How we got here: Advent sermons

I’m just skating right past my failure at producing posts on the regular this month and just going with a flurry of activity. Hope you’ll bear with me as I think there are at least a couple decent nuggets of goodness to be found.

I got to preach the first and last Sundays of Advent, which was fun. Though, gotta admit, November 28th feels like a loooong time ago now. Guess we’ll see if anything from that day still seems relevant. Our Lead Pastor, the Rev. Danita R. Anderson, and I decided to use as our text for Advent the scripture translations, notes, and prompts from The Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney in her new book, “A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W.” It has really opened our senses to a new way of reading and hearing the scriptures.

The texts for the first Sunday of Advent were Genesis 16:7-13 and Luke 1:26-38. As far as I can tell, there is no online version of Gafney’s translation to which I can link. And I don’t feel comfortable reproducing them here. They are the portions of the Hagar and Mary stories wherein the women learn they will have a son.

Remember, it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving but also the first Sunday pointing us toward Christmas. A rather in between time, which is why I called this one “Holiday Cheer Or Comfortably Glum?” My self-evaluation is that this sermon starts strong, but not sure I quite stuck the landing. To me, the highlights:

Of course the predominate message from our consumer and consumerist culture is clear: Buy all of it! Don’t think, just buy all the things! Right now! Free shipping! Buy it!
So here’s your reminder — or if you need it, permission — You don’t have to buy it. You are gift enough. You, as you are, you are a gift.

Here’s the image I reference:

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Excited, scared, worried, grateful, anxious, hopeful…we feel all of it. I think it is fair to say that Mary felt all of that too. And so did Hagar before her. If God is big enough to actually be God, then She can handle whatever you are feeling.
Whatever you are feeling today in this in between time, it is ok. You are ok.

You can listen to the sermon here:

The video is being weird and doesn’t want to embed. You can watch it here. Sermon starts at the 40:53 mark

Then last Sunday, December 19th was fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Our text was Matthew 1:18-25. Gospel of Luke gives us the story of Mary, but Matthew’s gospel focuses on Joseph and the dream in which God’s messenger tells him not to divorce Mary and to name their son Jesus. Thanks to a conversation with my friend Dan who encouraged me not to artificially cut a sermon short if I really have something to say, this one goes a little longer due to the middle section on the bible as a diverse, multi-vocal library. My self-assessment is that this one is pretty good. And, yes, I admit, I really really like it when I can make the people laugh. And also think and hopefully feel. That’s goal anyway: learn something, be moved by something, and be challenged by something. Let me know how it hits you. I titled this one “Dream Fierce Dreams.”

Highlights:

All of them: Sarah, Hagar, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, had unusual pregnancies. Miraculous, even. Yet, these were women who were so much more than “just” mothers. In a society that seems to have valued women for their ability to produce and heir and little else, all 5 of these women remained fierce in their faithfulness to God.

Joseph doesn’t say anything but his actions speak loudly and boldly: he believed God could call ordinary people like him and Mary. That God works through ordinary people like him and Mary. And if God works through ordinary people like them, can’t God work through ordinary people like us?!

Stop trying to flatten the birth stories. Stop trying to syncretize them. It is a straight up gift that we have a multitude of stories about God’s incarnation! We think we are so smart today and that anybody that lived more than like, 90 or 100 years ago must have been a bunch of rubes. But look at the evidence of the text: the biblical authors were smart enough and savvy enough to write the story in the way their community told it. They had an encounter with the Divine through Jesus and then wrote the best story they could to describe and understand that encounter! It didn’t bother them that the stories aren’t at all compatible — so why should we let it bother us?! And what is more, not only did the incompatibility not bother the early church —they went ahead and canonized the texts we have! Which is a multi-vocal, diverse text! Multiplicity and diversity are built right into the text! That means there is not just one way to tell the story!

That’s why I’m so adamant that we call out and denounce the White supremacist, Christian nationalist voices voices that try to tell our neighbors they don’t belong. Those voices that say to our Black and Brown siblings, our Indigenous Siblings, all our Siblings of Color, our LGBTQ+ siblings, ‘You don’t get a voice; you don’t get to be part of this story.’ We must not respond to those voices with silence. In those cases, our silence is more violence. No, diversity and multiplicity are built right into the text! Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul all show us that!

I don’t have the audio-only version to share but you can experience the sermon by starting the video at the 45:58 mark. For whatever reasons, our technology wasn’t totally cooperating, so the sound and the video are just a touch out of synch. Apologies for that.

And here is the beautifully haunting song “Those Who Dream” by The Many.

Header image: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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