Monday, December 17, 2007


The desert shall rejoice

I love our opening collect today---
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…

Stir up.
In England they use this collect for Advent 1—instead of Advent 3 like us—
and they take those words “stir up” very literally.

They go home that day after church and stir up their Christmas puddings.
It’s rather like using the Farmer’s Almanac to plant by the moon—
they use their Book of Common Prayer to do their baking!

Now when I learned this I thought,
wouldn’t it be marvelous to make a Christmas pudding
and share it with the good people of St. John’s this Sunday.

So I went in search of a recipe.
and here’s what I found:

225 grams of golden caster sugar
225 grams of vegetarian suet
340 grams of sultanas
1 level teaspoon of mixed spice…

…finally I got to some ingredients I recognized--
like eggs, and cinnamon and brandy…
but I am afraid that as soon as I hit the vegetarian suet
I abandoned all baking plans.
Considering my inexpertise at cooking,
consider yourself blessed!

But I still like that image God stirring things up in the world.

Last week it was John the Baptizer who was stirring things up
along the river Jordan.
But this week we find John in prison.

It is not long after John has baptized Jesus in the river Jordan,
but now John has been arrested and imprisoned by Herod Antipas.

John’s popularity was growing
and some in Herod’s court—especially Herod’s wife--
see John as a threat.
They fear the power his popularity may bring.
They don’t want to change or be changed.
So John is arrested—
and soon will be put to death.

John has heard all that Jesus is doing
but he is confused.
Jesus is not the Messiah John had envisioned, predicted or expected.
Jesus has a style of ministry
that is not the fire and brimstone
and judgment day finale that John proclaimed.

Jesus’ ministry is one of blessing and love,
healing and liberation:
the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear and even the poor receive good news.
Who is this Jesus?

Sitting there in the dark night of his imprisonment
John has doubts.
Perhaps I was wrong.
Perhaps there is someone else who will come.

John must have wondered—and worried—sitting there
in the darkness of the dungeon.
He finally sends a message with his disciples,
to ask Jesus,
Are you the one?
Are you the one we’ve been waiting for
or are we supposed to wait for someone else to come?

Are you the one?

Joyce Wycoff shares this story about Nelson Mandela

In the winter of 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island where he would spend 18 of his 27 prison years. Confined to a small cell, the floor his bed, a bucket for a toilet, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could write and receive one letter every six months. But Robben Island became the crucible which transformed him. Through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Mandela eventually bent even the most brutal prison officials to his will, assumed leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. He emerged from it the mature leader who would fight and win the great political battles that would create a new democratic South Africa.

Whoever could have imagined
that the one who would lead a country to democracy
would be a man in prison?
God works in very mysterious ways.

God is with us in the joyful days by the side of the Jordan River
and equally with us when we find ourselves alone in prison.

We are each in our own prison.
It may not be a prison with bars.
but certain events, certain habits, in our lives
work to keep us captive.

We can resign ourselves, give up and believe that the darkness is forever—
After all things are just not working out like we planned--
Or we can wait, be still, listen, let our eyes get adjusted to the dark,
And then there is a door that appears
right in front of us.

We are so often blind to the way God offers to free us from our prison
because it is not OUR plan.
No, no, no, God, that isn’t what is supposed to happen here.
I am doing this and I think it would be best for you to do this.
We love to give God advice!

God is patient.
God can hold all our doubts and fears and worries and anxiety—
if we will just turn them over.

If John the Baptizer can have doubts,
if Mother Teresa can struggle with the dark night of the soul,
why do we feel embarrassed or as if we have failed
when we have doubts?
We are in the company of saints.

The writer of the letter of James reminds us that we must strengthen our hearts
and be patient.
Patience is very hard for some of us.

The prophet Isaiah tells us to never give up hope.
God will come.
We might just not recognize how God comes at times.

There was an article in the New York Times on December 11
about a new vaccine that is being developed for malaria.
This is not a treatment against malaria,
this is potentially an immunization that will prevent people
from contracting malaria.

Of course such a vaccine,
would be a tremendous boost for tourists who visit places
prone to malaria.
The vaccine would also be incredibly valuable
to those serving in the mission field and in the military.
But imagine much bigger than that.
Over 3,000 children die of malaria every day.
An effective vaccine would save countless lives.

Money for this research
comes from something called the Malaria Vaccine Initiative,
created in 1999 with money from the Gates Foundation.
(Think Windows. Microsoft. Computers.)
I can’t imagine that Bill Gates could ever have dreamed
as he developed the software that essentially changed
how we use computers
that what he was doing
would result in the possibility
of saving
hundreds of thousands of children’s lives.
God stirs with a very, very large spoon.

John sits in prison.
Unable to see for himself.
Left in the dark.

That is where we sit sometimes as well.
There is nothing wrong with asking the question,
Are you the one?

But it is important that we also listen and watch closely for how God answers.
Even when the answer is not what we wanted,
Not what we planned,
Not what we dreamed.

The challenge and joy of Advent is to prepare the way
so that our hearts might believe that God is always at work in the world,
stirring things up.

The challenge and joy of Advent is to prepare our hearts
so that our lives might be transformed
as a reflection of the dream of God, not our own plans.

The challenge and joy of Advent is to believe,
to believe in the transformation Jesus offers each of us—
and to let that transformation happen
in God’s own upside-down-topsy-turvy
unexpected ways.

Anne Lamott writes in her book Plan B (New York, Riverhead, 2005, page 258):
Hope is not logical. It always comes as a surprise, just when you think all hope is lost.

The third candle in our Advent wreath is lighted today.
It’s the pink one.
Some call the third Sunday of Advent Rose Sunday
because of the color of the candle.
Some churches even use rose colored hangings for their altar on this day.

The liturgical name is Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete being the Latin word for rejoice.
Christmas is not here yet
but we are called to prepare, to get ready—
as the prophet Isaiah proclaims—
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
The desert shall rejoice and blossom.
To rejoice because Jesus IS coming!

The challenge of Advent is to see beyond the darkness
to know there is a great light
and to move towards that light,
with hope, with thanksgiving,
with rejoicing.

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