|Prayer candles at LNPC, (photo all rights reserved)|
Listen to "First Coming," by Madeleine L'Engle.
God did not wait till the world was ready,
Till ...nations were at peace.
God came when the heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine.
God did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
God came, the Light that would not go out.
God came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
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,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Love comes in. This is the beginning, again.
The Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation hovers over Mary, and over Joseph, over Elizabeth and Zechariah, over tired, unsuspecting shepherds and strangers in a foreign land, over kings and peasants, travelers and innkeepers.
The Spirit of God that hovers over the waters of Creation now hovers over this whole situation, and the God who made it all now comes into it all by this same Spirit, the new-thing Spirit, the hope-from-chaos Spirit, The life-out-of-barren-or-virgin-wombs Spirit. The light that darkness cannot put out comes into the darkness. What has come into being in him was life, and this is just the beginning.
The amazing story of God’s Advent, God’s coming, God’s love, looks pretty, and quaint, and clear in retrospect. It makes sense after the fact, and when you get to pull back from the details and see the whole thing for what it is. But in the moment it’s a single dream about an angel, it’s a conversation, some tears, a decision. In the moment it’s paying taxes and packing donkeys and a dreary uncomfortable journey and painful contractions and nowhere to sleep.
In the moment it is just a moment, an ordinary moment made extraordinary because it is part of this story of Love, of God loving the world so much that God joined it with us, through us, through our ordinary moments and our yeses to God’s weird requests and to the person, or the invitation, standing before us. This is how love works. This is how life happens. And this is how God comes.
Today’s Advent word is love. We use that word today to pray for love and yearn for love and celebrate all the ways we experience love, and we take those places where love is warped or waning, and we point them out to God and wait for God’s response.
Love is who God is, it is why God creates any of it in the first place, it is the reason God comes to begin with. And it is from God’s love, and to God’s love, that Mary says yes, and Joseph says yes, and Elizabeth, and Zechariah, and all the rest of them say yes, maybe without even knowing that’s what they are doing.
Yes. I will be part of your wild plot, your crazy conspiracy of love. Yes I will welcome this strange and unexpected child into my life long past such things, whatever it might mean. Yes, I will become the mother of God. Yes I will choose to take her as my wife even though she’s pregnant. Yes, I will let go of who I thought I was and what I believed I knew, and I will say yes to being part of this love you’re doing here.
And we say yes to love all the time without realizing that’s what we’re really doing. “I will participate in God’s plot of love,” we say, when we uphold another’s humanity, when we listen to someone, really listen, when we give something up for someone else. “I will be part of your love” we answer, when we share, or forgive, or confess, or embrace, when our ordinary lives bump into others’ ordinary lives and we hang on and dig in for their sake. When we feel our hearts tear open and another seeping in. We say yes like a peasant girl and a carpenter and some awestruck shepherds on a hillside outside of town.
We can’t be ready or good enough or prepared for these things. They come when they come, and usually not how we think. Ready or not, love comes. Ready or not, love draws us in, empties us out, fills us up. Love always comes.
Christmas is by no means the dreamy, wonderful, fix-everything event we’ve made it to be. It’s untidy and uncomfortable, and anyone who makes it anything else is deceiving themselves. Peel back the shiny paper and see it for what it is – it’s just like the rest of life. Awkward and messy, tiring and scary, a little exciting, a little confusing. That’s how God came in. Put himself completely in the hands of conflicted people, struggling to do the right thing and wondering even what that is. Trusting these ordinary folks to trust him. To take care of him like one of their own. To love him. To say yes to God’s love.
This is the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ. The new beginning.
We light the Advent candle of Love to acknowledge that beyond what we may feel at any given moment, or what we may think, or believe, or know in our heads, beyond anything we may produce or do, or outside of anything we can gain or lose or hold or drop, is this reality: God loves us. God has joined us. God will never, ever let us go.
We light a candle for love because our ordinary, bumbling, sacred lives are drawn into God’s love and loving. We get to say yes to that.
And no matter how worthy we think we are or how little we think we have to give, the astonishing invitation continues to stand before us every single day in the face of others who are also waiting.
And we light this candle of love as a prayer to be present as much as we are able, whether we find ourselves full of gratitude and joy, or empty and waiting and longing, we light this candle for the grace to participate in love in whatever little ordinary and unexpected ways that we can.
The Spirit that hovers over the waters of creation now hovers over our lives, the darkness and light of them, and over our world in all its darkness, speaking life into it, shining light into it, sending love into it.
May we not fear the darkness, may we not dread the waiting. God has come. God is coming. Love is here. Tonight we sit in the darkness and rest in the shadows, waiting for the love and light of Christ.
When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
You crept in beside us.
And no one knew.
Only the few who dared to believe
that God might do something different.
Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?
Will you come into the darkness of tonight's world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?
Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?
Will you come into the quietness of this town,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when the phone has not rung
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor's face says it all?
Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?
And will you come into the dark corners and the quiet places of our lives?
We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.
Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?
When the world was dark
and the city was quiet you came.
You crept in beside us.
Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
Do the same this Christmas.
(- Prayer from Wild Goose Iona Community)