Come among us and scatter the darkness
The third Sunday of Advent is sometimes known as “stir up Sunday” thanks to the beginning of the collect for today: Stir up your power, O Lord.
I remember years ago a sermon during which the preacher stood in the pulpit with a wooden spoon, making stirring notions, reminding us that indeed it was “stir up Sunday.”
And I kind of didn’t get it.
He had been a priest for many many years, and maybe his delight in spoon-waving was connected to something in his past, something that I was not able to connect with myself.
Maybe he liked the idea of poking God with a spoon to get God to gather up and get going.
Maybe his mother was a great cook.
Maybe he was very tired by the third Sunday of Advent and needed a prop to capture the attention of the weary faithful who were ready for Christmas to hurry up and just get here.
Who knows? But I have to admit I sure have remembered it.
So I guess it worked.
And years later here we are urging God to stir up the Divine Power again, and I am reminded that actually I do love this collect; I love all the Advent collects but this one especially because we are asking God to come among us, just like we heard Isaiah asking God to tear open the heavens and come down on the first Sunday of this season.
This is a significant theme of Advent, not only preparing for but urgently wishing for the presence of God among us as the nights get so long and life gets so hard. This year life has been especially hard for so many. This year has brought trouble and grief and loss like never before and we are in great need of hope.
Which is also a theme of Advent, the hope of God’s coming among us. We are hoping once again that God’s power will heal us, that we will be the recipients of God’s mercy and God’s grace. We are praying for deliverance and salvation.
This is the core of Advent right here, praying for deliverance and salvation, praying for God to come among us and make that happen even though we don’t deserve it. As the collect says, we know we are sorely hindered by our sins, and while this hard to admit, it is a relief to say it out loud, I think. Because trying to pretend like we are perfect and in no need of mercy and grace just makes us feel like we’re also dreading God finding out who we really are.
That’s not hope, that’s fear.
But God has always called us to hope and maybe the best we can muster sometimes is the hope that by coming among us and getting to know us, God will not utter a big sigh but will have compassion on our weaknesses and our confused-ness and our frequent falling short-ness. We hope that indeed it is mercy and grace that we will receive this very year and not a lump of coal in our Christmas stockings.
We humans are difficult creatures. We are petty and selfish and we think we are a lot better than we really are. We find it easier to ignore stuff we don’t like in favor of focusing on what we want to be true. We don’t know how to put ourselves in another’s shoes and instead imagine that our experience is everyone’s experience unless they just make bad choices and have different experiences that are their own fault. We want people to deserve what they get and get what they deserve.
But the beauty of this season is that God is planning on saving us anyway. God is planning on coming among us to be with us and to encourage us when it would be perfectly understandable for God to stand over us and cluck the Holy Tongue and shake the Holy Head and sigh really loudly at our folly and our foibles.
But instead God plans on saving us. Because God loves us anyway.
This is not new. Way back in the days of Noah, God realized that people were going to mess up a lot even after they’d been warned and even after they’d been saved, and they were going to suffer a lot of consequences from their (our) own actions despite God’s hopes for us, and so God decided to just focus on love from then on. God decided that saying over and over again, “You will be my people and I will be your God” is really the best message and that grace and mercy are really the best gifts.
As the birth of our savior draws near, it is time for us to take leave of one another. We have journeyed together for a while through a wilderness that challenged us but also, I hope, helped us see ourselves more clearly.
One thing I have seen clearly that this congregation of St. Michael’s is filled with love and caring and it has been an honor to be among you. But now our paths are diverging and it is time to say goodbye.
Our seasonal Advent blessing wishes the light of Christ to go before you to scatter the darkness from before your path, and I couldn’t wish a better blessing for you. I wish you that light to illuminate the way, that path, that God is calling you to follow now. I wish you the light of the stars in the night sky to guide you on your journey into new life, whatever shape that takes.
It is always new life that God wants for us, new life to invigorate us, and sometimes being able to receive that new life means that we have to let go of what we’ve long been holding onto.
But the light will shine before you and show you the path that awaits.
So don’t be afraid. God will be with you.