Sunday, December 22, 2013

In the fullness of time | Sermon for Advent Four 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013 | Susan Russell | All Saints Church, Pasadena

It is the cusp of Christmas.

The fourth and final candle glows on the Advent wreath,

the “greening of the church” has begun

and the poinsettias are poised for placement.

The choirs are rehearsing,

the pageant is practicing

and in a few short hours we will shift from

“O come, O come Emmanuel” to

“O come let us adore Him.”

And it will be Christmas once more at All Saints Church.

But here, in this moment, we wait.

We pause.

And we have the chance to savor

these last moments of preparation and anticipation

of what will come but is not yet.

We have been here before.

We have prepared for the promise of new life

in the birth of the soon-to-be Christmas baby.

We have wondered

at the power of a love great enough

to triumph over death

and we have claimed a Christmas Truth

greater than any of the traditions it inspires:

the mystical longing of the creature for the creator –

the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine.

It is a longing that transcends culture,

religion, language and custom –

a longing that is represented for us as Christians

in the baby in the manger

in the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace:

a God who loved us enough to become one of us.

Loved us enough to become … in the words of the rector …

“a personification of God’s future” …

a future of love, justice and compassion for the whole human family.

Yes, we have been here before –

in this familiar place that is somehow different every year.

As Christina Honchell wrote in her recent meditation

in our parish newsletter:

“The beauty of the liturgical year

is that we get a chance to re-do,

to think,

to worship in a new way each year,

as we spiral toward

the coming of God’s dream realized on earth.

We go around the liturgical circle,

and we start and end in a new place every time.”

And this year

the liturgical year and the lunar year conspired

to bring together both the day we turn the corner from Advent to Christmas

and the day we turn from increasing darkness to increasing light.

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice –

the longest, darkest night of the year.

And I found myself thinking last night

of this prayer from the New Zealand prayer book

in the service for Night Prayers:

Lord it is night.

The night is for stillness.

Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.

What has been done has been done;

what has not been done has not been done.

Let it be.

The night is dark.

Let our fears of the darkness of the world

and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.

Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,

all dear to us,

and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.

Let us look expectantly

to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

The night heralds the dawn –

and never more than in the season of Advent

are we more intentionally called

to look expectantly to a new day, to new joys, to new possibilities.

Every time we cycle around again

to this familiar place we’ve never been before –

this cusp of Christmas –

we wait with a heightened expectation

of what God is about to birth in our midst.

And what I wonder today –

on this fourth Sunday of Advent in this year two thousand thirteen –

is if one of the “new possibilities” God is laboring to birth

is a church more committed to the personification of God’s future

than it is to the preservation of the church’s past.

One of my favorite Eucharistic Prayers –

the prayer we say at the altar

as we prepare to bless the bread and wine made holy for communion –

includes these words:

Again and again, you called us to return.

Through prophets

and sages you revealed your righteous Law.

And in the fullness of time you sent your Son,

born of a woman, to

fulfill your Law,

to open for us

the way of freedom and peace.

Note, it does not say:

In the fullness of time you sent your Son,

born of a woman, to

create an institution

that would generate dogma and doctrine

to close the door

on those who disagreed with it.

Nor does it say:

In the fullness of time you sent your Son,

born of a woman, to

fuel the fires

of sexism and homophobia

by making sure that women and LGBT people

are kept on the margins.

The truth is that the dream of God’s future

personified in Jesus

has always been bigger than the church could handle.

My personal favorite theologian Verna Dozier

put it this way in her brilliant book, “The Dream of God:”

The people of the resurrection make the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure – escaping from God’s awesome invitation to be something new in the world: a witness that all of life could be different for everybody.

The biblical story is one of a free God who created free creatures to be in fellowship with their Creator. The free creatures could not trust the divine way and God, respecting their freedom, set in motion a plan to win them back.

Again and again, you called us to return.

Words we need to hear again and again because --

make no mistake about it my brothers and sisters --

on this cusp of Christmas there is still much work left to do.

And sometimes the night can feel very dark indeed.

The news is full of updates on the Duck Dynasty Dude –

the most recent poster child

for Christians making Jesus look bad

and convincing boatloads of people

who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one

that they were right.

My email inbox is full of appeals from the “war on Christmas” crowd

overwrought about retail workers

saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”

and oblivious to an economic system

that keeps retail workers from earning a living wage.

And in the shadow of the anniversary

of the Sandy Hook shootings

with a Congress that cannot muster enough leadership

to address legislation on gun violence,

immigration reform or employment discrimination

it can seem that the “fullness of time” is very far off indeed.

And yet this morning –

on the cusp of Christmas –

I also see seeds of hope

that new possibilities are taking root and growing

more fully into the future that is God’s dream.


