Sermon for Year C, Advent 4
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 23, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
You’ve heard me say many a time that I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition.
We were in some ways liturgical – or you might say ritualistic – without knowing it.
We did a lot of the same things each week,
Including something like an exchange of the peace,
Only I didn’t say “Peace” unless by accident, or if I felt like a hippie –
We shook hands with the people around us and briefly and pleasantly chatted.
Then we’d have all our guests and visitors stand up and introduce themselves. For real.
I don’t know if that’s happening anymore in those churches or not.
In between these two things, we’d all sing this song
With which I would now like to favor you,
Even though you didn’t ask me whether I could sing
When I came here to be your priest, and you may just as soon I not: It goes,
I’m so glaaad I’m a paaart of the family of Goood.
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood.
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod –
For I’m part of the family, the family of God
The faaaam-leee oooov Gaaaawd.
We did this, as I say, just about every week.
Then it was announcements and on to the sermon.
A little ditty like that …
You sing it once a week for the better part of twenty years,
It gets in your bones.
Like instinct. Like sleep, or air.
Especially the first line:
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.
Even if you woke me up in the middle of the night from a dead start,
And you began to sing me that song,
I daresay by the time you were three notes in, I could help you finish it.
Even though … well, … sometimes it’s easier to believe the opposite.
Sometimes we are not so glad we’re a part of the family of God.
We can spot things happening within our little tribe
That embarrass or disgust or anger us, fill us with righteous indignation,
And we decide that it would just be easier to walk away from the whole thing.
Call it the Pontius Pilate Impulse: to wash our hands, and leave.
High-profile, violent events, such as what happened in Newtown, Connecticut,
Seem to bring out the worst in the family of God.
I nearly blew my stack a week ago Friday
When a news commentator with a preacher’s background had the temerity to suggest
That violence is a natural outcome
Of having “ systematically removed God from public schools. ”
He later backtracked, but his ship had already sailed into notoriety.
Another person of faith outrageously suggested of the killings in Newtown that
“ Maybe the little one who wasn’t taken
Was the one who mom or dad prayed with that morning
Before they left for school. ” … ?
In a similar vein,
One extremely influential individual known for his harsh brand of fundamentalism, said,
“ I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty
And I think He has allowed judgment to fall upon us. ”
Dr. Dobson must have left his senses.
It took me back to 2001, to just after 9/11,
When someone on Pat Robertson’s TV show
Insisted that God had removed the “protective cone” over America
As punishment for our country’s wicked ways.
Each time this happens we may find that we want to duck down, hide,
And insist that This Is Not Our Family,
And that even if it is, maybe we’re not so glad about it:
I have no idea who these people are.
We all just came together, but really we’re nothing alike.
In the Christian family, as in any other,
There are those who are loudest and most annoying
Who, of course, get all the attention.
That’s sort of how life works.
Our own Episcopal Church has its share of divas and spotlight-grabbers,
Who must think they would suddenly cease to exist
If the world weren’t looking at them.
(I pray I’m not considered among them; one never knows, really.)
Our Anglican faith tradition is small enough in this country
So that often the tiniest of disruptions is fodder for the blogs. Some folks like that.
Many of these divas wear collars; some of them wear purple along with their collars.
All the while that little song knocks around in my head.
I’m so glad I’m a part…
“Family.” Complicated word, that one. Complicated idea.
Always, mightily weighed down with our own experiences – positive and negative –
Never the same from individual to individual.
We all see family a little differently.
Every family has its own odd configurations, loves, sticking points, imperfections,
Its old arguments and sources of hurt it can’t quite steer past,
Its ways of overlapping into other families and their own systems.
Every family engineers itself so as to meet life in a certain way out of necessity,
But that sooner or later will seem foreign and contrary to someone else.
Family is an idea so powerful we don’t quite know what to do with it.
Let me tell you, though: Mary Gets It.
I think she gets it in a big way, when she sings that amazing song of hers:
The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
This isn’t just some grand transaction,
Where she’s merely grateful that she has curried divine favor.
That’s not a very compelling narrative. Not what you’d call timeless.
And she understands that God isn’t just some hazy cosmic bigshot;
But rather that God, in coming to dwell with her, as her own tender son,
Is in fact coming to dwell with the whole human family,
And with all sentient life,
And with the whole of creation,
To “tabernacle” within the universe. The word gone flesh.
Not as some crazy experiment; but as an expression of the value of family, family love.
God is coming the end of this Advent so as to turn over the hills,
To unseat the abusers of self-serving power,
To fill the hungry,
To show love to poor Israel. All in Mary’s song.
All these Jesus will do, or will speak to directly and clearly with his life.
Not out of pity. Not out of duty. Not even, you might say, out of solidarity.
But because God is Family. Take it to the bank.
One of our favorite TV shows is “The Middle.”
It’s a show that plays just one note, the same note, every week, but plays it beautifully.
It’s a theological document wrapped in commercials –
A powerful idea: “You do for family.” You do for family.
You go out of your way for family.
You get inconvenienced for family.
You don’t always get what you want for family,
Especially when someone else needs what you have.
Usually the thing someone else in the family needs
Ends up being – wouldn’t ya know – the same thing you wanted.
That’s what God is doing in Jesus: God is doing for family.
Bringing us the essentials:
Life. Healing. Food. Community. Instruction. Connection.
A good word of hope in the dark of winter.
God does for family, invests in the family,
In the belief that we will do the same.
If you can get that – well, you’ve got it!
One more thing.
Let me tell you about a recent episode of “The Middle.”
The youngest child, whose name, oddly enough, is Brick,
Can’t wait to get his hands on the last book
In a series of books that he’s been reading for years.
By his own admission, Brick is socially awkward;
Doesn’t have a lot of friends;
But his best friends far and away are books.
Clearly he just loves this latest book and savors every word of it.
Meanwhile, on a bet, he’s won the guitar owned by his older brother,
Whose name, oddly enough, is Axl.
Axl is a big man at his school, has lots of friends, doesn’t care much for reading.
Doesn’t understand his little brother Brick from the word go.
Axl wants his guitar back.
So he steals Brick’s book, reads the final chapter,
And in a bid to get that guitar back,
Axl reveals every important detail about the ending of the book and the whole series
To Brick in one big, sad information dump.
This moment absolutely breaks Brick’s little heart.
You watch him, you feel his world is shattered.
After a few days, Brick summons the strength to explain to Axl
That he now understands how Axl could not have understood
How important a book could be to him.
That his life has been terribly interrupted and altered by this one selfish act by Axl.
Axl tries to apologize in a hamfisted way by writing his own ending to the book.
To Brick, this is not enough.
It’s not enough because it isn’t really “doing” for family;
It’s more “trying to get oneself out of hot water” within the family.
The episode ends like this:
Brick invents a new way of righting their relationship,
By asking Axl to listen to him read the entire book series to him, cover to cover.
He wants Axl to fall in love with the printed word,
But more than that he wants Axl to understand
Why the printed word is important to him,
And even more than that, he wants to redeem that which was lost to them both.
There’s no “cheap grace” in this solution:
Brick has to read everything out loud all over again,
And Axl has to rearrange his life to listen to it.
Love doesn’t take shortcuts. Family love especially. You do for family.
And now all of that is about to reveal itself. Sunday, Advent Four. Tomorrow, Nativity.
May we allow ourselves the time and the space to be startled by it all.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.