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How does a weary world rejoice?

“We Allow Ourselves to be Amazed”

December 10, 2023  Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Luke 1:57-66 | Psalm 126

Third Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:57-66

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Psalm 126

A Harvest of Joy

A Song of Ascents.When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,   we were like those who dream.Then our mouth was filled with laughter,   and our tongue with shouts of joy;then it was said among the nations,   ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’The Lord has done great things for us,   and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,   like the watercourses in the Negeb.May those who sow in tears   reap with shouts of joy.Those who go out weeping,   bearing the seed for sowing,shall come home with shouts of joy,   carrying their sheaves.

Why is there one candle that’s different from the rest?  I think from a very early age this pink candle held my attention more than the others.  In a church year where the colors are often boring and predictable, reds, greens, blues, purples, and they go on for weeks and weeks being the same, here on the third Sunday of Advent the liturgical color of the day is an aberration from every other day of the year.  A break in the pattern.   A burst of pink, like the pedals of a rose in full bloom.  

You may have heard me tell this story, but when I was studying abroad in Russia during my college years, I attended a Roman Catholic church.  (It was really the closest thing to Methodist that I could find in Orthodox Russia.)  And anyway, my last Sunday in Russia was the third Sunday in Advent and the priest came out that day—a large, serious man—dressed from head to toe in a bright, I mean bright, pink robe.  It was one of those robes that makes a full circle if you hold your arms out.  Really cool, I might have look into those.  Anyway, the pinkness of his wardrobe was absolutely breathtaking.  It made a little piece of me sing inside because it was so joyful.  The funny thing is the priest wearing the pink vestments was absolutely unaffected by the joyful color he was drenched in and remained the most serious person ever despite the festive day.  While I loved his robes, I knew I could never remain that serious while wearing pink on Gaudete Sunday.

At a very simple and basic level, the departure from business as usual with the third candle’s pinkness, is a request for you to pay attention.  To notice something is different and the emotions it makes you feel.  It’s a request to give yourself the permission you might need to be amazed.   It’s a small thing, but in the grand scheme of Things, why not?  Why not look for ways to be simply enchanted by something as ordinary as a burst of color out of place and the way it makes us feel.  

Incidentally, inspired by my Russian Catholic Priest, I embodied my full love of the third Sunday in Advent and also chose to wear pink from head to toe on Halloween when I dressed up as the Barbie edition of “you can be anything.”  Including a woman pastor!  Can I get an amen? 

I read a passage just now from the Gospel of Luke that picks up the story line we’ve been following the last couple of weeks.  The story is following two families as they await the birth of special children.  One family is that of Mary and Joseph.  We know a lot about them.  The other family is Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Two people you may have never heard of before this Advent, but two people the Gospel writer Luke thought were so important to the story that they needed to be front and center.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are older than most other parents.  They have been told a child will be born to them who will not be the Messiah but will prepare the way for the Messiah.  They have also had their share of doubt and angst during this pregnancy.  But one thing has been clear.  God has been walking with them every step of the way, sometimes taking the form of silence like we heard about two weeks ago, or companionship like we heard about last week.  

And so when the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, everyone was happy and relieved.  There was much rejoicing.  But a big question surfaced on the day the baby was to be named.  What will he be called?  All of the family and friends assumed the baby would be named in the way baby boys were traditionally named: after their father.  But Elizabeth had been told by God (remember?) that this baby was different.  And so she definitively stated to her business-as-usual family, “No, his name is to be John.”  Not taking the mother’s word for it, they had to go and double check with Zechariah.  Zechariah couldn’t speak, remember the silence God “gave” him when he doubted this whole baby thing?  So they asked Zechariah and he had to use a tablet to write down his answer.  He wrote:

H-I-S  N-A-M-E  I-S  J-O-H-N. 

And the Bible says: “And all of them were… amazed.”  

But that’s not all.  Immediately Zechariah gets his voice back and immediately he began praising God.  Some of the people were afraid when they saw all of this happen.  It didn’t fit neatly into “the way things are supposed to be.”  Surely, they said, God is up to something with this baby and his parents.  

The gathered crowd was both afraid and amazed.  Afraid and amazed. Afraid of the way this was different from what they had always known and also amazed at the way God could still be in the midst of this thing that was different from what they had always known.   

I know we’re not these people living through this situation.  But has it ever happened to you where you experienced life going in an unexpected direction?  Departing from the pattern you expected in a way that caused you to be afraid?  I’ve been there and maybe you have, too.  There are some things that you just want to be the same as they’ve always been.  You depend on them for their predictability.  But life doesn’t always follow the script.  Loss comes before we’re ready.  Change happens against our will.  Plans get interrupted.  Certainty is rudely replaced with uncertainty. 

And fear, fear is the natural response in our lives when things don’t go as planned.  When there is an aberration from the life that we expected.  Most recently I’d say we all saw this play out during the pandemic.  We see it happening now in faraway lands under siege and violence from war.  When your life gets disrupted, it makes you afraid.  And that’s okay.  

