What a wonderful week I’ve had, beginning the journey of worshiping with you all, listening to your stories, imagining our mutual ministry together. Sundays are certainly full around here! Last weekend I especially enjoyed the “Waiting in Starlight” service. Denise and Dee put together lovely, interactive “stations” for people to engage with the symbols and messages of Advent.
One of the most thought provoking metaphors for me was a display of a Christmas tree, surrounded with presents, and hanging upside down. Upside down Christmas! For I’ve often marveled at how our Lord, Jesus, turns things upside down, inside out and sideways, haven’t you? Whether it be Scripture, or theology, or tables in the Temple, or our lives, Jesus is often busy turning things around.
This is not always comfortable for everyone, of course. Our family is in the midst of the “upside down” boxes of an interstate move. I’m reminded, however, that our current disorientation – trying to find clothing, dishes, directions – does not compare to our previous experiences with serious illness or other tragedies. I’m also mindful of the violence which has once again rocked our nation in San Bernadino, California, and wonder how to make sense of such terrible, violent upheaval. Where is Jesus in such tragic, upsetting events?
For while I do not believe that God “gives us trials to teach us”, I deeply believe that struggles are an opportunity for us to work with God toward needed changes. The Israelites in exile during today’s readings – both from the prophet Baruch and Isaiah as quoted in Luke – have had their lives overturned. They were used to being the “ big dogs”, the ones in power in Jerusalem for a long while. Now they were wandering, defeated, lost. Where was God?
What I hear in these readings is that the Hebrew people – representing all of God’s people today – are learning empathy from their experience in diaspora, in the minority. They are learning what it means to be outsiders, to be in need of meaning, of connection, of assistance. And out of this need, the prophets call for justice – for the low to be lifted up, and the powerful to be brought low. It is our empathy, our compassion – feeling with others — that enables us to serve.
Have you ever noticed that some of the most effective ministers are those who have known great sorrow? Even the apostle Paul seems to have learned empathy along his journey, making him the greatest evangelist of all time. Paul – a former oppressor – learns to meet people where they are, because he knows what it feels like to be in prison, to be hungry, to be persecuted. Remember too, that our Lord was a person “acquainted with sorrow”; fully human, Jesus experienced grief, even upheaval, just as we do, and so is there for us at those times.
Of course, we experience God in nice surprises too! Zacharia is so grateful to God for the blessing to him and his wife, Elizabeth, of their unexpected son, John, the Baptist, that he sings! God can call to us in our joy and gratitude, too, and move us to serve others. “Take off (your) garment of sorrow!” he calls.
God calls us to put on the “robe of righteousness”. Last week, you may remember we talked about how the word “righteous” does not mean “better than”, as in “put on your smarty pants robe” or “your robe of vengeance”. It means more “robe of justice”, of reconciliation, of service. I think of it more as a superhero cape,or as Jesus’ towel at the last supper when he washed everyone’s feet.
God calls us, as we come through changes, good and bad, to seek justice for all of God’s creation. God uses those “upside down” times to wake us up! To awaken us to the need for justice, when we have fallen asleep, complacent in our “middle of the road way”; to wake us up to get a move on! The train is leaving!
If you go onto our Diocesan web site you can watch a video of our new Presiding Bishop, the Right Reverend Michael Curry, speaking about the “Jesus movement”. Presiding Bishop Curry talks about the movement of change that Jesus began, and continues still, through us, saying: “Follow Jesus and he will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. Jesus came and started a movement and we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”
Today’s Church is in a process of awakening; being turned upside down, and given the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective: not as the privileged majority, but as a struggling minority, in need (as we always were, all along) of God’s compassion and justice.
And as we are awakened through this new empathy, may we gain new humility and compassion for all people. May God, through the power of Jesus’ movement, give us the courage we need to advocate for those whose voices are not being heard — the vulnerable, the young, the poor in resources, the disabled, and the planet. To include all of those voices at the Table.
May this Advent Season be a time of discernment (not of penance, but of listening) for us all. May we hear God speaking in the wilderness of our lives. And may we rejoice together in this holy movement.
And this is my prayer (for us):
“that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to discern (the best way) . .. to produce a harvest of justice that comes through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.”
In the name of the one who turns us upside down and makes us right, Jesus.