Isaiah 2: 1-5
This past week I had the pleasure of speaking to a class of young people at Dominican. Wayne has been teaching physics there these past few years, and each year he has invited me, and others to share an abridged version their life story. I don’t prepare what I’m going to say, and each time I’ve done it it’s been different. Wayne knows more about my life than anyone here, and I’m counting on him to keep it that way.
Wayne’s reason for having speakers is to help these young (and I mean young) people to recognize that whatever path they’re on, whatever plans they’re attached to….will likely change, and then change again. And listening to those of us who are older and whose lives have taken turns, may help them give themselves permission to realize that it doesn’t have to go only one way, they too can change course, make new plans. And perhaps the more valuable lesson is that not only can they change their plan, but that sometimes life changes it for us, but rather than become victim to life, we can embrace the change and grow into being because of it.
At the end of my sharing with the kids there’s a Q and A. And Wayne asked a question that I haven’t been able to shake all week. He asked, “Do you have regrets?” I don’ t remember what I said in the moment but since then, the answer I keep coming back to is this….Ive made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been selfish at times, stupid at times, and even outright careless with other people’s feelings. On the one hand I regret those times deeply, but in the grander scheme, I also know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences. And I imagine that’s true for all of us. As far back as I can recall, when something bad either happened to me, or because of me, I experienced it as an opportunity to learn, to do better, to grow.
My deepest regrets will always be too personal to share from the pulpit or in front of a group of college students, and that’s probably true for all of us, but God knows them, and it’s because of our regrets, that we have compassion, and the ability to understand and forgive the mistakes of others.
This is Advent. It’s similar to Lent you know. It’s a reflective time. Advent requires us to prepare room for something new to be born, in the form of a baby, who, as I said last week, will need us, need nourishing, need to be held in our arms, need to us to feed him by living a life with him at the center of everything we do, if we’re going to grow up with him all over again this year, discovering along the way that we’re not done growing, as long as we’re alive, God is not done with us.
To prepare him room, is to empty ourselves of all the ways we carry blame, or shame for ourselves and others. Advent is a time to develop our own sense of emptying of the past, and all the regrets, in order to receive the gift that this life, regrets and all.
Hope is the theme for this particular Sunday of Advent. It’s the candle that allows all the others to go out and light up again. Without hope the others will sit in darkness. The lectionary readings are mostly about hope in darkness. Isaiah’s vision is a kind of nirvana, swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, written at a time when things were most bleak.
Judgement is another common theme during Advent, Paul and Matthew both bring warnings in this morning’s readings… perhaps as a way to wake us up to this life.
Paulis making an urgent appeal (says my NRSV bible) Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
And Matthews warning echos this through the words of Jesus- warning his listeners that when the end comes they must be ready…..
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
The NRSV titles this section the necessity for watchfulness, but they might as well call it the necessity to run out of the field and hide under the kitchen table.
But these readings should not breed fear anymore than you should beat yourself up for those regrets in life we all have.
Some churches will warn you to get right with God now so that when the time comes you’ll be safe. Some cling to that understanding of salvation like a shield and judge others who are not ‘believers.”
Others feel complete apathy towards these warnings, understanding them as outdated and unnecessary to story of Jesus today.
But there’s a third option, and it lives in what it means to cultivate joy. Joy is our overarching theme for all of Advent this year. Joy lives in what it means, to prepare him room. It lives in what it means to let go of all the blame and all the shame that gets in the way of emptying our hearts in order to prepare room, by cultivating the kind of life that God wants us all to live for loves own sake, for love made flesh in the birth of this most human and divine baby.
Do you hear the overtones of advent and lent being similar… to prepare our hearts for the birth of something new, we must do a kind of inventory of the things that get in our way…
Happiness is the stuff the world is selling, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel happy, but joy is a gift from God and runs deeper. Joy is cultivated by understanding this life, with all of its sorrows and suffering as the very thing that connects us with joy. The design given to us by God is that life includes pain, suffering and sadness. The more we deny it, or spiritually bypass it by jumping to ideas like faith, the more we rob ourselves of joy. It’s a paradox. It’s our greatest paradox. The more we try to bottle up joy for it’s own sake the less we will experience it. The more we live like Christ, with eyes wide open to the suffering in the world, leading us to compassion, the more we experience joy. Jesus held banquets and appreciating the senses of our bodies through food and drink, not as a way to escape the suffering, but as a way of giving thanks for the blessings that are around us. Blessings we become acutely aware of the more we recognize with compassion the suffering and sadness within and around us.
These are the three central pillars of joy….according to the book I’m reading; I added God to each pillar-
To reframe our life, including our regrets, as an opportunity to be closer to God, our ability to express our gratitude to God an our choice to be kind and generous to others, because of God.
There was an article last weekIn light of Thanksgiving this past week the Times published an article titled Thanks Mom and Dad; a collection of small articles by people whose parents had a significant influence on how they live their lives. Each had a subtitle, and the one that struck me most was by Timothy Shriver, titled Faith. I knew the Shriver family had done a few great things, but I did realize the extent of it until I read the article. They founded Head Start, Special Olympics, the Peace Corps, Upward Bound, Job Corps, Community Action and the Community of Caring and more….I don’t know what half of those are, but it’s quite impressive list….and it was all born out of the way they lived out their faith. Shriver goes on to describe his mother and fathers faith as different expressions of the same faith. For this father, faith was all about justice. The ultimate meaning making was about bringing a reign of justice to earth. not unlike the words of Isaiah and the psalm you heard this morning….
But his mother's faith was rooted in people, that everybody counted equally, every human life had dignity.
Both of these expressions of faith are the way Jesus lived his life and calls on us to live ours. By seeking out and helping to bring God’s justice to an unjust world, and perhaps doing so because we believe as Christ did, that every life is precious in the eyes of God.
He ends the article, and I’ll end this sermon, with his words, because I believe they eloquently describe the most effective way to cultivate joy in our lives as we prepare him room once again…
My parents gave me, when I was a young child, the capacity, the hunger, the chance to be in love with God. I love the Eucharist. I love Sacraments. I love ritual. I go every day if I can, sometimes twice. But I’m not focused on dogma. I’m much more interested in the inner life that my tradition opens me to. To me, faith is the search for understanding of self and my role in the universe and how to be present every day in a way that’s open, flowing, loving and ultimately peaceful.
Ultimately, God is in everything, right? So be in love with all things — with life, with death, with the fork in the road, with the moment, with the day. That’s the prize. Be in love with all things.