Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lighten Our Darkness

The First Sunday after Christmas, Year C
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Over the past few months, our world has slowly grown darker and darker. Night has fallen earlier and earlier each successive night. For the past four weeks, the darkest four weeks of the year, we have lit our Advent wreaths, kindling small sparks of light in the midst of the darkness. Each night for four weeks now, we have engaged in this ritual of human defiance, a way of struggling to exert our mastery over the world around us. And now, the days are slowly growing brighter. The nights are shorter. The light has come!

Of course, we know that our world is not just physically dark. We bore witness to wars and rumors of wars this past year. We bore witness to the violence of terrorists and the Islamic State. We bore witness to Christians martyred around the world. We bore witness to violence in our churches, schools, and streets. It has been a dark year. And we have gathered together what small sparks of light we could to stave off the darkness.

But now, Light has come! Unto us a child is born, God from God, Light from Light, True God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. And that Light shines in the midst of our dark world, a world that we know is both literally and metaphorically dark, and we are promised that the darkness will not, cannot, overcome it. God has heard our prayers: Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. God has stooped low and heard our cry. And the Son of God, who was with God from the beginning, from before creation itself, the Son of God has become flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, born in a stable, born a peasant, but a king, born to die. And with his birth, the true Light has come among us, and this Light promises us that the darkness that surrounds us will never overcome it.

Some of you, I am sure, are more familiar with this passage in the lyric translation of the King James Version: And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehend it not. That is, at first glance, a very different promise. But the Greek word that John uses in this sentence is one of those words with multiple meanings that are hard to pin down. It can mean “to over power by force,” as the New Revised Standard Version translates it. It can mean “to grasp intellectually,” as the King James translates it. Or, it can mean “to suddenly come upon,” just as night suddenly falls in the winter months. So, for hundreds of years, translators have debated which of these meanings John intended.

Personally, I think that he meant all three. Our dark world will never overpower and snuff out the Light, just as Christ promised us that the Gates of Hell would not overthrow his Church. Our dark world will never fully grasp what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, for it seems inconceivable that our Lord and our Maker should become so powerless, so willing to sacrifice, so willing to die on our behalf. This is a love too deep, too broad, too high for us to grasp. And our dark world will never overshadow this light. It will always burn, just as the sanctuary light above the aumbry always burns, a symbol of the fact that Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness has dawned upon us, and will never set.

The Light of Christ, which comes to us each Christmas, is a beacon in our dark world. William Temple, an English theologian and former Archbishop of Canterbury, compared John’s description of the true Light in this passage to a lighthouse, whose light cuts a clear path through the darkness. This is the Light of Christ, through which we are shown the way to the Father. This is our beacon in our dark world, where things are so uncertain, where our path is so often dim, where it can be difficult to discern the glory of God around us. And this Light will always burn, like a lighthouse’s beam on a dark, storm-tossed sea, guiding us home.

For this is what Christ came to do. Christ became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, Christ was born, lived, and died so that he might, on the hard wood of the cross, bring us all into his saving embrace, reconciling us before God the Father, and giving us the power to become God’s children. Christ is the Light of the World, revealed to us in the words of Scripture, revealed to us in the waters of baptism, revealed to us in bread and wine. Christ is our beacon, our guide upon our earthly pilgrimage. So let us rejoice, for on this holy day, we are assured that God has answered our prayer: Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this dark world; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Angels We Have Heard

Christmas Eve, 2015
The Church of the Good Shepherd, Baltimore
Luke 2:1-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Terror is not an emotion or state we tend to associate with Christmas Eve, is it?  Joy, hope, gladness, peace – those are far more in line with the spirit of the season.  But – there it is in the story.  Shepherds quaking in their proverbial boots at the sight of the heavenly host.  Can you blame them?  We sing – Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night – but somehow I doubt there was a sweet, sweet Spirit in that place, on that night.

I imagine it was a whirlwind powerful Spirit, rivaling any Star Wars-like effects.  Angels swirling and breaking through the heavens with a glorious, blinding light so those shaking shepherds could behold that heaven and earth are one – and even night laborers are counted as worthy of the dominion of God.

