Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Day December 25, 2011

Light, Life, and the Incarnation The Rev. Dr. Howard J. Hess


I. Introduction. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The late night and early morning excitement of Christmas Eve and sunrise gift-giving has passed. We are left with the stillness of Christmas Day itself. In the stillness we read today’s beautiful Prologue from The Gospel of John. It is a wonderful portion of Scripture, singular in its depiction of Christ as The Logos, the light of the world. The first chapter of John invites us to see Christ differently than each of the other three canonical gospels. There is no birth story in John, only the Prologue followed immediately by the declarations of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and his selection of his first disciples. There is a reason why John leaves out the manger, the shepherds, the wise men, and even King Herod. This reason is integral to the way John wants to communicate the Gospel.


II. In the beginning. You see, it is not that John doesn’t know the many details of Jesus’ life. Remember, John is referred to as “the disciple who Jesus loved.” And it was John whom Jesus asked to watch over his mother after his death. The reason that John begins with the Prologue is to teach us that Jesus Christ the Logos, which in Greek means The Word, did not begin his active existence on Christmas morning. John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. “ We see clearly that John comprehends that Jesus Christ, the Logos, has always been. As the early Christians asserted: “There has never been a time when Jesus was not.”


We see here that Jesus has existed co-eternally with God and thus has never been limited by time or chronos, as we human beings understand time. There is no past, present, or future for Jesus Christ – only the eternal now. I believe that this is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”


However, our field of vision best comprehends and emphasizes the thirty-three year period that Jesus lived here on earth. Jesus’ existence prior to and following that brief life is much harder for us to imagine. Consequently, we tend to diminish Christ and fit him into what we know – our human lives -- but are less clear about how we can be like him in eternity, beyond time as we know it. John understands this temptation. He himself had been a hot-headed young man who pressed Jesus to make him prime minister in his earthly kingdom. But as John lived with Christ and learned from him, he became clear that Christ was so much more than he originally understood. Rather than making Jesus in his image, John committed to changing to become more like Christ. It is said that when John was very old, he was carried into the church services and could hardly speak. But in each service he would attempt to rise off of his stretcher and say, “Love one another.” His followers asked him why he repeated that so often, and his answer was that he was repeating what our Lord said. When we listen to John’s perspective, we are encouraged to enter the space where we see that our brief time in this life is just a small speck of what life with Christ will be like beyond our earthly time. Our life decisions, life goals, and even our attachment to life’s richness, should be tempered by the realization that our home here is temporary and brief.


III. There is so much more in the Prologue that we could focus upon today. We could consider the multiple meanings of the term Logos –logic, wisdom, or even the coherent force that binds the creative world together. But perhaps most important is that the Logos, Christ, was an active agent in creation. John wrote, “All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.” Further he writes, “What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.” We think very little about the idea that Christ was God’s agent in the creation of the universe. He was there when the light was separated from the darkness, and it was that light that created life. So the fact that Christ came a second time to redeem that which he created makes all the sense in the world. In Christ creation and redemption are closely linked.


Our challenge in comprehending the full mission of Jesus Christ, the Logos, is to realize that we can become more like him. Theologians call that “sanctification.” We are called upon to co-create with him and participate with him in redeeming that which is lost in this world. Each of us has built within us the capacity to create beauty and therefore to overcome darkness. The arrangements of flowers on this chancel attest to the creative beauty of what we can create; the music sung in this church is yet another. The way in which we love each other, walk through crises with one another, sit and watch and wait together are other examples of co-creating with Christ. Our charge this morning is not to leave the creating to Christ or even to others who we think are more Christ-like. We are to be Christ’s eyes, mouth, hands, and feet in this world. We are co-creating a new world with him and have only begun to scratch the surface of what our co-creative activities with Christ can be.


III. Conclusion. So there we are. John takes us to the same conclusion as Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but along a slightly different road. Today The Word is with us. Jesus Christ who has created us, redeemed us, and renewed us, has come to dwell within and between us. Let it be our intention to become co-creators with Christ in new, fresh, and powerful ways. Minister to others in his name, go where he directs us to go, and place all of our resources – financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual, into the effort of bringing Christ’s light into a struggling world. Amen.


