For my colleague and neighbor, Imam Abdul Rahman Ahmed

From the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association

 

June 27, 2018

 

Imam Abdul Rahman Ahmed
Islamic Center of New England
74 Chase Road
Sharon, MA 02067

Dear Imam Ahmed,

We, your colleagues on the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association, are writing this public letter to you and your community to express our friendship and deep distress in the wake of the US Supreme Court Decision, Trump v. Hawaii, of June 26, 2018. We share our grave fear that this decision, and the policy it affirms, does nothing to increase the safety of our nation while it delays, sometimes permanently, the reunification of Muslim families who are escaping persecution and violence in their home countries.

We affirm that you, our Muslim neighbors, are valued citizens and an indivisible part of the fabric of Sharon. You can count on us to stand with you in our common fight for dignity and for a country that recognizes that its strength is in its diversity.

With great respect and solidarity,

Rev. Lois K. Adams, First Baptist Church Sharon

Rev. Francis Balla, Hope Church Sharon

The Rev’d Jennifer D. Beal, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sharon

Rev. Wendy L. Bell, Interim Minister, Unitarian Church of Sharon

Rabbi Noah Cheses, Young Israel of Sharon

Rev. Francis J. Daly, Pastor, Our Lady of Sorrows

Rabbi Ron Fish, Temple Israel of Sharon

Rabbi David Jaffe, Kirva Institute and Sharon Interfaith Action

Rabbi Randy Kafka, Temple Kol Tikvah & Sharon Interfaith Action

Rev. Bill Kondrath

Rabbi Joseph Meszler, Temple Sinai of Sharon

Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Temple Israel of Sharon

Rev. Carol Steinbrecher, First Congregational Church of Sharon

*A few words of my own:  One of the most basic Christian teachings is this, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Throughout the Bible, God’s most repeated instruction is variations on protecting widows, orphans, and sojourners – another word for refugees and migrants.

In Deuteronomy it says, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge…you shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the refugees who are in your land within your towns.”

First John puts it most succinctly, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

*These are excerpts from my Sunday sermon.  To read more, see my post titled, “Law and Order.”

 

Law and Order

legal-broken-gavel

Matthew 5: 17 – 26

I enjoy watching mysteries and courtroom dramas, but one of my greatest pet peeves is when a white-collar villain gets caught red-handed in some malicious financial scheme and says to the hero, “You will find that what I’ve done is perfectly legal.”

I always shout, “just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s RIGHT!”

Jesus knew that it was possible to abide by the letter of the law, like the Pharisees and Scribes, and still wreak havoc on the lives of others. Jesus knew because he watched rich, foreign lenders come in and capture the ancestral lands of his people when the farmers had to default on their loans during bad growing years.

Jesus knew that the “might” of the “law” didn’t mean “right” as he watched agrarian families drown under the burden of Roman taxation and mandatory temple tithing that made the rich more powerful, and made the poor indentured servants on their own land.

Jesus knew the law could be cold-hearted. He knew that it could be used to demean and oppress. He knew that a law that was left in the realm of letters and court rooms could often be used to accomplish the exact opposite of what it was originally intended for.

This is certainly still true today! We can do business in ways that are completely legal that leave workers destitute, can put their lives and health at risk, and that can ravage our environment without constraints.

It is getting easier and easier to brandish the law as a weapon, to use it with lethal accuracy to manipulate the world to benefit a few at the expense of far too many.

Jesus knew that when we do this, and when we allow this to be done, the law becomes incomplete, broken, a shadow of the glorious social-glue that it was meant to be.

Jesus knew that no matter what laws we write, no matter how well-intentioned, they can be twisted and manipulated, and that there is almost always some loophole to be found.

Jesus knew that we can NOT legislate integrity or a moral compass.

Jesus knew.

That is why Jesus moves the law from the realm of the letter, to the realm of the heart. Jesus was living the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said,“this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”

Jesus is refining and deepening the law to enhance rather than to impede and divide human relationships. Jesus says, “You have heard it said, you shall not murder…but I say to you that If you are angry, you will be judged.”

Jesus preaches that it’s not enough to just physically refrain from killing someone. Jesus is preaching the radical message of the complete law, calling us not just to uphold the letter of the legal code, but to uphold the dignity and humanity of our companions in this world.

