Third Sunday of Advent
Julie Kae Sigars
Isaiah 35:1-10 • Psalm 146:5-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11
It was a strange quarter. Beginning as all quarters do: hopeful…This time, I will keep up with my grading. This time, I will give extra time to my students. This time…this time…Fresh starts are hopeful times….
It was an odd class. Not really, all classes have their quirks. And frankly, my classes are known for being welcoming for the quirky. But this particular class, Song of the Church (yes, really) started out with barely enough students to make the class continue, and then kept adding students as the first two weeks went along. Each had their stories. And several had the need to state them right up front.
“I was raised in the church…not sure about all of this God stuff now….DON’T JUDGE ME.” She actually said this as if it was all capital letters. This young woman also used to sing, but she lost her voice. I remember smiling and saying, welcome. You are in the right class.
“I was raised in the church. [notice the pattern?] And I do not attend now. I think the church thinks they have all the right answers. I think the church pretends to be loving when it really isn’t. The church….the church….Don’t judge me….” but this was a soft, lower case letters plea.
Others had their stories. One in leadership for youth worship services who was curious about hymns. One previously on a music team in Korean church. One a voice student of mine from Hawaii with a solid honest look at cultural issues there. One about to be married to a future youth minister. One intrigued with the language of the church and how it defines and harms people. One just a big ol lover of music of all kinds. One curious young man who asked the best questions, just out of the blue, most of the time as we were walking out the door…
This was the class where I felt I was wearing all my hats. Definitely teacher. But sometimes a pastor. Sometimes a prophet. And constantly watching. And waiting. When would be the time to challenge assumptions? When is the time to suggest an author, a reading, when is the time to let the student ramble with their unhappiness or time to redirect?
And, you know, it was after all Song of the Church. Sometimes, many times, we just needed to stop and sing.
And we did.
Our singing made us a community. Our singing taught us lessons. Our singing brought us into the communion of the saints. Our singing answered questions we did not even know we had. Our singing brought us to questions we did not even know we had.
One of my students did not leave her apartment for a week after the election. She did not feel safe. When she returned to class, we sang Lift Every Voice and Sing. We have sung it here in this place several times. What was the surprise was that none of the other students knew the hymn. And this young woman was shocked. I was sad, but not surprised.
Two of the young men in the class were very interested in the contemporary commercial Christian music. One even thought that in 30 years, no one would be singing hymns any more. For their final assignments from me, I asked them to find songs that they liked that would have given courage to the church to go out into the world and be the Body of Christ. They were sure they could find them. This was an important value for both of them. They both claimed to have spent hours on this and found…none. I suggested they write some! And I think they just might!
Maggie and Scott have witnessed my agony over this class. Asking them to help me in checking my own behavior. But here is the deal.
They gave me such hope for the future. Not one person in this class was just phoning it in for a grade. They all felt that this was a time of great change. Things were happening. And they were….paying attention.
Chuck took a picture a couple of days ago of the snow and our stubborn rosebushes. Still roses, hanging in there…something out of a fairy tale, surrounded by snow. Something about our Western European Northern hemisphere snow and flowers when talking about our Middle eastern incarnational cosmic event. But it made you stop and pay attention.
Isaiah. Did you hear all the hope? The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad! The desert shall rejoice and blossom! Like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly; and rejoice with joy and singing! Oh my, I really want to hear the singing of the wilderness and the desert and the crocus! Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees! Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be Strong! Do not fear!
Miracles will happen that help people, that bring them back into community. People will see and hear and dance and sing. People who could not do any of those things before. But now they can. And water water everywhere! In the wilderness, in the desert, around burning sands and thirsty grounds. Water is life. And it will be there. And this road, this highway, this Holy Way, where no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
Not even fools. Many a time that would be enough for me. Not even fools.
The psalmist reminds us: God keeps God’s promises.
But we need to know. Advent and promises can be challenging for the most patient of us. Some have just had it. Like my student who paints the church in one big swatch of bad. Does God care for the stranger? Sustain the widow and orphan? When we sang hymns about this, the hurt young woman said, “Well, nice words but the church doesn’t do this…” I am ever so thankful for you, my brothers and sisters, that I could say to her gently but truthfully, “Oh, but I know of some that do.” And she softly answered, “Maybe someday I will be in a church like that…”
We can look around and see it happening. In this time of great division and fear, weak hands are being strengthened and feeble knees are being made firm. Whole groups of strangers are banding together to pay attention and protect those who might be in danger.
Groups of Muslim and Jewish women all over the world banding together for peace.
Musicians playing and singing for justice.
Social media groups forming and meeting, in person, to give each other courage and strategies of living out their values.
Religious and non-religious people finding common causes.
Not all the time, but more and more it is happening. Anger and nastiness being challenged. Anger and nastiness even being returned with grace and generosity.
Through presence, prayer, dance, and community we have some hope for Standing Rock. As our national political life gets more and more complicated and I would say outrageous, there seems to be movement toward acknowledging that yes, there is such a thing as truth, and not just opinion. And that it is something we must strive for to come together as a people. Eyes are being opened.
The patient farmer, waiting for early and late rains, is not in control of the weather. After all the preparations, the farmer can do nothing BUT wait.
But the Body of Christ in the world, that’s you and me, we can be the sign that someone is waiting for…the strengthened hand that feeds a child or builds a shelter or a home, the firm knee in prayer and in action, walking to show unity of purpose for the immigrant, for the exiled, the refugee, the voiceless one, the one who has no song in their heart, the one that cannot see any Good News, the one who cannot hear any Good News, only the bad that seems to dominate our airways, our computers and phones…
What might happen if we ask like John: Are we to wait? Is this the kingdom of God we thought was at hand?
And we hear an answer:
Do we see the hungry feed? How about on this day. Who sees that?
Is there water rejoicing, is there dancing and singing at Standing Rock?
Do we see the rose in the snow? The student hungry for a vision that she cannot see, but may one day stumble upon? The young woman in fear for her own safety finding her own voice again in Lift Every Voice and Sing? The young men dreaming of a better way to be church in the place that they thought was “good enough?”
Mary had a vision. She knew the word, and she knew God’s promises. And in the midst of an uncomfortable and scary future, she visited her aunt, and in the home of a priest whose voice had been taken from him, she preached the Good News as she envisioned it. A woman, pregnant with promise. In a time of great turmoil and fear. She sang of a new world. Can you see it? Can you imagine it?
This year, this Advent, this Lord’s Day, I do.
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