December 1, 2019 – Sermon

Advent 1 December 1, 2019 Canticle of Zechariah/Luke 1:68-79, Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 1:1-6a, Luke 1:5-25 Guide our feet into the way of peace
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Zechariah is greeted by a mighty angel of the Lord bringing glad tidings of good news.

And I can relate to Zechariah – who can’t quite believe the angel’s promise…. Especially in this time of year… when I tend be moodier than usual, as the sun sets ever earlier each day. And I get more certain every day…fishing is really over and done with till Spring. Which seems a very, very long time away…

And I admit… I am not a naturally ready kind-of-a-person. It typically takes me a couple hours of prayer and study every morning… before I begin to feel ready to peek at the news or answer emails.

Yet, even so, the Advent season has a peculiar power… to lift my flagging spirits … As I begin singing songs of the season – almost reluctantly at first, yet, of necessity…selecting songs for Sunday worship… Quietly at first, alone early in the morning, singing softly… As I read again through Luke and Matthew’s opening chapters, many times… Becoming almost ready for Advent…

But – as I open again the prophet Isaiah’s series of stunning visions of peace on earth – featured in our Advent readings this year… and on our bulletin cover art today – Sorry, but – this time of peace foreseen by the prophet seems light-years away… The hope of enduring peace on earth and good will to all that the prophet foresees and that we sing of in this season leading up to the birth of Jesus…still seems very far away…

Still, I try to prepare… slowly, trying to get ready…. But still mostly not-very-ready-yet… for this understated, under-appreciated season – that, for those who somehow are prepared – can indeed come with power and it’s own unique drama.

If we are prepared… We can feel it…

I’ve been remembering… a visit with an elderly home-bound parishioner in one of the Vermont churches I once served…Who spent her days reading extra-large-type-font-books and watching all the birds outside her windows, who congregated at her many feeders. One day, as I visited on a late afternoon just before winter solstice, Alice said, “I know the days are still getting shorter for two more days…. But today it stayed light two minutes longer.” She’d confirmed with official data, but she knew it, she said emphatically, because
“I could feel it.”

That’s how I know…when it’s Advent. I know the church calendar says Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. Meaning today, this year. But I really only know it’s Advent when I feel it… as its songs and readings start to sing back to me.
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This year I’ve been noticing a detail in the familiar story that I don’t remember having noticed before…
While Zechariah the priest and the angel Gabriel are in conversation – with Zechariah, frightened and doubting – and angel Gabriel speaking with great assurance, as one who stands in the presence of God – their conversation is narrated as extraordinarily realistic – like watching a movie in virtual-reality up-close.
But when Zechariah leaves the inner temple, now all the people, we’re told, can tell that he has seen a vision.
There’s not necessarily a contradiction in the two ways of describing this one encounter. (And if there were, Luke would not try to explain it.) But hearing this encounter described as a vision…has me recalling our reading from the prophet Isaiah – where we hear “the word that Isaiah…saw… (about Israel and Judah and God’s peaceable kingdom…) in days to come…”

As if to emphasize God’s message is seen more than heard.
Light is faster than sound… In CS Lewis’ classic Space Trilogy novels, angels appear as tiny flashes of light, whose presence is subtly felt more than heard or seen directly. Which has me thinking…

Revelation as startlingly direct and unambiguous as Zechariah’s vision – is extremely rare. Which is probably why Zechariah – a priest who ought to know the biblical stories of childless couples granted a child in old age – and ought to believe it can happen for him – is sentenced to nine months in silence – for doubting such an unmistakably holy power vision…

While rank-and-file unprepared doubters like me are generally permitted to keep talking…(even to excess, in my case…) Even when we miss a dozen smaller revelations… every day.

But having been allowed – so far – to keep speaking, I feel responsible… to keep challenging myself and all of us… to be ever on the lookout… Doing our best to be prepared – for revelations of grace and guidance sent by the Lord. By any means the Lord should choose to employ…

And thinking still of Zechariah, I’ve been feeling a seasonal sense of ‘woe unto me’ apprehension – lest an angel-messenger of the Lord should appear a day or two before I’m ready…And find me, like my Great-great-great-uncle-in-the-faith Zechariah – frozen in not-quite-believing position… As a huge prayer-answered-moment flashes before my astonished face… And I’m still not ready…

So I am preparing to be prepared… Singing and praying –
Prepare the way of the Lord – prepare the way of the Lord – and all people will See the salvation of our God…

Aware that I have a tendency to be lazy and slow-motion… Still I still want to let the season take it’s time and not hurry… Still I yearn to savor all the slowing down of the pace that’s permissable… Still I want to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel… I want to sing… People Look East the time is here…
I need to sing Lo, how a Rose E’er Blooming…
Maybe even… Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence…

I need to sing the songs of Advent to begin to be really ready to sing…
Joy to the World… and Go, Tell it on the Mountain…

I love to sing nearly all the Christmas songs…
But I want to sing them slowly, one at a time… savoring each one….
Which takes more effort… Given the dynamics of the world around us.

(Where, of course – )We all know the commercial Christmas horse has been driven out of the proverbial barn by Black November long before Thanksgiving. The whole Christmas Shopping thing used to drive me more-than-a-little crazy. It still can if I let it. If I pay too much attention to it…
This year I’m trying to Let all my mortal flesh keep silence… about all I disapprove of in the commercial Christmas season – and stand as far back from the shopping world as I possibly can…

And practice listening…
To see if I can hear…
The angels sing.
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So – I’m working at listening… even though I still get distracted… so easily so often… by so many, many things…

And as I listen and look to the gospel stories, I take heart in the turn-around our beloved ancestor Zechariah eventually does accomplish…
I find great hope in the song Zack sings in our opening reading, The Canticle of Zechariah – a song like a psalm, that sings of God’s faithfulness…
Sings of God faithfully, assuredly, in God’s time…
Guiding our feet into the way of peace…

The peace so hard to believe in now…
The peace however, of which the angels still sing…

So I will keep working at believing in God’s way of peace…
Though I have failed so many times… to walk in God’s way…
Though I still fail so very often….at embodying Christ’s peace…

Still, I keep trying to get ready…be ready… stay ready…
Prepared
For peace….

Because the Word has become flesh and lived among us…
And the birth we celebrate ever since is still so very mysterious –
So far beyond us…
Yet so totally inclusive of us…
That even when we but dimly understand… the coming into this world of the One John’s gospel calls the Word…
Still this Birth changes everything. Everything. Literally Everything.

So please keep praying with me…Praying with all who pray…
To walk in God’s way of Peace… and
Welcome God’s kingdom of Peace…
Praying and singing…
All thanks be to God. Amen.