“A Walk on the Bright Side”
December 11, 2016 – Year A – Advent 3
Clergy throughout British Columbia Conference of the United Church are blessed each Advent season with thoughtful reflections arriving in our computer in-boxes 3 times a week. Monday’s writing came from Karen Millard and she says:
“ I was so relieved to have the season of Advent arrive this year because in the weeks approaching I was finding myself challenged and challenging Christians and my congregation to live differently in a world that seems to be more angry and broken than ever before within my lifetime. Popular culture today appears to be holding up the worst parts of our humanity. In the political spheres world wide leaders are offering up division, arrogance, power and pride. We have all seen enough examples of this that I won’t even go into details. I have found myself exhausted and weary as I see and hear what people hold up as Christian, as faithful, as truth. And that is why I am so thankful for this advent season because it brings us back to the roots of our faith. The reason Jesus was crucified was because he spoke and lived contrary to the power of the day both religious and political. The reason we as Christians cycle back to the story of his birth every year is because we need to. We live in a broken world, so we all need to be reminded now and again that we were created to live out our faith in times just like these. Christmas is about God breaking into a messy world and filling it with the concrete presence of hope, joy, peace and love. This season reminds us that that is the calling on each of our lives.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”[1 ] My friends do not loose heart – instead live into the story of our faith and break into the broken parts of this world with abundant hope, penetrating peace, exuberant joy, and all encompassing love. No, you may not be able to fix the entire world, but you can reach out to offer healing and care to all within your reach.” So writes Karen Millard.
I appreciate what Karen has to say because she put into words what I have been feeling and experiencing over the last while. Her reflection was timely, for on Sunday I attended a wonderful performance called “Cirque Musica.” The MC for the show offered a give away phrase that has been sitting with me and troubling me. He said: “family and friends are the reason for Christmas.” Now, I don’t want to take away the importance of family, nor of friends, but I truly do not believe that family is the reason for the season. I believe that the reason for Christmas has to do with a person who came into the world shattering all the preconceived expectations. I believe that the reason for the season is all about a person who was so unexpected that lives where turned upside down. I believe that the reason we gather here today is not because of family, or friends, but because we know our lives are different all because of Jesus.
So – here I am, standing before you. I have quoted a reading from a colleague and I have critiqued a phrase that an MC at a lovely performance offered. Is that what sermons have come down to? Rest assured that both of these reflections tie into the scripture we heard.
Isaiah 35 describes good news for the Israelites. They were going to get to return home some day following God’s Holy Way, a highway of promise and delight. What joy is before God’s people. Isaiah announces such hope. It is a time of grace and awe that is before God’s people.
The writer of Matthew also talks about the Holy Way by revealing the impact that Jesus had on the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and the poor.
If the writer of the Gospel of Matthew were to write today, I suspect he might describe the scene with John the Baptist in this way: Finally, John decided to settle the thing once and for all and sent a couple of his disciples to put it to Jesus straight.
“John wants to know if you’re the One we’ve been waiting for or whether we should cool our heels a while longer,” they said.
And Jesus said, “You go tell John what you’ve seen around here. Tell him there are people who sold their seeing-eye dogs and taken up bird watching. Tell him there are people who’ve traded in aluminum walkers for hiking boots. Tell him the down-and-out have turned into the up-and-coming and a lot of dead-beats are living it up for the first time in their lives.
Such a re-telling gets your attention, doesn’t it? Here we have Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist sitting in prison, questioning whether Jesus, the very same Jesus that he baptized, was for real. And sure enough it is the true Jesus – the one who heals, restores life, and grants joy.
In this Advent season we too are on a journey along The Holy Way. We see miracles all around us. A young child takes his or her first step – truly a miracle. The fentanyl user stops using before a fatal overdose, and turns to Narcotics Anonymous for support – truly a miracle. Life saving surgery is performed – truly a miracle. A widow find new love – truly a miracle. A bitter, lonely individual sees the light on in a church and comes in the open doors – and Christ meets them in the guise of a caretaker – truly a miracle. A congregation of mainly retired individuals loves, serves, cares, and seeks to journey the Holy Way – truly a miracle.
So, my friends, we journey the Holy Way. There are flowers blooming and springs of water in the desert. Jesus is bringing Good News to the homeless and the hungry. We have an abundance of food to share. There are mitts and toques, scarves and gloves for those in Penticton who are cold. Let us not be deceived by glitter and drama, Christ’s message is needed on December 11, 2017 as never before. The true reason for the season is Jesus Christ. May we never forget that. Amen.