December 13, 2015 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 35 & John 1: 1 – 5 & 14
Here we are…..already at the third Sunday of Advent when we light the pink candle of JOY.
Many people have asked “Why the pink candle?” Historically, Advent was a time of deep reflection ….very much like Lent….somber and serious….requiring discipline, prayer and meditation. The third week was an invitation to “lighten up”….to anticipate the joy of the forthcoming miracle of the incarnation. Perhaps this year, we need the candle of joy more than ever to shed light into the darkness of violent angry souls….a troubled, threatened planet.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of “the greatest justice since John Marshall.” At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergy I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 13.
You may agree! Today is a day when you are invited to lighten up liturgically and theoretically. I am inviting you to hear and experience the laughter of God. I borrowed that phrase from mystical author Ann Weems who always inspires me: I wonder if God comes to the edge of heaven each Advent and flings the Star into the December sky, laughing with joy as it lights the darkness of the earth; and the angels, hearing the laughter of God, begin to congregate in some celestial chamber to practice their alleluias. Today, let us practice joyful alleluias!
The Advent season began officially on November 29th, after Thanksgiving, however it started to “look a lot like Christmas” before we finished trick or treating for Halloween! Merchants, anxious for the shopping season to begin encouraged us to jump up from our thanksgiving feasts and head to the Mall! And the race began and continues!
Author and pastor, Alex Gondola tells an amusing incident in his book Don’t Forget the Child. He said that his family received a Christmas card that contained a packet which read “ Sprouts Birth of Jesus. Drop capsules in warm water and watch.” Each capsule contained a different figure…Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, Creche, etc. You place the capsules in warm water and sponge figures burst forth…..creating a soggy, spongy tacky nativity scene!!
Have you seen that? Well, maybe a spongy baby Jesus is better than no baby Jesus!!
I know you all know, that for me, it is the artist, the poet, the musician, the dancer that can lift out of this busy, over secularized season, a sacred moment of the soul. It is the contemplative spirit willing to take the inner journey that will unearth a gem of beauty, a kernel of wisdom that will bless us busy ones who tend to DO instead of taking time to BE. I am one of those people, which is one of the reasons I so treasure the spiritual mystics among us who are able to welcome the incarnation of God’s spirit of love, even as harbingers of hatred shout and threaten the universe.
Fear and anger run rampant in the streets.
This morning, let’s put aside the “to do” lists, our angst about shopping, our stress about the world situation, and lighten up our spirits to experience the joy and beauty of the season. Hear these beautiful words of Lindsay McLaughlin from the Friends of Silence December newsletter:
In this season when the atmosphere crackles with expectation and we look for the light coming at us through the mysterious dark, it is good to realize that the magic is everywhere, the grace of love and wonder: in leaf piles and playgrounds, cuddles and whispered stories, a newborn’s tiny toes, songs about meatballs and rubber duckies; and in the brown flash of the hawk amid the tangled trees, the moss on the tumbled rock, the sweet and tangy [fragrance of evergreens].
Most of us want desperately to experience the beauty, hope, peace, joy and love….the miracle f Christmas. We long to be happy, JOYFUL people who exude a positive energy of goodness and light. Joy is described in the dictionary as “ a very glad feeling, happiness, great pleasure, delight.” This description makes me think of the pure and spontaneous joy of a child or a dog….enthusiastic and contagious… a boundless joy that captures the hearts of all of us….and yet…that joy in a child can turn to tantrums and tears….in an instant…often without warning!!! We’ve all experienced that, I’m sure!! Like a child….our lives can often go from buoyant happiness to dismal misery…. without warning, especially when we turn on the news!
Author, sociologist, life coach Martha Beck offers some wise advise for creating a right life….for making happiness our default mode. She writes:
Real threats do exist, but when we approach life with fear, we see threats in everything, including unconditional love. We puff up in self-defense, which others perceive as aggression. We use violent, extreme words and actions when peaceful attentiveness would work far better.
Try this: Whenever you notice that the monologue in your head is fear-based (worrying about the future, belittling yourself, fussing over what others may think) stop, breathe deeply, and switch to a silent loving-kindness meditation, repeating phrases like: “May I be happy. May I be calm. May I feel safe and protected.”
