The sermon for week December 21, 2014
Kites at Empty AirportsLuke 1:26-38
When I was in the first grade, we would get the Scholastic News. Each month, I would just pour over articles about solar powered car races, electric cars, and about the bio-dome experiment going on in Arizona. It had articles about global warming and the hole in the ozone layer as well and gave actions we could take to help.
It was so cool. It was like we were at the dawn of a new age. I couldn’t wait. Now I have a daughter closer to being in first grade than I am. I’m 32 years old, and there aren't any solar powered cars. After years of nothing, we are now seeing electric cars. The bio-dome was a failed experiment, but it made a great Pauly Shore movie. Global warming still exists and is worse than we had previously guessed.
We’re still at the dawn of a new age, but there’s more fear as to what that new age holds. The future isn’t as bright as it used to be, and many of us fear the future. We wonder about the future of our economy and income disparity. We worry about our aging population and our health care system. We worry about what the impact will be from having screens everywhere. We’re discovering the limits of our science and the impact our industrialized society has had on our minds, our environment and our diets. We have troubling global news. We have to face the fact that America doesn’t hold the sway it once did, and we seem to be losing ground. The new generation seems self-absorbed to the older generation who seems out of touch to the new. And it’s been said we’re post-everything but no one seems to know what that means as old things like race-relations, international tensions, and humans behaving badly keep making the news. What does all this mean?
In the scriptures today, we have Mary receiving the announcement of the dawn of a new age. The angel Gabriel visits Mary. Gabriel already visited Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When Zechariah questioned Gabriel, the angel struck him mute until John was born. Gabriel doesn’t do this with Mary’s questions. Mary ponders Gabriel’s greeting and when he gives the news that she will have a son, she asks “How can this be?”
Gabriel answers her and tells her that this child, this son she will bear is not just her son, but the long awaited king, the messiah, the anointed one. And not only that, but her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant with a son, too! All this was done because “Nothing is impossible with God.”
And Mary’s response is “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary’s response is mystifying to me. She’s at the advent of a
whole new world! A whole new world of the long awaited messiah. A whole new world that was long fore-told. A new world with angels in it! Not to mention the whole new world of parenting. Her response to it was “Here I am. Let it be with me as you say.”
If an angel came to me with this news, I would have a ton of questions about it. Like how does one raise the messiah? Does the messiah wear disposable or cloth diapers? How will the new world be? Will my son be okay bringing about this new world? And where exactly do angels come from?
In January of 2009, I was visited by an angel in a personal advent. Everything was about to change. I was in seminary, about to graduate the next year and become a real life pastor somewhere. To top it off, Eve was about to be born that April. Well, we didn’t know it was going to be Eve, we were expecting a baby, and
Kate and I were learning about the pregnancy process. Our world was about to change. Gone would be the late nights and sleeping in the next day. Everything was about to change.
All of this was in the abstract until I found myself in an orphanage in Egypt. For seminary, each class takes a trip somewhere in the world to experience Christianity in another culture. Ours was in Egypt. It was a great trip. We visited an orphanage run by the Coptic Christian Church. We played with the older kids, spoke with the staff there--it was a nice, polite event. Then the staff asked us to feed the babies. And I sat there holding a 6 month old girl and feeding her oatmeal. And I thought of the state of the world, and what her future holds. I thought of holding my own child very soon and doing the same thing. And I thought of how different their stories would be. I thought of these things and more, and I sat there and I wept and smiled and cooed at this little soul. She was my angel. She made this abstract thing of parenting real, and let me know in my soul that I was ready for it. My heart was big enough to love a little soul, to nurture and care for it to my fullest. I was ready for the transformation that was about to come.
My angel would be in kindergarten now like Eve. She would be learning her colors and her alphabet. I hope she’s ok. I hope that she’s loved and has a home. I met her before the Arab Spring and before Hosini Mubarak was removed. I wonder where she is now, and I thank her for her message. 5 years into the new world of being a parent and I don’t really miss the things I used to do. Now I’m in a new world since 2009: a parent of two who my life revolves around. I’m also a pastor and still learning about this strange and wonderful calling.
There are things I could despair at. The world isn’t the way I hoped it would be in 2009. In some ways it’s better. In other ways, it’s disappointing. I would hope we’d be farther along in combating global warming. I hoped we’d be out of the wars in the Middle East. I hoped we’d have more equality, less partisanship, and less corporate-personhood. In some ways, I’m still mourning the world I was hoping for in the first grade: a world of wonderful solar cars, bio-domes, racial harmony and bio-spheres on other planets. But these things weren’t to be, at least not yet. And here I stand. Let it be with me as God says.