It is not enough to avoid killing. We must also avoid the anger that can lead to hatred and violence, the anger that can become spiteful or jealous; the anger that can fester and eat away at us; the anger that can tear down and destroy the dignity and reputation of another. If we seek life and wholeness, we will refuse to degrade others with our angry words – be they insults, gossip, or manipulative “back-stabbing”.

Jesus goes even further and says, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister.”

Jesus tells us that it is more important to seek reconciliation with our brother or sister, than to seek favor from God, that we should leave our gifts for God before the altar and immediately seek to make amends. Our first and foremost duty to God is to heal our relationships with each other wherever and whenever needed.

Following God’s laws and statutes and the 10 commandments, doesn’t make things better for God, they make the world better for us, for all of us – They make us better human beings and get us closer to God’s vision for a united and harmonious creation.

Following God’s law is not how we win God’s favor, it is how we participate in building God’s kingdom here on earth.

God’s most repeated law is variations on protecting widows, orphans, and sojourners – another word for refugees and migrants.

In Deuteronomy it says, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge….You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the refugees who are in your land within your towns.”

Many Psalms echo these sentiments and the prophets repeatedly proclaim them as we hear from Malachi, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.”

First John puts it most succinctly, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

God expects us to take care of each other, to make room for the refugee, the widow, and the orphan…NOT to reject and arrest refugees, or to make their children orphans, or to create widows by tearing families apart, or denying them entry and sending them back into violence and fear we cannot fathom.

Our modern symbol of justice is blindfolded. This “blind” justice is intended to be unaware of status, fame or economic resources, ensuring that all people are equal under the law. However, that blindness too often includes turning a blind eye to the humanity of those being judged by the law.

Law for law’s sake, can only end up as cold-hearted legalism, and while it may preserve a kind of truce among people, it can never lead society, or the individuals in it, to God’s dream of a creative, connected, glorious wholeness.

The new law that Jesus brought about – or rather the fulfilled law, the complete law – is not blind. Rather it sees with incredible clarity and compassion, right through to the dignity and humanity of all people. Jesus new law, invites us all to release our obsession with the letter of the law, and allow our hearts to be inscribed, to allow our hearts to be the place where God’s law does its work.

If we will follow Jesus into this “living by heart” we will discover that God’s law, in its complete, heart-capturing form, leads us to life, and teaches us to be life-bringers with everyone we encounter.

God’s law will only be complete when it is written on our hearts. It can only give us life and bring people together when it is carved into the very core of our being and becomes who we are and how we are together…

…in compassionate, caring, community, united as one body and one heart, in and through Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Did you hear?

Those who break the commandments shall be called least…

But did you notice one more thing?

They are still in God’s kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t throw anyone out.

Neither should we.

After Everyone Has Gone

candle smoking 2

After everyone has gone
I linger in the dark
like the tendrils of smoke
drifting from the Christ candle
from all those candles
Blown out
but not extinguished

I have collected all the colorful
Christmas Eve programs
strewn like confetti
on the worn wooden pews

I have switched off the lights
balcony, back hall,
front and rear chandeliers
choir loft and cross spotlight

The only light
streams in through the clear glass windows
glowing streaks of starlight, moonlight, ghostlight,
God light

I kneel by the table overflowing with blood red poinsettias
not such a bad place to end my busy days
kneeling here at Jesus table
where all are so warmly welcomed

Kneeling

Is so uncomfortable
I’m never quite sure I will be able to rise again

God chuckles

and lifts me up on eagle’s wings
for one breathless moment
I sail soaked in star shine
Glimpsing
All that has ever been
All that is
And all that will ever be

I blink

I sigh

There is only a toy manger
with a baby doll inside
smiling sweetly at me

Feeling slightly silly

I smile back

For one more stolen moment
I linger in the dark
after everyone has gone

But I am not alone.

One Voice Singing in the Wilderness!

st-john-the-baptist-jen-nortonLuke 3: 2 – 20

One of my favorite pictures of my son, Fisher, is from one of his marching band competitions at MetLife Stadium. It is a close-up of him in his uniform with the field a green blur behind him. He is holding a mallet in each hand and he is leaning in, poised expectantly over his marimba keyboard.

His head is turned slightly and I know he is gazing intently at the Pit Director…waiting for his cue, anticipating his entrance. He stands, engaged, poised and ready to do his part in bringing the music to life.  I love seeing him captured in that moment of urgent waiting.

