November 27, 2016 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 11: 1 – 10 & Romans 8: 18 – 25
First Sunday of Advent: Candle of HOPE
Let me begin by making something very clear: In my sermon title, I am not referring to ME as the “OLD STUMP returning!” Though that may apply!
On June 1, 2014, I preached a sermon here called Even from Old Stumps.
I wrote: “Our yard is blessed with several old stumps….and I love them! They are especially appealing to me when they begin to decay….to take on character….. and when interesting things begin to grow out of them. One never knows what fertile seeds dwell in the depth of them…. ready to come forth….having been denied sunlight for so long, now eager for growth. There is one old stump that has been slowly decaying, a favorite of mine that I used and am still using as a planter, though it has almost disappeared, it’s descent back into the Earth almost complete.”
Since that writing, it has disappeared into the earth after providing me with years of insiration and pleasure!
This sermon was inspired by my love for stumps
( Aside….BTW, do you know that some stumps live as long as 100 years and are often intentionally nourished by nearby trees in the forest, especially beech trees and stumps, according to the wonderful book I am reading; The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Fascinating and quite miraculous….as Mother Nature is!)
And it was also inspired, by a favorite poem by Joyce Rupp from her beautiful book: Rest your dreams on a little twig.
A green shoot grows out of
an old tree stump,
announcing to the world that power
lies within death.
All the resurrections ever birthed
in this world find a sister
in this green shoot growing
from the old wooden stump
Things in me that have died,
the worn-out and the worthless,
they are waiting to give rise to some
green shoot of a sister.
They are inviting me to faith in resurrection
and reverence for old tree stumps.
I must assure you that senility has not set in….though it may be in process!! I know we are approaching the Christmas season, not Easter… though Rupp’s lovely poem is about resurrection. However, it speaks to me clearly during this lovely, season of Advent when we wait for the new to appear in our spirits.
I love the symbolim and metaphors that mother nature provides for us….the amazing daily miracles of life…of nourishment and enrichment….. of possibilities and new life dependent upon both darkness and light. I am fascinated by the fertility of a seed or bulb and the often challenging places they take root and flourish. I look at our now dormant garden and know that life throbs beneath the winter soil which will burst forth in the Light and give us the gift of beauty in the Spring. It is this image that comes to my mind this year as I ponder the Incarnation event…. the hope for new life…for a bright light that will pierce the darkness and enable growth and yes, beauty. Seeds of HOPE are cotinally being planted inour souls, waiting to take root, to be nourished and blossom forth with a fragrance which blesses the universe.
Advent begins today…..a traditional season of waiting…. of expectation…. of standing on tiptoe waiting for the green shoot of new energy and hope to emerge from the old stump of Jesse which Sue read about this morning from the eloquent book of Isaiah. A dominent theme in Hebrew scriptures is that of God’s promise and the people’s hope and longing for the fulfillment of those promises….. one of which is the arrival of a Messiah to lead creation on a path of peace and love…..of compassion and justice.
This Advent theme of hoping and waiting…. standing on tiptoe with hearts and minds open to receive…..is especially pertinent to our church this year, isn’t it ?…. as we wait for the right candidate to respond to a call to become our pastor.
H.G. Wells once wrote a story titled “In the Days of the Comet.” Well’s story is a somewhat typical science fiction fantasy. A mysterious green vapor of unknown origin descends from the clouds and covers the earth. The vapor has the immediate effect of putting all the earth’s people into a deep sleep for three days.
When they finally awake, something amazing has happened. Their inner nature is radically transformed. Petty quarreling comes to an end. Instead of seeking fame, power and wealth the people of the world seek to serve one another. Love, kindness and generosity become more important than greed or success. In short, the perfect society emerges–a society in which the dignity of every human being is honored. ( WOW ! May it be!) Let’s all go to sleep for 3 days and pray for the miracle of peace and embrace the attitude of HOPE!
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to that kind of day. He looked forward to a day when “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (11:6). Sounds pretty unrealistic doesn’t it!? That’s a whole lot to hope for!
Of course, Isaiah was not anticipating a green vapor that would come down out of the clouds. He was prophesying “a shoot [that would come] from the stump of Jesse . . .” That is Isaiah’s way of predicting that there was a Messiah coming, who would establish a new world order, who would bring into being a new kingdom in which love is more important than power and service is more important than domination. For generations, people waited for such a miracle.
