In Joy and in Sorrow

Isaiah 40:1-11   “…in joy and in sorrow…”    Rev. Chris Davies– December 15th, 2013.

 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”  See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

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Oh, God, today.  There are so many tears… in this sanctuary, in others all across the world.  This has been a strange and sad week for a lot of people, as we’ve re-lived the experience through the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook. It feels like the tension is almost palpable in CT, everywhere I go… It’s also particularly strange because the shootings were a day before Erik and I got married.  Today is our one year anniversary.

I remember praying the day before, at the rehearsal dinner, after a hurried and chaotic run through.  We called everyone to a circle to pray over the food, and I just… started to cry.   “God, be with them all… be with us.  And God, I know you are big enough to be so present for all of this: the grief and devastation and shock and loss for the children, and the celebration and pure joy that I have to finally marry this wonderful human who helps me be ME, fully…”  Through tears, we all prayed, blessing the food and asking for mercy on us, weary humans in the emotional ruin of a shock so great.

Last year, on this day, I remember being so happy and so devastated all at the same time… Such a strange array of feelings across the board… it felt surreal.  Get the garlands hung in the hall, in the church, and remember the children.  The flowers will arrive at what time? ..and remember the children.  Darling, I love you so much, and today–our wedding day–, we covenant before the God and the world that you are mine and I am yours… and remember the children.

I remember weeping in the morning, while I was getting my hair done, for the babies and their families that would not have Christmas together, this year, or any year thereafter.  I remember holding tight to my brand new spouse, driving from the ceremony to the reception and feeling so happy and grateful, and yet painfully aware and sore for those families who probably are *still* in shock.  I remember happiness that overflowed so much it was contagious and hugs that lasted just long enough for the shadow of what was to retreat.  I remember people speaking of hope in those days of shock.

I remember our honeymoon, where the whole world grieved with CT, with those families, at their loss, at the whole world’s loss…  The tension of being half a world away, and people still having a moment of silence when they heard from where we had come.

It’s strange: I almost feel it more, at the anniversary. The two will always be connected for me, and each hold so many tears for two very different reasons.  The tears that overflow, though, and all that comes with each experience, is so deeply known by God almighty– elation, and mourning.

The scripture lesson we’ve just heard was written for people mourning, wondering, and whispering, “where is God?”  The writer assures us all of comfort through the ages.  We, as Christians in this time and place, must look at it through a few different lenses… (and you all know how I feel about glasses…).   With the original lens of context, and one that has a deeply valid meaning for Jews today, the writer of this portion of Isaiah writes to a people who have been exiled from their homeland, and wonder, “why, God?  Why did you destroy our temple and send us away to exile, to Babylon?” and God is written to say, “my lambs, come home,  the horror is over now.  You’ll be told: Comfort, comfort…. this was too much: double what you deserved.”  And the people will sniffle and nod and look homeward.

And with another, added lens of context years later, those Christmas stories echo through this piece so intimately, as Handel’s Messiah gives tune to the scripture and points so closely to He Whom We as Christians have Awaited, He Who Gives us hope, He Who comes wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a Manger… the tiny baby who will remind us all that death is not the end.  That life and love continue on so much further than a mother or father’s love for a child, or the wedded bliss cemented with a covenant and a kiss.  The babe who comes to this world surrounds us and gives us comfort when we need it most, today.  And more, the Lord your God will scoop his people up like a shepherd, carrying them close to the heart.  And we, the people, will sniffle, and nod, and look homeward.

The God we know is a good shepherd.  The God we know is a surrounding presence of love and light, beside us in our struggles and deepest grief’s.  The God we know is there, uplifting our celebrations at these moments of extreme joy and bliss.  The God we know is an expert at these tensions and in between places, because The God we know is a comfort in the presence of the vilest evil… for both those deeply wounded and lost, and also reaching in compassion towards those who are on the other side of the gun.  The God we know is big enough to do all of that, all of the time, for all of the people.

Because we speak together of a time where those weapons will be beat into plowshares, where we, with the God we know, work towards a more just world: where children are safe in homes and schools and in the plains and valleys.  Where people can marry whomever they fall deeply in love without fear of discrimination or persecution.  Where the color of one’s skin does not determine the way in which society and systems react and respond to their presence.  Where there are people who do NOT have to wonder from where their food comes, or where their children will sleep.  Where justice and righteousness flow forth like streams.

And here’s the Good News: The God we know is big enough to hold that vision, too, and gently turn, turn, turn ourselves towards it, each and every moment of each and every day.  God is big enough, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for your hurt, your joy, your struggle, your excitement, your pain, your creativity, your anger, your confidence, your embarrassment, your contentment, your grief, and your elation.   Just as Erik and I vowed, last year on this day, in the presence of God and our community that we’d love and stand beside each other in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow…. God has vowed the same to us, humans of God’s creation, all throughout the ages.  In joy and in sorrow, as long as we all shall live, and even beyond.  Through all of that wilderness: there is God!  Tenderly, so tenderly, speaking, Comfort, comfort ye my people.

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Advent of Hope

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever.  Now consider, we are all your people.

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The events of this past week have weighed so, so heavy on my mind.  So I want you to listen while I talk to God.

