An Advent sermon in the middle of Holy Week? So it happens. I’ve got a whole bunch of past sermons to feature, so look for it in the days to come! To watch this sermon live, head over to the church’s Facebook page!
Perhaps like you, we became Puzzle People soon after the pandemic began. Granted, we hadn’t exactly been Puzzle People before embarking on 250, 500, 750 and 1000-piece puzzles – and when I say “we” I mostly mean my husband, while the boys looked on, “helping,” and I cheered all three of them on from the other room, browsing the Internet and buying more puzzles.
On one memorable puzzle occasion, the three of them put together a Batman puzzle one of the boys had gotten their daddy for Christmas one year. Of course, this old preschool believed that the best present a four-year old could give his or her parent could be found in raiding presents from the storage unit full of donated items for the upcoming yearly garage sale.
By the time the pandemic hit, years after the fact, and stay-at-home orders found us staying at home, all by our lonesome four selves, fresh out of creative ideas and without another puzzle in sight (yet), we decided to put that Batman puzzle together …only to find that it was a 999-piece puzzle, one piece short of a full set and missing part of Batman’s left hand.
When our family does a puzzle, we pull out all the edge pieces. We group similar colors together. And even though all the yet-to-be-fitted-together pieces of the puzzle can feel overwhelming at first, we commit to building the picture we see on the front of the box, one itty-bitty irregular piece at a time.
In a way, writing a sermon isn’t too different for me, just as I imagine it’s not too different for you in other areas of your life.
Like I talked about last month, when I go to write a sermon, I sit with the text to see what will emerge, to see how various passages overlap and fit together. I markup the lectionary readings; I take notice; I wait.
This week, the first three passages got me all riled up, in a “Look, we’re smack dab in the middle of the season of Advent, and all this waiting and hoping for the One who is to come is a really good thing.” So, rejoice! Do not fear! Sing aloud! Give thanks! Surely God is my salvation, so I will trust and not be afraid.
I felt like shouting, I got this! I BELIEVE in the light that worms and wiggles its way into the darkest of places, shining here and there and everywhere …because when I read passages like this, full of exclamation points and positive accolades, believing in the Christ-child ain’t no thang but a chicken wing.
But then, the Gospel passage. What are we to make of the Baptizer who welcomes folks into his baptizing fold by saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Not exactly the welcome wagon I’d like to receive.
However, did you notice the singular question the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers all asked him: “What then should we do?” They wanted to know how to bear fruits worthy of repentance, how to not be a bad tree that is thrown into the fire.
Share with those who have none, John the Baptist says. Be honest. Be happy with what you’ve been given.
And, know that there is one who is more powerful, who’s coming real soon now, with the Spirit in tow. THIS good news is coming, and it’s better than you could ever ask or imagine.
And, for us, this Good News is already in your midst.
Sometimes, when I feel stuck, when the pieces of the puzzle haven’t quite lined up, I turn that stuck thing upside down. I work backwards to find a solution.
Years ago, when I was learning how to be a classroom teacher, my professors instructed us to invert our lesson plans and start from the end instead of from the beginning. Let the end goal fill in the blanks on everything that comes before it.
I think, when we’re putting together the pieces of this lectionary puzzle, it’s kind of the same; we start with the Gospel passage and work our way backwards. If we look at Luke first, we find our question, our end goal of sorts: “What then should we do?” And in Zephaniah, Isaiah and Philippians, we see an answer: See the Good News who is in your midst. See the One who is near.
In Zephaniah, the phrase “God is in your midst” is repeated twice as, over six verses, just as we are reminded of the past, present and future of God. In Isaiah, “great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel,” is the final line spoken. In Philippians, four simple words are declared: “the Lord is near.”
When we find ourselves wondering what we’re supposed to do, the answer is simple: look for the God who is already here. Look for the One who is close by.
When the season of Advent makes us feel displaced, when heaviness seems to permeate our world more than ever, when darkness feels like it’s taken up residence in our souls and in our neighborhoods, we hold a both-and kind of waiting for Christ, while recognizing that Christ – that God, that the Spirit – is already here.
A number of years ago, when I was going through a particularly hard time, a friend told me that all I needed to do was remember: “Even if you can’t see God now, try and see if you can remember God then …because if you can remember God then, chances are you’ll be able to see God now.”
She encouraged me to look back through old journals and photo albums, to take a trip down memory lane, to remember God then so I could see God now.
I don’t think it’s any different for us today: if, in the season of Advent, you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by darkness, unable to see the light, remember.
Remember when someone called you by name, when someone remembered your name. God, I don’t know if there’s anything better than to be called by name, to be known, to be seen. Felicia. Michael. Chloe. Katie. Jacob. Esmerelda. We call one another by name, accepting our belovedness through the way we speak to one another, in the way we honor what some call the deepest parts of ourselves, our names.
Remember when the Church showed up – when someone brought a meal or took you out to lunch. When someone checked in on you because they heard you were sick. When someone took the time to be a real, fleshy Christ to you.
Remember when God met you: on that hike. At the altar. While crossing the street, in the middle of a busy intersection.
Remember, remember, remember.
Because when and as we do, when we remember God then, we are tripped up, sparked, ignited to see God now.
In an old hymn. In the light of a candle. In the passing of the peace. In holy, ancient prayers. In a bounty of gifts placed underneath the Christmas tree for the children at Des Colores.
In a thousand, different ways, for we are a thousand, different, loved-by-God people. So, when we find ourselves asking, “What then should we do?” we remember to remember, to look and see the one who is already in our midst, the one who is nearby.
The one for whom we wait.
What say you? How are you tripped up, sparked, and ignited to see God right here, right now?