Some of us feel like we are still waiting… thousands of years later…struggling to keep hope and faith in a Higher Power alive. ….And my dear friends, that’s a huge part of the problem from my perspective. We are waiting still for a magical messiah to zap creation into a paradise of peace and justice…..and that messiah has already come….. as a light in the darkness that cannot be extinguished, though it it is so frequently misunderstood….and ignored! The Light has come!! The story of the incarnation is not a historical event that happened over 2000 years ago. It is a miracle of the Divine Energy of the Creator…..that happens every moment. It’s up to us…… as it was up to Jesus…. who embraced the Light of God, who enabled miracles, who was and is the ongoing epiphany of love.
So too we MUST be the light bearers….the creators of miracles …..the angels that Ada sang about…who will sing our songs of peace and light to illuminate the darkness.
And is it a dark time. I will NOT go into the politics of the darkness, accept to say that both of our political parties are in dis-array. It’s a mess. Yet, we do not have to be sucked into the awful pit of darkness, because we KNOW that the Light has come….and dwells within us. We must be more vigilant about letting it shine forth everywhere we can.
As usual, author Roland Merullo inspired me in his recent online newsletter. He wrote:
In my own smaller circle, I will try to be as kind and caring and sane as I can possibly be, to compensate, in a tiny way, for some of the violence and anger and near-insanity that stains our streets. I want to at least try to start from a place of hope, not fear; kindness, not hatred; understanding, not ridicule.
We lit the candle of Hope today. It is my hope that it will burn brightly thoughout this often frantic Advent season to inspire a commitment of peace and kindness to all.
Facebook has been filled with nasty stories, many of them false or inaccurate… designed to stir up hate and fear. One good thing about Facebook is we have the freedom and ability to scroll down! Keep on scrolling ….we don’t have to read or share them! It’s our choice. Our televisons and computers have off and change the channel buttons! It’s our choice! So scroll and click and delete I do!
Fortunately, however, there are frequently uplifting, inspirational messages , quotes and stories on Facebook and the Internet that remind us of the many Lightbearers and angels “doing their jobs ”, inspiring hope and love in the universe. You know them! I found such a message this past week in the Daily Good sharing the wisdom of Viktor Frankl, holocaust surivor and author who wrote: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor E. Frankl –
That was a wow for me!
And the wisdom of psychologist Susan David also included in that article, who wrote in her book Emotional Agility:
“Emotions help us not only to communicate with other people but also to ourselves…. We can learn from them, but we don’t need to obey them or be dominated by them.”
Ah ha. It’s the pause…that Frankl referred to… the space between stimuli and response. Think how incredibly beneficial that would be in our family relationships, in our government, in our places of business, in our schools and communities… “ the pause that refreshes”….. refreshes us and brings us to a place of sanity…. of kindness and light from out of the dark turmoil of any negative emotions. That is my hope! That’s what hope is all about. Can you imagine what our lives would be like without hope.
Maya Angelou said in so beautifully in her poem: I know why the caged bird sings:
The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom
And Emily Dickinson’s beautiful poem:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Oh how our many of our artists bless the universe with their creative talents and profound insights. The gifted song writer and poet and light bearer, Leonard Cohen , whose loss we are still mourning, offers us wisdom for these times.
In a Brain Pickers column, I found this beam of light: “One of Cohen’s most beloved lyric lines, from the song “Anthem” — a song that took him a decade to write —offers a meaningful message for our troubled and troubling times: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It springs from a central concern of Cohen’s life and work, one which he revisited in various guises across several songs — including in “Suzanne”, where he writes “look among the garbage and the flowers / there are heroes in the seaweed,” and in the iconic “Hallelujah”: “There’s a blaze of light / In every word / It doesn’t matter which you heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah”.
The holy and the broken…..we experience them both and our hope is in the crack in everything , that lets the light gets in.
In a radio interview, Nazi concentration camp survivor Gerta Weissman recalled an episode one spring when she and other concentration camp inmates stood for roll call for hours on end, nearly collapsing with hunger and fatigue. She said, “We noticed in the corner of this bleak, horrid, gray place that the concrete had broken in a corner and a flower had poked its head through it. And you would see thousands of feet shuffle every morning to avoid stepping on that flower . . .”
