First Congregational Church
December 8, 2013
Second Sunday in Advent
"The Star of Hope"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
How on earth can it be December 8th? Who stole October and November? A great number of people have put in precious time and the church looks wonderful. But wasn't Thanksgiving just yesterday? This past Friday night, however, at least for me, the world slowed down a bit, and realized that I had been more tuned up than I'd realized.
Although it's been going for some 21 years, Friday was the first time I attended the Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble Christmas Madrigal Concert. (Try saying that three times real fast!) I was impressed, and it takes a good bit to impress me when it comes to kids voices. Part of the "being impressed" was facilitated in the accompaniment of our own Linda Davis. Even so, there were some wonderful voices, and some "good friends," I'd not heard for a long while or in those particular arrangements - of songs.
When the concert ended, I realized - that all that singing those cherubs had done, along with some help of the Holy Spirit, I'm sure, that the love and hope and peace and work had sunk into this heart - the one that didn't realize it needed such healing. It wasn't that this heart was suffering from Grinch-itis or any other anomaly. It was more like being a quart low on the eager anticipation and waiting for the Christ-child to be born again. So it is from that place of hope - for the re-alignment of hearts that may also need such healing, that we come to the oddest of scripture passages for Advent.
It's a passage that Paul wrote to the churches in Rome because they were Jews and Gentiles meeting together in the Jewish synagogues. It is helpful to take in that understanding, because it meant that some of the congregants may not have heard about Jesus as Messiah and his resurrection were worshiping with those who embraced it. But both groups were well acquainted with the Old Testament. So what's "cool" about this morning's scripture passage is that it drops hints - little reference bombs probably intended to "catch" the ear of the listeners, to help them understand all the more why Jesus was the Messiah. Thing is, we probably miss those "hints."
They were references - quotes - from the Old Testament. Since most of us are not Old Testament scholars, as the passage is read, when it comes to one of those places where it is rather direct quote, the reference will be inserted.
As Jean makes her way to the pulpit, I'll make one more little historic link. The reference, the Root of Jesse will come up - pun intended. Sometime, when you have 10 or 15 minutes, take a gander at the very first chapter of the New Testament. It is a lot of names. But some of them might be more familiar than you think. And all of them give Ancestry.com a run for its money. But for this morning's point of reference, Jesse was the great David's father.
8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews (the chosen ones) on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and,
moreover, that the Gentiles (all of us) might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: (2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49) “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says, (Deut. 32:43) “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”11 And again, (Psalm 117:1) “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says, (Isaiah 11:10) “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you, Jean. Like I said, not the typical Advent scripture passage. But within those few verses, over and over, Paul makes the case that Jesus was the promised one. Although geometry is a better friend to some people than others, in algebra there is a thing called the "if-then" statement.
If you skydive without a parachute, then you will have a really bad day. If you live in northern lower Michigan, then there is a possibility you may need a snowmobile suit for Halloween. To the point, if there were 351 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, and Jesus filled everyone of them, then he was the Messiah. If Jesus fulfilled the "hope" of the people of the Old Testament, then he will fulfill the promises made in the New Testament. The crazy thing about Jesus being the Messiah is that it is not something relevant only to the time of his birth.
I wonder if all the lights work properly? [looking at the lit tree] Ah yes! I wonder where the star is? The star goes on first. That’s tradition. (Rummaging some more, she says…) There it is!
Grandma, you gave me this star when I moved into my very first apartment. Remember how cold that winter was? I moved in right in the middle of December. You helped carry in boxes in spite of the wind and the snow that day. Grandma, you were a real trooper. You helped me set up my house and get things in all the right places. You told me just how to organize my kitchen. At least you didn’t make me alphabetize my spices like Dad wants me to do! Remember how we pulled out that little Christmas tree and set it up. I didn’t have much for decorations or ornaments or anything. It wasn’t much better than a Charlie Brown tree. You looked at that tree and said that it just wasn’t finished. When I asked why, you said that every Christmas tree needs a star at the top.
When I came home from work that next Monday, there was a box outside my door. When I saw what was in it, I knew exactly where it came from. [Proudly] It has been the topper on my Christmas tree ever since.
