Sunday, December 23, 2012

Leaping for Joy! 23 December 2012 ~ The Rev. Peter M. Carey Sermon

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
23 December 2012
St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church

Well, congratulations! You made it through the "end of the world."  We made it through December 21st, 2012, when some interpretation of the Mayan Calendar thought that the end of the world was here. 

While we don’t dwell on it all that much, our own faith is also grounded in the sense that there is an end towards which our story is moving.  There is a final chapter. This looking at the “end times” is not usually done so much in mainline Christianity, least of all the Episcopal Church, that rational and sensible and establishment church.  However, Advent reminds us in no uncertain terms that while Jesus came into this world, he will be coming again.  Advent reminds us that God created the world, but that there will also be an end.  This is, perhaps, hard to grasp, especially as we try to reconcile Biblical theology with our scientific knowledge.

We are already living in the end times, we are already grounded in the sense that our individual lives are finite, but also the world itself is finite.  But we also rest in the notion that God is already wrapping us up in loving arms, is hovering over us as a mother hen, is already caring for us as a shepherd, is already caring for us deeply.  This ever-present and ever-flowing love of God does not begin at some point, rather, it is eternal, and it is now and forever. 

How do we notice the ways that God is already “breaking” into the world?  How do we open ourselves up to this reality?  It seems to me that we have to make some room for God.  Not that God “needs” us to make room, but that we need to make room so that we can increase our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.  John the Baptist preached those lines from Isaiah when he said, “prepare the way of the Lord,” and we can prepare ourselves so that we can embrace God’s presence in our lives.  Opening a space in our calendars means setting other things aside, and creating time for God.  We can also create spaces in our homes and workplaces that remind us to notice God in our midst.  In a sense, the preparation and expectation of Advent are qualities of our entire spiritual lives.

We can create time and space where we might pray and allow God to enter into our lives.  “To pray is to take notice of the wonder and to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments.  Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” Abraham Joshua Heschel

Certainly, Mary was open to the wonder that was around her. Certainly, Mary was open to the mystery and surprise.  With this sense of wonder, mystery and surprise, she visited her cousin Elizabeth, and the baby in her womb leaped for joy!

Leaping for Joy! How often do we leap for Joy?  However, this portion of Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth is quite telling.  The child of Elizabeth, the child who would become John the Baptist, recognizes his cousin from the womb!  Recognizes Jesus, recognizes God with us, Emmanuel!  The child of Elizabeth leaps with joy!  And what of us, are we open to the Joy that is constantly breaking into the midst of our world?  Are we open to the Joy that is breaking into the dark and dismal days of our lives?  Are we open to the Joy that even comes in the midst of disappointment and desolation?

The Joy that God provides is a deeper Joy than even the womb of our imagination can contain; the Joy that God provides.  The gift of God’s Joy is beyond our thinking, our dreaming, and our understanding.  We may not think that we will leap for joy like we once could, but the Joy that God provides is that which lifts us beyond our dreams, even in the midst of this world, God’s Word becomes realized in our world, as Joy that cannot be contained by the womb of our imagination.

"Awe before Isaiah's God refreshes our reverence. It submerges the ego, paving the way for owning up to our frailty. It turns us outward from concern with self to the need and suffering for others, especially the poor and peripheral. As we repose ever more deeply in God's mystery, the Lord who is absolutely sufficient for our succor increasingly works through us to relieve others' brokenness. Simultaneously, the Holy transforms us into ever more reverent advocates of the natural world." ~Stephen Cook

When we recognize the ways that God is already breaking into the world, is already surrounding us and caring for us, we see the world differently.  When Mary received the news that she was the God-bearer, her view of the world changed, and she sang of the ways that God’s kingdom was becoming real.  She sang of the impossible becoming possible.  The impossible Joy of God on earth led her to see that everything was being turned on its head.  The Song of Mary, the Magnificat, gives us a clear vision of how God breaks into the world, and also how we are called to help usher in this kingdom.  She sings of justice, of love for all, of a turning around of the powers of the world.  She proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and recognizes the joyful impossibility of  God looking with favor upon her.  She sees that he will “scatter the proud,” “cast down the mighty,” and “lifted up the lowly.”  “Filled the hungry with good things,” and “ the rich he has sent away empty.”  Mary saw that God’s presence in the world is grounded in justice and mercy, and the profound joy of God in our midst – Emmanuel.

The Joy that God provides is a deeper Joy than even the womb of our imagination can contain.  The gift of God’s Joy is beyond our thinking, our dreaming, and our understanding.  However, God has given us clues about this joyful kingdom in the words sung by Mary, who inspires us to get busy, to work for change, to work for justice, to work with Joy to help usher in God’s loving kingdom.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
    the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever.

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