Episcopal Church of the Ascension Christmas Eve 2011

Second Chances Rev. Dr. Howard J. Hess


I. Introduction. For me, Christmas is all about second chances. Jesus Christ was sent by his Father to give us a second chance -- a chance to be reborn and to live new lives filled with God’s grace. It has long been understood that Christ became one of us so that we could become one with him. There are signs of his solidarity with us throughout his life story, including the humble, ordinary circumstances into which Jesus was born. Nothing was meant to stand in the way of seeing that Jesus has always been one of us. His parents worried about their housing; they worried about how to protect him; and they worried about what the future would hold. The shepherds who were the guests at his first birthday party were among the most common of people, and the party was held in someone's stable. Understanding how Jesus came helps us comprehend why he came. God sent his son not as a king to have power over us, but rather as a Savior to walk among us. He came as the Messiah to bring light into the world and to give us a second chance at life. The angels called his coming “Good news of great joy to all people.”


II. I am absolutely clear that without the second chances given to me through the grace of God and by the many grace-filled people whom God has sent into my life, I would not be here with you tonight, using my God-given gifts as an ordained priest. Like the Apostle Paul, I often do those things that I wish I hadn't done, and fail to do many of the things I intend to do. In both big and small ways, on my own I frequently get it backwards. For example, several weeks ago I totally spaced that I was to read the last reading in the Advent Lessons and Carols service. I, and the entire congregation, sat and waited for the final lector to step up, and no one came. Finally through the gentle nudging of the people around me, I realized that the person we were all waiting for was me. I felt badly about my miss-step.

Fr. Brett also had a miss-step that night. On his way to this same service (and I tell this with his permission), Fr. Brett was so engrossed in listening to a Packers’ game, that he jumped from his car, locked the car door, and rushed into the sacristy to robe, only to realize that he had locked his keys in his running car and had no way to unlock the car doors. Later, due to the good graces of Carla, his wife, the keys were retrieved. The truth of that night and of many other nights in our lives is that we will inevitably fall short. When we do, Jesus Christ is with us to say what a good parent often says to a beloved child: “Yes, you could have done better. But hopefully, you were doing your best, and we all learn from our mistakes.”


III. But these examples illustrate only the small ways we can get it backwards. Many of the ways in which we fall short are much more serious. We hurt, sometimes deeply hurt, those we care about, and we walk away from people who need us. Many of us wish that we could go back in time and take corrective actions in our marriages, our relationships with our children, our parents, or our friends; live our lives in healthier ways; or make wiser professional decisions. Having spent much of my life as a psychotherapist, I know how powerful past regrets and future fears can be. Anxiety, depression, social isolation, and addiction feed upon such regrets and fears.


But here is the good news of Christmas. Christ came into this world to give us a second chance. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection are the consummate expression of God's love for us. The transcendent God of the Hebrew Scriptures became the imminent God of the here and now. We are no longer left with a God who seems distant; instead we have intimate access to a God who invites us into a close relationship, knowing full well where and how often we have fallen short. Our God sees us not as completed creations, but rather human beings in the process of becoming.

That's the inherent nature of God’s grace -- a core unconditional love that acts as a catalyst to help us see the beauty God has built into each one of us. The short reading from Titus clearly links the birth of Christ with our own rebirth. Through the saving grace given to us in Jesus Christ, we are to become Godly people redeemed “from all iniquity” and “zealous for good deeds.”


IV. But there is a caveat. God's gift of new life, of second chances, must be received and acted upon. Grace offered does not automatically result in grace received. A number of years ago, I had to confront the distinction between cheap grace and reconciling grace. I had deeply hurt someone that I cared about very much and asked for forgiveness for my hurtful actions. But I was not really willing to confront my own need to repent for my behavior and strive to change. I wanted grace without conversion and forgiveness without repentance – without turning around and changing the direction of my life. I am deeply grateful that part of the grace extended by God to me was the time I needed to have the change of heart that opened the way to a real second chance.


Recently, Peg, my wife, and I went to St. Petersburg, Russia. While there we visited the world famous Hermitage. As some of you know, our trip included a pilgrimage to see Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” We were able to spend time on two different days gazing at the painting and taking in every detail. The eyes of the Prodigal’s father are fixed upon this beaten down, worn out son who kneels before him. Rembrandt’s painting conveys the son’s deep repentance and the father’s deep compassion. The Prodigal had returned, broken, but alive. He sought his father’s forgiveness, and his father forgave him, giving him a second chance.


