the ball up in the air, swung at it— and missed it. “Strike Three!”he cried. The little boy dropped the bat, picked up the ball, looked at it, and cried out in his loudest, outside voice, “I am the greatest pitcher in the world!”
I guess everyone at some time or another has dreamed of being the greatest or the best. Everyone that is, except, John the Baptist. Can you imagine him saying, “I am the greatest voice crying in wilderness!” No, a reading of any of the Gospels quickly reveals that John’s whole purpose was to point away from himself to the God who has come near us in Jesus. John was very clear that he came not to be glorified but to glorify another.
Now his role in the New Testament is two fold. First, he points us to the revelation of God in this world. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he reminds us that God’s revelation is always on God’s terms. We don’t get to decide. We have no control over what God’s presence looks like or when and how God will appear in our lives. And if you doubt that–look at John the Baptist.
Of all the people that God could have chosen to herald the coming of the Christ, God chooses John. If we didn’t know better, we’d say, “God, are you sure this how you want your Word, your revelation of the light to be packaged? Surely, you can find some other prophet to represent you. Someone who is, what word shall we use? Ah, yes more appropriate.”
It is no wonder then that the revelation of God in Jesus was missed by so many. Neither John as the witness, nor Jesus as the Christ, fit the profile of the long awaited Messiah. And when God made an entrance into history he came not as a prophet raised in the desert, not as royalty or nobility, but as an infant born in poverty. God’s continuing revelation is also easily overlooked because God has a history of appearing in the most unlikely of places– in the River Jordan and in an unmarried young peasant girl’s womb.
I know that John is the centerpiece of this morning’s Gospel, but he was willing to point to his relative Jesus. So, I don’t think then that he would mind me pointing to his relative, Mary of Nazareth and her song, “My soul proclaims your greatness, O my God. ” Mary’s Song, aka the Magnificat, the canticle we sang together after the first reading was Mary’s response to the moment she saw her Aunt Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist who would be her son’s prophet. Mary had something to sing about. She had conceived a child and so had her Aunt.
But they were also Jewish mothers whose sons were about to change the world and they knew it. They had it on good authority from angels. And so of course the Song of Mary, focuses less on Mary and Elizabeth and on the time when there will be a great cosmic reversal of fortune for all of humanity.
Mary is not singing about her own condition, her own transformation. She had already been touched by the Holy Spirit. Her heart had been changed. Her body was changing, her life was changing. And so the praise that comes from her lips is not for herself, but for the generations who will come after her. For all who are suffering now she says, don’t look at me, do look at God. If God can plant the seed of the new humanity, certainly God will see it come forth as new possibilities.
Her song of praise is a prophetic act, one that we call rejoicing. Rejoicing is a prophetic act that has the power to change the future. It is to sing despite the odds. It is to sing about the future even when the present tells us that there isn’t one worth singing about. To rejoice is to call people to new hope, grounded not on the past but on the sheer faith that God is about to do the impossible.
Theologian Walter Wink says , that is how history is made: by the envisioning of new alternative possibilities and acting on them as if they were inevitable.
To return to the little boy at play, maybe there is a lesson there. Rather than failing by striking out, he changed the game. He envisioned his future as a pitcher. That is how we change our destinies. We act as if the impossible is possible. Elisabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that God would keep his promises. For nothing is impossible with God.”
For us then, maybe we should dare to change our internal scripts. As individuals and as a congregation. We can all grasp the new possibilities that God offers each of us this and every day. Every day can be a game changer. For any of you today who are downcast because of circumstances in the world, in your life or in the lives of those whom you care about, this third Sunday of Advent is for you. Sing with Mary. Rejoice with St. Paul. Expect Isaiah’s prophecy.
Albert Einstein said that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is to live as though nothing is a miracle. The other is to live as though everything is a miracle.” Now if we live as though everything is a miracle, then we can’t help but be a people who rejoice.
Rejoice. Today we have lit the third candle on the Advent wreath, the pink candle for joy. Rejoice, in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice. When we begin to live life as if everything is a miracle then we see the God who is all around us in creation. Beside us in one another. And within us in love. Let us rejoice because we trust in the God of New Creation. Let us rejoice because we know that God has come near to us in Jesus. Let us rejoice, because in all things and in all times, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are in God and God is in us. Amen.