I still hope for a better world, and I work toward it. Yet I’ve changed in how I work. I used to come in with an agenda of what I think needed done. But that’s my agenda, and if my agenda doesn’t line up with God’s… well, I better ditch my agenda and go with God’s. For God has an assignment for me. If I’m too preoccupied with my agenda, I might miss God’s assignment.
Mary was able to do this in this story. She was able to buy into how God was going to do things, putting herself at great risk. She was a poor girl from a backwater town in Galilee. There would be all sorts of questions and accusations about her. This is why Luke puts this story in--the early accounts of Jesus do not include his birth. The earliest Gospel, Mark, just picks up at Jesus’ baptism as an adult. Questions arose around where this Jesus guy came from because in the ancient world as in many places now there’s this idea that who your family is matters. Where you come from matters. We hear this at every election cycle. The messiah was to be from David’s house, royalty, from a known descendant, probably a well-to-do famous family. The first century equivalent of the Kennedy or Bush families. A political dynasty not some young, poor woman from who knows where.
Mary faced her advent, the advent of the messiah, the advent of motherhood with great faith and hope. She had questions, but she understood her assignment and took it on without looking back.
This is the process of Advent. There’s the hope of the world that is coming, but there’s a little grief at the passing of the old world and the established ways of doing things. It’s like a family of settlers loading up their wagon to head west. The youngest of the family are up in the wagon ready to go. The parents are checking supplies, making sure everything is packed and secure. And then there’s grandma, who is standing beside grandpa’s grave. It is going to take grandma a little longer to go to this new world, her advent will take a little longer than her kids or her grandkids.
How is it with you? How are you facing the advent of a new world? With hope? With despair? With questions? Are you resisting with your own agenda you will try to enact? What are you grieving? Or are you looking forward to understanding your assignment? Are you ready for this new world with all its hopes and fears, problems and joys?
I don’t know what this new world is going to look like. I am hopeful though. I’m excited because we have some awesome things going for us! We have air conditioning! That’s awesome! We have 110 times more technology in our cell phones than what put men on the moon in the 1960s. Even the worst cell phone in the world is a miracle. Many people complain about their cell phone but Louis C.K. reminds us “to give it a second! It’s going to space! What the speed of light is too slow for you?!” (Louis C.K.) We have amazing things. And we have very smart young men and women. I’m not sure if you’ve hung out with our teens here--they are incredible people. Truly remarkable. If you find yourself despairing, head down to the youth room during the 9:20 hour or hang out in a confirmation class. Your faith in the future just might be restored.
I look at Eve and Sam, and I have hope. And I can’t help but think that all this flashed across Mary’s mind too. We know her story though, we’re in the midst of our own. But Mary’s response is a great one “Here we stand, let it be as you wish God. We will do what you assign us to do.”
I don’t know the future, but I hear it in the poem entitled “Kites at Empty Airports” by Joe Pintauro
Soon comes a magic winter so deep and long
A magic freeze to kill stupidities
Guns and ding-a-ling rivalries.
Save your dreams for the spring that comes off that winter.
Have your breasts out and ready, every woman, every man,
For every child will be yours and the ways back home will be overgrown with wild berries and cornflowers and you will be teaching
A stranger’s son
To fly kites at empty airports.
We will invent new lullabies, new songs
We will make new ways of making love.
We will cry over things where once we laughed.
Our new wisdom will bring tears to the eyes of gentle creatures from other planets who were afraid of us till then.
In the end, a summer wild with new winds and new friends will be.
We will dance in the old churches after funerals in the grass burying the smiling monsters who haunted our heads.
So do not be down but save your dreams.
And if you feel about to die
Write your song and pass it on.
For soon comes a magic winter.
I like this poem because the world it presents is drastically different than now. It almost feels like the beloved community, that Kingdom of God that Jesus preached about. We’re facing an advent. Not only our own personal advents, but one as a church as well. Our future is going to look very different than the present we have now. Will the holiday bazaar be different next year? What will our rummage sales of the future look like? Who will be our next parish nurse after Cathy Hunter?
I don’t know. But trust that I have hope and faith that we will find our way! Because we know that Mary faced her advent, the advent of the messiah, the advent of motherhood with great faith and hope. She had questions, but she understood her assignment and took it on without looking back. May we be as faithful and as brave as Mary was. May we be on the lookout for unexpected angels heralding the advent of a new world.
Louis C.K.:Hilarious • Director: Louis C.K. - Louis C.K. - Comedy Central - 2009.
Pintauro, Joe. Kites at Empty Airports. Harper and Row Publishers, New York. 1972. Page 29