Tonight I am reminded that the baby born to Mary and Joseph grew up to be a storyteller. One of his most famous stories, or parables, is this tale of the young man – the Prodigal -- who foolishly squandered his inheritance and deeply hurt those who loved him. In desperation he returned home, hoping, but not daring to expect, mercy. What he didn’t know is that for many years his father had waited at the city gate each day for him to return. Then one day his father saw a figure in the distance. He looked, he hoped, and then, setting all decorum aside, he pulled up his long robes and ran to welcome his son home, just as God waits to welcome us home.


So, this evening, like Mary, we are asked to ponder in our hearts the meaning of Christ’s in-breaking into our world. Christ the baby in Bethlehem, Christ the story teller and healer, and Christ the agent of new life. Christ came to actively engage us in the Gospel story. Tonight we are again witnesses to the Incarnation of God’s son; we are followers of the man he became; and we are constantly offered second chances to more fully become the children of a God who always welcomes us home -- now, tomorrow, and for all eternity.


V. Conclusion. Here then is the gift that God gives us this Christmas. Through the in-breaking of God into this world in the form of a vulnerable human baby, light penetrates darkness and redemption overcomes despair. Because of the gift of Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no mistake that cannot be forgiven, no hurt that cannot be healed. Because of the gift of Jesus Christ, redemption, reconciliation, and resurrection trump all other forces in this world and the next. This Christmas if there is any question about how much God loves you, let it go. If you have any second chances, any second chances waiting for you, then take them now. And if you need to be a part of a second chance for someone else, don’t hold back. Pull up your robes and run to him or her. Second chances offered, accepted, and shared are at the heart of God’s incarnate, energetic presence in the world. Amen.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Abundant Life is Messy

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

4th Sunday of Advent Sermon – 8:00 and 10:30am

Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

RCL Advent 4 Year B 12/18/2011

Scripture Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16, Canticle 15 (Magnificat) Luke 1:46-55, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

Sermon Text:

So the disadvantage of being blessed to serve in a parish

with many gifted preachers,

is that I get to start my preaching in Advent,

at the very end of the season,

following a particularly powerful, spirit-filled Sermon by our deacon,

and to top it all off,

I get to try to talk about a mystery.

It strikes me as kind of messy.


How does one talk about, much less explain,

a mystery?


One of the strengths of our tradition,

and one that keeps us from appealing to a much

wider group of people,

people who want things explained in neat easy answers,

what’s different about us,

is that we are apparently comfortable

living in tension,

and celebrating the mysteries of faith

without trying to explain them too much, for fear

that we might be wrong,

or somehow diminish the spiritual depth of the mystery.


Today, with the annunciation to the virgin Mary,

we get to ponder one of the great mysteries of the faith,

as we prepare for that even greater mystery,

the Incarnation.

But in pondering it, I'm going to challenge you,

to make this more than an intellectual exercise.

Because the danger we fall into, in celebrating mystery,

is leaving our faith in our heads,

and not letting it get into our hearts.

God wants to get into our hearts,

and into our lives,

God wants to be among us in the flesh,

but in order to do that he has to dwell in us,

in our flesh.

And while that is a great mystery,

which refuses our best attempts at explanation or excuse,

it is more important to experience it,

than explain it.


So let me tell you a story that strikes at the heart.

A friend of mine used to be a Methodist,

and he was at an event where they were discussing,

the beliefs held in common,

or at least supposed to be held in common by Methodists,

as described in their Book of Discipline.


They did an exercise that some of you here did,

when we recently had discussions

about controversial subjects.

You may then remember,

that we stood up in the parish hall,

and the leader asked us to stand

on either side of the room,

based on our agreement or disagreement with

some trivial or controversial subjects.

We shuffled back and forth over issues like,

High Church or Low Church,

Amazing Grace or Lift High The Cross,

and yes or no to capital punishment.


Well they did this with the Book of Discipline

at this Methodist Church my friend went to.

