Sunday’s sermon: Prepare the Way: Breathing

Advent love

Texts used – Micah 5:2-5a and Luke 1:46-55

  • Recap sermon series
    • Advent = time of preparation, getting ready for the coming of the Christ-child into our lives again, for the miraculous birth of God
    • Series = looking at different aspects of how we prepare ourselves for a new presence in our lives
      • Lots of different forms
        • New child (birth, adoption, fostering)
        • Extended house guest (relative, friend, exchange student, etc. moving in for a long period of time)
        • Aging parent/grandparent moving in
      • First week: finding hope as we prepare ourselves by learning
      • Last week: finding peace as we prepare ourselves by nesting
      • This week: finding love as we prepare ourselves by breathing
  • Now, you may be saying to yourself, “What does breathing have to do with preparing?” – fair question
    • Often find preparations stressful
      • Deadlines battle with ever-lengthening to-do lists
      • Mounting list of expenses
        • Financial expenses, certainly
        • Emotional investment
        • Physical toll that preparations take
        • Mental frenzied-ness of trying to do so many things at one time
          • Perfect e.g. – preparation for holidays: How many of you have a shopping list to complete, home to decorate, cookies to bake, Christmas letters to send, family visits to coordinate, and holiday parties to attend? Or some configuration of those things?
    • When we’re in the throes of preparation – whether it’s preparation for the holiday or preparation for that new addition to our lives – we often forget to stop. To reflect. To appreciate. To breathe.
      • Purpose of our centering time at the beginning of the service → suggested centering prayer is always synchronized with your breathing: “As you breathe in, pray, ‘Center me in love.’ As you breathe out, pray, ‘Ever-Present God.’”
        • Lots of different traditions and religions around the world focus on breathing for calming, prayerful, meditative purposes – just a few e.g.s
          • Yoga
          • Tai chi
          • Buddhist meditative use of “om”
          • Concept of “chi” in Taoism
      • And when we have calmed all the chaos – around us and within us – we have to opportunity to remember that our actions of preparation stem from our love – our desire to make things good and right and comfortable for the one/s we love and to remember to let our love be the centerpiece of our preparations.
  • Story we find ourselves walking through and preparing for this time of year – Christmas story = incredible story of love
    • Most-quoted Scripture passage: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.[1] → Christmas celebrates the giving of that first, most precious, most extravagant gift: God’s only Son, grace upon grace, hope upon hope, love upon love.
      • Hear echoes of magnitude of this story in OT text today: As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor gives birth. The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.[2]
        • Not a simple beginning
        • Not a simple story
        • Not a simple “Once upon a time”
        • Hear …
          • Redemption: As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you.[3]
          • Grandeur: He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.[4]
          • Security: They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.[5]
          • All of these stem from God’s love for us.
  • But we have to remember that the Christmas story where we pick it up this time of year begins as a very different story – with a young girl, an angel, a ludicrous proclamation, and a daunting acceptance.
    • Something we don’t often think about = Mary’s age
      • Jewish tradition at the time: betroth girls around ages 11/12, married a year or two after that
        • Nothing to suggest that Mary was an exception to that rule → puts Mary in her early teens when she was visited by Angel Gabriel and told that she was pregnant and that the baby she was carrying was to be God’s own Son
        • Think about stages of development for a minute. At that age – what we now call early adolescence – children are just beginning to discover who they are, to define themselves apart from their parents (likes/dislikes, ideologies, morals and values, etc.). They are just starting to develop the ability to think abstractly, to solve complex problems. The world around them is still very black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. There’s not a huge grasp on “grey areas” yet. And yet it was at this tender, vulnerable, challenging stage that Mary was approached by the Most High God and told that she would bear the Savior of the world. Friends, if ever anyone needed to pause, to reflect, to breathe, it was Mary.
    • And yet even amid the plaintiveness, the hesitation, the worry, the trembling, Mary declares God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s love. → see this in today’s text – as our Advent reading said, Mary’s declaration of love, of devotion, of adoration for the overwhelming blessing bestowed upon her
      • Text: With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. … Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.[6] → Even through the apprehension, through the uncertainty, through the fear, Mary was able to let God’s love shine.
        • Shine in her
        • Shine through her
  • Friends, we find ourselves at a stark and startling point in our nation’s history. Every time we turn on the news, check social media, read the latest blogs, or pick up a paper, we hear words of darkness and hatred and exclusion spilling forth from those who hope to gain our highest seat of public office: the presidency. The fear and the latent anger and the destructive intention that these words have stirred up in this country are frightening.
    • Just this past week: Muslim 6th girl beaten up by 3 boys at a middle school in New York City – called her ISIS, tried to tear off her hijab, her religious headscarf[7] → underlying racism and prejudice has not only bubbled to the surface, it has boiled over and continues to do so, painfully scalding with all those who come in contact with it
    • Other e.g.s
      • Mosques around the country being vandalized, fire-bombed, burned
      • Innocent men, women, children around the country are being harassed, threatened, and beaten simply because of the color of their skin, the sound of their accent, their religion → exact same criteria that cause people to cry “Persecution!” when carried out against Christians around the world, but because it’s on our soil and it’s not us, it’s okay? No.
        • I realize that this is political, that some of you may not agree with me, that some of you may even be upset that I’m mentioning anything like this from the pulpit. I am a pastor, and I am more than willing to sit and listen and talk and pray with anyone who walks through the doors or calls me on the phone, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. But I am also a person, and I cannot sit idly by watching such hatred and injustice and intolerance be stirred up and still faithfully proclaim the gospel without saying something.
          • Stephanie’s blog post: The gospel is political. … The way this gospel works, the way discipleship works, can’t be contained in box that we open for an hour on Sunday morning, but lock up for the rest of the week. This whole thing we call following Jesus demands that we order our lives around his call to righteousness, reconciliation, peace, and justice.  We cannot answer that call without it touching every bit of our lives which means the church … has got to talk about being faithful to this call in the public sphere.[8]
    • If ever a country needed to pause, to reflect, to breathe, friends, it is us. We who claim the name Christian know that the story of our faith is a story of ultimate love. Ours is a story of ultimate sacrifice for the good of those in desperate need. Ours is a story of grace – that beautifully free gift given out of mercy and forgiveness and compassion.
      • Take our cues from Mary
        • Mary was apprehensive
        • Mary was uncertain
        • Mary was afraid
        • With everything going on in the world – wars and suicide bombings, terrorist attacks and mass shootings – we cannot help but feel these things, too: apprehensive, uncertain, and afraid. But in this time of preparation for the birth of the Savior, let us pause. Let us reflect. Let us breathe. Let us re-center ourselves in and remind ourselves of the love of God that started it all. And let that love rule first and foremost in your hearts and in your lives. Amen.

[1] Jn 3:16.

[2] Mic 5:2-5a.

[3] Mic 5:2.

[4] Mic 5:4.

[5] Mic 5:4b-5a.

[6] Lk 1:46-47, 49-50.

[7] “Muslim sixth grader attacked by students who attempted to remove her hijab” from Arab American News. Posted Dec. 7, 2015, accessed Dec. 13, 2015.

[8] Rev. Stephanie Anthony. “The gospel is political” on For Some Reason: Wondering what it’s all about, Posted Dec. 11, 2015, accessed Dec. 13, 2015.

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