Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent is like chocolate.....

Advent is like chocolate....
Sermon for Year B Advent 2

Advent is like chocolate.
Yes, you heard correctly--like chocolate.

This was confirmed for me on a recent trip to CVS---
Look at these Hershey kisses!
Wrapped in Advent purple!
Dark chocolate Hershey kisses.
So Advent!

Christmas is probably milk chocolate--
sweet, yummy, and loved by almost everyone.
But Advent is more like dark chocolate--
exceptionally rich,
a bit spicy
and definitely a touch of mystery.

In today’s gospel we meet John.
John the Baptizer.

If ever there were a mystery man, it is John.
Dressed in camel hair.
Eating locusts and wild honey.
John is a man with a message--
and he wants to be sure
that everyone gets an ear full.

It is interesting to note how Mark’s gospel begins.
We hear these words:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ...

Mark’s gospel does not tell us one word about the baby Jesus
or shepherds or angels or Mary or Joseph--

The gospel of Mark just jumps in
with a full grown Jesus
being announced to the world
by a full blown prophetic mystery man.

Now remember--John and Jesus are cousins.
We don’t know how close they were
but John is clear
that he sees Jesus
as way more qualified that he himself is--
I can baptize you with water, says John--
but the One who is coming,
oh my!
The One who is coming is going to baptize you with the Spirit
and trust me--
nothing in your life will ever be the same.

John is crystal clear that he is the messenger.
John is crystal clear that he is NOT the Messiah.

It is unusual for someone to want to give all the credit,
all the glory. to someone else.
Most of us want to claim at least a little piece of the fame, right?

John is crystal clear that he is only preparing the way.
John is crystal clear that is not THE way.

This second Sunday in Advent is a good time to remember
all those who have gone before us
and prepared the way.
All those who let us have the credit
when they have done a great deal of the work.

But it is also a Sunday to remember that it is really not about us.
John is such a good reminder of this.
All of this--everything in our life--is really about God.
That is the message of Advent:
Everything is holy--open your eyes--prepare the way--be ready---
look! wait! watch!
prepare! hope! expect!
O come O come Emmanuel.
Emmanuel. God with us.

Advent is a time of waiting.
A time of expecting the coming of God.

A time when we can wonder and ponder the mystery of a God
who comes into the world
as a helpless, powerless, vulnerable baby.

This is not the Messiah people were expecting--
they were expecting a king, a soldier,
a man (yes, they were definitely expecting a MAN)--
a person of power and strength and control.
A person who will immediately right all the wrongs.
And then the Messiah shows up wearing a diaper!

God is full of surprises!
That still holds true today!

Tuesday, December 6 is the Feast day for St. Nicholas.
We may think of St. Nicholas
as just another name for Santa Claus.
But I want you to know the real story of St. Nicholas--
at least the story that is part of our tradition.

St. Nicholas was a Bishop.
That’s right--one of those fellows with the pointy hats (miters)
and a staff (crozier) in his hand.
He was the Bishop of Myra
which is now in modern day Turkey.
St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century.

There are many stories about St. Nicholas--
some of them almost Stephen King gruesome--
but the one I want to tell you today is this:

Now Nicholas did not start out as saint--
he started out as a regular person just like you or me.
When Nicholas was a teenager his parents died
and his parents left him a lot of money
which made him a very rich young man.
Nicholas went to live with his uncle who was a priest.

Now sometimes people who are hungry or worried or hurting
come to visit their priest.
One day Nicholas overheard a man talking to his uncle
about how difficult things were for him and his family.

The man had lost all his money.
The only treasure he had was his three daughters.
His daughters were old enough to get married
but in those days, in order for a young woman to get married,
they had to have some money or property to offer--
called a “dowry” to help the new family get started.

This poor man did not have any dowry money
so this meant his daughters would never be able to marry.
The man was very sad about this
and he felt that he had failed his family.

But it was more than just not having a dowry.
This family was so poor and so desperate that they had nothing to eat.
The truth is they were almost starving.
The man was faced with the only choice he felt he had:
to sell his daughters as slaves.

He could not feed them,
he could not imagine a future for them,
so he felt he had to do something to make sure they would at least live.
There were so many people overwhelmed by poverty
that the priest nor the church had the resources to help.

The night before the oldest daughter was to be sold as a slave,
she washed her stockings
(people wore cloth stockings in those days--
more what we would call knee-high socks)--
she washed her stockings
and hung them by the fireplace to dry overnight.

Then they all went to sleep--
the father and the three daughters.

When they woke up the next morning,
the oldest daughter noticed a lump in one of her stockings.
She reached in and found a small, heavy bag.
When she opened the bag,
it had gold inside!
That’s right--gold coins!!!

Enough to buy food for their family,
enough so that she would not have to be sold as a slave--
even enough for her dowry!

The family was so happy!

The next morning another bag of gold was found.
Two of the daughters could now be saved.
It was all so wonderful
yet all so mysterious.

Now the next night,
the father decided he was going to stay awake.
He dozed off but when he heard a small “clink”--
the sound of the gold coins in the little bag
as they were being dropped into the stocking--
he jolted awake!
And what did he see?

He saw a young man running out of the room
and the father jumped up and chased after him,
reached out and grabbed his coat.
It was Nicholas!
The young man who lived with his uncle the priest.

“Nicholas!” said the father. “It’s you!
Thank you!
Thank you so much for helping us!.”

But Nicholas said,
“Please do not thank me.
Thank God that your prayers have been answered.
And please--do not tell others about me,
because I deserve no credit for this.
It is only through the grace of God
that I can give to others.”

The father told no one
and Nicholas continued helping people.
He wanted no attention or thanks.
He knew he had much
and he did not want others to go hungry. Or worse.

It was later that Nicholas was made a Bishop--
because a Bishop’s role is that of a shepherd--
one who looks after his people.
God’s people.

So it is because of Nicholas that we hang stockings by the fireplace
and awake in the morning to find little gifts.
When I was a child,
my brother and sister and I
always got a little mesh bag filled with gold wrapped
chocolate coins.
But it was not until I was an adult that I discovered
the history of this tradition.

You see Nicholas was like John the Baptizer in many ways.
He knew that he was not the source of abundance or blessing.
Both John and Nicholas knew
that there was someone
far greater than they could ever hope or imagine to be.

They wanted to share the good news with others.
They wanted to prepare the way for others to come to know God.

We are all potential John the Baptizers,
potential Saint Nicholases.
Every day we are sent out into the world
with an opportunity to share our abundance.
Sharing our wealth--
both our financial wealth and our spiritual wealth--
prepares the way
for others to receive and to know
the unconditional love of God.

The more unloveable or cynical or hard-hearted someone appears
the more they need this good news.

Every day we are sent as messengers, as angels,
to cry out in the wilderness--
but to also listen and look and pay attention
to those who are lost in the wilderness.
We are called to point the way to hope
and to the One who brings hope.

When you leave this worship service,
I will be at the door with my basket.
Adults get the dark chocolate.
Children get a gold coin milk chocolate.

But please do not thank me.
Take the piece of chocolate and say,
“Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God.”
Then go out into the world and share the good news.
The mysterious, delicious good news.

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