3rd Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2012
Luke 1:5-24, Acts 9:1-9, Jeremiah 6:16
It was Karl Barth who said that preachers need to write their sermons with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. It seems particularly appropriate this week after a horrific shooting on Friday following another last Thursday, bringing the total of mass murder-suicides to 7 this year alone.
Is there anything our Bible stories and readings can give us that will help to understand this appalling turn of events at a time when everyone is singing about rejoicing and innocent babies and God’s love? Over the last few years we have rehearsed the meanings of the Advent candles, the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. This morning, our theme of “standing at the crossroads” seems particularly appropriate because the news calls us to stand at the crossroad of hope and despair, of peace and terror, of joy and grief, of love and fear. As we recalculate our path on the highway to God’s coming among us, what message is there that will allow us to continue to walk?
Can we start with the stories in front of us? Zechariah and Elizabeth had gotten used to life without the children they longed for. Perhaps they’d actually made peace with the fact that they were both too old to even dream about babies any more. Imagine that right here today in our communion liturgy, God’s special messenger, Gabriel, appeared right here beside me, filling the room with light and fire. Pretty scary, all right. But the angel tells Zechariah that God has heard their prayers – the ones offered up over all those years when expecting a baby might have been so natural. And now, that such a hope is outrageous, God is ready to send, not just a baby, but one who will fulfill their hopes as well as the hopes of the world. This baby will bring the people to the Messiah, ready to hear and follow. You really can’t blame Zechariah for hardly believing that such a thing is possible. I think that Gabriel laughs when he says, “I am Gabriel, God’s angel, if you can’t believe me, who could you believe?” He leaves Zechariah in the difficult position of having to explain this whole story without words.
Saul, too, was going about his business, on the right path of upholding the faith when God intervenes and knocks him senseless. God sends one of the very people Saul is on his way to harass, to heal his blindness and bring him into the community of followers of Jesus. “I have chosen him to be my instrument, and I will show him how much he must suffer to for me,” Jesus says.
These stories promise us that God is at work, always, to bring into being the hope we long for, the peace we crave, the joy at the root of compassion, and the love that passes understanding. People have been quoting the story of Herod killing all the baby boys in Bethlehem to preserve his own power over an imagined usurper. They quote Rachel weeping for her children, as the Bible quotes in that story. But when we look at the story of the Baby Jesus, we realize that God knows in person the hardship of the poor, the displaced, the rejected, the tortured, the abandoned. The Gospel of John sums it up quite neatly when it says that the Word was in the world and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
It is especially unnerving at this time when we want everything to be jolly, to recognize that our world can be a dark place. Being human makes us compassionate and caring, but it is also what makes it possible for us to fail to see the pain of others and deny their humanity. At the core of the darkness in our world is the pain of sin, alienation from God and the community of God’s faithful who hold the light of hope and peace and joy and love in their trembling hands. The agony of failure, the despair of isolation, the suffering of rejection are the darkness that Jesus himself experienced and defeated in his death and resurrection. In the midst of it all, God still comes. Jesus comes to tell us that the darkness we experience is not the truth at the center of the universe. Jesus comes to tell us that our darkness is overcome by God’s light of forgiveness and healing. Jesus comes to tell us that God weeps with us, and hears our longings; that he comes with power to walk with us on the path to daylight after our long night of helplessness.
We stand at the crossroads with Zechariah and Saul, stopped in our tracks by God’s coming to blind us with a light we could not have imagined. In our pain for the world, we walk with God on those ancient paths the prophet Jeremiah talks about, asking where the good path lies. Bearing the feeble light of our own hope we turn to ask where rest lies. “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and you will find rest for your souls,” says Jesus. May we find the hope and peace and joy and love we seek, not only for our own comfort, but as witnesses and activists for the love of God that seeks healing of all that despair, all that live in terror, all that grieve, and all that live in fear.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” Amen.