Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, December 17, 2017, Advent 3, Year B, John 1:6-8,19-28
“He came as a witness to testify to the light.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning… It is good to be with you, here today… at St. Philip’s… for the Third Sunday of Advent. To be able to hear this fantastic text from Isaiah and from John. Because these texts are absolutely filled with goodness and motivation and invitation…
A couple of weeks ago, I told a story about camping and darkness and coldness. A story about waiting…
And last week, Mother Jodi preached about reconciliation and how it is both the response *to* Grace and, paradoxically, how it makes space *for* Grace.
How reconciliation is the Church’s wheelhouse… how it is our main business and mission.
And slowly… our sanctuary is more and more lighted. Today we have lit the third candle… the rose candle.
Who knows why we have a rose candle?
who knows what the fancy name of the rose candle is?
(Gaudete, which means Joy… a break in the darkness…)
For many people, Advent is a penitential season… Just like Lent.
And there is definitely an element of penitence within the waiting… within the preparation…
But honestly, I see Advent more as a time of Anticipation.
As the story of the desire of God to break into the lives of his people… For God to initiate this indescribable act… into your life and mine and into all of Creation.
And so, there are is this theological/liturgical argument among some Episcopalians.
Is the Advent color Penitential Purple or Sarum Blue?
So I want to weigh in on this contentious issue right here and right now… I want to finally put to rest how I think theologically about the Advent colors… And because our ritual is very important to me, because our sacred space is very important and because it assists us in telling the Story of God… it must be addressed.
So…Call the bishop if you must, but…
I don’t really have a preference…
I kind of like how “we” do it here. It seems pretty middle of the road… pretty Anglican.
It isn’t Lenten purple… penitential purple… and it isn’t really sarum blue… it’s kind of neither… and both… which is nice… because really, nobody gets what they want… Church the way it was meant to be 🙂
These liturgical colors also signify Anticipation…
true anticipation is filled with many emotions.
Excitement… Nervousness… Fear… Joy…
It is complex.
It can be infuriating… nerve-racking… intense…
When is the last time you experienced intense… passionate anticipation?
Musicians say that they experience this before a big solo… or people experience this before a big job interview that may bring an enormous life change… Or maybe you felt it at your wedding… or in a doctor’s office or hospital emergency department… Or before the big Frankfort/Benzie Basketball game that happened this past Thursday… Or right before a fierce conversation in which the outcome is unclear and the potential is great for hard feelings, misunderstanding, hurt feelings or deep, satisfying, reconciliation.
With Anticipation… there is so much at stake… so much to gain or so much to be lost…
Like…when a mother is expecting a child.
When I was younger… over 12 years ago… Jodi and I anticipated the birth of our first child…
We were definitely excited about bringing new life into the world, but we were also terrified.
We didn’t feel responsible enough to bring a living breathing human being home from the hospital…
We didn’t feel responsible enough to feed and care for something so precious and fragile.
We didn’t know where we would come up with the extra income to pay our bills…
We lived on the West Side of Grand Rapids where there were lots of gang and drug problems. Was it really even very responsible for us to bring new life into such a place?
And then… a month early… after some testing… we found out that our baby would be coming early… that she would arrive the very next day via emergency C section.
We were terrified by this change. Terrified and anxious. This was not what we had anticipated…
What would it mean? What could it mean for my daughter… for us… for our family… for our future?
Jodi did her best to sleep the night before. I stayed up and watched The Family Guy for a few anxious hours with my Mother in Law.
Once we were at the hospital, things happened pretty quickly.
And as she was born… as she entered this world, as I laid my eyes on her for the first time… I saw that she was blue… that she was gray. A million emotions streamed through my body.
And I was terrified. Terrified that something was drastically wrong.
But, then she breathed her first breath… and I heard her squawk… I held her and brought her to her mama… And most of the anticipation was over.
The joy had arrived. It had overtaken much of the fear… it had brought light to the darkness.
The hope of the present and future had overcome the potential despair of the past… And all… was… well…
I hesitate to tell you this story because it is a story about a baby.
It is a story about light and hope…
About darkness and the potential for great pain and suffering…
And for me… it is a little too close to the Christmas Eve Story.
But friends… Advent is for anticipation.
And we anticipate God’s intervention in our lives. We anticipate God busting into our lives through the womb of Creation in an uncontrollable way… a way that is out of our hands… in a way that has the potential to change lives forever…
We know that there are many problems all around us. That there is great injustice at every turn. That for some of us illness and pain and suffering *are* our constant companions.
That women are continually subjected to unfair pressure and sexism.
That globally, human beings enter into death because we haven’t come up with a way to share all you have given us.
That we as a country are wrestling with our involvement with racism and a system of racial injustice in America.
That we are trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian and an American each and every day.
Should I support this tax plan or reject it? Should I read the newspaper and engage in the dialogue or sequester myself for my own sanity?
There seems to be great peril and calamity all around us. And we have no idea… what in the world we should do about it.
And we wonder where you are God. We wonder what you will do. We feel inadequate and that we are unable to bring about any kind of real change.
We want to bring about your Kingdom, but our own initiative has been impotent.
We feel hopeless and helpless… And maybe we read this text from Isaiah and can’t put ourselves into the story. For many of us, Isaiah is too far away from our own current reality…
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Because we have been reading this text for a long time. We have anticipated your justice for far too long.
And the passage just seems too far off right now. Maybe there is just too much at stake for us… Maybe…
Even though it is Advent 3… and even though we have lit the rose “Gaudete” candle… even though we are supposed to take a break from the darkness and even though we remember that we are supposed to be joyful… maybe we still feel like we are sitting in utter darkness…
And there is space for that… there is space for you here, even if you feel all these feelings or none of these feeling… even if you are in a place of despair or in a space of great consolation…
But… maybe today… you can muster a spark. Maybe you can see a bit of light… maybe you can remember a time where light was your companion rather than darkness…
I’m sure you have something in mind right now… a wedding. A birth… a wonderful friendship… a time where you were very close with a brother or sister… a time where your parents made you feel special…. A time where you held your child close to your chest rocked him or her to sleep.
Because that’s what John was testifying about. That’s what John was a witness to… He could identify and remember the spark… he could see a light that nobody else could see… He pointed the way to true hope… he pointed the way to Jesus the Christ…. The light in the darkness… The one who would bring Kingdom Justice.
And so, Church, it is our work… it is your work to try to notice that spark. To see that spark as God’s initiative… to get yourself to a space where you can see that spark from any angle as you and I sit in the darkness.
Because if it isn’t there now, that spark is coming.
God is coming.