What a busy time we have had together this Advent! As we wandered through this season of preparation we joined in a pilgrimage searching for a rule of life which empowers each of us to walk more closely – and more humbly with our God.
As advent started we heard how Mary defied convention and said yes to an audacious and almost scandalous offer from God that she become the mother of God’s only child. Mary helped God become incarnate, making Jesus both fully divine and fully human. From the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel asked Mary to say yes to God, we saw how every spiritual journey, a journey of love, always begins with doing just that: saying yes to God.
Next we heard how Mary, overcome with the realization of what had just happened, rushed to share her good news with her much older cousin Elizabeth, Zachariah’s wife. Imaging Mary’s surprise when she learned Elizabeth was also pregnant, bearing the boy who would become John the Baptizer. Isn’t that how it always is with good news: you just can’t wait to share it with the people you love? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a spiritual life, one centered in this community of St. Cyprian’s, a spiritual life which is so amazing you can’t wait to share that good news? From Mary’s rapid journey to visit Elizabeth we learn the importance of journeying the way of life and love in the company of family and friends.
And then we heard the story of John’s circumcision ceremony, his initialing into life as a Jew. Zachariah and Elizabeth brought their son – their only child – into the heart of their Jewish community for this ceremony, showing us the importance of walking our journey of love with a community of people who love and care for us. And we traced how this way of being Christian is incorporated into important times of our lives as Episcopalians – at our Baptism as well as our marriage.
Now we arrive at the fourth and final Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve followed by Christmas Day and a Christmastide healing service on Wednesday that remembers St. Stephen. Busy as it is, our community’s schedule this week pales in comparison to the plans of many of us. So as we stand hew poised on the cusp of Christmas, what can we learn about our journey of love this week?
This week we turn to the Birth of Jesus and expand our focus to Journeying the Way of Love with the World. That’s why we heard the story of the Birth of Jesus – the Christmas story – from Luke’s Gospel. For if we are to live a Christian life, we are called to live one out in the world.
Look around us: unimaginable cruelty has been released in the guise of immigration reform, leading to children being separated from their parents at the United States border and then – in some cases – lost or put up for adoption. We have learned beyond a reasonable doubt that racism is a growing cancer of the soul of America. And we have seen the spectacle of anti-Semitic white supremacists marching in an American city while chanting “Jews will not replace us.” And that’s not even scratching the surface of the sins that are braking the heart of any real Christian this December. What are we to do amid this darkness of the soul and sickening of spirit?
Perhaps there’s a clue from the way we start each Christmas Eve service here at St. Cyprian’s. Remember? Each year some of our children carry the baby Jesus from our crèche into the darkened sanctuary accompanied only by a single candle. We sit in darkness to be reminded that Jesus came into the world for this: to bring the light of God’s love for us into the world: to make God’s love manifest, to make it incarnate.
After the growing darkness of December, the light of Christ arriving at Christmas reminds us that as the Psalmist sings: “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Christmas reminds us the light and warmth and love of morning is at hand.
Recall from today’s Gospel story when:
- The angels praise God and proclaim the birth of Jesus?
- The shepherds run in haste to see the savior?
- The shepherds tell what they have seen and heard?
- Mary ponders all these things in her heart?
Ponder which moment most reflects where you are today?
And then ask yourself: Why?
Ponder what you see as the gifts Jesus’ birth brings into the world.
And then ask yourself: how can I reflect these gifts out into the world by the way I choose to love my life?
Ponder where, with whom, and how are you called to share about the good news of Jesus’ life and love.
And then ask yourself: what amazes you about God? About God’s love?
Ponder what kind of Spiritual path you need to walk so you can live out you amazement and share God’s love through the way you live your life.
Still with me? Good. That was the hard part of building your own spiritual rule of life. Now that you have an idea of where you want – or need – to go, you can figure out how to get there. Just remember: you don’t have to do it all at once or even get it 100 percent right the first time. God wants each of us to walk humbly with our God. God doesn’t expect perfection. God simply wants us to pay attention to what really matters, to wrestle with the angles God places in scripture and our lives, and to spend some of our time focused on God.
How do we do that? Well that depends on you: in terms of a spiritual rule of life, one size does not fit all.
But we can begin with something as simple as doing one spiritual thing a day – a pattern we are developing this advent when we take home and follow our weekly advent calendar. Here’s one way we can do this:
Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God.
When we worship, we gather with others before God. We hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, give thanks, confess, and offer the brokenness of the world to God. As we break bread, our eyes are opened to the presence of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made one body, the body of Christ sent forth to live the Way of Love.
Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus
As Jesus went to the highways and byways, he sends us beyond our circles and comfort, to witness to the love, justice, and truth of God with our lips and with our lives. We go to listen with humility and to join God in healing a hurting world. We go to become Beloved Community, a people reconciled in love with God and one another.
Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings.
Yes, progressive Episcopalians do read the Bible. We just think it is too important to be taken literally or misread as a history book. So we read and reflect on Scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus. And as we do, we draw near to God and God’s word dwells in us. When we open our minds and hearts to Scripture, we learn to see God’s story and God’s activity in everyday life.
Dwell intentionally with God daily.
Jesus teaches us to come before God with humble hearts, boldly offering our thanksgivings and concerns to God or simply listening for God’s voice in our lives and in the world. Whether in thought, word or deed, individually or corporately, when we pray we invite and dwell in God’s loving presence.
Share faith and unselfishly give and serve
Jesus called his disciples to give, forgive, teach, and heal in his name. We are empowered by the Spirit to bless everyone we meet, practicing generosity and compassion and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ with hopeful words and selfless actions. We can share our stories of blessing and invite others to the Way of Love.
Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
Like the disciples, we are called by Jesus to follow the Way of Love. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to Jesus Christ, falling in love again, again, and again.
Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
From the beginning of creation, God has established the sacred pattern of going and returning, labor and rest. Especially today, God invites us to dedicate time for restoration and wholeness – within our bodies, minds, and souls, and within our communities and institutions. By resting we place our trust in God, the primary actor who brings all things to their fullness.
The good news is there’s no one spiritual ‘Rule of Life’ which is right for everybody. What matters is that each of us shape our own spiritual journey to go where each of us wants to go.
So this week, amidst preparations for Christmas and a new year, let us each commit to taking one spiritual step forward each day. This is one way we can prepare ourselves for the end of Advent and rebirth of Jesus in our hearts.
Let us pray.
O God who makes the impossible possible, quicken our hearts to follow the shepherds who went with haste to see Jesus and told the world what they had heard and seen. Enliven our imagination to the many ways to walk the Way of Love with Jesus. Strengthen our resolve to remain on the journey with Jesus as individuals, with family and friends, and in community to proclaim your word in the world; through Jesus Christ, your Son, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, whose way is love.
May the church say: Amen!