Angels have an interesting place in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  And they occupy an interesting place in contemporary culture.  We think of guardian angels – watching over us, watching over the people we love.  We think of angels in our midst – maybe in events of a certain synchronicity that are too meaningful to simply be coincidences.  Angels tend to be represented as children – cherub-like with wings and chubby rosy cheeks.  We do this a lot in our religious life.  We take figures and stories – and sweeten them – domesticate them – making their life-altering truth, less terrifying, easier to take in.  We even, for example, do that with the world-altering reality of the birth of God – it’s called a Christmas pageant.

But angels announce the presence of God which, can be, terrifying. Hundreds of years before Jesus, angels appear to Abraham and Sarah to announce unexpected news of a child – and tell them they have to move.  Pick-up and leave everything behind to follow God towards something new.

Angels appear to Jacob in a dream – ascending and descending on what we all know as Jacob’s ladder – and terrifying him into really believing – that no matter where he runs to – God will always be there.  And later – in another dream an angel wrestles him, knocking his hip out of its socket – ouch – before pronouncing God’s blessing.

Angels appear again and again in the stories leading up to tonight’s story.  Angels always appear to people on the run – angels always bring messages that challenges assumptions and upend previously held ideas about God and God’s plan for us and the world.  And when they act as guardians like Michael and Gabriel – angels always protect the weak – the ones whose lives are burdened by kings and governments who derive their power through fear and oppression.

But angels use their divine power to empower others.  Not with force but with messages meant to lift people up – and set people free.

Surely that must be one reason that churches around the world see the biggest attendance over these 24 hours than on any other day of the year.  So many of us long for that message of freedom.  A message of burdens being lifted as hope, joy and peace shine through.  A night to help us let go of fear and worry - since there really is so much, in our world, to be terrified of.

I imagine some of you heard the real-life nativity story that happened this past Thanksgiving.  A custodian, Jose Moran, spent a Tuesday morning setting up the nativity scene in his church – Holy Child of Jesus – in Queens, New York.  After he put up the manger, he went to lunch.  When he came back the manger held a crying baby – swaddled in blue towels – and only weeks old – the umbilical cord still sprouted from his belly.

The custodian – ran to tell the priest – who had only been ordained 5 months – and I’m sure was quite terrified to hear there was a live baby in the manger.  The baby – a boy – was brought to the hospital – and at just 5 lbs – was found to be healthy.

New York – like Maryland – has what’s called the safe haven law.  It allows parents to do something most of us would find hard to understand.  To leave our child in a place we think is safe – a hospital, a firehouse, a church – without being charged with abandonment.  It’s hard for most of us to imagine being in that state of mind – doing something like that, giving up a child in that way.

And yet, a safe haven indeed was found.  Members of the church immediately came forward asking to adopt the baby.  Angels in our midst – who ensured that an infant, a child of God would be loved and cared for.

Tonight’s story tells us something about God that can be really hard for us to fully understand – and take in.  God’s belief in humanity that God’s son would find safe haven with us.

That we – a people overwhelmed and burdened by the challenges in our lives – would make a home in our hearts for love –mercy – forgiveness.  Trusting that we would be that message to others – so that all might know the good news of Emmanuel – God with us.

The angels in the story of Jesus’ birth – don’t appear with Jesus.  The heavens do not open above the manger where the holy family – refugees from their homeland, have found their safe haven.  The angels do not appear to them.

Angels appear to the custodians of that time – shepherds, night-laborers, who are really of no account.  And not only do the angels show them the magnificence of God’s glory in the heavenly realms – but the angels tell them what all of us long to hear – do not be afraid, God is with you.

Do not be afraid - for on this day – joy has come into the world.
All you need to do is go and see – go and find God in your midst.  Go and see what the Lord makes known – among the peoples of the world.

On a night when many of us are blessed to know safe haven – may we count the blessings we have because of the family of our birth.

On a night when we hear the story of Mary and Joseph, forced to flee their homeland while Quirinias was governor of Syria – may we pray for those who are forced to flee that place today – with infants and children in tow.

