Advent marks the beginning of a new church year. Radicaldiscipleship also begins a new tradition for the year of posting sermons following the lectionary readings. It is a chance to honor the work of pastors who are part of this circle of radical disciples who spend each week examining the readings and the times.
Sermon by Bill Wylie-Kellermann
Advent 1 November 27, 2016, St. Peter’s Episcopal, Detroit
Advent is certainly the favorite liturgical season in our family. My own as well. We embrace the holy in candle-lit darkness as in our Taize services beginning tomorrow evening. In fact, in our household we light the wreath and sing on the eve before – kind of like a Jewish Shabbat service beginning the day at sundown. It’s the hour of prophetic promise. We anticipate the dawn and wait. There is a wakefulness in the dark, like a stiff cold breeze on the face. The stripped down sparseness of the season is so welcome a counter to the commercial shopping season of frenzied anxiety. Not to denigrate gift giving, but to deepen the gift, I commend it more as a season of gift making, than gift buying. In those crafts and constructions are a place for prayer.
Last night I had dream: I was in my basement workshop with three-year-old grandson Isaac (in actuality we are currently making a secret project). Someone else was there too, maybe one of my brothers – a family member anyway. All of a sudden it goes completely dark. Almost an audible sound of everything shutting down. It’s a power outage. The whole city? I have a moment of panic, my first thought being Isaac. He’s out of reach…”You OK?” I say. I can hear the concern in his “Yes.” Find my way to him. I’m wishing for flashlight or candles. Geez, we knew this was coming. I don’t know why we didn’t prepare for it. Groping in the dark, I do find and light one. Suddenly all seems well, though I wonder how long this will last.
You probably hear some Sunday morning sermon writing worry at work beneath it, but it seems like there’s a lot going on in that simple snip.
Thirty years ago during anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, an order of Pretoria regime, forbid the singing of carols in the Black townships because they stirred up such energy and hope. A newspaper report quoted a South African police agent: “Carols are too emotional to be sung in a time of unrest…Candles have become revolutionary symbols.” (See Walter Bruggemann, Israel’s Praise)
I think the same is rightly true of the Advent Wreath – it tells a circle of resistance, a No in the form of a Yes.
Yes is to work of God in Hope, Peace, Joy (the pink candle), and Love.
Yes to Hope says NO to the despair that paralyzes and disempowers us all.
Yes to Peace says NO to all the violence that is growing and raging unleashed in the present darkness. Isaiah says for the nations and peoples to learn the ways of Lord, they must unlearn war, and we might say its kin – white supremacy, misogyny, islamaphobia, homophobia. If we want to learn the ways of peace, can’t study war no more.
Yes to Joy says NO to what? Maybe it too resists the gloom of despair, but I’m inclined to set it against fake joy, the ersatz happiness attached to all things marketable.
Lastly the “Wage Love” candle is a great Yes which says NO both to fear and to hate. Personally and communally, this is a lovely (and deadly serious) spiritual agenda for the season; in it we practice for the whole of life
So. Hope texts, hope candle today.
For any number of reasons I can’t help but think of Phillip Berrigan, peacemaking priest who crossed over to God in Advent of 2002. For one, he used to tell a joke about a family with a little down kid, hopelessly negative and depressed and a second child irrepressibly, and to them annoyingly, hopeful and sunny. They take them to a therapist, who says, “Look Christmas is coming; why don’t you try giving the little down kid everything he could want. And for our little optimist, well, just give him a bucket of horse shit.” They decide to try. So Christmas morning they tiptoe downstairs to see how things are going. There’s the first kid sitting in a pile of toys complaining. The bike is the wrong color, and the toy rocket already crashed, and nothing is right. Meanwhile, the irrepressible kid is running round the house happily carrying the bucket of horse shit. The parents say, “What gives? All you got was that pail of manure.” He looks up and proclaims, “There’s gotta be a pony around here somewhere.”
Phillip is one who took this morning’s text literally. He beat swords into plowshares. Nineteen eighty was also a time when a dark cloud hovered over the planet – the threat of first strike nuclear war. Like a thief in the night, unexpected, he broke into a GE weapons plant in Pennsylvania, and with eight others, damaged nuclear warhead mechanisms with hammers. This sparked a disarmament movement that has seen more than 80 such nonviolent actions. As a prophetic act of prayer, as a liturgical enactment, it offered a No in the form of a Yes
The New York Times this morning, which has barely covered the Standing Rock story, reports that the Army Corps of Engineers is moving in next week to close the Oceti Sakowin prayer camp, the one north of the Cannonball River, the front line of resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline and all it betokens. The camp is yet another NO in the form of a Yes to the Creator. I’m grateful that members of St Peter’s, as well as many other friends, have been out to join that resistance to environment assault on the Missouri River, the waters and the planet. Their presence, as the indigenous community inviting them, makes offering in the form of prayer, holding up the sacredness of land and water as a living being.
A last thought for this Advent begun. Vincent Harding, freedom struggle veteran and historian now gone to God, once told us, “You can’t make a movement happen, you can only prepare for it.” For us a bit like, you can’t make Incarnation happen, you can’t make the baby come, you can only prepare for it, stake your life and hopes on it.
Ok, dear friends. It’s time to get ready.