Benediction Online

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Big Picture

Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Canticle 15

As most of you know, I don’t get to pick the readings we have each week and neither do any of the other clergy. We have a three year cycle which is set by the church, and which we share with most other mainline protestant churches and to a large extent with the Roman Catholic Church. Which means that all over the world people are hearing the same readings today. It also means that sometimes they aren’t quite what you would expect. Because this year we are hearing from the Gospel of Matthew we don’t have the familiar advent stories. We don’t hear about Zechariah being struck dumb, or the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, or about Mary going to stay with her cousin Elizabeth.

Instead of hearing stories about humans this Advent we hear about what God is doing. Today’s readings have a theme of astonishing hope and joy:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

We hear it first from Isaiah, then it’s picked up in the Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of praise and finally Jesus claims it as his own in the gospel reading.

Our lives are dominated by the activities of humans. We are each part of a web of human relationships of family, church and community. We are also part of a national and international community which is brought to us minute by minute on radio, television and internet. We see the human story all the time. The trick to being people of faith is being able to change the perspective and to see what God is doing.

John the Baptist, imprisoned for criticizing Herod, wanted to know what God was doing. Was Jesus the one he had been prophesying about or not?

Sometimes it’s easy for us to see what God is doing. Sometimes our lives seem to be full of signs of hope and we awake each morning with joy. At other times we are like John stuck in prisons of pain or discomfort, of loneliness and loss. Then it’s more difficult to see God’s hand.

It’s easy to get caught up in the political issues and the economic problems which fill our airwaves. It’s easy to despair about ever getting a job, to fear that social security will go bankrupt, or that the sewer will cost more than we can afford. These are real concerns, just as our own personal issues are real, but they’re only one way of looking at the picture.

As the Body of Christ one of our most important ministries in the world is to hold the other perspective. God is working. God is drawing all beings to God’s self. God’s extravagant and unconditional love is available to all.

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

"Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.

He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.

He will come and save you."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

Whatever the situation we can be sure that God is present and that, if invited, God will come in a new way and bring healing and new life.

People create ways of thinking and looking at things which limit our perceptions. We can’t think about things differently because we see them in a particular way. For those on the political left it’s fairly easy to see that tea partiers have a perception which is limited by their framework. It’s perhaps less easy to see that liberals also have perceptions which are limited by their framework.

Advent calls us to look outside the box. Advent calls us to see afresh that God is working in our world, that God is bringing new hope, and to be part of that. Whenever we succumb to seeing the world just as a human drama then we reduce the hope that’s available. Whenever we see not just the drama but God working in and through and beneath and above it, then our bifocal vision helps to bring new hope. By cultivating inner serenity, hope and joy based on our sure knowledge that God is working we can be a force for positive change in our world.

I have pondered all week the image that Donna left us with in her sermon last week. A field of alfalfa stalks burned leaving just black stubble, but in the blackness, shoots of green already visible along the irrigation channels. We are the irrigation channels for our world.

It may seem that our holding a vision of God’s salvation will make no impact on the problems which beset the planet, but we can be a beacon of light shining in the darkness. We can be the stream of living water which brings green even in the blackest of burned fields.

Even when the human drama leads us to despair, God is still working God’s purpose out. Our job is to ask how we can participate in God’s work and to cultivate serene, hopeful and joyful hearts. I’m going to close by asking Tica to sing us the first two verses of Hymn 534 which reminds us that the message of Advent is that God is coming, and God’s work will be done.


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