On a night when we come together to give thanks for the goodness, mercy and loving-kindness born into the world through Christ – may we practice goodness, mercy and loving-kindness in our lives.

May we remember to not be afraid – but to boldly carry the message of God with us - the message of the angels into our hearts and homes – and into our world.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

There's Something about Mary

Advent 4, Year C
Luke 1:39-55
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs

I don’t know if any of you have been watching “Supergirl,” but it’s been one of my favorite new TV shows this year. In the second episode, Kara Danvers, Supergirl’s alter ego, has a confrontation with her boss, media mogul Cat Grant, because Cat has branded the new hero, “Supergirl” instead of “Superwoman.” Grant quips back: “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot, and smart. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” It’s a great speech, but I think I side with Kara Danvers on this. Supergirl sounds so much less powerful than Superwoman. It’s a way of diminishing her, of reminding us that she is less than Superman, who has a new multibillion dollar budget movie coming out, coincidentally, not just a TV show. If I’m right, and we shouldn’t call “Supergirl” a girl, why do we insist on calling Mary one?

We do that a lot. Almost everything I read this week as I prepared for this sermon referred to Mary as a girl. Everything pointed out that she was probably about thirteen or so when the angel Gabriel came to her—something that happens before our reading from Luke begins this morning. And yes, Mary’s reaction to the angel is disbelief, but can you blame her? Moses responded to the burning bush with disbelief, Isaiah and Jeremiah responded to their prophetic calls with disbelief, Gideon asked for multiple signs that God was calling him to be judge over Israel, and yet we never use these men’s disbelief as signs of their youth and naivetĂ©. Mary doesn’t sound like a girl in our reading this morning, which takes places just after the familiar account of the Annunciation.  That shouldn’t surprise us. Mary might have been around thirteen years old, but that made her a woman in her time and place. It’s not a coincidence that that’s the age at which Jewish girls and boys have Bat or Bar Mitzvahs, ceremonies which recognize them as women and men.

The first thing Mary does after Gabriel appears to her is not meek or mild, the usual adjectives we give her. She sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth in a Judean town in the hill country, a journey of eighty miles that would have taken her at least four days. She makes this journey alone, Luke tells us, confident that God will protect her. That’s not meekness. That’s bravery. When she reaches Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home, she bursts out into song: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. We read those words, the words of the Magnificat, together this morning. Did they sound like the words of a meek, helpless girl to you when you read them a few minutes ago? Or did they sound like the words of a mature, confident, politically astute woman?

Mary’s words are a prophecy, and she is willing to accept the prophetic role that God has offered her, partnering with God to remake the world according to God’s vision. Mary declares that God is going to make the world anew, that she stands at a turning point in human history. God is going to scatter the proud and to cast down the powerful. God will lift up the lowly and feed the hungry, but God, Mary tells us, will send the rich away empty. God will remember the promise made to Israel, even though that promise feel so remote and so hard to fulfill.

Two thousand years later, does it seem hard for you to believe those prophetic words? It does for me, sometimes, I’ll be honest. There is so much violence, so much fear in our world. But there was also much violence and much fear in the world when the angel Gabriel came to Mary. There was more violence and more fear when Luke sat down to write his Gospel, because he wrote following a war between Israel and Rome that left the Temple in Jerusalem, the sign of God’s presence on earth, destroyed. Luke wrote following a bitter civil war in Rome in which four men claimed to be Caesar, and three of them were assassinated within months of claiming the Imperial throne.Luke and Mary know that it is like to live in a world that is as violent and as dangerous as our own, and yet they proclaim their trust that God is going to turn the world toward justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked in 1964,
 “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is the vision that Luke and Mary give us today, on this, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, days before Christmas. We live perpetually on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, in that moment between the promise and its fulfillment. We trust and we have faith that God will act, that God will bend the arc of the universe toward justice, that God is bending that arc as we speak. God bent that arc on Christmas and on Easter. We proclaim that God has been victorious over sin and death, over violence and evil and oppression in every form, but we still live with their effects. There is still work to be done. There universe still needs to be bent. And this is a hard place to live. Mary and Luke knew this, too, just as we know this. To again quote Martin Luther King, Jr., this time from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

This is what Mary does in our reading today. She proclaims that she is a coworker with God through the life growing within her. Mary claims the work that God has given her to do, the way in which she will do her part to bend the universe toward justice. For this reason, one of the traditional titles given to Mary is the Theotokos, a Greek word which means, “God-bearer.” This is not something a girl does. This is the work of a mature, confident, powerful woman. This is the example that Mary gives us, one which all of us, men and women, boys and girls, should strive to meet. Mary shows us what it looks like when we accept God’s call in our lives, when we respond with hope and faith, maturely taking our place in God’s work of salvation.