It sounds so simple, because it is. What’s in front of us is a world where far more
goes right than wrong. Make your mind part of the world’s peace, instead of its
fear, and I promise, life will get better and better”….and we will be much
Thousands of years ago, in the 8th century BC when the beautiful book of Isaiah was written, and hundreds and hundreds of years later , 90 to 110 C.E when the gospel of John was written, the people lived in darkness, the authors say. In both centuries people are waiting for the Light of God to challenge the darkness and liberate the people of God.
The words from Isaiah that Lamar read this morning describe an arid desert bursting with new life and great joy.
To understand Isaiah’s vision, we need to feel as if we are in the desert. Imagine that for a moment… let your imagination take you to a dry, parched place. You can almost taste the dry air…feel the oppressive heat and experience the thirst as you breathe in the dust. Then you can imagine the sound of raindrops hitting the arid soil. You can smell the earth drinking in the moisture. Imagine the nourishing rain soaking down into the dusty earth and then watch as desert flowers begin to break through the parched earth and begin to bloom! Can you imagine it? Can you sense the joy and relief of that moment? You can feel the new life, busting open like a bud! Now imagine the fresh, exhilarating spirit of God nourishing your weary, wasted spirit in this same way. Isaiah said that joy comes like new life in the desert….and he was talking about divine intervention….God’s spirit of newness….being infused into our old, tired way of feeling and being. Listen to Isaiah’s beautiful images: “The burning sand will become a pool and thirsty ground bubbling springs….waters will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” Glorious images of what God’s spirit can do for us. Isaiah also says that the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped and the lame shall leap like deer. Beautiful metaphors of how our spirits will be free to be all that God intended we be…that we will no longer be blind to the truth….to be deaf to the messages of hope and we will no longer be paralyzed by fear and doubt…but our spirits will leap with joy in our newfound faith and belief in the power and presence of God! We’ll be attentive to the presence of miracles! Praise be to God for the breathtaking images of Isaiah which give us startling glimpses of God and who we can be in union with God. This glorious new rebirth of life was promised to be ushered in by the Messiah. This was the prophecy forwhich generations waited …and hoped would be fulfilled.
And Jesus did come and dwell on the Earth, offering to all who would listen the option of love and freedom, a new relationship with the Divine Spirit. The author of the gospel of John writes that the Word and Spirit of God became flesh and dwelled among us…..loving us….. liberating us…revealing more fully the reality and mystery of God. And verse 5 gives us hope. It is the basis for our joy: 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Whew! that’s a relief, isn’t it! That is cause for great joy….. that inspires the laughter of God.
However, before we start giggling too much, we must recognize our responsibility as partners….as co creators with God.
One of the many wonderful poets among us here at Union Church, wrote a very timely poem this week that he gave me permission to share with you. The insight of Jonathan
It’s a Little Harder This Year
To get the same feel-good fix from Christmas concerts.
I’ve been to three and,
Try as I might, my heart never got fully there.
No matter the artistry,
The story is sounding a little off-pitch.
Terrorist murderings were carefully not mentioned.
Afraid, perhaps, we might wake from our
Holiday slumber to see emperor Nicholas
Without any clothes.
Someone has said, “At Christmas all theological bets are off.”
Let me whisper the truth:
We really don’t believe it any more.
(A god in the sky sends his son
To be born of a virgin,
To grow up and die and
Magically wipe away our sins, so we
Can all live happily ever after in heaven.)
There is no simple fix for
The world’s open wounds. One Christ alone
Was never intended to be enough.
We need more than the trickle of real saints
Who have graced the centuries—
We need an army of them!
Something of heaven needs to be born in
A hundred million hearts and minds and bodies.
These are the spiritual terrorists,
Imperceptibly subverting the world order,
Patiently working within, year by year, until
They become daughters and sons of the One.
Then the angels will really have something to shout about!
Who are these workers? Who has the vision?
Who is content merely to sing carols?
God’s love and laughter will bubble through us and change make the universe a better, brighter world, as long as we allow the Holy Spirit to use us as reflectors of God’s light as transmitters of God’s laughter.
Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings,
knowing that she hath wings.
~ Victor Hugo ~