And then you got cancer. Wow, grandma, you went through a lot! Surgeries. Chemo. Radiation. The whole nine yards. But you were a real trooper through it all. In spite of everything they put you through, you had this…this positive attitude. It was really quite amazing to watch. I remember that time when you were in hospice care and you were dying and I was crying uncontrollably and you looked at me and mouthed these words…. “Never lose hope.” Never lose hope.
Thank you, Naomi. As I was prepping for this message, I came across a story about two nameless women: one the story teller and the other the friend. The friend apparently had a son that had attempted suicide, who was in some psychiatric ward. The crazy thing is that it was part of the mother - the friend - that had actually died. It seemed that they were skipping church, because it was the first Sunday in Advent - the one traditionally given over to hope. How do people whose son attempted suicide find hope again? Perhaps that is part of the bittersweet of holidays, that for those that really need the joy - they can't seem to find it - no matter how hard they try.
Neither of them drank, and not wanting to engage in chocolate therapy, the storyteller asked if her friend had time to step into the conservatory down by the river. Ironically, it was a butterfly conservatory, so perhaps the lighting and flying might help the friend believe again in things unseen.
In the lightness of the air in the glass dome, the friend was able to breathe. The waterfall kept murmuring of things coming from somewhere else. After the struggle of one foot bravely going in front of the other, they stood before the thin sheens of chrysalises. It didn't seem possible - that out of silken threads, wings unfolded wet. But they watched it happen. There were no words. Simply witnessing. They sat at the waterfall and waited.
Finally the friend said, "A blue one...." She said it quiet. “I need just one photo of a blue morpho butterfly, and then we really have to go.” Yes, the morpho butterfly — whose very name means changed. We all need to believe that things can change. So they tried.
Sneaking up on blooms and leaves, hoping to get just one shot, they looked like bad detectives in a cheap 1970's rerun. Everywhere morpho butterflies slapped shut their inner blue wings, stared back steely at them with their drab outer brown wings. Please, Lord – just give her one open spread of blue wings. For crying prayers out loud, just a bit of hope to take out of here. They waited. Did what the wisest have always done: Waited and Hoped. And the morpho butterfly just outwaited them.
Finally the friend was back to looking flat with resignation, the metaphor of hope quickly turning into a mockery. "My camera battery is about dead..." She didn't have to say that there was a lot more deadened than that. "Let's go."
As the story teller was making motions to leave, a conservatory park ranger brushes past her and whispers "Stop. One of the morphos has landed on you. Right on you." The storyteller didn't move, but turned slow to look for the stubborn outer brown wings.
“And he’s wide open blue.” The park ranger kneels. “You don’t understand — they don’t do this. They’re the ones that don’t land on people. And they about never rest in their wide open blue.” The friend nods, she knows, mouth wide open, raising her camera, she knows. She clicks, snaps, shoots, takes more. More people stop, take more photos. The park ranger asks for my camera, takes a few more. “You don’t understand,” he whispers… “it’s about impossible to get photos of them with their wings in their open blue.”
I nod – whisper it over the indigo wings open there on my shoulder: “And then sometimes — the impossible unfolds into the possible.”
I look over at my friend… who is brimming. Spilling. Tears are never a sign of weakness. Tears are always the sign of an open heart. And I mouth it to her, like it’s more certain without any sound, like I don’t want it to slip away from either one of us: “HOPE.”
Our scripture passage this morning shines the light of hope on fulfilled prophecies. If God can fulfill them, then God will certainly fulfill the promise of eternal life free of pain and death and every other hard thing. But our passage also shines a light on our own here and now. In the very last sentence, as if passing on a blessing, with a hand resting on your head: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. To get the most we can out of such blessing, we would do best to get ourselves right in the spotlight of such a star of hope. So let us pray.
Creating God and Star of Hope, we are grateful that you were born to bring light into a world that seemed lost in darkness. We are sometimes mystified - sometimes unimpressed by the overcoming of such darkness with your death and resurrection. And yet, if you have already kept great promises in the past, then we can trust you to fulfill the rest, for the day when love and hope and peace will not need to be recognized, because they will be you and all your people will be in you. So help each of us find that place of eager anticipation for the coming of the Christ child, that hearts may be healed, that no one will be a quart low, but all of our hearts overflowing with your joy and peace and hope. Until then, all the stars in this room say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.