Tonight we light the fourth and final candle on our Advent wreath and Love joins Hope, Peace and Joy in the iconic circle awaiting the arrival of the fifth candle we will light on Christmas; the Christ Candle in the center of the wreath -- the light of God’s love, justice, and compassion incarnate for us as Christians in a baby in a manger.
It is a ritual we repeat every year. As Christina Honchell wrote in an Advent meditation many years ago:
“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 when I read those words this year, I thought that there might quite possibly never have been a year in my sixty-six-so-far that they rang more true.
To think and to worship in new ways are hallmarks of the global pandemic which continues to challenge our human family exacting a tragic toll in the numbers of precious souls lost and in lives turned upside down.
Nevertheless, we persist.
And to Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, that very persistence – that very willingness to try new things – are in and of themselves miracles.
“What is a miracle?” he writes in his Chanukah message this year. “Most of us see the miracle of Chanukah as the menorah burning for eight days. Instead, we might back up a few steps to the moment the Maccabees decided to light the menorah even though it was clear there wasn’t enough oil. They had no idea a miracle might occur, but they lit it nonetheless.
The decision to try something without knowing the outcome is the miracle. It is the miracle of life itself and the miracle of human civilization. It is scientists who ultimately developed the vaccines that will now save our lives who had no guarantee their work would succeed. It is every medical professional who comes to the aid of a COVID patient, treating them the very best they know, without any inkling of whether the patient will heal.”
The weeks and months since the shutdowns began in March have been full of decisions to try something new without knowing the outcome.
Building online communities on Zoom comes to mind -- and figuring out how to adapt ancient worship practices to 21st century pandemic realities are but the tip of the iceberg.
Nevertheless, we persist
As we gather tonight for this “virtual Evensong” we may be separated by the miles between us but we are bound together by the love that unites us -- gathered together through the miracle of technology to try something new as we go around the liturgical circle again: a circle represented for us tonight in this wreath with lights of hope, peace, joy and love and prepare to hear again the stories that tell us of the mystical longing of the creature for the creator – the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine – all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
In the words from one of our Eucharistic prayers: “in miracle and mystery Jesus was born, as we are born, and lived as we might live” -- the miracle of a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how love one another; the mystery of the indestructible power of God’s inexhaustible love.
The light incarnate in the baby we await in these waning days of Advent -- and alive in the Jesus we follow into the New Year -- is the light as old as the prophecy from Isaiah and the call to God’s covenant people to be a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind to free captives from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
And it is the light as new as the miracle of new vaccines to end the scourge of the virus that plagues us; of new visions for global cooperation and collaboration; of new hopes for our nation to live into its pledge of liberty and justice for all.
We are on the cusp of the Winter Solstice turning the corner toward more rather than less light; longer rather than shorter days; more rather than less hope for our beautiful and broken world as we work together to overcome the divisions that polarize us; the virus that infects us; the challenges that face us.
As we journey together toward that corner, we travel with the Spirit our brother Bishop Steven Charleston describes as “the ageless power of love.”
the darkness quickly,
skating the cold air like ice,
seeking the lost and lonely,
the ones who are hanging on,
the ones who are feeling afraid,
the keepers of sad memories,
to each of them comes the Spirit,
gliding on the cold air like ice,
bringing a blessing to each and every one,
healing and mercy for the broken hearted,
strengthening for tired souls,
lifting up neglected lives,
making the dark corners bright,
comes the Spirit, the ageless power of love,
the force of love, breaking through gently
to free every human being
who feels the weight of this season,
setting them at liberty,
restoring each one to hope and wholeness,
into the darkness quickly,
skating the cold air like ice,
comes the Spirit,
to light a candle in every window,
every window of the world.
May we be agents of that Spirit as we work together to be the Body of Christ – to be the miracle of those who try new things without knowing the outcome – to be the change we want to see in the world – until that kindom come on earth is not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live -- until finally the candle of love shines in every window of the world. Amen.