Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4: LOVE ALL

             Quite a ride huh? This 4 week journey of Advent toward Christmas.
            This van ride, this road trip, in which we took out our GPS to track and figure out where we are at and where we’re going… that is that we’re lodged in a secular Christmas season that starts around Halloween, but we’re going toward a Christmas in which we Worship Fully Jesus, God come fully to us.
            Then we lightened our load, tossing out the excessive consumption we as a society are consumed by—we spent less, and in doing so we recognized that our worth has nothing to do with the worth of the gifts we give, but instead our worth comes from the Love of God found in Christ Jesus.
          Then, last week we looked around and saw our fellow passengers, and we didn’t just look at them, but gave more … gave them our time, we began to wrestle with our connections with our friends and family and how we can nourish those relationships and cultivate interdependence.

           And now, here we are, two days from Christmas Eve, it’s just over that mountain. It’s just through that bank of fog.
          You can almost see it.
          You can almost hear it.
          In fact, you can hear it.
          Yes, you can hear Mary’s song, the Magnificat—you can hear her interpret for us what that manger means, what Emmanuel, God with us, is all about.
          In her self-proclaimed lowliness she encourages us to look around and see our neighbors with new eyes.
          She encourages us to actively be concerned for, and on the look out for, those who are so often invisible.
          She encourages us to recognize how this “God with us” changes how we are with one another.
          She encourages us to celebrate the topsy-turvy tumult of Christmas.
          She encourages us to love all.
          Let us pray.

          We drive toward that music, over that hill and through that fog, doing just fine, we’ll all get there in time.
          Then comes a banging against our back window.
          Holy cow, there’s an ill-clothed very pregnant woman banging on our window!
          “Why didn’t you stop for us?” is the first thing out of her mouth.
          “We didn’t see you,” we reply.
          “What do you mean you didn’t see us? I waved and both of us shouted at you when you drove by us, we even flashed you with our high beams.”
          We mumble something about “the fog,” squish her into our Advent Van with us, and drive back a quarter mile to an Oldsmobile Station Wagon—with the wood paneling and everything—broken down there—there’s a man with his head deep down into the engine.
          “Didn’t think you’d stop,” he said, “people rarely do… it’s like they don’t see us… too focused on Christmas I suppose.”
          Two of us get out and hold engine pieces in place while he does something that gets the car running again, while the rest share a thermos of hot chocolate with the woman.
          They thank us, tell us they’re the guest of honor at Christmas and it’s good they’ll be able to make it to the manger, and then drive off toward Christmas…
but we all sit in our little van with the heat going for a while. We drove by Mary and Joseph… what does that mean?
          It means, as we go along on our travels there will be fellow travelers broken down on the road, people put in lowly places and in need of a helping hand.
          It means we have to look for them, because there is a lot of fog in life, and we sometimes are so concerned with the songs of the season that we don’t engage our eyes as well as our ears. There is, in fact, a danger that we’ll miss seeing God with us, God among us, among us all.
          I think of a situation a fellow Pastor just dealt with—there was a man living in their recycling bin who wasn’t welcome at the local shelters for a variety of reasons. The church opened their doors to him and he attended their bible studies and the coffee hour after worship, when he can’t make it to worship itself… and they finally found him a shelter that will take him in…
and when he left one of the children innocently asked, “Was that Jesus.”
          Truly out of the mouth of babes.

          Yes, preparing for Christmas, going along this long Advent road, means being unsettled by those broken down along the way, unsettled because the song Mary sings is an unsettling one,
one that topples the ruthless and enthrones the lowly, feeds the hungry and sends off the rich unfed.
One that insists we care for, and be with, human beings broken down along the way, because that’s the very act of God we’re preparing to celebrate.

          And today you have in your hands two small ways to help those broken down on the highway of life.
          The first is an insert you’ve likely seen for the last month to help fund the ELCA’s response to Typhoon Haiyan—
if there has ever been an example of a people made low and in deepest hunger the survivors of that horrible Typhoon are an example.
          I probably don’t need to remind you all, but just in case you’ve not heard, the ELCA’s response to disasters is phenomenal—we had boots on the ground in the Philippines before the US military did.
For that matter,
as those in New Orleans and the people on the Jersey Shore can attest,
we stay committed to healing that which has been broken long after everyone else has left.
          Secondly, there is the ELCA Good Gifts Catalog—a program that went out to people all around the world in need and asked the simple question, “what do you need?”
“What do you need to fight malaria?
what do you need to fight hunger?
what do you need to create or sustain your new church, and your seminary?”
and then set up this program in which we can give those very things as gifts.
          I’m sure there are other ways we can help those who are the least among us,
those stuck on the road leading toward Christmas—
in fact I’m sure there are more concrete, down to earth, and personal ways to do this that you all know of, and I hope and pray you will do so.
With that we’ve reached the end of this Advent road—all that remains is to rejoice that God has come near in the person of Jesus Christ. A+A

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