Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Sermon from the First Sunday in Advent

I have a confession to make: even though I make a good show of pretending that I dislike all those Christmas decorations going up at the mall right after Halloween, there is a part of me that loves it!  This year I am thinking about Christmas now as things seem to get way too busy in the parsonage during Advent to truly maintain a consistent sense of wonder.  To that end, I am getting into the spirit of the season by posting some of my Advent sermons of the past...

This one was preached the Sunday after Thanksgiving this past year (2010).  It is pretty short.  On that Sunday we instituted a new ritual.  We read six passages.  Three were from the Bible and three were not.  The purpose was to put them in conversation with each other.  I reference four of them in the sermon.  The only one that might be hard to find is in "Teaching Metaphors" by Nathan Graziano.  I will post a link to his web page if you are interested.  Of the others, one is by Ann Weems and the other two are the Magnificat and the Benedictus, both from the Bible (the Tyndale Translation 'cause it's Advent).

After each reading we lit a candle in one of the six sanctuary windows and then had a brief moment of silence.  It was a nice way to enter the season on a day when so many congregants were on the road back from Grandmother's house.

This is also the first time that I played the ukulele in front of the entire non-summer congregation!  Good times...

"White Christmas"
First Sunday in Advent 2010
Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot

Ann Weems in our reading today laments that "too often our answer to the darkness is not running toward Bethlehem but running away".  Maybe this doesn’t apply to you but for many of us, it is probably true.  We can get stuck in the darkness. We can get lost--turned around--and in our confusion we may not actually see the light, not travel toward Bethlehem, but instead go backwards.

Some of our readings today have reflected moments of desperation and states of pain that—even if we have not experienced them ourselves--we can understand.  Think of that teen mother we opened our readings with, struggling to create a future for herself and her family.  It is a hard life.  It is the same life that was before that other teen mother we read about today. But Mary sang "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for God has looked with favor on this lowly servant".

Advent and Christmas remind us to seek out a light in the dark, to hope for a better future.  Like Mary and Zechariah and Isaiah we too must realize that a difficult and tragic past does not doom us to a similar future. 

Now, we have been talking about a lot of serious stuff this morning.  However, the spirit of Advent can be found in much lighter fare as well.  For that reason, I would like to end with something from the world of musical comedy.

Do you all know the movie White Christmas?  It was made in 1954 and told the story of two friends (played by Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby).  They have names in the film but, really, Danny plays Danny and Bing plays Bing.  Having already, like most Americans of their generation, lived through the Great Depression, we first see them on an unnamed battlefield during the Second World War.  There they are saying goodbye to their commanding officer. Then the movie fast forwards a few years and the war is over

After the war Bing and Danny become successful Broadway producers, but it is clear that something is missing in their lives.  They are running to and fro putting on their shows in Florida and New York and DC.  They are busy.  Still, they seem to be either running away or running in place.

Now I know it is a musical comedy so what is missing in their lives isn’t some great secret. There is no quiet, looming tragedy.  There is just a vague sense of displacement for two people accustomed to being displaced.  They haven’t yet settled down.  They aren’t married (It is the '50's so you just have to be married to be happy).  Furthermore, the father figure in this film--the commanding officer from their war days--is failing at his business venture (a ski Lodge in Pine Tree Vermont).  There is no snow and he is losing money.  As a Mainer growing up I always wondered why they didn’t just get snow-making machines.  Then they could have as much snow as they wanted.

Now, this is (as the name implies) an Advent movie. As we know, what keeps them going--just as it does for Mary and Zechariah--are their dreams, their hopes for a better future.  For Bing And Danny, these dreams are symbolized by the idea of a white Christmas.  That is, they possess a simple hope that things will be just like they "used to be" at some dimly (and probably incorrectly) remembered time.  Through the course of the movie.  They fall in love with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. They also manage to help out their old general by getting there war buddies together at the lodge for a big production number, all the while dreaming of this White Christmas.  Then, after they save the day and everything seems right in the world, the snow finally comes...

It’s corny, like many great films.  It's like in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy realizes everything she ever needed was in her own back yard.  But...we watch these movies.  And in the case of White Christmas, we watch it because it tells us about our own simple hopes this Advent season when we all pray for simplicity, family, and friendship, Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love.

At this point I pulled out the uke and we sang "White Christmas".  I think they are used to this sort of thing now, but the collective look of surprise was priceless for me and the summer folks...


I only have a couple.  As promised, here is the link to the book Teaching Metaphors.  I cannot remember the name of the poem, but it is the one about the teen mother.  Folks may also be interested in Graziano's baseball blog.

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