At the forefront of just about everybody’s mind right now I expect is Covid. Our hopes and dreams of a more normal Christmas season and gatherings teetering on the edge of being dashed once again. On this week where we focus on love in church, we might be struggling with a variety of other feelings… I posed the question on Facebook yesterday and 102 responses! Most of the folks who responded are clergy and they are feeling anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, hope, gratitude, overwhelmed, eagerness, sadness, exhaustion.
One of them asked me how I was feeling and I said, I am holding gratitude and anxiety… and some anger… today I am on an even keel and recognizing that it may not take much to tip me over into one of the other emotions. You may feel some of those within the same morning or hour!
I’ve talked a lot about gratitude this Advent season, I didn’t set out to, but it seemed to arise naturally… and this past week, as numbers rose and rose and rose again, and plans got cancelled, and the covid team met, and we adapted and pivoted once again, both personally and professionally, I like everyone else and SO tired of it. But… I am also really good about accepting the things I cannot change… and then focusing on what I can be grateful for in this situation.
So, I’m going to ask you again, what are you grateful for right now! Despite ever increasing covid numbers and restrictions, what are you grateful for right now? I’m not going to ask for answers this week… I just want you to think about it… It’s okay if you are all the other emotions… Lord knows I am. At the forefront is the frustration around the inability to get any rapid tests right now.
But here we are, people of God, following Jesus, as best we can, with the restrictions we have. Here we are, people of God, gathering together apart. Here we are… people of God, gathering together to hear an ancient story.
You may remember that Zechariah had been struck silent for his disbelief in his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but as soon as he agrees with her to name him John, his tongue is unloosed as he is filled with prophecy and speaks these words as written in Luke 2: 67-80:
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[g] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[h] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Two statements stood out for me in the brainstorming that the team did before Advent:
“All of our actions stem from two things: love or fear. We can always be fearful; the challenge is to choose love. Love surrounds us always.”
And this one: “Although Elizabeth and John broke with tradition when they named their son John, they still held tight to the Abrahamic line and tradition. Love of old traditions made manifest in new ways.”
You my friends are Elizabeth and Zechariah.
You are prophesying into the future your love for this church, a love that will be manifest in new ways.
Of course, story, this account of God’s people wasn’t written down as it happened, it was written down much later, and it is written as if Elizabeth and Zechariah knew what God had in store for John. Imagine, holding in your arms, your child, just 8 days old and saying, “You my child, will be the prophet of the most high!” What a burden and responsibility to place on a baby… no wonder John escaped to the wilderness in his later years and dressed in weird clothing and ate off the land!
But talk about speaking love and hope into an unknown future. Just as you are. You really are with the decision you made about the kind of minister you are going to look for. It may not feel like it right now as we struggle with increasing restrictions… because those feel as if they are being done out of fear.
And yet we can look at them in a different way and look at the increasing restrictions as born out of love… Love for one another and the love of the most vulnerable among us… none of our children are fully vaccinated yet and none under the age of 5 are vaccinated at all. This year, even up until a week ago, we imagined that this year would be a more normal year, even while masked. We could anticipate greeting friends and family on Christmas Eve, experiencing the story in the old, new familiar way, with songs and silence, restless children and composed elders, cold winter air and warmth inside. And right now, we just don’t know.
So, in the midst of unknowing, what does the voice of love say? In the midst of wishing for presence… it means keeping your distance… except with those with whom you are in close relationship. Wearing a mask. Keeping your gatherings small and to a small group of people.
In the midst of writing this sermon yesterday, the Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett, as Chair of the Association of Clergy sent out a Christmas email to us. He reminded us that in the midst of a Conference Annual meeting a number in which many of us were fussing and fretting, the youth went to each table and said, “We got this.” It was so powerful that we had it printed on t-shirts that some of us wore to the next General Council meeting.
He goes on to say, “It helps me sometimes to recall the circumstances of the first Christmas and other times across the centuries when the birth of the Messiah has been celebrated. Not in a finger wagging, look-how-bad-they-had-it-you-big-wimp fashion, but to remember just how much Disney and Hallmark really do miss the mark. Whatever happened that first Christmas it was not aesthetically perfect. Whatever peace there was, was like the peace found in the eye of a hurricane: amid a swirl of occupation, economic turmoil, political division, and religious controversy. The same can be said for many Christmases since then. Yet, Christmas comes. In part because, “We Got This,” and the “we” that surrounded our ancestors in the faith and surrounds us is greater in number and deeper in grace than my humble imagination can conjure. We got this! Not you. Not me. But we.“E
We got this because we are inheritors of an ancient story that is beautiful and powerful.
We got this because this story is so full of love that it cannot be contained, no matter how often we try to tame and control it. We got this because Jesus will be born… NOTHING can stop it.
Christmas will come! Hallelujah! Amen!
Luke 1: 67-80
Stairs Memorial United Church – Advent 4
Catherine MacDonald 2021