It suddenly seemed like such an Advent moment…that barely breathing, eyes wide open, “get ready waiting” for something momentous about to happen….

That’s Advent waiting….

Advent waiting is not at all like waiting for a bus or a train…that impatient, distracted waiting…that bored waiting and waiting to simply get where you are going.  Advent waiting is not at all like waiting in the doctor’s office…”killing time”…waiting to be next…waiting for your turn…waiting to be out of there!

Advent waiting is not like trapped waiting in the line at the grocery store…mindlessly browsing tabloid titles to see if there really are aliens, or miracle potato chip diets, or what famous couple has broken up…again…

Advent waiting is more like waiting for beloved company to arrive that you haven’t seen in far too long…Advent waiting is like waiting to finally be discharged from the hospital and go home…Advent waiting is smelling spicy pumpkin pie baking in the oven and checking the timer again and again to see how many more minutes before it comes out warm and ready to slice….

And, of course, Advent waiting is a pregnant young woman and her faithful husband frantically searching for a safe place to shelter and welcome their son into this world…

But it takes more than waiting and watching for Fisher to know the precise moment to lower his mallets and join in the music….it takes preparation and practice, lots and lots of practice.

Preparation is also a part of Advent.

John the Baptist is in the Jordan wilderness, preparing the way, preparing the way of the Lord, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John is waiting and watching and preparing for the one who will come after him to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John tells the people, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor;  for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John is telling his followers not to rest on their laurels or their history. John tells the crowd that their work is never done, their purpose is never fulfilled, and that their ability to bear good fruit is limited only by their lack of work and preparation.

So, the people come to John and ask him, “What then should we do?”

John answers, “If you have two coats, share with someone who doesn’t have any; share your food.”  He instructs tax collectors to collect no more than the designated amount.  He tells them to refrain from graft and skimming, to refrain from upping the tax demand and then keeping the difference for themselves…it is why tax collectors were so hated…they used their power and authority to bilk and prey upon the powerless among their own people…

Soldiers also come to John and ask, “What then should we do?”  John says not to extort money using threats or false accusations. He instructs them not to use their power and might in order to bully and take advantage of those who are powerless.

John’s words still ring true for us today where too many people in positions of power and authority still bilk and prey upon the powerless for their own political agendas and their own personal gain.

John’s voice crying out for repentance and justice, reminds us all of God’s instructions to take care of the weak, not to exploit them, to make sure that others have the equivalent of what you have;  that if you are eating, ensure that others are eating;  if you are clothed, make sure you are clothing others. If you have shelter, then you must endeavor to provide shelter and sanctuary for others who have no place to go.

So, “What then should WE do,”..to prepare ourselves, to be watchful and ready to reach out and act in God’s name, to join in and do our part in bringing God’s kingdom to life? How can we prepare ourselves to help in making the world not just whole, but holy?

We prepare ourselves the way musicians do, by practicing.  That’s one of the things we are doing here when we gather to worship together. We are practicing.

We practice becoming one mind in Christ, by reciting scripture, and singing, and praying together, becoming one voice. When we sing and pray out loud together, we even begin breathing as one.  W…e become one great breathing, speaking, singing, instrument… God’s instrument… …making holy music together… …becoming God’s love song …rejoicing together in God’s name.

When we reach out and offer a sign of Christ’s peace to each other, we are practicing welcoming our neighbor, we are practicing putting God’s Word into action in the world…with that act of putting out our hand in Jesus name, we are imitating Jesus reaching out to everyone he met, not hesitating to stop and turn aside from his intended path, never hesitating to touch…to see, to heal…anyone…and everyone.

We join in saying Confession, to practice repentance to release our hearts from their burdens and to remind ourselves that we aren’t perfect…but that we are perfectly loved.  We confess, so that we learn what a gift it is to receive grace and forgiveness, so that we can open our hearts and offer grace and forgiveness to others.

We gather for Communion to practice making room for everyone….and to remember that even the simplest acts in our lives, eating and drinking, when shared with others, become sacred and holy.

We gather each week, so that the lessons we read and hear, become a part of us, God’s Word sinking into our flesh and bones, layer after layer…week after week…month after month…until enacting God’s word becomes a reflex.