But here’s another thing.  Living life in a constant state of fear can be exhausting.  When you’re in a situation of watching your life and the lives of those around you change in ways no one expected or wanted, we get weary with the exhaustion of worry.  What’s going to happen next that we didn’t expect and don’t understand?

I was recently scrolling back through the pictures on my phone because, once again, my phone was full and I needed to cull some of my collections.  As I was trying to decide what pictures to delete and what pictures to save, I ended up all the way back in time looking at pictures from a season of my life that was especially hard. I’m not sure what I expected to find in my camera roll from that season because really so much of it has been blurred in my memory.  And yet, this is what surprised me.  There were pictures there in my camera roll from this season that could only be described as capturing pure enchantment.  For example, there was this picture of a vase of peonies on my bedside table. 

A picture I had taken.  And then another picture of the same vase of peonies on the kitchen table. 

And then yet another picture of the same vase of peonies on my desk in my office.

  Apparently, these peonies were traveling with me everywhere I went and I was so enchanted by them, that I captured it in a picture, over and over again.  It’s like my soul knew, deep down inside that it needed a spiritual connection with the world around me during that difficult season. 

Wonder is a balm for the weary soul.  Enchantment is the gift of seeing the spiritual intertwined with the material.  The gift of paying attention and being astonished by it.  I have to believe this is God’s way of breaking through our fear in order to open us up to the possibility that in spite of our fear and our grief and our heartbreak, we can still allow ourselves to be amazed at the way God  makes the peonies bloom.  Or the children laugh.  Or the sky brilliant in the morning.  Or the grass soft under our feet. Or the animal that snuggles in beside you.  Or the sound of a song that goes right here.  

In the midst of hard times, weary seasons, long nights, difficult years, can we give ourselves permission to be enchanted?  And not only that, can we actively practice finding the wonder around us as we try to fight back the fear and weariness?   Can we see how God is showing up in the world around us, sometimes right under our feet?  

Allowing ourselves to be amazed doesn’t take away the difficult things and it’s not always something that necessarily comes naturally.  But our souls need it like our bodies need water.  Can we give ourselves permission to feel astonishment and wonder?  Can we practice it when we’re not very good at it?

So, in that spirit, I have a video to show you.  It’s one that went viral in the UK this week and possibly here, too.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  It’s of 6-year-old Milo revealing to his mom what role he’s been cast in in the upcoming Christmas Pageant.  Are you ready? 

I absolutely love this video.  Is there anything more amazing than a child’s sense of wonder?  Pure delight at being Door Holder Number 3.  I mean, seriously?  This child, like so many children, understands what it means to be amazed by life.  

And what I also love about this is his mother’s response.  Equally animated enthusiasm to match her son’s.  What!?  Door Holder Number 3?!  Tell me all about it!  It’s like the child’s amazement is contagious.  And that amazement, allowing ourselves to be astonished by something that we see differently when we’re paying attention, that amazement opens the door to something else.  Joy.

I feel more joyful after watching that, and I know that 6-year-old is going to fill his pageant performance with joy because it started first with amazement and wonder.  

God wants us to find joy.  Even in the hard seasons.  And most of the time, that joy with wonder.  By paying attention to the gifts that exist all around us.  The gift of a perfectly ordinary pageant role made special by a boy’s wonder.  The gift of a spring seed pod eternally imprinted into the cold concrete.  The gift of a freshly fallen snow.  The gift of a hot cup of coffee.  The gift of flowers blooming.  The small things, the big things.  The ordinary and the extraordinary alike.  Allowing ourselves to be amazed is a balm for our weariness.  God is all around us, asking us to open our eyes.

What if God is Joy 

By Steve Garnaas-Holmes

What if God is joy?

What if the Father is bliss and the Son is gratitude and the Holy Spirit is gleeful wonder?

What if creating is God's play,and the big bang was an outburst of happiness and the galaxies are spun from pure delight?

What if gravity, that holds the universe together,is simply the pleasure of harmony,and every created thing's ecstatic desire for one another?

What if earth is God's great celebration,spinning and dancing and making music and beauty and inviting everyone in to feast and wonder?

What if being itself is such a miracle that God gets endless enjoyment out of it?What if God doesn't own a throne (most uncomfortable)and has never handled a gavel,but has a million musical instruments?

What if God goes to hell every weekend with a load of tissues and listens to everybody who's locked themselves up in there until they've cried out all their sorrows,and they come out laughing and dancing?

What if what it means to come to God is to enter into God's joy?

What if the work of justice is to enable everyone to truly know joy?(And would that not mean that cruelty and injustice are most heinously sinful?)

What if even in our grief and our despair the root of our being is joy,and resurrection means passing through our sorrow into God's delight?

What if salvation means being rescued from our inability to rejoice?

Why not? Why not?

Do you think you can convince me that God is all somber and serious?

What if even now, as you consider this,and think it's kind of silly,God is laughing... and waiting?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna

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