12-13-15--3 Advent C

 

Readings for 3 Advent C

I love Christmas lights.  We didn’t grow up with a family tradition of a lot of outdoor decoration, and maybe that’s why I appreciate them so much!  But my favorite kinds of lights are the ones I find in unexpected places.  We have a lot of opportunity for that, living out in the country.  As we drive up the hill on our road, we have a neighbor who usually puts a lighted star—just the star—on the top of his barn.  We’ve been looking for the star all month, and just last night, it appeared.  It appears in the distance, and, as you drive up the hill, it disappears.  You can spot it again, close up, for just a few seconds, as you drive by the property.  Catching a glimpse of that single bright star, shining in the darkness, seemingly appearing and disappearing out of no-where is a great sign of hope for me.

You see, when our culture tells us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and “our troubles will be miles away” and to put on a “merry” face—well, that’s a happiness that usually doesn’t run very deep.  It’s a happiness that ignores, covers up, sweeps under the rug for a few weeks at best grief, pain, suffering, the effects of poverty, and the darkness that exists in our world.  Advent is full of contradictions—especially this “Gaudate”—Rejoicing— Sunday!

But Advent, with all its apparent contradiction, prepares us to receive the true light—the light that shone in this world’s darkness at Christmas, and the darkness did not overcome it.  Real rejoicing—real light—does not ignore or cover up difficulty, but embraces it in faith.  Faith does not ignore reality, but opens itself to a much greater reality.

The harsh words of John the Baptist are meant to “stir” his hearers out of complacency.  Apparently he subscribed to writer Flannery O’Connor’s philosophy—that sometimes to get people’s attention, you have to yell!  Interestingly, this 3rd Sunday of Advent, besides being known as “Rose” Sunday or “Gaudate”—Rejoicing!— Sunday is also known as “Stirrup” Sunday, because of the opening words of the collect of the day, “Stir up in us, O Lord.”  People with relatives in England told me that this was a reminder for cooks to go home and “Stir up” their Christmas puddings!

It stirs us—this mixture of darkness and light.  This combination of joy and grief.  This interplay between rain and sun.  The juxtaposition of poverty and plenty.  Hopes for peace set alongside so much violence.  If we pay attention, these contrasts, this paradox, will stir up our souls.  What is Advent stirring up in you?

I would like to share with you a little of what it is stirring up for me.  There is much that is fearful in our world today—it is perfectly reasonable to be afraid.  But I am choosing, in faith, not to be afraid.  In the world, even in church, so much is unknown.  But God’s got us.  I am not afraid.

The other thing that Advent is stirring in me this year is to stand for something that is real.  To do and say what is important today.  Don’t think “Someday I’ll get around to being more generous, spending time with the kids, having fun, doing something that really matters to me.”  Someday is today.  There is no time for playing it safe.  Every day is the new someday.  Now—this precious moment—is all that we are guaranteed.  And it is where God is.

Vince and I were chatting while driving at night in November.  The kids were asleep in the back seat.  We were thinking about what our culture has made Christmas into, and what Christmas really is—the birthday of Jesus, who said that what we did for the least of these his brothers and sisters we did for him.  I got all hot under the collar and said, “If we were really celebrating Christmas, we’d all be giving away at least as much as we spent on Christmas presents!  I mean, it’s Jesus’ birthday, and he said poor people are him now!”  So Vince said calmly, “Why couldn’t we do that?”  And though it means we’ll probably be taking money out of savings to do it, we’ve committed trying to give away as much as we spend on gifts for family this year.

What if, instead of a exhaustion of excess, Christmas was a real celebration of the light that shines in the midst of darkness, and the darkness does not over come it.  What if Christmas instead of burdening us with more stuff, more to-do’s, filled us with true joy that no darkness could snuff out, deep peace that passes all understanding, and love that gives itself away, and so has all it could ever want?

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True joy, deep peace, unending love.  Don’t be afraid of the darkness, dear ones.  True joy, deep peace, unending love.  These are our inheritance—these are the real gifts of Christmas.  True joy, deep peace, unending love.  They are yours.  Don’t try to ignore the darkness for a couple of weeks—but light candles in your windows.  Put up a star in the dark night.  Be light in the darkness for others.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

- c. 2015 The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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