Just like Fisher poised and waiting who has practiced his part until he doesn’t have to think about it…he trusts the director, the music, and the other musicians, he trusts his body and his heart…and when the moment comes…he moves…he acts…without hesitation…doing his part to bring the music to life.

We come here each week to prepare a way for the Lord…to prepare our hearts to be ready to move at God’s command…to reach out without thinking or hesitation when there is need…We practice until God’s Word becomes who we are and how we are in the world.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written when he was in prison, waiting to see if he would be executed. Expecting death, he fearlessly wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What then should we do, to prepare a way for the Lord?

Let us practice urgent, engaged, Advent waiting, gazing intently for signs of our creator…waiting for God’s cue, anticipating God’s entrance. Let us join together and stand, engaged, poised and ready to do our part in bringing God’s kingdom to life…

Acting without thinking about it…

Trusting in our bones, trusting with all our hearts, and above all else, trusting in God.

Fear not! Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

It is Advent.

The Lord is near!!

 

Shadowlight

cloudy moon

I’m living in the embrace of Night
to see what miracles come to light.
When the horn sounds
and the walls come tumbling down
and the barriers fall
and the curtain in the Temple is torn
from top to bottom
allowing God to escape
from the fisted heart
which opens and sets the spirit free.

I’m living in the embrace of Night
to see what dreams will come to light.
When we see each other clearly
in the dark of light
when we breathe easy in the spirit of night
What treasures will pour forth when
we dance with God?
What dreams will we find
in the heart of shadowlight?

God called light Day and darkness Night
There was evening, there was morning those liminal times
when day and night meet, mingle, and merge
where familiar landscape becomes unfamiliar terrain
When there is a moment where the world hangs
suspended
between now and then, was and will be,
known and unknown,
dark light and bright night.

I’m living in the embrace of Night
to see what visions will come to light.
When we lay on God’s altar
looking deep into the eyes of Abraham
who’s sharp blade slices through the veils of who we think we are
revealing how we ought to be when the log falls from our eyes
and the pain we see
blinds us with its glare.

When we stand once again, naked in the garden
Let us stand in the blaze of moon
wrapped in the peace of stars
secure in the sacred starkness of night light.

I’m living in the embrace of Night
to see what will be born in its light
to discover how the spirit takes flight
When we can dance in darkness
and see only light.

Mary Sings! A Way of Peace!

Nativity_mary_elizabethLuke 1: 39 – 56

Pregnant Mary comes to visit her older cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth’s baby, will grow up to be John the Baptizer and we all know who Mary’s son is and will be. Elizabeth sees Mary and her child leaps in her womb and she is filled with the Holy Spirit!

She exclaims and cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb….as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.”  And Mary responds, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

This passage is often called Mary’s Song of Praise. Here she is a single, unwed mother who is impoverished – at least that is our best guess, because in those days you were pretty much either rich or poor – there was no such thing as a middle class.

For being unwed and pregnant, she could be stoned to death for the crime of adultery. She could be set aside by her fiance, Joseph. She could be shunned by her parents, her family, her friends, her entire village. She could end up an outcast, begging, or worse, to support herself and her baby to be.

This is what she knew she was possible when she said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This is what she knew was possible if she said, “yes” to God. And she said, “yes” anyway. And she learned what is possible when you put your trust and your life into God’s hands.

With so many reasons to show up at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, filled with fear and despair, singing a song of Lament, instead, Mary sings a song of praise, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit…and an unborn baby leaps with joy.

Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

So, what does it mean to magnify the Lord?

Well, what does a magnifying glass do? A magnifying glass enlarges things and lets us see them up close, it lets us see things more clearly. A magnifying glass also reveals things we can’t or don’t normally see. It helps us to see the world around us in new and different ways.

I love using the magnification feature on my camera. The higher the magnification, the more it reveals the intricacy and details of the most seemingly ordinary things around us.  Magnification reveals the delicate veins of a flower petal, the soft furriness of a bumble bee, and the perfectly spherical drops of rain hanging from the tips of each pine needle.

A magnifying glass has another property as well. It can focus light into an intense concentrated beam that can set things on fire. Did you ever try to do that as a kid? Did you ever take some dry leaves and grass and hold a magnifying glass just right and concentrate that beam of light in one spot, and watch with growing excitement as it began to smoke…

…and can you remember the wild exhilaration of seeing that first tiny red glow…and then the excitement of that first tiny flame bursting into life!!!!

