Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

Christmas Eve 2015 There is a characteristic that runs throughout all of our readings for tonight, that I’ve always been intrigued by but never really understood. I’ve always wanted to preach on it, every year as Christmas Eve sermon time comes around, but I’ve never known what to preach. Well, my friends. The year has finally come for me to preach on this rare characteristic, and you all have my first-time viewing of the modern Christmas classic movie Elf to thank for it. Can you guess what the characteristic is? In the movie Elf, Buddy the Elf is actually a human who has been raised by an elf father –Papa Elf—at the North Pole. He learns the truth of his humanity and decides to go in search of his birth father who lives and works in that magical place of New York City, and Santa gives Buddy his blessing and a few tips for the journey. Buddy’s journey is characterized by all sorts of misadventures when he experiences the strangeness of New York with a sense of wonder and awe. At one point in the movie, Buddy is working at a New York department store, appropriately dressed as one of the elves in the Christmas section, and someone makes the announcement to the gathered shoppers that Santa will be arriving first thing in the morning. Buddy hears the announcement and then proceeds to scream: “Santa! Oh my God! Santa here! I know him! I know him!” Santa is someone that Buddy the elf gets to see every day of his life; and still, when he thinks he is going to encounter him in New York, he loses his mind with excitement. When I saw that scene, I finally knew what that elusive characteristic that I had always been curious about looked like. That, my friends, is zeal. We see zeal mentioned overtly in two of our readings for tonight, and it is hinted at in the other two. Titus talks about how the marks of a Christian can be found in our zealous deeds. The gospel reading for tonight shows us how the zeal of the angels in proclaiming the good news of Jesus’s birth is contagious and becomes the zeal of the shepherds to go and see this wondrous event that is unfolding right there before them. And part of the reason that Buddy the elf is so charming is because we as a people have lost this sense of zeal, I think. It’s actually a bad thing, now, to be a zealot. And Buddy shows us that zeal can be a marvelous mixture of hopeful joy mixed with a goodly portion of naiveté. Ok, I can hear you thinking, so we’re supposed to be zealous. How on earth do we accomplish this? We all know it’s not really something that comes naturally to many of us, nor is it something that we can add to our shopping list. And that is why we gather here tonight, my friends. To remember that zeal is not something that originates with us. Zeal originates with God. Even in the midst of all of our misunderstandings, fallings, and failures, God continues to love us with a joyfully optimistic and maybe even a bit naïve zeal. And at one point in history, God whispers to Godself, I know them. I know them. And God sends God’s self to be one of us, so that we might know a taste of God, God’s love, and God’s zeal. The good news this night is that the zeal does not begin with us. It is the zeal of God, that calls forth in us, if we allow it, a joyful, hopeful, naïve response. That is why we gather together tonight. To remember the zeal of God which has given the gift of God’s self, for us, to us, in the person of Jesus. That we might finally say in joyful hope, wonder and a bit naiveté: “I know him. I know him.”

Advent 4C

4th Sunday of Advent Year C December 20, 2015 I want you to take a moment and think about all the different songs that you have sung in your life… The times you have been alone in the car and belting out some song just for the simple joy of being alive. The lullabies and the laments. The school fight songs, the Christmas carols, countless Happy Birthdays… There is something about singing that is both a deeply spiritual and a deeply human act, both primal and transcendent at the same time. There are some who say that God sings at creation, singing the creation into being. C.S. Lewis writes about this in the Chronicles of Narnia book The Magician’s Nephew when he writes about how Aslan creates the land of Narnia: “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.” All of our songs of salvation seem to begin in the dark, and Mary’s song for today is no different. But her song begins in the darkness of her womb, in the deep-quiet-fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. Interestingly enough, Luke’s gospel’s beginning is chock-full of singing. Mary’s song is the first of three songs in the first two chapters, and it is a song of reversal, in which the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up. I can’t hear it without wanting to sing it---my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant!” It is a song of joy that overflows in praise for what God has done for Mary and for all of creation, and the three central parts of Mary’s song are 1. God’s capacity and willingness to act in creation; 2. God’s holiness and 3. God’s mercy. Mary’s song is different from any song that has ever been sung, by us and the rest of humanity, because it is the song of a peasant woman who has been chosen to be “the God-bearer.” Her song is a mixture of both the past and future, just as it is her role as the “God-bearer” to be a part of God’s uniting of the past and the future in and through Jesus. In that way, her song is a song of hopefulness that is completely unique. She witness that God has already acted, God has already saved, and she helps project that salvific action on into the future. So how does this unique song fit in with all of our many and varied songs, especially in these seemingly dark days when it is difficult to find hopeful and joy-filled songs to sing? In his blog post for this week titled, “Standing and Acting in the Tragic Gap,” Parker Palmer speaks to this when he writes about how we are called to stand and act “in the tragic gap if we want to hang in for the long haul with the birthing of a better world. On one side of that gap are the hard and discouraging realities around us. On the other side is the better world we know to be possible-not merely because we wish it were so, but because we have seen it with our own eyes. We’re surrounded by greed, but we’ve seen great acts of generosity. We’re surrounded by violence, but we’ve seen people make peace…” When Mary and Elizabeth meet, this is possibly the first Christian community; they are the first of those who believe in Jesus. And what do they do? They sing together. Their song helps create a sanctuary where Mary is able to prepare and rest for three months. It is what we do. Christians sing (both literally and figuratively), and we help create sanctuary for others. I heard a story on NPR’s morning edition this past week when I was driving back from dropping off Jack at school. It is a story about these two people who saw a need in the depressed town of Saginaw, Michigan, and they started a music ministry called Major Chords for Minors in which they give out free instruments and music lessons to children who need them. They started this program with their own small savings and now it is funded by a number of small grants. The powerful thing that caught my attention in this story (which is part of a series titled “doing a lot with a little”) is how these children from often unstable homes find refuge not only in the music but also in the place where it is created and nurtured. I was struck by how music is transforming the lives of those children and families and by how music there is creating a sanctuary for others. In these waning days of Advent, when our minor songs of waiting shift toward Christmas carols of fulfillment, may we consider: how might the song we are called to sing be a way to create sanctuary for others?