Benediction Online

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Traveling Through the Wilderness Time
Rev Faye Hogan

When Frederick Neidner, now a seminary professor, and his sister get together they sometimes re-tell a favorite story from their childhood. They were expected to go to church with their parents every Sunday. Fred remembers that he and his sister found the hymns “dull and hard to sing.” Well, all except one. When the children got to the following words they sang out with gusto:
“Lord, dismiss us with your blessing. Fill our hearts with joy and
and peace; let us each, your love possessing, triumph in redeeming
grace. Holy fishes, holy fishes trav’ling through the

When Fred learned to read he realized that the adults had been singing “O Refresh us…O Refresh us trav’ling through the wilderness.”

“Trav’ling through the wilderness.” That phrase conjures up thoughts of abandonment, of desolation, perhaps even fear. This morning's reading from Isaiah reflects those very qualities, plus an added dash of frustration, as Isaiah seems to be begging God to come out of retirement and get to work. “In the early years”, Isaiah says, “ you led our people with pillars of cloud by day and by fire at night. You fed them when they had nothing to eat and gave them water to drink. Now, when your people are scattered, now when we need you most, you are somewhere else. If the people no longer pray to you, it’s your fault. Let us see you again in ways we can understand.” Isaiah has worked himself up into having a real pity party!
But each of us has lived in that wilderness place. We remember what it is like. And when we are going through it was hard to believe that we would ever come out the other side.
So here we are again in a wilderness place, a waiting place designed to give each of us time to prepare for our Savior’s birth. Our God knows us well …how we humans have curious minds, how we tend to rush ahead toward things and seasons we enjoy such as Christmas. And just as God had not abandoned our Hebrew ancestors, God is also very present to us. The message is, “Slow down. Take time in that wilderness place, that waiting place. Something that will change the world is about to happen. Will you be ready?”
During this waiting time of Advent, we are challenged to live in tranquility amid all the pushing, grabbing, and spending associated with the Christmas season. This morning we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. Its lone, small flame gives little light or warmth but it is meant to be, for us, a tiny beacon of anticipation; anticipation of the warmth and light that will grow brighter and warmer as each week of Advent passes. The lighting of successive candles on the Advent wreath each week is not just a “nice” tradition that we do as we count down the number of shopping days we have left before Christmas.
The wreath, the hymns we sing, the scripture we read during this time in the “waiting place”, all point to operative words of Advent, “prepare, keep awake.” These coming weeks are meant to be a seriously retrospective time, serious one on one time with God. These weeks of Advent are an invitation to, once again, bring balance into our lives. Prophets and saints such as Isaiah, John the Baptist, St. Paul. And St. Mildred insist that God be moved from waiting in the wings to the center of our lives. St. Mildred?
Mildred lived in the 8th Century and was the daughter of English royalty. She was sent to a convent in France for her education and stubbornly defied her parent’s plans for her to marry a young French nobleman. Mildred reminded her parents that she had been sent to France for her education and that was what she intended to get. Mildred returned to England where she became a nun and later, and abbess, who was loved and respected by her community. Her steely determination remained intact even after her death. One story the community loved to tell was that, even after her death, she moved around the convent being sure that all was well and running in a proper fashion. One night, as she made her nightly rounds, she found a bell ringer who was supposed to be keeping watch in the church, asleep before the altar. The departed Mildred slapped him across the ear and yelled at him, “This is an oratory, not the dormitory!”
So during this Advent time as we sit quietly in the waiting place with God, as we joyously anticipate the coming of the Christ child, my wish for each of us is that we not get distracted, that we not fall asleep. If we do, I pray to God, please Lord, send John the Baptist, send Isaiah, even send St. Paul to wake us up, but please, Lord, don’t send Mildred!

The Rev. Faye Hogan St. Benedict’s – Los Osos, Ca.
Year B – 1st Advent November 30, 2008


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