Rev. Laura Becker
Northminster Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga
I had a sermon written (well, mostly written) about Mary. These powerful words of what we call the Magnificat are bold proclamations of what God’s justice looks like when it breaks into our world.
I wanted to talk about Mary’s faithful courage in agreeing to bear God’s righteousness and
grace to the world.
I wanted to empower each and every one of us to live into the challenge of continuing to bear God’s grace and justice into this world.
But after the tragic events of Friday, when so many young lives were lost in Newtown, CT, I was at
a loss for words.
This Third Sunday in the Advent season…
when just last week we lit the candle of peace …
when this morning, we light the candle of joy …
– nothing felt right.
But then, I think maybe Mary’s message still has something to offer us today.
Because perhaps this week, more than many others, we are painfully aware that the world as we know it is desperately in need of Emmanuel – God with us. The light shining in the darkness.
That is what Advent is all about.
But, as writer Anne Lamott reminds us “Advent is not for the naïve.” She writes: “Because in spite of the dark and cold, we see light—you look up, or you make light, with candles, trees. And you give light. Beauty helps, in art and nature and faces. Friends help. Solidarity helps. If you ask me, when people return phone calls, it’s about as good as it gets. And who knows beyond that.”
Advent says that there is a way out of this trap—that we embrace our humanity, and Jesus’s humanity, and then we remember that he is wrapped up in God. It’s good to know where to find Jesus —in the least of these–among the broken, the very poor and marginalized. Jesus says, ‘You want to see me? Look there.’”
Despite all of our sweet and lovely Christmas carols, the truth is, Jesus didn’t decide to come into the world when it was pristine and peaceful.
God in Christ chose to come into the messiness of this world with its pain,
God comes to us in our brokenness and pain – and God sits with us and weeps with us.
The question I keep hearing these past few days is “Why?”.
We always ask why when tragedies like this occur.
My mom asked me how we answer the questions that will come.
I told her that we can’t.
And we shouldn’t.
Because the “why” questions can’t be answered.
And when some people try to answer them, they end up saying dangerous and inappropriate things about God.
So let me be clear:
-What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was not God’s will.
-God did not have a plan for this.
-There is no extra amount of God we could legislate into our schools that could have prevented this.
We shouldn’t spend our time on questions that cannot be answered.
Instead, we weep, as God weeps. Remembering as William Sloane Coffin once said about life’s tragedies, “God’s heart was the first of all of ours to break.”
We weep and we pray.
We pray for the families and friends of the victims and the gunman.
We pray for the first responders. We pray for the school and community of Newtown.
We pray for our nation that so readily sees violence as a solution.
We weep and we pray and we take action.
We offer support.
We write letters.
We reach out to those who are hurting.
We participate in hard conversations about gun violence.
We don’t just pray for a world where swords are turned into plowshares, we actively seek ways for peace.
It is a complicated life we lead as Christians.
Our sure hope in the resurrection means that death does not get the last word.
We are called to bear that deep and abiding kind of hope and joy into the midst of extraordinary tragedy and grief.
I think Mary knew a little bit about this.
a woman who knew the complicated mix of joy and pain
– hope and loss
– fear and courage,
a mother who would have to bear the pain of losing her own child as well.
She grasped the weight of who this child was and what he would do in ways that few others did, and she sang of the dawn of God’s righteousness.
Mary’s song is a faithful praise of the power of God to turn the world upside down – or as one scholar notes, really, to turn the world right-side up.
The way God would have it.
The world in which the rulers are brought down and the humble are lifted up.
The world in which the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty.
A world in which senseless violence does not threaten our children.
It is not just the world we hope and pray for, it is the world we seek to make a reality each and every day.
And so, as painful as it so often can be, we pray for God to open our eyes – let us pray:
Open our eyes, Lord,
especially if they are half shut because we are tired of looking, or half open
because we fear to see too much, or bleared with tears
because yesterday, today, and tomorrow
are filled with the same pain, or contracted because we only look at what we want to see.
Open our eyes, Lord,
to gently scan the life we lead,
the home we have,
the world we inhabit,
and so to find, among the gremlins and the greyness,
signs of hope we can fasten on
Give us, whose eyes are dimmed by familiarity,
a bigger vision of what you can do even with hopeless cases and lost causes and people of limited ability.
Show us the world as in your sight,
riddled by debt, deceit, and disbelief,
yet also, glimmering with possibility for recovery, renewal, redemption.
And lest we fail to distinguish vision from fantasy,
today, tomorrow, this week, open our eyes to one person or one place,
where we – being even for a moment prophetic –
might identify and encourage a potential in the waiting.
And with all this, open our eyes, in yearning, for Jesus.
On the mountains,
in the cities,
through the corridors of power and streets of despair,
into the broken places of our lives and our world,
to help, to heal,
to turn the world around,we pray O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
(prayer adapted from Iona’s Cloth for the Cradle)