Saturday, December 21, 2019

God's Got This--Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 15, 2019

Year C, Advent 3, Dec. 15, 2019, SMHP
Isaiah 35:1-10
          The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. God will come and save you.”
               5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Response       (You are invited to read the text in bold.)                       Luke 1:46-55
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
45who has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
50God’s mercy is for those who fear the Lord, from generation to generation.
51God has shown strength of arm, and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54God has helped the servant Israel, in remembrance of the Lord’s mercy, 55according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever.”

          Gaudete Sunday!  The Sunday of Joy!
          The name of this Sunday—the only Sunday of Advent which has its own name—comes, as these things often do, from the first word of the Introit, or Entrance chant, in mostly Catholic churches. 
          [SLIDE]  That first line comes from the Latin version of Philippians 4:  Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
          As we have talked about other weeks, each Sunday in Advent has a theme.  This is week three, the week of Gaudete!  Rejoice!  Joy!
          And there is lots to be joyful about, right?
          I bet you can all think of at least one joyful thing in your life right now.
          Slight pause
          [SLIDE]  But as I went through this week thinking about what to say about Gaudete Sunday, it occurred to me that there is also a bit of irony in this Sunday, placed where it is, at the point of the year right before the solstice—the longest night of the year, when the trees have gone bare.  This is the view from my front yard.
          We’re not quite in the bleak midwinter, but the landscape is not what I’d call joyful.  And you can hunker down inside, but you might want to avoid the television or the radio, or you will be treated to this [2 SLIDES] depressing spectacle.
          Or this one.  [2 SLIDES]
          There are some pretty NON-joyful things happening out there in the world, am I right?  Some downright depressing things.
          Yeah, I chose Isaiah for a reason. 
          We are spending our Advent with Isaiah, and not just because I’m not a fan of preaching the apocalypse when it feels like we’re living through its advent.
          Isaiah is written for us.  Or for people like us.  For people living in a time and place that feels like it isn’t theirs. 
          Specifically, Isaiah is written for a people who have watched their neighbors give themselves over to a foreign entity, in this case Assyria.  Their leader just basically handed the keys to Tigleth-pileser, the Assyrian king.  Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
          The people of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, held out for a while.  They maintained their independence until the next century, when the kingdom of Babylon, under the evil Nebuchadnezzar, became too much for them to handle. 
          Isaiah is writing to a people who are beginning to understand the inevitability of what is before them.  That things in their country are broken, and it may be a while before it gets back to normal. 
          And Isaiah does that by reminding them of something that bears repeating:  God’s got this.
          It bears repeating, so let’s repeat it:  God’s got this.  God’s got this.
          The word we hear from Isaiah this Advent is a word of hope for a people facing exile.  God can make the desert bloom.  God can make food and water appear in the wilderness.  God is faithful, even when we are not.
          And God is just.  Listen to the word of justice in today’s lesson, the word God gives to Isaiah:  Say to those who are of a fearful heart,” God declares.  “’Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. God will come and save you.’”
          God will come and save you.  With vengeance, if necessary, and if you are uncomfortable with that image, join the club.  But we have spent enough time with the Magnificat to understand that God’s justice is real, and strong.  And right now, quite honestly, I take comfort in knowing that our God has both “mercy” and “strength of arm.”  God’s promise is concrete—it is a word for people living under the constant threat of empire.
          It is a promise, that our God can make the desert bloom, and tear a dictator off of the throne.
          God’s got this.  God comes to bring peace, but know that God’s peace comes with justice!  As Dr. King reminds us, true peace is the presence of justice.
          And there are reminders all around us that God is here, God is present.
          Even in the bleak midwinter, life abounds.  The promise comes near.
          [Slide]  This is also my front yard.  We built a tiny raised garden from a kit Colleen bought at Aldi’s.  Got a few plants into it.  Basil, rosemary, tomatoes, parsley.
          When we had the first freeze of the year, I took out everything but the rosemary, because rosemary is pretty hardy.
          [Slide]  And you can see that the rosemary had the last word.  Dead as a doornail, as they say.
          [Slide]  But last week I noticed this.  Flat leaf parsley, poking up through the dead leaves, sending up new shoots from the roots I left behind.
          God’s power is on exhibit, all around us.
          God’s power is on exhibit here inside us.  God’s power shone through Isaiah, the prophet to exiles and to their children, who returned to Jerusalem and made it truly great.
          God’s power shone through a young woman, who heard the news that she would carry the child of God, who knew that the news came with shame and difficulty and trouble…and who said, “the Mighty One has done great things in me, and holy is God’s name.”
          The name of God has knit people together since God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah.  Through bondage, exile, and empire, people have lifted up the name of God and allowed God’s presence—God’s holy, incarnate presence—to flow through them.
          We have a new name on the prayer list.  Anita Williams is the mother of Richard Williams, Valorie and Rick’s son-in-law.  She had a heart attack on Thursday night, and Valorie let me know on Friday.
          Yesterday morning, I sent Richard, who mostly goes by “Rick,” a text, just letting him know I was praying for his mom and his family. 
          Apparently the number I have for him is old.  Yesterday afternoon, I got this response:
Hi Donna,
Sorry this made it to the wrong number.
Adding Rick, his Mom and family to my prayer chain now.
God works in mysterious ways, doesn't he?
Peace and Love to you this holiday season

[Name withheld]
Smithville, MO

          God’s got this, my friends.  Because incarnation is real, and God is working in us…even in those of us who haven’t me yet. 
          And that should bring us all joy.

HOD #251:  My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness

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