That tiny flower poking its head through the concrete represented hope and beauty to the women in the concentration camp.
Two of my favorite passages for Advent are the ones Sue read this morning.
Messages of hope and challenge….. of contemplation, compassion and action….that guide our journey to the miracle of the manger. I love Macrina’s paraphrasing of Romans 8:
ROMANS 8: 18 – 25 ( a paraphrase by Macrina Wiederkehr)
It appears to me that whatever we suffer now will show up only dimly when compared to the wonders God has in store for us. It is as though all creation is standing on tiptoe
longing to see an unforgettable vision, the children of God being born into wholeness! ( Picture that!)
Although creation is unfinished, still in the process of being born, it carries within a secret hope.
And the hope is this: A day will come when we will be rescued from the pain of our limitation and incompleteness and be given our share in a freedom that can only belong to the children of God. ( and my friends, we are ALL children of God!)
At the present moment all creation is struggling as though in the pangs of childbirth.
And that struggling creation includes even those who have had a taste of the spirit.
We peer into the future with our limited vision, unable to see all that we are destined to be, yet believing because of a hope we carry so deep within….a hope that enables a caged bird to sing, and new life to grow in an old stump!
Romans 8: 8 – 15 inspires the beautiful vision of Creation straining forward…. eagerly waiting to be caught up in God’s plan for wholeness and peace. …. God’s dream for Creation.
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is repeated over and over again in his letters, that as persons respond in faith to God’s gift of the Jesus, as they embrace the Spirit, they move from darkness to light and become new creations. His letters inspired the early Chrstians to follow the example of Jesus …. the Light whose message is the Hope for a new creation…and such is our inspiration today. It’s not a hopeless situation! Miracles of love are really everywhere… in nature and in our human family.
Nothing else matters, says Paul….. except that we become agents of Light in a world of darkness where hatred threatens and destroys.
I’d like to close with this story shared by Lindsay McLaughlin in the recent Friends of Silence online newsletter:
“ The Old People of the tribes tell of a special cave where a woman is weaving the most beautiful garment in the world. She is almost finished, but while she stirs the soup in a great cauldron at the back of the cave a dog awakens and moves to where she has left the garment on the floor. The dog begins pulling on a loose thread of the beautiful garment. Because each thread is woven to another, pulling on one undoes them all. Soon the beautiful garment is a chaotic mess on the floor of the cave.
When the woman returns she sits and looks silently upon the remnants of her once beautiful design. She ignores the presence of the dog as she stares intently at the tangle of loose threads and distorted designs. Then after a while she picks up a thread and begins again to weave an even more lovely cloak, the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen. Out of her silence during which she listened deeply within and gazed long and intently at the destruction and chaos before her, the woman in the story reaches down and pulls thread after thread from the tangled mess. As she does so, she begins to imagine again the beautiful cloth. As she weaves, new patterns and designs appear and her skilled hands knowingly give them vibrant shape. Soon she has forgotten the garment she was weaving before as she concentrates on capturing the new designs of the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen.
Countless times throughout history, the glorious garment of community and harmony that the Creator envisioned has unraveled and left in a state of chaoe and destruction. We may feel like our planet is in a chaotic mess…just waiting once again for the ones who will revision the peaceable kingdom….will weave a beautiful new tapestry of faith and action that will rekindle the Light in the universe. “
I read a marvelous story to the children this morning, entitled: What Do You Do with and Idea? What do you do with an idea that is daring, different or a little daunting? Do you hide it? Walk away from it? Or do you welcome the idea….give it space to grow and see what happens next? Do you think that a good idea is capable of changing the world ?
So asks the author or the delightful children’s book I read today. I commented that I believe it was part of the Creator’s plan to inspire good ideas in all of us…. ideas that will promote peace and justice,… a better quality of life for all living beings on the planet. We are the Light and we can choose the ideas we embrace and bring to fruition. It’s critical for our nation and planet that we carry and nourish the idea of peace on earth….of love and justice for all people. It begins with you and me and it can change the world! Amen!