Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rev. Rebecca's Sermon 1st Advent

Advent 1 Year C                                                                    November 29, 2015

Here we are at the beginning of another liturgical year, the first Sunday in Advent. Can you believe it?!   We are preparing for the birth of Jesus – and who doesn’t like to welcome a baby into the world, especially this one, Jesus, a light to enlighten the nations! Happy New Year!

So what is it with all this talk of end times?   Jesus says, “That there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

According to NT Wright, Jesus is using the picture language of his time to describe the upheaval in the world of the first century. And here we are 2000 plus years later and nothing seems to have changed. One just need read the newspapers or listen to the news: war in the Middle East, terrorists hitting there, Europe, Asia, and Africa – speculation that the USA may be the next target. Refugees, especially those from Syria, fleeing from their homes in the hopes of finding a better life somewhere, having to live in camps and makeshift shelters as winter weather begins in the northern hemisphere.  Politicians and leaders, both here and around the world, are at odds, and unable or unwilling to compromise. There are so many who are hungry, without shelter, or work in our own community as well as through out the world.  Natural disasters seem to abound. Everywhere we look there seems to be more bad news. Jesus could be describing our world  - and my guess is that at any time in history this would still be true.

We are anticipating a birth and contemplating about death or end times. I am taking an online course of Dying, Death, and Grief, and one lesson is titled “Birth and Death, Unlikely Twins”.   The case being made is that “the closest thing to death may be birth.” It elaborates that the fetus or child has been contained in a nice safe dark world and suddenly is propelled into a vastly larger and brighter one, and the same perhaps could be said of dying – we are propelled from the body and world we know into the unknown but new life. Nature also teaches us that death leads to new life – Jesus often uses examples in his teachings, such as the parable of the fig tree, which we heard today.

Through out life we experience many deaths – deaths of parents, spouses, friends, and loved ones, and we mustn’t forget those of our pets. But there are other smaller deaths we experience – a move, a divorce, illness, loss of a job, etc.  And out of each loss, arises new life, not the same as before, but life nonetheless, often made better when we discover God’s grace was with us through out.

As most of you know, I had my dog Jake put down earlier this month.  He was very old but right up to the very end was eager for both food and walks. I’ve continued to walk the neighborhood so I don’t get out of the habit before I get another dog.  The couple of weeks after Jake’s death, people, many of whom I hadn’t exchanged more than a nod or a hello, would ask about Jake.  One person observed that Jake was a neighborhood fixture and would be missed. More than a few, opened their arms and hugged me.  Jake’s life and death has connected me more with my neighbors. – what a gift! 

There is one specific encounter I would like to tell you about.  Most mornings when Jake and I were out, we would walk by a white SUV with a woman sitting in it, waiting to go to work, I presumed, at the nearby preschool.  She was often reading or on the phone and I figured she had driven over from Oakland early to avoid what has become horrendous traffic on the Richmond San Rafael bridge. We would greet each other and she would always ask how I was.  This month I didn’t see her for a couple of weeks, not since Jake had gone.  Last Tuesday, I was out for my usual morning walk, and there she was again in her car.  I greeted her and began to walk on.  She jumped out of the car and asked where my dog was.  I explained, adding that he was very old, but I felt blessed that he had stayed around for a year after my husband died. 

She expressed her sorrow at my loss, saying that no one really understands grief until one has experienced it. But she could relate to it having lost her father to whom she was very close 8 years ago, then her dear grandmother a few years later.  And then went on to say that her husband had lost his sister just 2 weeks ago. Most of her and her husband’s families are in Nigeria where they both were from. Then she began to speak to me out of the depths of her deep Christian faith. 

She related the importance of family and how from America, she still was the primary person giving care and help to for her family in Nigeria.  She bemoaned the fact the younger members didn’t seem to notice or care for the needs of their elders.  How she had been told that Americans look away from or want to ignore the hard situations and problems besetting our communities and the world, but she could say the same about many Nigerians – it’s a human problem, not just an American one, she assured me.

She continued: God wants us to open our eyes to what is in front of us, to hear what is needed and to be his hands and feet in the world and to do what we can to help. 
She reiterated this several times during our conversation.  When I mentioned that I couldn’t believe that Christmas was rapidly approaching, she responded with sadness that people often forget to teach their children that Christ was the center of the celebration – not the trees, or Santa coming down a chimney.  God who is so awesome, powerful, and unknowable, loved us so much he sent his son Jesus to help us connect to the Father.  It is a miracle, she continued, with the immensity of the universe that God took noticed of us human beings, and given the state of the world, it is a wonder that Jesus agreed to come!

Then she, this small Nigerian woman put her arms around me and prayed for me and all who suffered loss, acknowledging the power of the Spirit that blows through out the world, and placing us in the loving arms of Jesus, asking that God sends his angels to walk with us.  I felt truly blessed.  I thanked her and told her she must be a great gift to the children she cared for (yes, I was right about where she worked). 
Actually, I think she is one of God’s angels! By the way, her name is Ojoma which means God sees.

Where is the good news in today’s readings?  Jeremiah reminds us, as he did the Israelites, that God is faithful and will fulfill his promise to bring justice and righteousness. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, tells us that love for one another and for all is a key to strengthen us as living members of the body of Christ. In Luke’s gospel, the parable of the fig tree echoes what we heard in Mark’s gospel 2 weeks ago: that these signs are “but the beginning of the birth pangs” for the coming of the Son of Man. The good news then is to trust in God and God’s faithfulness, hope that the kingdom of God will emerge from the chaos we see in the world, and be assured that love of God and one another will conquer fear.

This Advent, the season of waiting and preparing, anticipation and prayer, let us remember the true meaning of Christmas. Let us determine to not look away, but to see with the eyes and listen with the ears of our hearts; and to reach out to one another with love. 

 Fr. John Boll wrote in his reflection on the scripture that our prayer should not only help us not to give in to despair or discouragement with the state of the world, but should “energize and direct us to participate in Christ’s plan to restore the world to rightness. Vigilant prayer will provide a listening post to help awaken us to the part each of us has in God’s plan to heal the world.”

He concluded his reflection with this Franciscan Blessing from the World Council of Churches:

May God bless us with DISCOMFORT…
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that we may live deep within our heart.

May God bless us with ANGER…
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with TEARS…
To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war.
So that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
And to turn their pain into JOY.

May God bless us with FOOLISHNESS…
To believe that we can make a difference in this world,
So that we can DO what others claim cannot be done.  AMEN

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