Someone asked me for this sermon yesterday so I have tried to make it fit into a readable form. Like Bill Clinton I am a text preacher, but also like him I both digress and I write it out as I would speak it. This means that even in this form, grammar and punctuation serve the cadances of my voice rather than the rules of writing. I hope it doesn't drive you crazy but--trust me--it reads better than what I bring to the pulpit.
Finally, liturgists will wonder if I am confused about which week the "hope" candle is lit. All I can say is that we are liberals and we let our lighters choose what theme they would like. This year there were two hope candles. I don't think anyone ended up minding...
December 16, 2012
Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot
OK, So... Here's the thing; this hasn't been the most “Christmasy” week for me. It started OK with the annual caroling trip to Leonard Morse Hospital on Tuesday and a Christmas service at Riverbend Nursing Home on Thursday morning. But, you see at breakfast on Thursday, I was the victim of a comically random (but still quite painful) cooking accident that left me half blind and in the Emergency Room of that same Leonard Morse Hospital. I can give you the details at coffee hour if you want them...and if you haven't already read about it on Facebook. Then later that evening I nearly collapsed at the CVS over on West Central Street. Let's face it, nothing says the holidays like creating a spectacle of yourself in front of total strangers in the middle of the night.
Then, of course, there was something in the news on Friday. Something happened in Connecticut that left me (and many of you) wondering about this whole human endeavor. We found ourselves questioning everything we think we know about the world and about humanity. In that moment--and really for most of the weekend after--it was hard to envision the angels and the shepherds. It was hard to embody that seasonal sense of Peace and goodwill to all.
In those moments it is hard to imagine what to do or think or say...even on Pageant Sunday. We all go through times like this. whether it because of personal crises...or we share in a national tragedy...or if it is simply the gradual wearing down of our better natures from too many problems at work or at home...or too many trips up and down Route 9. In these moments we ask ourselves why. Why do we live in a world where bad--even unspeakable things--can happen to us and where people can do unspeakable things.
We live these sorts of days plunged into the muck of human existence, traveling paths of darkness made no brighter because of their familiarity. We ask with Ann Weems, Where did the angels' song go? and we do not know where to look for the answer except, perhaps, to come to church. Except to come to church on this Sunday because what we do know is that the kids will come out (as they did this morning) and tell us a story. It is the story they tell every year. It is the story we tell ourselves and each other now and at other times.
Most of us here today may be a little weak on the Parable of the Sower. Am I right? Can I see some hands? That's OK...it's why you have me. But you don't need me for the Christmas story. The Christmas story we all know and it is a story most specifically about one thing above all others. It was the theme of our Advent candle today. It is a story of hope and hope is what we need in the dark times. All those other good things that we talk about: Faith, joy, peace, even love? They thrive off Hope.
It is hope that the people of Israel were trying to preserve when Isaiah made his promise that someday, somehow someone would come and bring about an era of peace and justice. His authority Isaiah says will grow constantly and there will be endless peace for the throne of David...He will establish it and uphold it with Justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forever more.
This is the hope that gets us out of bed on tough days. It is the expectation that things will get better and that maybe even a glorious future awaits.
And it is hope in that future that draws us to act. Barack Obama once said that In the unlikely story that is America there has never been anything false about hope. Here in the church we might want to broaden that “unlikely story” a bit to include all of humanity but the fact remains that hope drives us to find a better way and a better world even when it feels like we are having to begin over and over again and again.
You know, things started looking up for me in the Christmas and Advent department as the weekend went on. Fighting my way through traffic with one eye closed didn't help. However my vision did improve (just don't make any sudden movements on my right side today)...and last night I found myself not at the Epiphany Concert rehearsal I expected to attend but instead at the Candlelight Vigil on the Common for the people of Newtown, Connecticut.
I was there with my eldest son and a bag of old, mostly-used pulpit candles to contribute to the cause. Many of us brought extra candles. Slowly as people trickled in we lit them up and then walked around the periphery of the Common. I was in front, but as I looked back I could see that our line stretched halfway around the park, a long, moving, flickering row of lights underneath the colored holiday lights in the trees and the menorah for Hanukkah almost completely lit.
Then when we gathered back in one place by the gazebo we took a moment for people to offer up prayers. Each prayer was a prayer for action, understanding...and a prayer for hope. This was when Advent returned for me standing in the cold dark, mostly with strangers praying and hoping and planning in support of other strangers we will never meet.
As we broke up into smaller groups and eventually drifted toward home, I think we all realized that for as long we we can light those candles in the darkness we can keep hope--and our humanity--alive.
We don't like to talk about it, but really, there is a bit of Lent in our Advent and Easter in our Christmas. They are like a peanut butter cup. These two holiday cycles are both about struggling through darkness and emerging in some sense reborn out of the tragedy and suffering we encounter in life. For many of us this hope for rebirth is what draws us here. In spite of and because of our doubts.
No matter what the niceties of our theology might be, what the children told us this morning in their pageant is that even in dark times--times like those that Mary and Joseph and the Innkeeper lived through...times like the one we are living through right now--there is always the chance of a miracle. There is always a chance that things will get better.
We just have to find the strength to work for this chance. We have to find a way to keep it in our hearts alongside the pain and the joy that come with being alive. We must move through this world with the hope and determination to make these dreams for a better world come true.