Sunday, December 23, 2012

Artists of the Impossible -- A Sermon for Advent 4

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Tuesday night, a couple hundred of us gathered here for a time of remembrance and prayer, and then we processed from this place over to the steps of Central Library. And we stood in silence with candles in our hands as the big bell of this Cathedral tolled and, one by one, names were read. Names of children murdered in Connecticut just days before. Names of men, women and, yes, children killed with guns in our own city in the past year.

The names went on … and on … and on. It seemed like they would never stop. And when they did, there was this pause, a few moments where all those names just hung in the air around us. A pause where, if we had stopped there, we would have left that place being overwhelmed by the enormity of the tragedy and believing we were powerless to do anything about it. A pause that, if we had stopped there, might have left us believing that fear and death actually did get the last word.

But it was only a pause. Because we did not stop there. There was one thing left to say. And so Mayor Slay stepped to the microphone, and he read these words from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.

We read those words because our job as the church is to call the world back to its deepest identity. To remind the world that we are all children of God and that God dreams for us to be God’s glory in the world and become fully alive. To remind the world that we were not created to cower before darkness and death but that light and life always get the last word.

We’ve had quite a journey together this Advent. On the first Sunday of Advent, we named the world we live in. We named all those things that aren't OK. We said, "God, you want to know how it's going? Well THIS is how it's going!" And we put those things on the altar, and we left the next move to God.

Then on the second Sunday of Advent, we heard God’s move. We heard the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Saying that where God wants to be is right in the middle of all that stuff. That God wants to be in that middle seat right in between the face we present to the world and the backstage reality of our life.

Then last Sunday, we lit the rose colored candle and remembered that we are people of a song, and that song is Hallelujah. And that we sing Hallelujah because we know Christ is right here, singing with us. We sing Hallelujah by giving in the face of scarcity and loving in the face of fear.

And so this Sunday, the last Sunday before Christmas, just before this place is transformed with greenery and filled with carols, this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that our song of Hallelujah, our testament of hope is not meant for our own comfort but for the transforming of the world.

The lectionary this year skips over the annunciation story, and it seems like a curious choice. It’s hard to imagine Advent without Gabriel appearing to Mary. Without her incredulous “How can this be?” Without the angel’s stunning declaration that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

But instead, we get this story of Mary and Elizabeth. Of Mary, having said yes to the gloriously impossible possibility of bearing the Christ, not staying safe in her home but going out into the world. And listen to Elizabeth’s reaction when she just hears Mary’s greeting:

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

That’s what happens when God comes near to us. When God comes near, I mean when we really know that God has come near, something in us stirs. Something in us leaps for joy. Something in us, something deep in us, says YES … that’s the stuff. THAT is what it means to be truly, fully alive.

I am the child of two scientists – two astronomers – so the whole idea of science being incompatible with faith has never made sense to me. What we can learn about creation from those things we can see and measure is amazing and needs to be taken seriously because it gives us a window into the beauty and power of God the creator.

But something has happened to the world as we have begun to trust only those things we can see and measure. As logic and practicality become the only altars at which we worship.

As that happens, we forget that the deepest truths, the most glorious possibilities, the most profound hopes are beyond logic and practicality. We forget that when we allow ourselves to be bound by the limits of only what we can see and measure, by the limits of what seems logical and practical, we lose the deepest part of our humanity created in the image of God.

And that is where we as Christians come in. We who stand at the grave and sing, “Hallelujah!” We who trust that we are children of God born to do nothing less than make manifest the glory of God that is within us, not just in some of us but in every one. We who, with Mary, by our very presence, announce to the world that God has come near. That’s where we come in.

You’ve probably heard people in Washington and elsewhere quote that “politics is the art of the possible.” And that may be so. But as Christians, the possible is not our craft. Announcing that God has come near is. Calling people beyond the limits of what seems logical and practical is.

Faith is our craft. And faith is the art of the impossible. And we stand on the shoulders of a long line of artists who have refused to be bound by the world’s ideas of what is practical and logical and possible, and in so doing have changed the world.

We are artists of the impossible of the line of David, who stood unafraid before Goliath because he knew that you measured a giant not by the size of his stature but by the size of our God.

We are artists of the impossible of the line of Mary, who believed it when Gabriel said that nothing would be impossible with God … and who didn’t just keep that belief to herself but awakened it with leaps of the joy in the hearts of others.

We are artists of the impossible in the line of the prophets and martyrs of the civil rights movement in this country … who believed that the forces of Jim Crow and racial hatred could not stand against the awakened conscience of a nation.

We are artists of the impossible in the line of Becca Stevens and the women of Magdalene, Nashville and soon here in St. Louis, who show us that there is no depth of abuse and brokenness from which one cannot be rescued by a greater depth of love.

And so this fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember that we are artists of the impossible. And that like last Tuesday night, we gather here to be sent out there.

To stand in the midst of that pause where the world is tempted to believe that fear and death get the last word.

To stand in the midst of that pause where we are tempted to shrink back and play small lest someone think we are impractical or even crazy.

To stand in the midst of that pause where the world is tempted to be resigned to the inevitability of the way things are and to awaken in others what we claim for ourselves … that God has come near. That we are all children of God and there is no darkness so deep, no brokenness so profound, no evil so intractable that it cannot be touched and transformed and brought to wholeness by the surpassing love of God in Jesus Christ.

You know, I often wonder if Advent doesn’t just really annoy God. I wonder if God doesn’t roll the divine eyes just a little bit every year as we bring out the candles and the wreath and talk about waiting for the coming of Christ. That’s because I wonder if Advent isn’t so much the time of our patient waiting but God’s.

Because that’s what’s really happening, isn’t it?\ We’re not waiting for Christ. Christ is here. Christ has been here all along.

What’s really happening is Christ is waiting for us. Waiting for us this year more than the last to stop fearing the light that is in us. Waiting for us this year more than the last to pull out all the stops and make manifest the glory of God that is within us. Waiting for us this year more than the last to sing out loud that Hallelujah that reminds the world that fear and death doesn’t get the last word, that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not and will never overcome it.

We’ve spent four Sundays waiting for the coming of Christ. And it turns out it was the other way around the whole time. It’s Christ who has been waiting for us. Waiting for us to embrace the work of Christmas. To take what we have found in here and birth it out there. To by our very presence cause babes to leap in wombs and people to sing praises to God. To show the world that God has come near … and to embrace our destiny as artists of the impossible. AMEN.

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