Doing so will make us God-bearers, too. As the thirteenth century German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “We are all called to be mothers of God—for God is always waiting to be born.” Where is God waiting to be born in Baltimore? Where is God waiting to be born in your life? How are you called to be a God-bearer, partnering with God in bending the universe toward justice? How will Mary become your example in this? Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Fullness of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Philippians 4:4-5

Click the image to listen to an audio recording, or read the transcript below.

Today – gospel reading to the contrary – is Joy Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, pink candle Sunday – the third Sunday in Advent –  the day to remember joy.  Interesting that we have to remember joy, at all.  I mean it’s the Christmas season – isn’t that how we’re supposed to feel all season long?  Or is that maybe why the anxiety and the stress of the season feel stronger than they do at other times of the year – happiness becomes another thing we are “to do” on the list.

In our opening prayer we asked God to stir up God’s power and come among us.  Can you imagine if that actually happened?  What would that look like?  I’ll bet all of us could imagine that happening in the world in big ways – if God stirred up God’s power – there would be no more war – no more hunger – no more injustice.  Children would be cared for – people would be valued.   The evil forces in this world that lead human beings to acts of violence and degradation would be wiped out, conquered.  If God’s power was stirred up and came among us – well – the whole world would be set right.

In some ways – it’s easier for us to imagine God’s power being stirred up on that stage.  But – Advent prepares us for a much more particular truth.  God choose to come among us in a very individual way.  God’s power was stirred up in the form of an infant – a particular person born to a particular family in a particular time and place.  What if God came among you – among me – like that?  What would God’s power being stirred up in your life today mean for you?  Would it bring joy, sadness, both?

If something from today makes me long for God’s presence – it is the words from the prophet Zephaniah.  Sing aloud and rejoice!  There is nothing more joyful than being in a room filled with people who are signing their hearts out is there (Christmas carols are loved for a reason).  Do not fear – this reading reminds us – God has taken away the judgments against you.

Just think of that – we who are so good at judging each other – judging ourselves.  How wonderful it would be if that burden was lifted from our heads and hearts.  It reads – that God will change our shame into praise.  Those things done and left undone.  Maybe things done years ago – maybe things left undone from just last week – God would take all of that.  What are the particular burdens in your life you would bring to God this morning?

The picture the prophet paints is one of hope.  In the Christian faith – hope is a belief in something we cannot see. A belief that all will be renewed – all will be restored – all will be reconciled and brought to fruition in complete wholeness.   All will be well and all will be well.  Hope is what allows us to know joy even in the midst of struggle and sadness.

When I preach at a funeral – sometimes I will point out that – when we lose someone we love – we experience hope in a most profound way.  We find ourselves often laughing and crying at the same time – laughing at the memories of joy a person gave us – while tears stream down our face because our hearts hurt.  Hope is what gives us faith that our hearts will know joy again.  Hope is knowing that God will indeed restore all our fortunes before our eyes – not the fortunes we earn and save – but the fortunes that are priceless, intangible – the fill our hearts with joy.
Paul encourages us to know joy by being kind.  Be gentle – with yourselves – with others.  For that is joy-filled living.  And then he casually adds – don’t worry about anything.  Oh – that’s easy for you to say – St. Paul.  But I don’t think he pens it casually or that it comes easy.

Paul wrote these words from a prison cell.   As Saul he had gone around casting stones and judgments with the best of them.  But after the tears were wiped from his eyes, after he gave his burdens over to God so that he might be renewed.  Paul left condemning people behind.  And through the struggle, the sadness of practicing gospel living – he embraced the joy that comes from building people up. It was the life’s work of that practice – which I imagine in his particular context brought a peace that allowed him to give the anxieties of his particular moment over to God.

