Advent.3—Blue Christmas

by admin on December 18, 2012

Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 40:1-9
Reflections for 16 December 2012

Today we wish to talk about a blue Christmas. When Brandon and I talked about possible topics for Sundays in Advent we thought that perhaps a conversation on the noon day demon—acedia sloth; and its twin sister—depression would be worth the time. And who of us here hasn’t been visited by these two? I thought maybe Elvis could show up and sing for us. However, we could never even imagine the unspeakable tragedy that befell our country on Friday.

The lives of 20 beautiful children, six adults who struggled to save them and the one young kid who pulled the trigger. And what about God in all this? I wanted to have some positive uplifting ways to deal with your holiday blues and perhaps because I have this gene in me too that needs to help others find a way out, I wanted to lift up this Advent season as time of trusting God more in our lives.

All that works well when certain things come to play. But today presents us with a while new batch of ingredients to our personal and national consciences. Eugene Peterson—The Message man—advises preachers to be short on words and more advocating prayer and mourning. This is sage wisdom. Already preachers and religious folks are offering reasons, rationales, and blames for the terrible events in Connecticut. Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing in Newtown this week, celebrating God’s wrath on our country. Governor Mike Huckabee proclaimed that the lack of religion—specifically Christian—in the classroom had led to this terrible slaughter. He wasn’t surprised it happened.

Then there’s the commentary of Tweeters and Facebookers, and the swarm of media who have misquoted, jumped to conclusion and misnamed people left and right. As much as I deplore Westboro and Mike Huckabee’s posture, they might have a glimpse into a deeper disease affecting the soul of our society.

It was Christopher Marlowe and Johann von Goethe who popularized the legend of Faust—the man whose dissatisfaction with life led him to make a bargain with the devil of selling his soul for the privilege of unfettered knowledge and earthly pleasure. A Faustian bargain has been used to describe the dilemma of being attracted to two opposite at the same time. Like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Only for Faust it isn’t a sweet treat that is on the table—it is his very soul.

The great American patriot Thomas Paine (Common Sense) begins his radical pamphlet “The Crisis” with these words: These are the times that try men’s souls. Indeed, these are the time that try men’s, women’s children’s—the very core of our national being and soul. Writer and reporter Walter Shapiro states that we are in the throes of Faustian bargain for our souls. We are a nation of stubborn individualism and lethal gun violence. They are entwined into our national psyche.

We are caught between an element of cultural superiority in the urban liberal disdain for gun ownership and a self-destructive stubbornness to conservative opposition to all forms of regulation. So what to do? Shapiro sees no way out, and says we are stuck as a nation to a future of mourning and sadness.

Not a very uplifting prognosis. Where is God in all this? This is a legitimate question. Where is God when the blues come my way, too? If these are the times that try our souls, where is true soul tonic? I have to resort to the only thing that stands when all other supports are washed away. I have to go back to the Bible. The Bible, not as a book, but as a witness to and a voice of something, someone beyond myself. I’m too wrapped up in Faustian dilemmas to be able to fight my way out of a wet paper bag.

Psalm 137 says: By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. The times that try our souls are precisely those where our orientation to life, our compass for navigating our daily routine, is suddenly shattered and beyond all hope of repair or fixing. Psalm 137 is a story of exile. Gone and destroyed is a way of understating. Humpty Dumpty will not be fixed. I get in the blues when I remember Zion.

One of the ways the Bible rocks my world is that it does not say “hurry up and get over all that.” In fact the Bible is very clear that when the legitimate question of “where are you God?” gets asks the answer is always hidden but assuring I am here with you. Much of the time I’m looking for the miraculous, the stupendous, the saving, get me out of this now approach. Instead what I have discovered is that there are people who cry when I cry, mourn when I mourn and want to share that time with me.

Gene Peterson’s advice is holy and upright. Instead of clamoring for solutions and answers right now we just need to mourn with Newtown, CT. But the sadness will not last forever. This is why we need to have a voice outside of ourselves to proclaim a reality that the blues cannot sustain.

The two passages from Isaiah today are those kinds of words. Both were written at different times historically, but both written with the reality of total destruction and social confusion. Indeed, ancient Israel has many Faustian dilemmas. Isaiah 9 is a coronation song—probably originally sung at Hezekiah’s inauguration sometime around 715 BCE. Surrounded by opposing political states on all sides, the prophet says that God’s greater plan is that Jerusalem and her king would reign forever. History tells us that it didn’t work out that way exactly. Perhaps Yahweh operates on a different time table.

Isaiah 40 is two centuries later as 70 years of political exile in Baghdad comes to an end. We will be a reconciled people, Isaiah proclaims. Speak comfort is the command from heaven. And be the community of reconciliation in the world. To do these two things—so contrary to our human intuition and Faustian dilemmas—requires the soul to be united to the source of comfort and peace.

We all have blue days; many of us have blue holidays, too. Sadness and grief are legitimate postures of the soul. And so is having a community that understand and can sit with you.

And that brings us to faith as a living option. Anne Lamott, in a recent blog, reports of a conversation she had with a local Catholic priest about being light in a dark world. “Faith is a decision,” he offered. “DO we believe that we are ultimately doomed and there’s no way out? Or that God and goodness makes a difference? There is heaven, community and hope—and hope that there is life beyond the grave.”

Advent is not for the naïve. Because in spite of the dark and cold we can see light—you look up or you make light with candles, trees — and you give light. Advent says that there is a way out of this Faustian trap—that we embrace our humanity—our disappointment with life—-and Jesus’ humanity. And then we remember that not only was he wrapped in swaddling clothes, he was wrapped up in God. And where to find Jesus? Right where he said he would bewith the brokenhearted the poor and the marginalized.

Much of the Bible is slave literature. All of it is marginalized writings. There is an old spiritual from the literature of another slave people that sings: trouble doesn’t last always. In the meantime while it does let us light candles to defy the darkness and let us be the community of hope in the world.

December 28, just a few days after Christmas day but within the feast day of nativity the church observes what is called Holy Innocents Day. It commemorates the first persecution of people for the sake of Jesus. In Matthew 2:16ff we hear of King Herod’s destruction of all the male children in Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate any completion for his throne. Today we have a new list of innocents.

Charlotte Bacon, age 6
Daniel Barden, age 7
Olivia Engel, age 6
Josephine Gay, age 7
Ana M Marquez-Greene, age 6
Dylan Hockley, age 6
Madeleine F Hsu, age 6
Catherine V Hubbard, age 6
Chase Kowalski , age 7
Jesse Lewis, age 6
James Mattioli, age 6
Grace McDonnell, age 7
Emilie Parker, age 6
Jack Pinto, age 6
Noah Pozner, age 6
Caroline Previdi, age 6
Jessica Rekos, age 6
Avielle Richman, age 6
Benjamin Wheeler, age 6
Allison N Wyatt, age 6

Rachel Davino, age 29
Dawn Hochsprung, age 47
Anne Marie Murphy, age 52
Lauren Rousseau, age 30
Mary Sherlach, age 56
Victoria Soto, age 27

(Guerillas of Grace, Ted Loder)
O God of all seasons and senses, grant us the sense of your timing
to submit gracefully and rejoice in the turn of the seasons.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of endings;
children growing, friends leaving, loved ones dying,
grieving over,
grudges over,
blaming over,
excuses over.

O God, grant us a sense of your timing.
In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of beginnings;
that such waitings and endings may be the starting place,
a planting of seeds which bring to birth what is ready to be born—
something right and just and different,
a new song, a deeper relationship, a fuller love—
in the fullness of your time.

O God, grant us the sense of your timing.

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