Let us pause for a moment to open our hearts and minds to God in the spirit of prayer:
God of Advent peace,
we give thanks for your loving presence
and the comfort you offer us
every moment of our lives.
You are with us in times of joy and sorrow;
a constant faithful presence
that reminds us that we are not alone.
We give thanks that you gently but persistently
guide our steps as we walk together
on this journey of faith.
You give us courage to proclaim your love
in our actions as well as our words
that we may be guided in your way of peace.
We gather, and serve, in the name of Christ,
the herald of hope and Prince of Peace.
This week, as I have been pondering the scripture readings for the second Sunday of Advent, many thoughts and themes have occurred to me. I have sought God’s comfort in the midst of grieving the death of a dear friend; I have recognized God’s messengers in kind actions and words of encouragement; I have witnessed the Good News of Christ’s presence in the Body of Christ gathered in worship and remembrance; and I have heard the words of prophets, poets and teachers which have inspired and illuminated my journey of faith.
There is much hope and promise offered to us in our faith tradition. We believe that God is with us in all the experiences of our lives and that Christ came, and is with us still, in the community of saints past and present. The challenge, in times of stress and discomfort, is to open our eyes and our hearts to God’s presence in the simple and ordinary experiences of life.
Do any of you remember the Where In The World Is Waldo books? They were popular with my daughters when they were children. Each page of the books is busy with illustrations, every bit crammed with pictures. The challenge is to find a boy named Waldo who is “hidden” somewhere in the picture. It’s like trying to find God in our lives, hidden in plain sight. What we seek is there but we have to look carefully and with eyes attuned to the unexpected in order to see what we are looking for. But, when we begin to be alert and watch for God’s presence, and for Christ’s presence in the guise of a stranger, it becomes easier as we develop the skills of faith-filled vision.
One simple story comes to mind. It’s a story about a young man called Bill:
Bill has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. Bill is a university student who has become a Christian since he’s been attending university. Across the street from the campus, that Bill attends, is a well-to-do, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students but are not sure how to go about it.
One day, Bill decides to attend worship at this church across the street. He enters the sanctuary with no shoes, wearing jeans, his T-shirt and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a place to sit down. By now people are looking a bit uncomfortable but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer to the front of the church and when he realizes there are no seats, he just sits down, right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behaviour at student gatherings, trust me, this had never happened in this church before!) By now the people are really uptight and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that, from way at the back of the church, an elder is slowly making his way toward Bill. The elder is in his eighties, has silver-grey hair, a three piece suit, and a pocket watch. He is very dignified, very elegant, very proper. He walks with a cane and as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves, “You can’t blame him for what he’s about to do. How can you expect a man of his age, and of his background, to understand some kid on the floor.”
It takes a long time for the man to reach Bill. The church is completely silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane on the floor. All eyes are focused on him; you can’t even hear anyone breathing. The people are thinking, “The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the elder does what he has to do.”
And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t be alone. There is a murmur around the congregation. When the minister gains control, she says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.” (Seasons of the Spirit, 2002, Author unknown)
God is with us encouraging our compassionate response to others and in the kind actions of others toward us. At this time of year we especially remember that God’s love can be born to us in humble surroundings, in the fragile form of a baby, in the tenderness of a mother and father’s love. The Advent and Christmas stories remind us of God’s messengers in our own lives who bring comfort but also confront us with promptings to follow God’s way especially when that requires us to be daring and take risks all the while trusting God to guide and sustain us.
Commenting on today’s passage from Mark’s gospel the book, Feasting on the Word, notes that: “Mark begins his Gospel like a breathless messenger who is eager to make an unexpected announcement. Mark does not begin his story by letting us linger with the baby Jesus for a time, as Matthew and Luke do in their nativity narratives; and Mark does not begin at rarified heights, as John does in the prologue to his Gospel. Instead, Mark begins with a brief fanfare: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1) and then launches into his story about another messenger, John the baptizer, who also bursts on the scene with good news to tell.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, pg. 45, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008)
The Good News of God’s presence has been proclaimed through the ages by messengers, young and old. I’ll close with a poem called December Prayer, written in 1999 by Mattie Stepanek. Some of you will remember that Mattie Stepanek was a young boy who suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and had multiple physical challenges in his daily life. Mattie believed that his reason for living was to be a peace-maker. He saw the best in human nature and sought to engender peaceful living within himself and others. His depth of spirituality and wisdom was well beyond his years. When he was three years old he began writing poems which ascribed words to his “heartsongs”; insights and words of faith which were God’s gifts to him. I believe that Mattie was one of God’s messengers who pointed the way to God’s commonwealth of love and peace. His words are simple and pure and proclaim the Good News of God’s presence, and active participation in our lives, and our ability to reach out and offer our thoughts and prayers to God:
No matter who you are,
Say a prayer this season.
No matter what your faith,
Say a prayer this season.
No matter how you celebrate,
Say a prayer this season.
There are so many ways
To celebrate faiths,
There are so many faiths
To celebrate life.
No matter who,
No matter what
No matter how…
Let’s say a prayer
Together, for peace.
Journey Through Heartsongs by Mattie Steepness
I pray that we will have open hearts and open minds to hear the message of God’s love made known in our lives, and in our world, this day and always.