Sermon for Year B, Advent 4
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 21, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
In south Texas we had a next-door neighbor -- a good man with a big lawn,
And apparently a real lover of the holidays.
Come late November, his yard was a sight to behold:
Maybe twenty pieces of Christmas-themed paraphernalia,
Most of which had to be inflated and lit up by generators and lights and air-blowers,
And most of which was about as tall as me, or taller.
There was a manger scene made of rope lights.
There was a snowman, a globe, a toy soldier.
There were no fewer than four Saint Nicks
(My favorite being the one that kept popping up out of the chimney).
I found myself worrying about my neighbor’s electrical bills.
A friend who lived near me told me she’d driven by and thought Santa Claus had thrown up.
Yet all things considered, we adapted pretty well to this,
And even came to enjoy it.
That’s just the breaks of being a good neighbor and having a little local color.
Evenings at our house, when it was usually dark and quiet, were made brighter
By the visitation of these spirits.
Mornings, though, were a different story.
At some point during the night,
The generator that provided air and light to this festive menagerie was turned off,
And the neighbor’s holiday-themed front yard became a holiday-themed graveyard,
Or the scene of a grisly and bizarre balloon murder spree,
Where now-deflated fabric shells lay flat on the ground,
Waiting, helplessly, for nightfall, when they would be reanimated.
Some mornings, I recall, were even a little foggy
As to lend the feel of a horror-film set to the whole scene.
I found myself starting my car and trying to drive off as quietly as I could,
Lest I wake the dead.
The whole scene brings to mind for me the stark dualism of the American Christmas Experience.
A lot of flash and very little substance.
A gorgeously wrapped, temporarily inflated, and ultimately empty package.
A living symbol of something good and lasting
From about the twenty-fifth of November to the twenty-fifth of December,
And immediately after, 75% off at the store and a faint memory until the next buying season.
A confusion of Hallmark-Disney-McDonald’s commercialism.
Yet another example of where we, with shocking ease,
Allow market forces to manipulate our emotions and control our spending habits.
Please don’t get me wrong: Presents are good. Gifts are great. I’m in for a penny and a pound.
But there’s a difference we need to perceive -- we who claim the mantle of Christ.
That difference has everything to do with what is both Forever … and what is Now.
The great claim of these holy seasons of Advent and Christmas --
And here is part of what sets Christianity apart from all other religions --
The great claim of these seasons is that God chose the human experience
Of flesh, viscera, stable muck, winter thunderstorms, and warm mother’s milk.
God chose the life of instability, loss, and impermanence --
A life that would be grounded, specific, and painful.
What Mary does today is this:
She responds so affirmatively to the news, so much braver than I could ever be,
Clearing a path within her own heart and mind
So that Jesus can enter fully into this life of human experience
And be at union with her, just like every baby needs to bond for ever with Mommy.
Two things are happening at once today.
First, kairos is happening -- God’s time, divine time, divine will, actively choosing the good
And embracing all creation by this incredible announcement and action.
Second, chronos is happening -- our time, our ordinariness, our specificity, our choices.
What’s happening with Mary is that those two kinds of time and choice are intermingling
And being knit together into a whole person we dare to call God’s Son.
In Jesus, our time becomes God’s time, and God enters into our time.
We are captured and transformed by it. That’s cool.
Imagine how revolutionary an idea that is,
And how strange it is that we so easily accept it.
We would be foolish to consider that the Incarnation
Has only to do with God somehow stooping, deigning to be with us
Or coming to provide just a mechanical substitute for our sins, Part B for Part A.
Not that we shouldn’t exercise humility in the face of it all,
But still … that somehow strikes me as a lack of imagination.
And if not just that … then what?
The insertion of God’s time into our time
Is about receiving instruction in how to live, and then living it.
The teacher is coming to us now,
Will very soon be quivering newborn gooseflesh lying in a stone-cut manger
In a shed in some back alley in some podunk town.
God is subtle that way.
If it were up to us, we’d run right past it.
But God is also into writing it out in broad letters
That no one should miss it:
“Here is your teacher, the one who will save you.
Follow him in word and deed.”
So we’ll find ourselves listening for the hidden breath of angels.
We’ll look into a night sky painted with light just behind the snow-storm clouds,
And find a star that makes it so obvious that something new is happening.
We’ll hear of governments trembling at the name of the Teacher.
We’ll see men of wisdom packing their bags with gifts
And taking a dangerous journey across a desolate landscape.
When God’s time and our time become one time, better watch out.
2014 has undoubtedly been a tough one for many,
Marked by hardship and worry -- instability, loss, and impermanence.
Honestly, I’m kind of glad it’s over.
You know, you can only have that kind of life for so long
Before you start to feel … well, honestly, a little deflated.
Now more than ever we need a sense of hope;
We need new life, a little animation, some strength for the journey.
Let’s not forget: our time is also God’s time.
Let us, then, be as God intends –
What we cannot help but be:
Those who attend to the collision of God’s time and our time.
Maybe it’s a bit crass to say we’re a lot of lawn ornaments,
But when I ponder it I can’t help but see the connections.
We need air; we need energy;
And we need one another,
Because as my neighbor discovered, why stop at one when twenty will do?
And there’s Mary in front of us this morning -- brimming with new life --
Showing us: Even now, even now, even now ...
It’s okay for us to want to just stop and breathe a little this morning.
We could sure use the air.
The Christ child gives us reason to pause, and breathe, and to hope for better days.
Just so. Today we baptize William Hamman.
Today we welcome him into the household of the faith -- the faith and the peace of Christ --
And we ask his parents and godparents and all who love him and look after him
To be the custodians of that faith for him,
And to share it and kindle it in him each and every day,
To breathe it into him each and every day --
To teach him to stand on his own two feet -- strong and clear --
When at last he can answer for himself, with maturity, with seriousness,
And take responsibility for himself as a person of faith.
There is nothing small about any of this.
It matters so much.
It matters so much, because the world is changing so much every day now.
Whole days and long years really can be hard, even to pause to remember to take our breath.
But then there’s the promise of Mary.
So close we can taste it.
It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming ...
We stop, we listen, we breathe:
The heart pumps, the lungs expand and contract, the air flows, the blood circulates.
God is mingling all time and scattering it everywhere.
Every old thought we used to have is about to be up-ended.
It’s a little scary, but yeah, it’s good.
Hold on, William.
Hold on and learn well from those who love you.
Study up. Love God and your neighbor.
Remember to breathe, to keep time, and to watch with the rest of us
For the One who is coming into the world.
Here we go.