The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Advent 4th Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Advent 4 Year C 12/23/2012
Scripture Text: Micah 5:2-5a, Canticle 15 (Magnificat), Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appear.”
We sang that hymn at the healing service on Wednesday,
and it struck me then,
that we are more like captive Israel
in this country, this week,
than we have been at any time in my memory,
that we are mourning in lonely exile here.
Three years ago, I preached on this Sunday,
and at that time Jackie and I were expecting the birth of
our third child, and first son.
It was a very different fourth Sunday of Advent for us,
full of expectation and hope,
in which I shared the joy of Mary and Elizabeth
in the same gospel reading we just heard.
Would I have been so joyful and expectant,
if I knew how dangerous a world I was bringing
this son into that I am so aware of today?
Would the parents in Newtown have chosen
to have their children,
if they knew the depths of grief
they were going to experience this week
as they lost them so early in life?
Would Mary and Elizabeth have been rejoicing,
if they knew the horrible and violent ends
to which their sons would come,
as young men in the prime of life?
These are some of the questions
that have been troubling my mind this week.
In between times that I was thinking of the families
up in Newtown,
and crying in grief over a loss that is too close,
to my own young children's ages.
It is so close that when I think of my precious daughters,
and the way they act now at 6 and 8 years old,
the funny things they say,
the way they are full of life and questions.
I can't help but tear up immediately
as thoughts of those other precious children
come into my mind.
And at other times,
when I hear the various news stories,
of people trying to solve the problem,
as we all seem to want to do,
most of the solutions offered make me angry,
because it is not hard to see how easily those ideas
can and will fail in the future.
And it bothers me how quick
people are to assess blame in one way or the other,
and to further divide over trying to solve a problem,
that if anything should bring us more together.
So I would rather be silent in the face of all this,
and not speak at all.
But here it comes to be my turn to preach to you all,
and to share something about the faith we share.
I would rather be silent,
but I know I have a responsibility to say something,
so I will honor that calling,
and pray that God will not be offended
by what comes out of my mouth in his name.
It's so hard in the flood of thoughts that come to my mind,
to even think about everything much less preach,
that I am going to stay close to the scripture
that we have for this Sunday, as a way to focus.
Mary and Elizabeth rejoice at the company of each other,
at their kinship, divided by age though it was
and at their shared experience of miraculous child bearing.
And while it is truly wonderful what they have experienced,
and what they can look forward to
in raising these blessed children,
We know that there is great anguish ahead as well.
We see in our passage from Hebrews,
the great sacrifice that will replace all the religious
offerings of Jesus, the sacrifice that God himself makes,
but that Mary will make also,
that we people of God will be sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
That is a wonderfully religious way of making holy
the fact that Jesus, son of Mary,
would be murdered,
executed unjustly by a group of men,
who were afraid of losing power.
So Elizabeth was right that Mary was blessed,
to believe that the Lord would fulfill what
he spoke to her in choosing her to bear Jesus,
but along with the blessing would come great suffering.
And John, Elizabeth's son in her old age,
was also a source of tremendous blessing to her.
Though he would become great, faithful,
and with many followers,
leading many to true belief in God,
would be beheaded by a petty and boastful King,
at the behest of a jealous wife.
I imagine, if Elizabeth lived that long,
on hearing of her son's demise,
she wondered how God would allow that to happen,
much as many of us, and certainly parents in Newtown,
wonder the same thing this week.
But through it all, while they might not get answers to that perennial question, Mary and Elizabeth do have each other,
and they do have their community of faith,
and they do have their God supporting them
suffering with them all along.
That is what we have as well,
what we must have,
what we can invite others into,
and what we must never give up,
a community of faithful people,
who rejoice with one another,
and suffer with each other,
recognizing that God is with us in all of this.
With all the voices arguing about how we can make sure,
that the tragedy of Newtown Connecticut,
never happens again,
what I have not heard addressed is the
huge problem of isolation and individualism
in our society.
One might think that a random act,
by an isolated individual, in a small community,
790 miles away, would not affect us so much.
But we're all connected to it,
there are even physical connections that struck me.
The rector of St. Elizabeth's in Farragut served as a priest
at Trinity in Newtown before she came here,
and obviously knows many of the people personally.
And my sister here in Fountain City,
has a friend from college who lost a child in the shooting.
But we're all connected to these people
through our shared values of life and love,
and our shared sense of horror and grief over what happened,
and that connection to one another can become a source
of our healing and redemption.
Look back at the prophecy of Micah,
You know we have this reading this Sunday
because of the mention of Bethlehem,
and the birth there that Micah foretells
of the one who is to rule Israel.
But notice the end of that prophecy describes something that has not yet come to pass.
The prophet says that they,
“shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.”
Jesus was not great to the ends of the earth in his lifetime,
and though he came in peace,
there has not been peace over the earth in his name since then.
And we certainly know this week that we do not live secure.
We long for security,
we all want to keep ourselves safe,
and even more importantly we want to keep our children safe.
But you and I both know,
that no matter what we change in society,
or what laws we enact,
no matter what security we try to enforce,
we cannot be totally safe in this life.
Much as my feelings as a parent make me consider
keeping my children at home,
out of places where they could get hurt
I know that can't ultimately work.
The solution is definitely not withdrawal
into some seemingly secure place,
where our individual weapons protect us,
or walls keep us from people
we are prone to dehumanize in our fear.
Mary knew the danger of the world
she was bringing her son into,
but she did not hold back her consent.
God knew the danger
he was bringing his own son into,
with even greater certainty,
but he did not withhold his own child from
doing what we needed him to do for us,
God let his own son come and die for us.
And two thousand years later,
we still haven't figured out a way to ensure
our own security, though we have tried and tried,
again and again.
The only one who can ensure our security,
is the one who will come again,
and our hope is that at his second coming,
at his glorious second Advent,
he will usher in the full and perfect peace of God's Kingdom,
his reign over all of us which will never end.
That's why we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”
and ransom us, captives to our own sinfulness,
that mourn in lonely exile here,
we exile ourselves away from God and one another.
Until you come back,
and the son of God appear,
and bring us into reconciliation with each other,
and with God forever.
Advent is much more than waiting
for the celebration of Christmas,
it is about waiting with hope and expectation for the second coming of our Lord.
We know that this year, more than ever before.
O Come, Quickly Lord Jesus!