And they got to the place where they were asked

where they stood on the issue of Abortion.

On one side of the room was pro-choice,

and the other side was pro-life,

which, incidentally, was the stance described

in the book.

There was one lady there who

had been squarely on the side of the book of discipline, for all the other issues. But had noticeably changed sides here. She offered to share

why she was now on the side

that differed from the shared belief.


She said,

If you had asked me four years ago, this same question,

I would have been over there,

saying Abortion is

in all instances wrong.

But three years ago there was a young woman

in our church, who got pregnant,

and was told by her doctor,

that if she carried the baby to term,

very likely she and the baby would die.

Because of her beliefs,

she decided to carry the baby to term,

and both she and the baby died.

I think that was wrong, and I miss her terribly.

Now I find myself standing over here,

disagreeing with the accepted belief,

because when you put flesh on your beliefs,

they become more difficult to bear.”

Pause


I tell you this not to advocate for or against her position, but because I want you to hear what she said:

when you put flesh on your beliefs

they become more difficult to bear.”


That is what was going on with the virgin Mary back then,

that we recall today,

what is about to happen as we celebrate the incarnation,

and what God is doing in each of our hearts.

God constantly challenges us to put flesh on our beliefs,

and bear the difficulty with rejoicing,

God calls it, abundant life.


Abundant life is messy,

real life is messy,

God's plan to become one of us is messy.

And refuses to be cleaned up or sterilized,

in spite of our best efforts.


That's something of what is going on on the passage

from 2nd Samuel.

The great King David seems to feel guilty

That God has given him such success,

and while David lives in a lavish house,

God still dwells in a tent among the people.

But God refuses to let David make a temple for Him.

God chooses to continue to dwell

in the midst of God's people.

And furthermore,

God will make David a house,

an everlasting house, by sending his Son,

to establish David's throne forever.

That is a lot more messy,

Than what David had in mind.

Abundant life is what is happening to Mary.

A virgin girl, engaged but not married.

A faithful Jew, who was looking forward to the

Messiah coming,

and probably never imagined

that He would come through her.

Then an angel visits her,

not nearly the peaceful scene that so many artists

have tried to depict,

but according to scripture,

always a terrifying prospect,

since the Angels always have to say,

Don't be afraid.”

Mary starts off with perplexity,

moves to confusion at the message,

that she will conceive and bear the son of the Most High,

when she responds,

How can this be, since I am a virgin?”


Look, there it is, the question so many want to ask today,

and some even want to dismiss out of hand,

because it doesn't fit with the neat picture

we want to have,

or the way we understand the world.

How can this be?

The answer she gets is honest,

and straightforward,

but it doesn't really seem to explain the way

modern ears want an explanation,

but something happens in Mary.

In the midst of the messiness,

when she very easily could have been overwhelmed

by the sheer problem that this will be in her life,

She chooses the abundant life offered her,

with all it's messiness.


And she says,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord;

let it be with me according to your word.”

She accepts the messiness,

even if she doesn't understand it,

or it doesn't fit with the preconceptions she

probably had before the angel showed up.


We so often think of this story in grand terms,

that we forget that it happened on a regular day,

to a regular person.

And if we're available to God,

it happens to us to, on very regular days,

to regular people like you and me.

Let me give you a trivial example.

I was coming into work this week,

I had dropped Jack off at preschool late,

with his little nose running,

getting over a sickness from a few days before,

and had stopped by the bank.

As I was headed to the church,

the weight of all that I had to accomplish

was weighing me down,

and I was having my own little,

How can this be?” moment,

I can't do this, this is too much,

I'm not up to these tasks.”

But somewhere on the road,

probably pretty close to our parking lot,

God showed up,

and gave me the grace to say,

let it be with me according to your purpose.”

Ok, well, the way it came out from me,

was probably more like

ok, God I trust you.”

I got into the office,

Cathy reminded me of an appointment

I had forgotten,

to meet with some other young clergy.

And whereas five minutes before,

I might have said,

I can't do that now,

I'm already too late,

and plus I have all this to do.”

The small measure of peace I had just received from God,

allowed me to turn around and head to the meeting,

twenty minutes late.

At that meeting I saw Jesus,

in the flesh of my colleagues,

as we shared what to me became a holy moment

in my day.

