Friends, we have reached the mid-way point of our Advent journey to Jesus—to the crib, and we rejoice! Amid the rejoicing though, there is doubt as evidenced by the chosen readings for today’s liturgy. The two aspects of rejoicing and doubting not only show themselves in our readings today, but, if we are honest, in our lives as well. Most of us live between the tensions. We know the hope, for which we live—that Jesus lived, died and rose and that his life changed. Because of him; we know the same is true for us—yet we struggle through our imperfect lives at times. There are many moments of joy—but there are times of sadness, loneliness, sickness, war, misunderstandings in families, among friends and nations, suffering in the world that we can’t alleviate and we pray—“How long O God—come, Jesus, come—show us how to make life, our world better.” Isaiah addresses our concerns today—“Courage! Do not be afraid! Look, your God is coming—is coming with justice—is coming to save you.”
This past week, our little Elliot celebrated his 3rd birthday and we, his family, remember well his precarious entering into life, two months early at 3#2 oz. and of how wonderfully he has grown ever since! The tensions we live between!
This past year has been full with the new and different, the disappointing, the ups and downs, joys and sorrows—our country, for the first time in our history nearly elected its first woman president and because of her courage to take on a system that has never before elected a woman to its highest office, it will be much easier for the next woman to do it!
Each of us has lived through the ups and downs of this past year and could speak to what has been good, what, not so good and how these experiences have changed us. Hopefully, you and me have come through it all, better, and knowing that our good God has walked with us. During this Advent Season, one has to marvel that our God chose to be one of us and become, like us, so fragile, yet so wonderfully made!
And so, even though life isn’t perfect, the human spirit, coupled with the divine within each of us, moves in hope for that time when strife, illness, confusion, poverty, and war, will be no more. We can take encouragement from our readings today that the human struggle each of us walks with, was the struggle our forebears had too.
Last week we saw the prophet John taking on the Pharisees, calling them to make their “crooked roads straight,”—something each of us is called to at times. This week we see that same prophet, now in prison, doubting who Jesus truly is. The answer to John’s question, “Is God with us—are you the Messiah?—is the answer that we as Jesus’ followers must hear too in our doubts. Jesus gave John hope by recounting that, “The blind see, the crippled are walking, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor have the Good News preached to them.
So even though many of us are still recovering from the loss of an election that promised so much for the least among us and walking amid doubts of what our country and world will be now in the hands of billionaires who think of the rich first, we must keep our focus on Jesus, keep following him and trusting that the good we do and the good we see in others, does and will continue to make a difference. When we see all this too; we know that the dream we all hope for has come about—the lamb lying down with the lion and so on. The dream of a peaceful world, free of suffering has everything to do with each of us—it won’t come without us friends. We must keep doing our part, keep trusting, and keep believing—hope is our life blood!
In that light, it gives me great joy to share a bit more about the group that Dick Dahl and I have been asked to be part of here in Winona. This group has endeavored to gather the voices of many different religious backgrounds and of those with no particular religious voice to discuss how “we are more alike than we are different.” In the new climate that seems to have raised its ugly head during this past presidential campaign, stating basically that those who are perceived as different from white America are less than acceptable; this new group is discussing how we, young and old, can prove this thought, wrong. Watch for more about this group and some programming in the near future.
As we keep our eyes on Jesus, walking with him through the ups and downs of his human experience; our own ups and downs have new meaning and purpose. It has always been truly significant for me to reflect on the struggles of Mary and Joseph to bring forth Jesus and to couple that thought with my own experience during the times that I was pregnant, or the experience of our daughter and son-in-law. In your own lives as well, whether giving physical or spiritual birth through being there for others—whenever we can combine the divine and the human, the experiences become profound and so much more meaningful.
Friends, Advent calls us to develop an advent heart, learning how to live as we wait, in Joan Chittister’s words. She continues, “Sometimes random moments of grace help us do this.” At this time of year, there are examples all around us—of people opening up their closed hearts, letting them expand in the pattern of the Christmas story—an over-the-top giving of love. I think of present initiatives that our parish has been involved in recently—the wonderful clothes and food collection for our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock, that was packed and delivered into the hands of our driver by Michael and Robert this past Friday—of the Winona Warming Center, a project a long time in the making for the homeless in our city.
And even with all of this, faith tells us that this goodness, born out of our love, which is the divine spark within each of us, is more than urpassed by God’s all-encompassing love for each of us! Friends, we are truly blessed today, even amid all that isn’t right! We must keep on after the model of our brother Jesus, one so strong, yet so fragile, like us! Amen? Amen!