Now hear this...
Happy New Year. Advent One. Start of a whole new year....
Earlier this week I was talking to a 12 year old I know – and I was saying – you know what I really want to do for my sermon this Sunday? What? I’d like to take a chair, sit down and say – I wonder how quiet we can all get – and then do some guided meditation and we all are still.
And she said – that’s a terrible idea, mom - please don’t do that!
Why? What’s so terrible about being quiet? Worship is so many words – so much talk – what’s wrong with being quiet?
And she said – because no one wants to be quiet – God gave us mouths so we can talk.
And we went back and forth about this idea that no one wants to be quiet. And I think there is a lot of truth in that.
We don’t want to be quiet and still – because its scary. It reminds us that ultimately – at the end of the day – I is all I have. It forces us to wrestle through feeling the distinction between loneliness and solitude. And it also forces us for as long as we can stand it – to listen to what is going on up here, in our heads. A monologue with two tracks – one is always going on about what has already happened – and the other is obsessing about what hasn’t happened yet.
Which, if you apply pure reason to that thinking – you are confronted with the very reasonable assessment of its futility. Because you absolutely, positively cannot change the past – or bring it back. Nor can you control, predict or determine the future. And yet – we tend to give far more attention to the false reality in our heads - than the actual present reality of our being, and what is right in front of us.
There was a play on Broadway not too long ago – I don’t know what its about – it’s the title I’m attracted to – it is called – Now. Here. This.
The first time I heard that title – I took it to mean – Now hear this – as if something important was about to be proclaimed – but that’s not the title – its Now. (period). Here – H-E-R-E (period). This (period.)
Now. Here. This.
Advent One – New Year’s Day of the church – is a way less stressful time to make resolutions. That title, for me in a wide variety of situations – has become a wonderful reset button for my loop-de-loop thinking – reminding me to be in the here and now – with the “this” in front of me.
See – now is the acceptable time – now is the day of our salvation. Paul writes that a little later in this letter to the Corinthians – when he encourages them to stop ruminating on the past – or worrying about when Jesus is coming back. Now – is what matters. And before he gets there – as we just heard – he reminds the good people of his church – that they have everything they need. Telling them – and us – we are not lacking in anything – in knowledge – or speech – or stuff. We have every spiritual gift we need to see Christ be revealed to us.
It’s simple - You are called – and God is faithful – right now. Right here.
A few winters ago – when I had a different car – a car that I’d been driving for a couple of years – all of a sudden I couldn’t get the windshield wiper fluid to come out. You know how you pull the lever and the stuff comes out and wipes your windshield. And in the morning – that’s an easy way to get your window defrosted in the winter while the heats coming on.
So – I take it for an oil change - to my mechanic – knows me, knew the car – and I explain to them what’s going on – fine, they will take a look – have a seat in the waiting room. The waiting room is small – and full – btw. So 15min later – he come’s back in – m’am – you’re all set. And I say what about the wiped fluid – did you get that to work? And he points through the window – at my car – and says – see all the blue liquid all over the snow, its working fine.
But it’s not – I pulled on that lever and it didn’t work. M’am – you need to push the lever away from you, that’s all. Did I mention he’s saying this in the waiting room, which is filled with people? And haven’t you had this car for a while? - he asked. Yeah I said – and then to lighten my mood – asked – so are you going to charge me extra for that – or is the total embarrassment I’m feeling in front of everyone payment enough. He laughed – that’ll be fine – he said.
Why am I sharing that story? Because that particular Advent winter in my life – I was not practicing – Now. Here.This. Spending so much time ruminating about my past - and anxiously worrying about my future - I wasn't being present to my actual reality.
There are consequences in our lives to not being present –to what is real, to being in our head so much. Meaningless consequences, like forgetting how your car works – to more serious ones. Like – lost time – missed opportunities – or realizing in hindsight our apathy –– that God was trying to get us to see something right under our nose – but we weren’t paying attention.
In Isaiah and the psalm – you hear the human struggle of this. There is this pleading – this desire for God to break into our lives –coupled with the recognition that when God has to break-through to get our attention its terrifying. The mountains would quake at your presence, the nations would tremble.
And there is the confession that we ourselves are responsible for our blindness. Isaiah writes challenging truths - We have all become like one who is unclean – we all transgressed – we all sinned – i.e. we all forget God.
Perhaps you know the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer – worth knowing – great documentary– the short story of who he is - a Lutheran pastor, scholar who made the decision to stay in Germany, not only speak out against the Nazis, but was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler, for which he inevitably died in a concentration camp On this exact day – in Advent 1928 – long before his life took that self-directed turn – he preached a sermon in Barcelona – on the challenge of the good news that is the mystery of our faith:
Maybe, he said, “the celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come…Perhaps we have thought so much of God as love eternal and we feel the warm pleasures of Christmas when he comes gently like a child….We have selected from the Christmas story only the pleasant bits, forgetting the awesome nature of an event in which the God of the universe, its Creator and Sustainer, draws near to this little planet and now speaks to us. The coming of God is not only a message of joy, but also fearful news for anyone who has a conscience.” ("The Frightening Side of Advent")
Isaiah writes, despite our faults - you God – you made us – we are the clay – and you are the potter – we are ALL the work of your hand. Restore us – oh Lord of hosts – show us the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.
What we think about God – as we draw nearer to Christ’s birth – is not nearly as relevant – as how we bear the image of God – now. Here. In this moment and the next. Jesus’ reminds us – like Paul – that God entrusts everything to us – and God is forever and always faithful. How are we being and bearing that faith in our lives? We are the clay – God is the potter – are we allowing the presence of God within us – to mold and shape us?
"Advent isn’t a season inviting us to treat this time differently – Advent –– is an invitation to remember to live in time differently altogether." (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher)
Incarnation as a belief or thought we assent to is empty. Incarnation as being aware of our experiences as they happen – of seeing our incarnate and faithful God within us – with us – and around us – is what matters.
May we open our hearts – and conscience – to Emmanuel – God with us – this Advent - showing the light of our countenance - living that truth – that we are already saved. Amen.