The Third Sunday of Advent: December 16, 2012
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Preacher: Kimberlee Auletta, Candidate for Holy Orders sponsored by St. Michael’s Church.
Since I was a child, Advent has always been my favorite season. There were three things that were particularly exciting and appealing to me about the season:
- The advent calendar
- The crèche and
- The arrival of Santa sometime in the wee hours of Christmas.
I’ve always loved advent calendars. My sister and I each got to choose our own, and every day I would wake up filled with excitement to find that little number on the little door that usually covered in just a little bit of glitter. I’d peel open that panel and depending on the year, it would either reveal a picture or a piece of chocolate. As the month went on it seemed as if the panels would just get a little bigger, and even had two doors to open. That would mean bigger pieces of chocolate inside. Of course, this lead to my next two favorite things, running to put the baby Jesus into the crèche on Christmas morning and to see all the gifts that Santa had left for us. Christmas morning I usually woke up first and that would mean I would go and shake my sister Kelli up, urging her to quickly get out of bed so we could go out to the living room. A rule growing up – neither she nor I were allowed to enter the living room on Christmas morning without the other. My parents were keenly aware of the fact that she and I would actually fight over who would get to put baby Jesus in the manger and we’d often run to do this before we even looked under the tree.
Of course all of the carols and the trees and the cookies were great too, but there was something about the excitement created by the anticipation of calendar, the baby Jesus and Santa that was so fun and exciting – and rarely did it disappoint.
Advent and the Christmas season, when experienced through the eyes of a child, is magical. Their open-eyed wonderment at all around them, can, if we let it, open our hearts, make us smile and even let out a laugh. As adults, the season and the coming of Christmas often is a time of long lists and obligations. Who is going to create the magic of the season if we don’t? We busy ourselves with buying gifts, decorating our homes, baking cookies and making a much loved but labor intensive meal with the idea that we are preparing the way we are supposed to be. The tree is supposed to be 8 and a half feet high, the cookies are supposed to look as good as Martha Stewart’s, the dinner is supposed to be served at 2:00 pm, etc, etc, etc. But really, in this time of expectation, are we really prepared?
In today’s Gospel reading, John is telling these crowds, this brood of vipers as he calls them – that they need to prepare themselves – they need to prepare themselves for the one who is coming who is more powerful than John; John isn’t even worthy of untying this guy’s sandals – they need to prepare themselves for the one who is going to baptize them, not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire. How on earth can they be prepared for the one who is coming?
On the surface, what John tells them to do seems so simple – if you have two coats, share with someone who has none; the same with food; don’t use your position of power for your own personal gain – be satisfied with what you have. Think about it – during this season many of us willingly give up gently worn coats to the NY Cares coat drive; we buy gifts for families less fortunate for our own, we serve meals and give food to those who are hungry – it seems so simple. And yes, in a way it is. We have an extra coat, an extra toy, extra food – it can be easy for us to share.
But if we go deeper, dig down a layer or two – what John is asking them and asking us to do is to prepare our hearts. This isn’t just about it being Christmas time and therefore we are always generous – this is about opening our hearts – and that is often not so simple. If we think for a moment about why seeing a child experience the joy of Christmas can be so wonderful for us, I think it is because there hearts tend to be so much more open than ours.
Their hearts might not yet have experienced the heart ache and heart break that we have – the loss of a spouse or a relative or a close friend; divorce or love that just didn’t or couldn’t work out; hopes and dreams that have been dashed or put down; these are just some of the personal experiences we might have experienced because there is heart ache and heart break that communities can experience too: the loss of a beloved friend and parishioner, like our dear Margaret Baum; or the losses of our neighbors from Hurricane Sandy and so horribly and tragically, the heart ache and heart break caused by the senseless killing of 20 children and 7 adults in Newtown on Friday.
How on earth are we to prepare our hearts for Jesus when our hearts and the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people are broken and aching? There is a darkness that seems to descend trying to overtake the light and hope of life and of this season. Threatening to close our hearts a little more.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” And while it’s almost impossible to make sense out of the senseless, the instinct to get angry and cast blame and accuse people of not acting can grow strong during times like these. You only need to look in the media or on Facebook.
It is more important than ever to let love and light triumph in preparing our hearts – loving one another like God loves us. God who loves us so much that he sent his only son to live among us, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to God. It is more important than ever to prepare our hearts because we cannot allow ourselves to become overcome by darkness – we cannot allow our hearts to close. And loving each other, loving God, allowing God to love us also means allowing ourselves to experience heart ache and the heart break, knowing that it will not consume us. An open prepared heart doesn’t mean that there never is darkness, that there never is anger. It means that even in the face and experience of darkness and anger, light and love can prevail.
I want to close with a prayer written for the families of Sandy Hook by Marianne Williamson:
Prayer for Connecticut
For those who bear tonight the unbearable burden of unimaginable grief, who in their agony yell at the forces of fate… For those who moan and those who faint, for those who rage and those who pray, we moan and pray along with you. For now, those were our children too. Dear God, May a legion of angels come upon these parents. Bring to them an otherworldly touch, an otherworldly comfort an otherworldly sense that their children are well– that they are safe with God, and shall be with them always. Give to those who grieve what no mortal can give… the touch of Your Hand upon their heart. May all touched by this darkness be lit by Your grace. Please wipe away all tears, dear God. as only You can do. Amen