John 1:6-8, 19-28
17 December 2017
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Ps 19:14) Amen
Memory is a tricky thing. Sometimes we forget the simplest things, and yet other things we almost can’t forget. In any event, for most of us, what we remember has the power to shape who we are. Let me share a favorite Advent memory. It concerns a friend of mine, who is also an Episcopal priest. My friend, I’ll call her Janet, was very pregnant with her first child in Advent of 1988. It was a difficult pregnancy, and she couldn’t stand for long, so she preached sitting down at the front of the church. I remember her there, on an Advent quiet day, talking about hope and expectation and waiting, all important themes during Advent. To illustrate part of her message she had a small pair of baby booties. As it happened, her mother had crocheted them when she was pregnant with my friend. Among other things, Janet talked about the miraculous of gift of life and how, at the best of times, when we wait with hope for a new life we put so much of ourselves into that waiting. The memory is a powerful one for me. My friend’s example helped me gain the courage, eventually, to risk giving up home and career in order to go to seminary myself and to prepare for ordination. Even more her reflections on how God was revealed in the story of her life helped me to see more clearly the ways God has been revealed in the story of my life. That was, and is, important because, like most folks, not all of my memories are good ones. I don’t know how it is for you but, in my experience, it can easy to get caught up in those more painful memories. Janet, for instance, had some dark memories from her childhood. She had been wounded in spirit by a much loved grandfather. Still, she was able to rejoice in her pregnancy and to look with hope to the future. Her ability to look to the future with hope was such a great gift to me. The sense of hopeful anticipation that filled her meditations led me to be more in touch with the blessings of my life. I needed that then. It was an especially difficult time in my life. Bob was home that year, but he was very sick. He was weak and confused and needed significant help day to day. Beyond that, I had begun to experience my own set of difficult childhood memories. It was hard for me, right then, to hold onto a sense of hope. It was hard for me then, to believe that God would bring restoration and healing into my life. But that is God’s promise to us, even though it can be hard for us to see what that healing will be like even while it is happening. Did you notice how lessons this week shine with the light of God’s promised deliverance? Again, the first lesson is from the prophet Isaiah. That faithful prophet had reason to know God’s promise. And he proclaimed it to the people of Israel as they returned from exile. Did you hear him when he said: ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,…for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, says we should rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. Give thanks in the face of memories of sickness, of loss, of abuse? It is easy to give thanks, to rejoice even, when things go well. But it is not so easy, for most of us, to give thanks and rejoice when a loved one dies, or someone betrays us, or we lose a job or our health. This Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, has historically been known as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is a Latin word that means rejoice. Today we lit the rose candle in the Advent wreath to mark the day as one of hope and rejoicing. What happens when we rejoice? It seems to me that when we rejoice we give voice to our hope filled expectation. When we rejoice life is affirmed. But how often do we really rejoice? Not nearly often enough I suspect. And I wonder if that is because for most of us nothing is more difficult than really accepting that our own lives, with their mix of good and bad, are a gift. It’s not always easy to rejoice in that mixed blessing gift of life. Is it a gift after all to lose a loved one to death, to live with chronic illness or to be abused? More often than not those wounds in our life become a source for bitterness and complaint. We deny the possibilities of the present and our future appears only as a point of apathy or despair. But remember, once upon a time, God came to us. God came as one of us. God was born a helpless human baby. As he grew to manhood Jesus knew the joys that we know and the sorrows too. Jesus, in his life and death makes it clear that God is with us always. In those good times and in the not so good, even down right bad times. God is with us. What then are we called to do? Look again at that strange figure crying in the wilderness. You know, John the Baptist. Last week we heard that John came preaching repentance. Repent, he said, of your sins. Think for a minute about despair as sin, or fear, or apathy, sins, each of them, of not trusting in God, of not remembering the good news of Jesus Christ. This week the Gospel tells us that John came to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. If you remember the earlier verses of this Gospel’s prologue you know that the “light” is the way this gospel refers to Jesus. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness of our lives and hearts. John the Baptist came to point to that light and he kept right on doing it too, even when he met resistance. John was very clear, He was not Elijah and he was not the Messiah. But he prepared the way, he pointed to the Messiah. He rejoiced in the Messiah. Like the prophet Isaiah, like the apostle Paul, like my friend with her Advent meditations, John pointed to the good news of God’s presence with us. We are called to do the same. I wonder what opportunities God will give each of us to act as beacons of hope showing God’s presence in our world? Amen.