Hope in the words of a Pope

who gave this blessing

that shook up the Vatican and lit up the twitter feeds:

Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church

and others are non-believers,

from the bottom of my heart

I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you,

respecting the conscience of each one of you

but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.

Hope in the actions of a United Methodist pastor

who stood firm in his opposition to discrimination

as his church defrocked him for presiding at the marriage of his gay son:

"I am actively committing

to having those discriminatory laws changed

and banished from our Book of Discipline.

That's the only way I can reconcile

being a United Methodist at this point."


Hope in the film “Philomena” –

the true story of a woman

whose faith was so strong

that she was able to forgive the church

for utterly failing in its high calling

to be the personification of God’s love in the world.

And finally,

hope in this story I want to close with this morning –

a story of Rose Parades then-and-now.

It was a February afternoon in 2004. I was minding my own business

working away in my little corner cubicle over in the OCC trailer

when I got a call from a reporter from the Pasadena Star-News --

a reporter who wanted to know if I had any comment

on the announcement that the Rose Parade chosen "Celebrate Family"

as the theme for the 2005 Rose Parade.

I said we thought family was a great thing to celebrate

just as long as we remembered to celebrate

that some of our families had two moms and an apple pie.

I remember thinking that was kind of clever

for an out of the blue response to an out of left field question.

And I remember being happy

when the quote made it into the local news story.

The next thing I knew,

I was getting phone calls from folks

who listen to James Dobson's Focus on the Family --

folks who were not at all interested

in celebrating families with two moms and an apple pie.

Somehow my clever comment to a local reporter

had become an illustration on Dobson's radio show

of how “the gays” were going to hijack the Rose Parade.

And it got kinda crazy.

One distraught woman from Florida pleaded with me --

in a conversation I'll never forget --

to "Please, please, please don't ruin the Rose Parade for us!

We're Christians and watch it every year with our grandchildren --

and there's no way we're going to expose them to homosexuality.

And how can you as a pastor say such a thing?

Homosexuality is an abomination.

Jesus said so in Genesis."

Seriously. "Jesus said so in Genesis." I couldn't make that up.

Fox News also ran the story

and then the story kind of ran out of steam.

Because -- truth be told --

nobody was lining up to the Rose Parade into a Pride Parade.

We had work to do, lives to live, rights to fight for,

and money that was better spent elsewhere.


Fast forward a decade.

It's December 2013.

This year the Rose Parade theme is "Dreams Come True"

and I opened the Pasadena Star-News to this story:

"L.A. Gay couple to marry on Rose Parade float."

“In a Tournament of Roses first the wedding of Danny Leclair and Aubrey Loots will take place atop a giant wedding cake-shaped float sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation."We're standing on the shoulders of thousands of men and women who came before us in this fight for marriage equality," Leclair said. "We're excited to be part of that story, to be able to do this because of them. We're looking forward to honor that."

As a happily-engaged-to-be-married-in-June lesbian,

would I want to have my wedding in the middle of the Rose Parade?

No, I would not.

But I am delighted that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation

and Danny and Aubrey

are making this witness to the worldwide Rose Parade audience

as a "Dream Come True."

Because it is – a dream come true –

not just for them, but for everyone who worked so hard

to make marriage equality not a dream but a reality.

And when I look back at how far we've come

in the decade since James Dobson and Fox News

were frothing at the mouth

over fear of the "homosexual agenda" hijacking the Rose Parade

it seems possible to dream even bigger dreams.

Dreams of passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Dreams of repealing DOMA altogether

and making marriage equality a national norm, not a local option.

Dreams of healing homophobia,

curing AIDS and taking what we've learned

in the trenches of the fight for LGBT equality

and applying it to the other long-haul struggles in front of us:

ending gun violence,

combating the cradle to prison pipeline,

passing just immigration reform,

protecting women's access to healthcare --

just to name a few.

All the dreams that add up to that dream of God –

the God who calls us – again and again –

to partner in the work of love, justice and compassion

and in the fullness of time

to open the way of freedom and peace.

It is the cusp of Christmas. 

And in a few short hours

we will shift from “O come, O come Emmanuel”

to “O come let us adore Him.”

But here, in this moment, we wait.

We pause.

And we have the chance to savor these last moments

of preparation and anticipation

of what will come but is not yet.

And in these moments

let us give thanks for dreams that come true

because of dreamers who will not settle for what is

but who keep dreaming of what could be

returning again and again

to personify God’s future

of love, justice and compassion

for the whole human family.

1 comment:

dianedp said...

Beautiful, just beautiful.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to all.

May 2014 be a better year for all.