I hope you won’t mind if I go from the theology of Paul to a storyline from an animated movie…but I wonder if any of you say Pixar’s movie “Inside Out” last summer?  It’s the story of a girl 11 years old – who has to move – the way kids do, dependent as they are on their parents.  But it’s not so much the story of the move - in that typical format of challenge presented and overcome – it’s the story of what is going on inside her head, and heart.  How her emotions anger, disgust and fear and joy – all fight and struggle to protect her from the emotion they think is the worst of all – sadness.  Joy in particular does everything she can to keep every memory and every moment – free from even a tinge of sorrow.  Because that is what makes everything better right?  If we’re happy all the time then how could we ever be sad – or scared – or angry?

But as joy comes to realize (and it’s a great movie) – there is no joy without sadness.  That’s what I try and honor in my remarks at a funeral – the joy, the love – wouldn’t be as powerful, as meaningful – as joyful – if we didn’t allow ourselves feel the sadness too.  There is full-throated singing more powerful and hopeful - than a room full of people sharing joy and sorrow through the singing of Amazing Grace, is there?

If there is one line from the John the Baptist story that I think connects with today’s theme, it’s not what he says – it’s what the people do.  The crowds – always looking for “the answer” ask John – well what should we do to prepare for this good news?  John answers pretty straightforwardly – share your stuff, be honest in your work and don’t get greedy.  Stirring up God’s power within and amongst ourselves is really that simple at times.  And upon hearing this – the crowds are not filled with hope in their own abilities – instead it says – they are filled with expectations.  Expectations that maybe John is the one they’ve been waiting for – the one who will fix it all.

But expectations are precisely what the people will have to let go of.  Our expectations of others – the writer Anne Lamott says – are resentments waiting to happen.  And these people will be disappointed that John isn’t the Messiah.  And they will be even more disappointed and resentful when Jesus fails at being the Messiah they expected.  Which happens – I know has happened – with each of us in various ways – as our expectations of God in our particular lives are challenged – through the sadness that living brings.

The wisdom of the church is that we really do need to be reminded of joy in this season.  A season where so many expectations are placed on us and everyone else.  A season frought with “if only” – “I wish” and “should haves and could’ve’s”  Because – the good news we prepare for isn’t some store bought Christmas-spirit.  It is the life-saving joy offered to us each of us in our particular circumstances through Christ.  A joy that holds us when we weep – a joy that is never ashamed of who we are – a joy that seeks only to gather us in – renew our spirits in hope – and lead us into the heart of God – which is our true home.  Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Who Controls the Eight Ball?

The Second Sunday in Advent

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"  (Luke 3:1-2)

Click the image to listen to an audio recording of the sermon, or, read the transcript below.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Work, work, work

Preparing is something we are very accustomed to, isn’t it?  We prepare our homes when we have guests. Sometimes we prepare meals – like all of you who worked your tails off barely two weeks ago – preparing the feast of expectations also known as Thanksgiving.

We prepare and study for tests and exams.  We prepare and practice for big games and tennis matches.  Individually and with teams we prepare sales pitches and big presentations.   Preparing, generally speaking, is work – heavy-lifting work – for each of us.

Which I’m pretty sure influences how we hear our gospel this morning.  Last week at our Outreach meeting we read this gospel as our opening reflection.  After listening to it a few times - prepare the way, make paths straight, fill all the valleys, make the rough places smooth - we talked about – probably with the agenda of our many outreach projects hovering in the air – oy vey, even with all of us doing our small part – who can do all this?

Benjamin Franklin – progenitor of our classic busy-bee culture – said – by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

In the 15th year of reign of Emperor Tiberius – do you think they thought the same?  Is John the Baptist telling us if we fail to prepare we will fail – at Christmas?  God with us is dependent on our preparations?