Really, lifting my whole week.

Through them, Jesus visited me, in the flesh,

and came into my flesh as well.

I left feeling buoyed by His Spirit.

And able to do what God called me to do that day.

I could have left there saying my own little magnificat,

As I felt grateful for the abundant life God has given me,

with all its messiness.


Which brings me back to Mary.

The canticle we read instead of a psalm today,

Mary's Magnificat comes after the story of the annunciation in the gospel,

and I think that is important.

It shows where her heart had gone.

From the first perplexity and fear,

to confusion and questioning,

How can this be?”

to faithfilled acceptance

let it be with me according to your word”,

and finally, as she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth,

sees in her what the angel had told her,

and recognizes the abundant life she has been blessed with,

She cries out, from her heart,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”


That is what God wants to do with each of us,

every day.

Get us out of our heads,

out of our fretting, and worrying about how messy

our lives are,

and how things don't make sense,

and into the fact that God makes his dwelling,

inside our messy bodies, with our spirits,

that always need purification,

ourselves, that are never as elegant as

we would want them to be,

and certainly not stately enough to house,

the Almighty God.

But God continues to desire to live in these tents,

in the midst of his people,

and to show us that the messiness of life,

is the place of abundant life,

the daily visitation He makes with us.

If we just open ourselves to receive him.


As we prepare to celebrate God's incarnation

this week, look for the ways

that God is visiting you each day,

as he desires to make his dwelling in your life.

He came to a regular young girl,

on a regular day,

and it became the most extraordinary event

in the history of creation.

Imagine what he can do with your everyday life.


When we put flesh on our beliefs they become more difficult to bear, but when we're willing to bear

God in our flesh, our lives take on an abundance,

that seems impossible.


I pray that you may discover God, dwelling within you,

with all the messiness that implies, and that your spirit may rejoice in God your savior.


I believe the collect for today ties this together so well,

the mystery that we’ve been exploring today

so I would like to ask us to pray together,

again, the collect for today.

Let us Pray:


Purify our conscience, Almighty God,

by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ,

at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one god, now and for ever. Amen



Monday, December 12, 2011

Light in the Darkness


The Rev. Amy Morehous
December 11, 2011
Advent 3, Year B

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”


I’ve been thinking a lot this week about promises.

Advent is a time of hope, and of waiting...waiting for promises to be fulfilled.


That’s why we hear so much from the prophets during Advent - because they deliver God’s instructions, remind us of the promises we have made, and remind us that our God is a God who keeps promises. The prophet Isaiah lists some of God’s promises to his covenant people. John the Baptist repeats those promises, just as Jesus would do later in the Temple, in the Gospel of Mark.

John comes to us today as he does each Advent, comes to testify to the light. His is the voice crying out in the wilderness, telling us to make straight the way of the coming Lord. How? How are we to do that now...especially when we find ourselves in the midst of our own wilderness?

I don’t know about you, but this has been a year in the wilderness for me. A year ago on this day, we were here in this place holding a service of remembrance for our son who died. Since then, one of my cousins took his own life, overcome by a battle with depression that he couldn’t see his way through. Another cousin received a terminal cancer diagnosis, and was given six to twelve months to live. She lived for 6 weeks. My only remaining uncle died of cirrhosis and hepatitis after a life-long battle with alcohol and drugs. Several other close family members have been diagnosed with life-altering illnesses that will impact them for the rest of their lives. And just yesterday, one of my best friends - one of Katherine’s godmothers - called to say her mother, a woman I have known for over 20 years, died after a rapidly spreading recurrence of cancer. So, here we are today, walking in the midst of the wilderness of our very human lives.

I know many of you have walked through wildernesses of your own, because you have been kind enough to share that with me over this past year, as I have worked on letting go, and moving forward with hope. Some of you may be standing there in the wilds yourself even now. If so, you have my empathy. The experience of great grief changes us, so that we are not the people we were before it happened. Part of the experience of mourning, at least as I have experienced it, is that you have to let go of the person you were before, so that you can become the person you are meant to become. I am not the person I was, but I am not yet the person I will be. It takes great amounts of time and patience and prayer and persistence before we know exactly who those new selves will be. Some days, it can be hard to travel down the road before us, to keep hoping, to keep waiting for the promise.

