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.
And we have the chance to savor
these last moments of preparation and anticipation
of what will come but is not yet.
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.
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.
in this familiar place that is somehow different every year.
in our parish newsletter:
“The beauty of the liturgical year
is that we get a chance to re-do,
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the prayer we say at the altar
as we prepare to bless the bread and wine made holy for communion –
includes these words:
and sages you revealed your righteous Law.
born of a woman, to
fulfill your Law,
to open for us
the way of freedom and peace.
born of a woman, to
create an institution
that would generate dogma and doctrine
to close the door
on those who disagreed with it.
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.
personified in Jesus
has always been bigger than the church could handle.
put it this way in her brilliant book, “The Dream of God:”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 repealing DOMA altogether
and making marriage equality a national norm, not a local option.
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.
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.
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.
And we have the chance to savor these last moments
of preparation and anticipation
of what will come but is not yet.
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.
Beautiful, just beautiful.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
May 2014 be a better year for all.
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