That is one way to think of our Advent adventure…taking a beam of a light that shone over a manger 2,000 years ago, and concentrating it, magnifying it with our souls, with growing excitement, until it bursts once again into the world and ignites our hearts, making us leap with joy!

Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, do not quench the Spirit, hold fast to what is good.”  Really? Rejoice always? Give thanks in all circumstances? Even in the midst of sorrow, loss, fear, despair, frustration, anger, and even death?

How are we supposed to do that?

Mary teaches us how. In the face of possibly being ostracized, outcast, and even killed, she focuses her heart on God and sings a song of praise. She magnifies the Lord with her soul and with her life. She surrenders her life to God, and in surrendering, she finds peace. Peace that passes all human understanding.

And isn’t that what her son, Jesus, does as well?

It was this time of year four years ago that we were dealing with Bob’s Dad dying from brain cancer. He wanted to stay home and Bob and his seven siblings and all the spouses, did our best to set-up rotations to allow him to die in his own home, which he did that January.

We were not the least bit prepared for Bob’s Mom to be diagnosed with Esophogeal cancer not even three months after his Dad died. Taking care of both of them was challenging as many of you know from your own experiences taking care of sick and dying loved ones.

We set up a group email for the whole family, and we all started emailing each other every day and every single email ended with variations of “I am so thankful to have all of you.” “I realize how much I appreciate all of you.” “I thank God for all my family.” “I couldn’t get through this without all of you.” “I am praying for Mom and Dad and for all of you.”

We didn’t know it, but in the midst of our sorrow, and our grief, and our struggles, we were singing songs of praise to God. Our souls were magnifying the Lord, bringing God more clearly into focus, and shining God’s light like a laser beam on what was most important in our lives…and that was each other.

Our focus became those family connections that were our lifeline. Having each other and depending on God became the light that led us through those dark days.

What are you magnifying in your life?

The positive aspects or the negative? What we focus on is what becomes magnified in our lives. When our negative emotions become our lens for looking at life, our problems can be magnified until they become larger than life, and they become overwhelming.

Magnifying the Lord with our soul, gives us a positive lens for viewing our lives and the events in our lives – it brings God into focus and let’s God become our focus. Looking at the world with God as our magnifying glass, enlarges what is good in our lives. It clarifies what is most important. Then we can turn around and become God’s magnifying glass, concentrating God’s light through our hearts and out into the world.

Mary tells us to magnify the Lord, to focus on God and God’s love for us and for this world. Having faith in God’s action in our lives allows hope to grow. Having faith in God’s action in the world allows us to become God’s peace. Hope and peace create space for Joy in our lives, even in the midst of suffering.

Advent is our season for making room. Making room for hope. Making room for peace. Making room for joy, and making room in our hearts for Jesus to be born again into our lives.

Maybe that’s one reason why God sends the hope and salvation for the world to be born as a babe in a manger…what better way to fill us with the Holy Spirit and make our hearts within us leap for joy, than the gurgling coo, of a newborn!

Let us prepare the way for Jesus arrival, let us prepare!

While Mary sings….

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD!

 

Zechariah Sings! The Way of Hope!

Zechariah singsLuke 1: 57 – 80

Like their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth are blessed with a son in their old age.  Zechariah is a priest, serving in the Temple when an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”

Zechariah can’t believe it and he says to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replies, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God…because you did not believe my words…you will become mute…until these things occur.”

After months of being unable to utter a word, when John is born, Zechariah sings! In her book, “Through the Advent Door”, Jan Richardson says, “Zechariah sings! Full of wild hope, he sings! Knowing the state of the world, he sings.”

Zechariah’s son is born and he sings a song of praise to God…he sings a song of hope for the future – the future day when the light of God’s dawn shall break upon us…and in breaking upon us…the dawning light will finally, fully, break us open to God, Alpha and Omega…beginning and ending and beginning again.

Advent is our time between ending and beginning…Advent is where we stand in a place of already been and not yet come…God’s light has come AND, God’s light is coming.

His son John is born, and “Zechariah sings! Full of wild hope, he sings! Knowing the state of the world, he sings.”