A Pastor’s Prayer for All the People

O, God… that you would make a miracle for these times.  Tear open the heavens and come down to earth… let the very mountains move in anticipation for that moment!  Where are you, now, God?  This year feels colder.  Darker.  So light a fire, God– within us and all people– make your name known.  For people are behaving poorly.  Enemies of your peace, even, worshipping what they perceive to be bigger than you.  But we know, God, that nothing is bigger than you… right?

Not hard-hearted people, not those too comfortable to care, not the system in desperate need of change.  If only you could make this easy.  Show up, God… come down from the heavens and draw us all together in your name!  Then all people would quake at your presence.

God…. that you could make a miracle for these times.  The weight of telling your story again and again, holding hope out again and again, is heavy.  If you could just– Put a little spark in the hearts of your people… make a miracle to inspire us again into your call for mission and ministry, and love of all people… Send us marching forth with your love on our lips, because then, God, we’d have seen it working… to stand up for the least of these, modeling compassion and empathy.

There was a time, God, where you came to earth again and again.  You came embodied in Christ himself, and called a broken system to change.  Remember that? You came down to earth, looked around at all your children fighting and burning and killing each other in your name and made something change.  So bring your great peace to us– you can make miracles, can’t you?

You came to earth in Jesus.  You told us through him to reach out towards those who have been wounded.  You exhaulted the poor, the downtrodden, the low of heart… Blessed are they.  You reached into the crowd and stood between the lawmakers and a woman to be stoned.  You swallowed even your own veiled assumption of the “other” to help the daughter of one who demanded notice– even the dogs get scraps!  You saw a man all others ignored calling demons out of him and down over the cliff.  You made a lifetime of standing beside those who are hurting and oppressed every. single. day.  You took the status quo of the system and turned it upside down.

God, you, in Jesus Christ our Lord, you held your hand out in healing.  For those who are broken, distraught… you offered your hope.  Through Jesus, you presented an image of the kingdom unreachable: a place in the not so distant future where ALL are fed, ALL are clothed, ALL have a place called home, ALL have a justice that is universal, and ALL are loved and beloved.  You constantly subverted sharp social boundaries, offering food and fellowship to the marginalized, the outcasts, those tormented by the domination system of the day.  In Jesus, you spoke actively and often of how ALL can reach towards you and feel your hope.

So where are you now, God?  In these moments of unrest, where are you?

In the darkness of the night, where is God?  When a mother mourns a son lost for NO GOOD REASON, where is God?  When peace is far and hard to imagine, where is God?  Where the fires burn on businesses unrelated, where is God?  When a 12 year old child is shot carrying for a toy gun, where is God?  When frustrations of the good cop get caught up in the assumption of them all twisted, where is God?  When words that have good intentions still ring high awareness to the pain of so many, where is God?

Because it sure feels like it’s getting darker.  The lights are flickering down, the eventide rises, and the glow of Buckland and Evergreen walk calls to us, seductively.  Ignore the tension.  Ignore the pain.
It’s getting darker.  There are things in the night that go “bump” and God, we are afraid.  We don’t know how to respond or react, from the comfort of our pews in South Windsor, to statements of unrest in the Middle East.  I don’t know enough of what’s happening, we whisper, I can’t make an opinion. 

It’s getting darker.  We distance ourselves from justice reigning down; we paralyze ourselves with fear of unrest and revolution, thinking, that’s so far away.  It won’t affect me or my family…. There is a good sale, down the street, let’s go there.

The darkness is uncomfortable.  The thought makes us shift in our seats, wondering, when will it end?  When can we go back to what we remember as peaceful… sheltered…  When can this all fade away and we can put our heads to rest with peace?

God, because it feels like you weren’t here, we’ve transgressed.  We’ve gotten slow and lethargic.  We raise our voices most often at sales people, not at injustice.  It takes a personal affront for us to remember that we are all your children, beloved in your sight.

God, you are in charge here.  Not us.  You have seen how we all have fallen short, and you have seen how our deeds of hiding behind our privilege, our concerns, our personal problems has blinded us to the need of the world.  We are small, God, and you are big.  We will blow away like dust in the wind, and you will remain.

So we implore you, oh God– we call on your name.  There are days and weeks and months and decades where injustice has reigned.  That you could help us make a miracle for these times.  Do not be exceedingly angry.  We implore you to remember, even in our darkest nights, that we are ALL your people.

We are searching, perilously, for hope in these times.  We are calling on you to come into this world once again, calling on the advent of your hope, for something to change.  We are reaching toward you in quiet desperation, in awareness of our own brokenness, and with hearts and hands ready to move closer to you.  We are ALL your people, God, and we are ready to start acting like it.

We are ready to open our hearts to the hope that is so close to entering the world– to feel the future of possibility, where freedom is a very real hope for all of your people, regardless of wealth, or class, or race, or gender, or whom we call love.  We see the hope in the distance, just on the horizon, where justice is love enacted, where the hope of the world is so very near– contained in the form of an infant, born in a manger.  We see hope, God, and towards that hope we move, arms outstretched, hearts opened, minds ready for your own truth to pour in, sending us the hope of the ages.

God, in the midst of all this world, we know, the good news today is here, too.  We know that when we are kind, when we are loving, when we are gentle…. you hold YOUR hope for all the world.  When we reach toward the “other” with an open mind and a loving spirit, we reach towards you.   When we do this, we embody the grace and the hope and the love for ALL of us in this world.  We see the possibility for future hope, and prepare the way for hope embodied in a small baby, on his way to this world this very advent.  We keep moving towards hope, and we keep moving towards you.

Amen.

Amen.