This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the online worship service for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020.
December 20, 2020
A dad sat down with his 4-year-old, hoping to teach the true meaning of Christmas. They began the project of assembling a cardboard cutout nativity scene: stable, manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, sheep, and shepherds. “Fold on the dotted line,” the directions said, “Place tab A in slot B,” and so on. Easier read than done, of course, and within a few minutes, it was a disaster. Nothing worked as intended. Nothing looked like the picture on the box. The dad had all but taken over, but he fared no better than his young child. The kitchen table was littered with torn, bent, spineless figures just wilting over. Pieces were frayed and taped together. The father in his frustration was close to clearing the table and trashing the whole thing. And the little boy was less than impressed. Looking at the scene on the table, the four-year-old who was supposed to be learning the real meaning of Christmas – that Jesus is God’s son – said, “So, Daddy, where’s God in all this mess?” (adapted – Courtney Allen Crump)
Sounds like a perfect question for 2020: Where exactly is God, in all this mess?
Our Old Testament and Gospel readings give us a clue where God is in the messes of our lives. Did you hear it? “The Lord is with you.” God is with you. Bidden or not bidden, God is present.
Part of what makes Advent such a special season is the anticipation of the Incarnation – that holy mystery where God puts flesh on and moves into the neighborhood, moves right into our lives. It is the season where we anticipate Emmanuel, God with us; where we are comforted to remember that God came in love to be with us and remains with us even in the moments when we doubt and wonder.
Perhaps you wonder, in the loss of friends or loved ones, where God is in your grief.
Maybe you have lost a job and are wondering where God is in your uncertainty.
Or perhaps you watch the news to hear of the on-going upheaval and dis-ease and disease in our country… in our world, and wonder where God is in all the chaos and confusion; where God is in the political maneuverings, in the racial injustices in our nation.
Our Advent claim is that God is right here in the middle of the mess with us. Just as God was in the middle of the mess with David and with Mary.
We hear the prophet Nathan tell David not only that God is with him, but that God has been with him wherever he has been. God does not want David to build him a house of Cedar – clearly God prefers living in a tent where God can pull up the stakes and move along with us wherever we may go. “…linger for a moment over the idea of a God who is constantly ready to pull up stakes and move wherever we go, sleep where we sleep, and be buffeted by the same winds” (Linda Lee Clader) that toss us about in life.
I can’t help but imagine God hanging out at the tent village of the homeless under the freeway at 30 and Lancaster. Do they know Emmanuel, God-with-them, on these cold, winter nights?
“The Lord is with you,” was Gabriel’s greeting to Mary. Mary wasn’t much different from the homeless herself. She was a member of the poorest class of Hebrew people, the anawim a Hebrew word that means, “The poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance.” These are the ones for whom Mary sang of God’s salvation, saying God ‘looked in favor on the lowly servant; God lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry.’
Mary and her people lived in a world controlled by mighty Rome – the superpower that ordered a census devised to document the undocumented for government control and to ensure taxation of the most vulnerable. (To some, this may sound like current events.) Mary, a female teen where men held all the power and influence, a rural Palestinian Jew in the Roman Empire, a revolutionary in a culture that crucified revolutionaries: Mary was the last person one might expect to say yes to God and to sing this song of God’s deliverance!
Disrupting the way the world is set up takes great courage, willpower and faith. When Mary sang that the Lord “has brought down rulers from their thrones,” anybody hearing it would have known that she meant Herod the Great, a ruthless king installed by Rome. Some people might have worried about her singing about the end of Herod’s reign; doing so might get her tried for treason, or worse. But as she proclaimed God’s new rule of law, Mary sang her heart out.
Mary’s message was that through God’s action, the social hierarchy of wealth and poverty, power and subjugation, is to be turned upside down; a new social order of justice is at hand.
Mary’s message is one what still speaks today in social, political and economic arenas:
Socially – the proud are scattered and the outcasts receive God’s favor
Politically – the oppressors will be defeated and their victims freed
Economically – the hungry are fed and those who have withheld the food are being sent away.
It is time to claim for ourselves the great disruption announced in Mary’s song. “She sang it not for herself,” wrote Martin Luther, “but for all of us, to sing it after her.” God’s powerful vision, as proclaimed by Mary, demands our action. We are summoned to build a just world by the God who regards the poor and the poorly treated with utmost mercy. (Fritz Wendt)
This Advent, will you say Yes to the God who is with you and who calls you to strive for justice for all God’s children?
Will you stand with the poor and lonely, the immigrant and refugee, embodying God’s presence and love for them?
Will you say Yes to God and take a stand with those who suffer injustice and demand God’s justice for all?
Will you say Yes to whatever God is calling you to do?
Our world is imperfect and quite a big mess, but that’s right where we find God. I’d like to leave you with a poem by Madeleine L’Engle that captures this well:
(Christ) did not wait till the world was ready,
till people and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
(Christ) came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
So if your life feels like a jumbled, cardboard cut-out of a nativity scene, remember Emmanuel – God-with-you – right there in the midst of that mess and hold fast, Jesus comes with Love!