Dec. 23, 2018 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Dec 23, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C)

December 23, 2018

This Sunday ends our Advent season, and after today’s scriptures and hearing the last four weeks speak to us it is clear it is a season that is about with hope and anticipation. Other times we might find this in looking forward to a baby, a wedding, a trip or visit with someone we love, but Advent is about hope, preparation, and anticipation of that first Christmas, which might not have been so easily or happily anticipated. Considering the circumstances of the world around Mary and Joseph, the long journey at the late of a first pregnancy, and the birth being away from home and in a place where the animals were kept, that first ‘Advent’ waiting might have been more about praying for the babe’s arrival to be safe and the child healthy even in desperate times amidst fear and worry, and plenty of unknowns. We too hope for God’s presence in those times of desperation and fear, and Advent’s promise whispers through our hearts even with the weight of the world on our shoulders or when we feel powerless to stop the pain in the world, all while managing those demanding aspects of our lives. What Advent hope says is that we’re not in this alone—and it’s a good thing, because we can’t fix it all ourselves, we cannot make everything right, and we cannot save our own souls. Yet even so, there is hope. Hope that God is with us in all of it, and in the end will make all things right. Seen or unseen, God is!

We have heard from the prophets throughout this Adventide, and today we hear from Mary, —and hear her prophetic voice we do! We heard her song in our canticle today, and if you want to see those glorious and powerful words it’s in your Prayer Books on page 91. Doesn’t it seem to sing itself off the page? You feel Mary’s weight lifted, her voice rising, hope being grown and borne.

In the first movie of The Hunger Games, there is a scene which sums up the whole trilogy. President Snow, the dictator of the dystopian, futuristic country, is walking in his rose garden with the “game maker,” Seneca Crane, who created this ‘game’ pitting young people from different districts against one another in a publicized ‘reality TV’ fight to the death each year. The individual teen winner of the Hunger Games is then held up as a brave hero to be emulated, and their district gratefully receives food packages. At one point President Snow explains to the game-maker why one person must win (rather than just intimidate by executing a few as a more expedient means).

“Hope,” President Snow says simply. “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” Snow tells him that a little hope allows the games to entertain and to allow the people to have a hero to root for, while keeping them firmly in control. A lot of hope would topple Snow’s oppressive regime entirely. Controlling it means controlling them, but he doesn’t know yet that hope cannot be so easily controlled.

Hope is more than merely feeling optimistic. Hope can upend everything that weighs us down, and can change the course of our lives, of history. Mary doesn’t start out lifting up her song of blazing hope. We first encounter her as young, humble, seemingly timid, if ultimately faithful. When Gabriel comes to her with this pregnancy news she consents, but we don’t hear that soaring sinful hope. Instead, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  It’s the biblical equivalent of “Fine.” And then she learns Elizabeth is pregnant too, even so late in life. Without waiting for instructions or permission or even confirmation of what has just been told to her, she “set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” She intuitively gravitates to someone who will ‘get it’ and not think she’s crazy, who will help her understand this unexpected thing God is doing, and in their greeting each other the Spirit moves and their hope catches fire! Each in turn find powerful expression, and even the infant John in Elizabeth’s belly leaps for joy.

Mary’s soaring response rises up as if carrying us on wings. We heard it in our canticle today; “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Every time we are lifted up with her somehow, from worry and unknown paths ahead to feeling God’s presence so surely that she knows it unmistakably.

When Mary then sings out her own joy we hear not a meek or submissive traditional young woman betrothed, but a strong courageous voice filled with faith and lofted with hope in what God is about. What may have started for her as a tiny spark of hope that Gabriel’s message was real has now grown into what she can see will be a great life-shaking, world-changing demonstration of divine hope.

Together they are at once brave, strong, forward-looking, joyful, and blessed. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the same time they felt worried or unsure, both can be true at once even with God in our midst. Did they see the contrariety of being women in a culture of little self-determination or stature and yet about to give birth to the Messiah whom God has sent to save the world and the one sent to herald and prepare for him? Through their glimmer of hope and depth of faith, everything was about to change and the course of humanity would never again be the same.

I said that hope is more than mere optimism, and that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with optimism – we hold it as we anticipate good things and time with family and friends, I’ve spent several weeks trying to be optimistic that snow wouldn’t impede people tomorrow, and for us to enjoy the love and warmth of being together at this holy time. A bit of Advent optimism is a good thing! But it isn’t enough when we see the pain, injustice, violence, and division in our world or personally fall to depths of despair, sadness, grief. When I began I noted that we cannot fix all of these, and optimism won’t make them better nor hide them away. Instead God gives us that spark of hope that we heard it in Micah’s song today, “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” Mary and Elizabeth felt that spark, and in their coming together felt it grow into great and soaring hope that in the end all things will be made right. Their song invites us to find in each other our song of hope, and we are doing it this very day, we’ll do it tomorrow and on Christmas, and is renewed every time we gather thereafter it is sung even if without words, because that’s how hope grows great.

Mary’s song reminds us that such hope is never unfulfilled. Who here can doubt that Christmas will indeed come in a few hours and the Messiah be born anew in hearts the world over? Already we know that what we’ve anticipated will come, whether we’re exhausted from cooking, shopping, wrapping, or traveling; we know God’s own son comes to us. So, seek out those first little sparks, blow gently on their glow alongside others, sing them into being, because in you, Christ, as Light of the world, flares strong and bright.

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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