But even when we are walking through times of dark and wilderness, we are following the trail of hope. A hope foretold by the prophets, a hope which will be realized by a faithful and loving God.

Today, we’re here for just that reason - because we are bold enough to hope with a great hope. We are here today because we hope for the coming of Christ, for the fulfillment of a promise. We hear the good news from the prophets that God will be faithful. God will always keep God’s promises, even though it is in ways and places and times we don’t expect, or even understand.

After all, those promises are not always what we wish they would be. God does not promise to make our paths straight, to make the way easy. God does not call us to the comfortable, or to the complacent. Even though we might wish it were true, we don’t get out of God’s call to us just by pleading that it was a hard year, that we are all out of compassion and sympathy and good feelings, and please check back in later - maybe we’ll have softer hearts next year. John reminds us that God calls to each of us, even in the wildernesses of our lives. Our job, even in the midst of darkness and wilderness, is to respond to God’s call … to make straight the way of the Lord. To point the way to the light, so that others might see it too.

We have an ambitious task before us, you and I. How can we possibly have time to make straight the way the of the Lord? If we aren’t wandering in our own wilderness or darkness, we can create them. We pressure ourselves to create something of perfection this time of year, so much so that we can drain any joy or good feeling out of the whole event. We have presents to buy and wrap, and lights to untangle and houses to decorate, and cards to mail, and cookies to bake and parties to plan and relatives to entertain and who has time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ? How can we hear the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, when we’ve covered him in twinkle lights and drowned him out with jingle bells?

Don’t hear me wrong - I like twinkle lights and cookies and relatives - maybe more than the next person. But we need Advent. Advent is not the dull and joyless season before we get to the good stuff. We need the time it gives us to prepare our hearts for the sudden arrival of the Light of the World. We need the time for a little bit of a reality adjustment, just when the culture around us is pushing us to ridiculous heights in our quest for the perfect Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ, the inbreaking of God into the world, and it will be perfect without our help.

We need that voice crying out the wilderness, because we‘re all wandering around in the darkness, looking for the light. We need John to point to it, and say, “There it is! There’s the light! There’s the One you’ve been waiting for!”

So how do we not be diverted by the shiny trappings of a holiday which is more and more divorced from the event which it celebrates? How do we not be overwhelmed by the profound darkness and the brokenness that falls into each of our lives? What could we possibly have to offer up that will delight God, that will bring joy to the Divine and incarnated Son who comes to be with us, to be one of us, to suffer and to die for us?

What can we, in our brokenness, in our wilderness, offer to the Son that comes to shine light into the darkness of our lives? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.... Hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Paul gives us an ambitious list, challenges each of us to live into the promises we have made to God. God is interested in the preparation of our hearts, not the decoration of our houses or the perfection of our celebrations.

As a community, we at Ascension have known our time of darkness. We have gone through our own wilderness. This past Friday was the fifth anniversary of my ordination. Five years ago, I stood there before the altar and before you, and we all made promises to God. If you were here five years ago, you know that it was a dark time for many of us here at Ascension. But if you’re here now, you know that that darkness did not last. With time, and work, and hope, and prayer, the community of Ascension today is a completely different, hopeful, vibrant place. We walked through the dark together. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was our journey, and there was nowhere to go but forward. New people joined us along the way, and we have grown stronger.

We didn’t come through the wilderness unscathed. We were materially changed by the difficulties we went through as a community. We have had to let go of the community we were before, so that we could become the community of God we are called to be. We have grieved together, and we have worked on our healing together. We still have a ways to walk along that path, but we are a hopeful people again. We can see God working in and through us, and for that we give God great thanks.

It is Advent. It is the time to name the darkness in our lives, no matter what it is. I have found that when we name our fears and our places of darkness, they have much less power over us. I do not delight in the dark places, but I am not afraid of them, because I believe in a God who has promised a way, and a truth and a life...and a hope. We are called forward together, out of the darkness, out of the wilderness, into a life of purpose for God.

It is Advent. It is the dark of night. Off in the wilderness, a voice points us toward the dawning light. Into our wilderness, into our darkness, the Light will come. What comes into being in Him is life, and the life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

Amen.