One of the things we love about Advent is that it’s our time to sing our favorite seasonal songs.  Just as there are special foods we only make for the holidays, there is special music woven deep inside us that heralds Jesus coming again into the world.

There are songs that fill us with the promise of new beginnings, joy for the world, peace on earth, and hope for humanity. We sing and we remember God’s ancient and eternal promise of salvation and redemption.

God wraps his promise of salvation in the most beloved of gifts, A baby. All the hope for the world, wrapped in the Word made flesh. We gather at our Communion table, this community table and remember God’s gift of Jesus in a manger, given to us again and again every Christmas.  Jesus, the gift that God never tires of giving us.  We gather at Christ’s table, and our hearts join in singing, “For unto us a child is born, unto us, a child is given…”

What more blessed song is there than a baby’s borning cry that rewards a mother’s labor…and erases her cries of pain.  There is such promise in a new born, all things are possible. We look at a baby and we are inspired to dream dreams of a bright and happy future.

We wish better for them than what we had, no matter how successful we have been or, all the more, if we have struggled and suffered, we wish a better world for our children…for ALL children.  A baby reminds us that life continues. Babies bring joy in the present, and hope for the future.

Zechariah sings for his son a song of hope for a better world. “You will go before the Lord to prepare his way: to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of sins; the dawn from on high will break upon us…to give light to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.”

We are always living in the shadow of death. Our own mortality is always a present reality. The creations of humankind are fleeting, an inhalation and exhalation of breath, a mere blink in the eye of eternal eons.  And the increasing acts of human violence and the severity of recent natural events are casting fear and darkness all over the world.

The days grow shorter, the nights get longer, and we sit in Advent darkness feeling the cold, shadow of death stealing over us…feeling despair and hopelessness, discouragement, and dismay nipping at our hearts…and in this creeping darkness…

John’s task is to “go before the Lord to prepare his way,” to “guide our feet into the way of peace,” and to give light to those sitting in darkness.  It is the light of Hope that starts us on our Advent journey. Hope lets us take that hardest, first fearful step into the darkness of the unknown future always just up ahead.

I had never realized until my son told me in grade school, that there were originally two ships that set sail for the New World. They were called the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell leaked so badly that after only a few days, both ships had to return to England.  Everyone had to get on the Mayflower. The Mayflower, now carrying twice as many passengers and far less supplies, set out for the New World alone.

During a storm, the main beam cracked and had to be repaired using a large iron screw.

They began to run out of food and fresh water.

Nine weeks into their voyage, crowded, cramped, sick, hungry, and afraid, so very afraid, some of the pilgrims wanted to give up and turn back.  They all gathered together on the deck of the ship and they prayed.

And in spite of their fear, without knowing where they were going…or when they would get there…or even IF they would get there, they put their faith in God.

They chose to stay on the path where Hope was leading them. They chose the path that gave them Hope for a better world for themselves and for their children.

Isn’t that what we all want? A better world, especially for our children?

Our first step in darkening days, is to step forward in Hope even when we can’t see God’s road ahead. To step forward and to watch, eyes and hearts straining to glimpse the dawn…straining to see first light, God’s light dawning – dawning anew on Christmas Day.  Straining, with all our heart and mind and soul, to stay on the path where Hope, not fear, where Hope will lead us.

It is Advent.

Our season when we gather ’round this table and we listen for the old, familiar songs. This table sings to us of God’s promises fulfilled, and God’s promises yet to come. This table sings to us of what was, what is, and what will be!

This table sings to us of God’s glory and God’s grace.  This table fills us with songs of peace on earth, good will toward all people; fills us with Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy; and sends us out to go and sing from the mountaintops, our ancient Christmas songs of hope and peace and God’s love for all people who on earth do dwell.

His son is born….and Zechariah sings.

Full of wild hope, he sings. Knowing the state of the world, he sings.

Can we sing this Advent season?

With the sounds of bombs and gunshots echoing in our hearts?

Can we stand up and sing?

Can we sing Songs of praise…songs of thanksgiving…songs of joy?

Even knowing the state of the world we live in….

Can we sing songs of wild Hope? and Peace?

The child being born again in the manger says, we must sing.
WE MUST SING!

-We must sing of God’s promised new day…
-We must sing of God’s kingdom here on earth….
-We must sing glad tidings of great joy….

We, good Christians All, must sing,

If not us,

then who?