Love In The Season

Good Morning Church,

Media vita in morte sumus (Latin for "In the midst of life we are in death”). These words, taken from The Book of Common Prayer, 1662, Burial of the Dead, are often shared at graveside services. They are a poetic and scriptural reminder that life is short, endings can happen unexpectedly and – most importantly – that life and death co-exist all the time, all around us. Loved ones die; new loved ones are born. The circle of life is unstoppable and we simply live within it.

During such a challenging year, we feel the full weight of those who we have lost. The experience of closed communities, shut down stores and businesses, and of course multiple periods of suspended worship. We have walked through a year that is completely unlike any other we have experienced. I also know that we will be grateful for the day when we will be able to put this period of human existence behind us and yet, this will not repair the brokenness and hurt we have experienced.

Christmas time and the Advent season are supposed to be joyous experiences. We would have witnessed multiple weekends of joyous celebrations on Sunday mornings, walked he streets of our beautiful town during Dickens of a Christmas, and shared in quality time with people who are no longer with us. There is very real pain and hurt that has been experienced by all of us and I feel that we need to honor these feelings.

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them. One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace. The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest... perfect peace. Which picture do you think won the prize? The King chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the King, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”

Advent reminds us that the chains will be broken. There will be Christmas. In the darkest of days, we will one day know light. Candle by candle, flame by flame, there is hope. Hope that we can find what God has in store for us. Today we find that God has love for us. God doesn't desire that we would be living burdened by our pains and sorrow. Our God desires for us to all live in peace and tranquility. We believe that the time will come when the lion with lay with the lamb, and yet we don’t always feel that peace today. There is war, violence, hatred, all of which often overshadow’s the love that is in this world too and how it is love that will ultimately overcome the pain of our world. Advent is the season of renewal and preparation for the believer to find where we can grow and develop our connection to God.

Think about this, the Christ child and his parents are refugee’s that are fleeing oppression and certain death in order to find peace. When King Herod finds out that this Child who is called a king has been born, he sends out his people to find and kill this child. Jesus as we know does survive, but this King Herod was the one that the people resented. They have been oppressed by the Roman government and desired for God to deliver them as God had done so often before, but Jesus was ultimately different from the messiah that the Jews had imagined. Jesus was the messiah, but instead of living up to expectations and destroying the government, Jesus chose to live for peace. Jesus was not going to cause more harm in order for peace to be achieved. This is what it means to have the peace of God, to recognize that the peace of God is not about having freedom from suffering but the ability to endure that suffering. It is about the calming of our souls.

Our passage today, Mother Mary is attributed as saying that God will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. Now once I heard this as a judgment, as if to say: "All imbalances will be redressed by God, the final arbiter of right and wrong. And woe be to you if you've been wrong!" But I don't hear it like that anymore. Now I hear in Mary's words only God's extraordinary love for us, as people. This is a love too powerful to sit by and allow us to be lost. The high will be made low and the low will be raised up.

Mary's Magnificat poetry is not a threat of judgment, and it's not even primarily about us. It's mostly about God, for whom perhaps we are, after all, the priceless pearls that need, for our own good, some periodic reshuffling, resorting, and restringing. We're too valuable and too beloved to risk losing. And Mary's speech helps us see that. She leaves us this vision of ourselves and our worth in God's eyes.

I think this is why Mary has been adored for centuries, why she is still glimpsed by people in desperate straits. She has, in so many ways, focused and delivered God's love; and she finally helps us to see that tended by God as we are, we are worthy and needed for delivering that love to the world, too.

And so, as you approach Christmas, my hope is that you will approach that event at the manger as Mary did, expectant with God's love, and willing for God to change you, to restring you if needed, like precious pearls, to preserve you always.

Friends, we have come to the end of our advent season. We are now only hours from Christ’s coming, or rather from Christmas day. We have engaged with the word of God for a whole other year and we are about to begin a new year. What have we gained from our engaging of God’s word this year? How have we grown in the spirit and our understanding of God’s grace? Jesus is almost here, but we should be asking if we are ready? What are we waiting for? Who are we waiting for? And so, in the middle of the darkest time of the year, we turn toward a star. We watch it grow brighter and closer. And we strive, in some small way, to reflect that light. That is Advent. This is Advent. The time to prepare, to renew, to reflect. The time is here. And now. It is up to us. Merry Christmas. Amen.