The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
“Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.” In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
If a heavenly being suddenly dropped down in front of you and said, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you!” would you run for cover? And what if the next words to you were “Do not be afraid!” Would you pick up the pace? You laugh, but I think it is no accident that some phrasing of “fear not,” “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible over 100 times. Could it be that God knows that we are fearful folk particularly if we’ve been given an extraordinary, overwhelming charge—particularly if we think we have to do it out of our own strength and ability? But listen to what almost always comes next: “The Lord is with you.” “God will be with you.” “Nothing is impossible for God.” You see, the Bible is replete with story after story after story of God calling the ordinary to the extraordinary. Ordinary flawed folk like me and like you. But empowered by God, accompanied by God, nothing is impossible.
Today we enter that countercultural season of Advent taken from the Latin word adventis, meaning coming, where we are called to do something totally against our cultural nature, which is to slow down, to wait, to watch, to listen, to prepare for the coming of the most extraordinary gift of all time: welcoming the Christ child once again into our hearts and into our midst. And, of course, waiting in our culture is not particularly highly valued, not really all that attractive. When was the last time you heard someone say to you, “Take your time, I’m happy to wait?” We are an “as soon as possible” kind of world. So the whole notion of slowing down, watching, waiting, preparing, particularly in the most wonderful time of the year—read busy— it just seems somehow out of sync, but that’s exactly what we are called to do.
As you listen to the prophets of old in the next four weeks, as we prepare for Christmas, you will hear a longing, a longing for one to come who would free them from bondage and slavery; a longing for those in exile to be returned home; a longing to be reconnected with God. As we look around our city and our nation and our world, don’t we have a voice of longing for one to come to set things right? Certainly, in the last few weeks and months we see the need for one to come all around us. Where war and violence will be no more. Where justice and freedom and peace will reign. Where no child has to go to bed hungry in a city where one out of five go to bed hungry every night. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
And what’s our place in the midst of all of that? I would submit to you that waiting and watching is not passive. It’s actually very active, but sometimes we can be so overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues before us that it causes us not to act. God empowers us not just to see what’s happening around us but to respond. And sometimes, my friends, it’s in the ordinary everyday things, that something is right in front of us, if we just slow down long enough to see it and to hear how we might be called to respond.
Take any ordinary everyday thing and how we’re so busy trying to be efficient and hurry through it that we can just miss it. I don’t know about you but, for example, when I go to the grocery store and I’m ready to check out I look at all the lines and I do a mental calculation of which one will be the fastest. Of course, it’s not just simple math. You can’t just look at how many carts are in each line. You have to look at the items in each basket, calculate about how long you think it will take them to check out. And then, if it happens to be a grocery store where you know the checkers, there’s higher math involved with who you know is the fastest and doesn’t engage in much chit chat. You laugh; you do it, too. We’re so busy; busy that we miss it. And what do you do while you’re waiting in line with the fastest checker by your calculation? If you’re like me and most of the people I see around me, I pull out my smartphone because, of course, I don’t want to waste any time. I’m busy checking email or whatever else might have happened in the last 15 minutes since I last looked.
But what would we see if we left those smartphones in our purses or pockets? What might be right around us? Would we notice the person two baskets ahead of us who was slowly but surely pulling out coupons for literally everything in his or her basket and then pays in cash because that’s all the money they have for food that week and they can’t go a dollar over budget? Would we notice the harried and haggard single–parent trying to keep the kids in some sort of order—a person holding down two or three part–time jobs just to make ends meet—to try and provide a good home and be a good parent for those children? Would we notice the older person with a walker slowly, very slowly, going up and down the aisles with some nurse or health attendant by their side, happy because that’s their outing of the week and antidote to loneliness and isolation?
What do we see when we slow down? What do we see when we intentionally wait and watch? What messenger may God be sending to you and to me in this Advent season? We’re invited to do something countercultural for four weeks, not just in the big things but in the everyday ordinariness of life. What might be waiting to be born in you? What pregnant possibility is just waiting for you to hear it, to feel it, and to say “yes” despite your fear?
Kathleen Norris describes the Incarnation as the place where hope contends with fear. We are hopeful people. We’re in the season of hope and expectation, waiting for the one to come. If a heavenly being drops down in front of you and whispers in your ear, “Do not be afraid. God is with you and nothing is impossible with God” may you and I, like Mary, say “Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word.” Come, Lord Jesus, come.