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the sermon for

the Third Sunday of Advent

17 December 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4 , Isaiah 61:8-11
Faith begins not in broad daylight, but in the night!

12172017There's fifty-two weeks in every year. Take away from that four weeks' vacation time. That leaves forty-eight sermons. Add to that Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. An occasional wedding or two. A funeral. And an extra service or two, to be on the safe side. That means, ballpark figure, each year contains around sixty sermons! Sixty sermons preached! And more importantly, sixty sermons written! Not to mention, Advent and Lenten midweeks, newsletter reflections, Wednesday devotions online, and all the rest! That means, for the most part, there's always a part of my mind trying to figure out what I'm going to say next. Always mulling something over. Always musing on something. Thinking something through. What to say. How to say it.

Of course, there's the big thoughts. The big ideas. But there's, also, the inklings and the hints and the notions. The little things that collect in the corners of my mind. That get caught up in the dust bunnies under the bed. Very little of which I ever, actually, say out loud! Maybe, now and again, something may slip out in conversation, during a class. But never in a sermon! Or I guess I should say, hardly ever! Because there was that one time, two or three congregations back...

When the church was just starting to notice that the church was changing. Back when we first realized that we were shrinking. Getting smaller. Older. Back before we had started to panic. Well, I said something I knew, right away, that I shouldn't have. I said we were in trouble because we were inviting the wrong people to church. We were inviting the wrong people. Instead of looking for people who needed god, who needed the church, we wanted the ones who didn't! Didn't really need us or what we had to offer! We were always after the ones Ben Franklin would have called the healthy, wealthy, and wise! The ones who had enough. The ones who had more than enough. The ones who had everything they needed. The ones who had everything they wanted. Who, still, had enough left over! Independent! Proud! Self-sufficient! Self-reliant! Self-confident! Self-assured! These are the people who stand on their own two feet! Who, probably, wouldn't have to ask us for anything!

You get the idea. In contrast, I'd been thinking that we were here for the people who were more... well, who were more like Eeyore! Pooh's dark and dismal friend. Eeyore the gloomy, depressed, joyless, old gray donkey! Chin high to Pooh. Hip high to Christopher. That was th kind of person Christ came to save! The kind of person the church is here to deliver. The kind of person who needs more than entertaining. Who's looking for something other than a distraction. The kind of person who has nothing, who has no one else.

Well, after the sermon, the consensus was, of course, that I was wrong. EVERYBODY needs Jesus! Rich people! Poor people! Everyone in between! And so, we kept on looking for the same people... and getting smaller... and grayer... But that little piece of grist stayed with me. Tucked away in the back of my thoughts. Meditating. Contemplating. Ruminating. And waiting for a passage just like this...

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

to comfort all who mourn;

Et cetera! Et cetera! Et cetera!

The prophet is sent NOT to those who have it all together, but to those who are broken and unraveled! The prophet is sent not to the high and mighty, but to the lowest and least! To the oppressed! To the brokenhearted! To the captive! To the imprisoned! To the grief-stricken! Those are the ones who are the objects of god's compassion! You've got to have pain before anyone can feel it! For Matthew, if you remember, it was the hungry and the thirsty, the naked and the alien, the sick and the bound who Jesus calls, "Sister! Brother!" Love is like water. It flows downhill! Gravity always pulls it toward the ground!

In the past, the Third Sunday of Advent has always focused on Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. That's why in some churches – Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran – the candle on the Advent Wreath is pink. That's why the alternative to Psalm 126 is the Magnificat, Mary's song from Luke's gospel. In fact, we'll be singing that song ourselves, in a few minutes, at Communion. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you, Lord, have looked with favor on the lowliness – not the holiness, not the haughtiness, but the lowliness - of your servant." A few lines later, she sings, "You have cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly! Filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty!"

Faith is conceived not – NOT – in what we have, but in what we don't have! And believing is born not in what we're able to accomplish, but in what we can't do! It's like trying to buy that special gift for the one person who has everything and needs nothing. Our problem is that we look for and invite and welcome the wrong people! The people who don't really need us! Who don't really need what we have to offer! And even worse, we come to believe that we ourselves are those people! Independent! Proud! Self-sufficient! Self-reliant! Self-confident! Self-assured! Thinking we have it all! Blind to what god has given. Deaf to what god has done.

"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;"

That 'me' is the prophet! That 'me' is Jesus! That 'me' is the church. And the job for each of us – the job for all of us – is the same. To bring good news! To bind up! To proclaim liberty, liberty and release! To comfort! Not to the untroubled! Not the overjoyed! The free! The rejoicing! But to the Eeyores of this world! To be saved, you must, first, be drowning. To be delivered, you must, first, be broken! To be redeemed, you must, first, be bound!

The light shines in both the day and the night. But when light shines in the light, no one notices! When it shines in the darkness, when it shines among the shadows, it's needed! Light shining in the light is overcome. It's taken for granted. But when it shines in the night, that's when the light is noticed! We aren't called to bring the gospel to the untroubled. We haven't been chosen to bind up the overjoyed. We haven't been sent to proclaim liberty to the footloose and fancy-free. We aren't here to comfort those who have the world at their feet. It just doesn't work that way.

The world is changed only by being there with and for those who have no one else, who have nothing else. To us, god has sent Jesus. To them... To them, my friends, god sends us!

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