This one's getting up late because I preached from notes rather than a text ... but decided to take time to tell the stories here. So -- for what it's worth -- here it be!
In his weekly message to the Diocese of San Joaquin, Bishop Chet Talton wrote:
"This Sunday marks the beginning of the last week of Advent. As we light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath I recall the words of the late theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman – who wrote that these candles are for us:
• candles of joy despite all sadness,The Advent candles are light against the darkness which surrounds us. We light them in anticipation of our hearts being filled again the Christmas promise of that which is true,
• candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
• candles of courage for fears ever present,
• candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
• candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
• candles of love to inspire all our living.
"What has come into being in Jesus was life,And Bishop Talton concluded: “May these candles burn in our hearts all year long to keep us ready.”
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it."
I love the idea that Advent isn’t just a time of preparation for Christmas but a way of living in preparation for life’s challenges. And when we look at it that way, there’s a lot to keep ready for, isn’t there?
The nightly news is a barrage of gun violence, political polarization, war continuing to rage in Afghanistan as we mark the end of the war in Iraq, an economic “new normal” that is getting really old …the list goes on and on.
And so this morning I want to tell you about four candles that I saw lit this week against the darkness that surrounds us. They weren’t candles on a wreath in the sanctuary – they were candles of action in the struggle.
The first was on Monday in the lobby of the All Saints office building. Monday is the day Diane Williams and our feeding ministry team distributes food to our neighbors in need and so it’s always a busy morning. I came down the staircase from my office mid-morning just as Diane was greeting one of our neighbors with these words, “Do you need a warmer coat?”
At All Saints Church we talk all the time about “making God’s love tangible 24/7” – and I cannot think of a more tangible way to make that love present than by greeting someone in need of food with the words “Do you need a warmer coat?” on a cold winter’s day. Diane’s words were for me an Advent candle of love.
The second was in these words in a blog post about the Occupy Movement: “[Occupy] is the kind of movement that we venerate in history, yet many who live comfortably fear it in the present. Occupy is no mere ‘protest.’ The brilliance of the movement is its refusal to be reduced to specific policy demands. Occupy remains an insatiable movement of liberating creativity, an irreducible process for generating justice."
And then the Reverend John Helmiere offered this message from Occupy Seattle:
• Listen Deeply“By listening deeply, I mean allowing the experiences of others to alter your own worldview. By getting upset, I mean being appalled at the dehumanizing forces operating in our world. By generating love, I mean channeling that passion into creative and liberating action.”
• Get Upset
• Generate Love.
The blog post ended with these words “Let there be peace among us, and may we not be instruments of our own, or anyone else’s oppression” … lighting an Advent candle of justice.
The third candle came in the words of actor George Clooney. In a statement announcing his casting in an upcoming play about the Prop 8 struggle here in California, Clooney said:
"It is astonishing that gay and lesbian Americans are still treated as second-class citizens. I am confident that, very soon, the laws of this nation will reflect the basic truth that gay and lesbian people -- like all human beings -- are born equal in dignity and rights."As an Oscar winning actor twice voted “the sexiest man alive” by People Magazine, George Clooney could so totally be “phoning it in” from his villa on Lake Como … but instead he is stepping up to use his voice to speak for those bullied and badgered into silence. For offering an antidote to the homophobia infecting our political discourse and for bringing the power his celebrity gives him to the fight for liberty and justice for all George Clooney lights an Advent candle of equality.
And the fourth and final Advent candle of action was lit on the steps of the All Saints chancel on Saturday morning. Youth choir director Jenny Price was rehearsing the high school choir as I was washing up in the sacristy after an Integrity Board Eucharist. They were singing beautifully and as I came out from the sacristy to listen a bit from the chapel she stopped them and said, “That was GREAT … but it could be better. You’ve got the notes. Now let’s talk about what it is you’re singing about.”
And she proceeded to engage the high schoolers in a dialogue on what Christmas really means; why it matters that a baby was born in a manger, for Pete’s sake; what it means that “Jesus saves” … and what a miracle the whole marvelous story not only was but continues to be in our lives as we claim that love, power and wonder for ourselves. And as she spoke to them I saw the fourth candle of the week: An Advent candle of wonder.
How about us? Can we hear this story again this morning and recognize what a miracle it is? Can we light the candles of Advent not just on this wreath on this last Sunday of Advent but in our hearts all year long to keep us ready … not just for Christmas but for the work of Christmas ... as famously described in another great work of Howard Thurman:
When the star in the sky is gone,And what I believe equips us for Howard Thurman’s Work of Christmas is John Helmiere’s Advent Advice:
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Listen Deeply; Get Upset; Generate Love
So let us light our candles this morning in anticipation of our hearts being filled again with the Christmas promise of that which is true: What will come into being on that “O Holy Night” is life -- life that is the light of all people. Light that shines in the darkness – and light that the darkness will never overcome. Amen.