I would suggest not all preparation is of the same type.  Sure there are times – at home – at school – at work – when we have to prepare for something.  But there is another type of preparation that is equally important and perhaps more valuable.  It’s a preparation we invite.  Not in order to achieve something but to orient ourselves towards living into something.  Living in the fullness of time – living as though we really have seen the salvation that has already come.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has a beautiful book called “Where God Happens.”  It is an introduction and exploration of the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers.  Very early on in the Christian movement there were people who thought if they left behind all the work of preparing they would be found by God.  And so following the example of prophets like John the Baptist and Jesus – they went into the desert.  To be alone to prepare to meet Christ.

And alone they lived in little caves – and surprise – they took preparing with them.  They wanted “to do” all the time.  Their writings reveal that the hardest part about being in the cave was being in the cave.  They wanted to keep preparing, keep doing. 

Remember the story of Martha and Mary?  They invite Jesus over – and Mary sits at his feet.  Martha on the other hand – is busy preparing – and asks Jesus to tell her sister to come and help her.  But Jesus says why would I do that? I’m here – can’t you stop – and enjoy it?

Williams’ writes that the wisdom of desert spirituality asks us to question - do we believe our religion is about the fullness of life or about controlling our lives?   Is religion what imbues us with the authority to impose our judgements and expectations on ourselves and everyone else?   Is God segregated into the portion of our life we call religious?  Or are we in a process of integration?  Are we using the eyes of faith to see all the ways in which God’s hand is at work shaping us – in every sphere, every relationship, every moment?

If you go back and read that excerpt from Malachi - it seems that the busyness of preparing doesn’t have much to do with us, it’s all God’s work.  Will we open ourselves to the refiner’s fire – subject ourselves to be scrubbed with that purifying soap?  Neither of which sound very pleasant to me, by the way, but that isn’t surprising.  It’s called growing pains for a reason.  Growing our awareness of what Williams calls “the peaceful worthwhileness” of myself and everyone else.  The awareness that being in and of itself is worthy, can be the refining work of a lifetime.

The way St. Paul writes this – is easier to take in – I am confident that the good work begun in you by God will be brought to completion.  Again – God is the one at work. Our part is being receptive, open. And probably doing some pruning – looking at our lives to ask – what is bringing me fullness? What self-imposed busyness keeps me from it?

In our culture –  we seem to wear our busyness is like a badge of honor.  Oh – its so busy – I’m so busy – this time of year is so busy.  Ok.  I know.  But – really – do you think it is an objective truth that this time of year is busier than any other?  And if so, what makes it so busy?  Who makes it so busy?  Don’t we, in large part, create the world we inhabit?

At the moment I was typing that very sentence while eating lunch at a cafĂ© this week – a woman walking by my table said in utter exasperation to her friend – no matter what I do – I am always behind the 8-ball.  Who puts the 8-ball there in the first place?

The perfect Christmas for God – King of King and Lord of Lord – Almighty God – was a birth among refugees – people who had no time to prepare but were on the move.  People who were barely adults – who had no time to prepare a bed, let alone a home – but had to walk into unknown territory, trusting there would be people who would help them.

God prepared the perfect Christmas by silencing the father of John the Baptist – Zechariah – for 9 months. Perhaps the busyness of his religious life (he was a priest), needed to be stopped so that God could complete the good work God had begun.  

And then John the Baptist prepared by going alone into the desert to do….(shrug shoulders) – perhaps simply to live with God, within God – until in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was Governor and Herod was King – and I’m sure it was a very, very busy time for all who were alive – John the Baptist declared the time had come for forgiveness and love to be incarnate in the world.  If people would simply take a moment and stop – and allow that truth to wash over them with water.  God was about to be and bring fullness of life – fully prepared for us.

Because, in the fifteenth year of the twenty-first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States, and Larry Hogan was governor of Maryland, and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was mayor of Baltimore, and Michael Curry was presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the word of the Lord will come to Ruxton, Towson, Riderwood, Stoneleigh, Sparks, Perry Hall and Baltimore – whether we believe we are prepared or not.  You and I don’t make Christmas happen – God does.  

And a most priceless gift we can give ourselves is to allow a way in our busy lives for the tender compassion of our God to break upon us – to shine in our darkness – and guide our feet into the way of peace.  Amen.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks (12/6/15)