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December 10, 2017

“Waiting with Love”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Luke 40.1-11

Mark 1.1-8

December 10, 2017

            After Thanksgiving it is tradition in my family (as I’m sure it is in many of yours) to put up the Christmas tree and decorations. This year was no different. I had the kids help put up the tree as Michael Buble sang in the background – we were off to the right start. I began wrapping lights around the tree. No pre-lit trees in my house, because if you’re not tangled in wire and mumbling under your breath, it isn’t Christmas. Halfway up the tree, the lights went out. One bulb was out, and who knows which one. I frantically began swapping out bulbs with an extra, only to realize the extra was also broken. Finally, after fifteen minutes of messing with the lights, I tossed out the strand and took out another. Thirty minutes later, I topped the tree with our traditional snowflake, which glows figuratively and literally with Christmas cheer. I plugged it in, and it didn’t work. This might seem silly, but I didn’t realize just how much nostalgia I had placed on this ten year old snowflake on top of a tree. It wasn’t until Rob came in and shrugged, saying, “Well, it had a good run,” that I shifted my thinking.

            Christmas is a time when we lean heavily on traditions and memories. They shape our Christmases and expectations. Though, sometimes our memories aren’t always accurate. We remember the good, not the bad. Even when our memories are accurate, our traditions do not always go as planned. We cannot rely on the perfection of traditions to make us happy.

            Our scripture readings today visit the idea of nostalgia and how God turns life, traditions, and the world, upside down. God creates a way when there seems to be no way. The Gospel of Mark is brief and to the point. We do not read about a manger or a baby or sheep or angels. Maybe this is troubling to us, because our memories are filled with Christmas pageants and nativity scenes. Yet, we remember that the small baby turned into a man, who lived his life in a way that helped others. Babyhood is but a blip on the calendar. Christmas is but a day. How we respond the other 364 days is also important.

            In the Mark reading we learn about John the Baptist. He is announcing the adult Jesus and tells of paving the way. He quotes the Isaiah passage, not because the prophet Isaiah envisioned Jesus in sixth century BCE, but because John knew scripture and could see the relation to his current day and time.[1] John the Baptist found hope in Isaiah, and shares it with others. In times of despair, God is our hope. Sometimes we place our hopes and expectations on the past because it is our experience – what we know is in the past. The future, the unknown, is scary. John the Baptist and those in his time were experiencing a war in Rome and their lives were certainly in turmoil.[2] When times are tough, we often long for how life was, once upon a time. Here comes John the Baptist, telling us that God makes a way when there is no way. God paves the wilderness and makes a path. A new way is always possible with God. New life is always right around the corner.

            Dennis Sanders, a Disciples of Christ pastor, recently wrote in the Christian Century: “Nostalgia is both a longing for security and a driver of pain.”[3] In his article he discusses nostalgia in our faith and culture, mentioning Flint, Michigan as an example. Not too long ago that city seemed successful with over 200,000 people and multiple automotive factories that employed those people. Now, the city has half that population and empty factories.[4] The city that was is no more, yet many remember how it was and wish for those days.

            We all have our own nostalgia. Maybe it is remembering how family used to be, or friends. Maybe we remember the church being filled, and hate to see it being empty. I think sometimes we have what I will call “Facebook syndrome” when it comes to memories. On Facebook, people put up their happiest moments in life – their vacations, their smiling children, their clean houses. They don’t put up their sad moments, their tears, their heartache. Our memories are sometimes just as selective, only remembering the positive moments. So, when we have nostalgia, we remember that we loved seeing the church filled, but maybe forget some of the other problems that went along with it.

            There is a nostalgia of our culture, too – a movement to “go back,” but that Facebook syndrome continues. We forget that to go back to the “way things used to be” means denying people civil rights. Some forget that to rejoice in the “good ol’ days” might mean women aren’t in leadership anymore or that people of color are marginalized. We forget that sometimes our traditions or ways of doing things can exclude others. Jesus came to tell us to reexamine our traditions – to take another look at how we live our lives and find out who we are excluding, and create a new tradition. Jesus came to make us uncomfortable.

            That’s not the story we want to hear at Christmas, though. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. Luckily, we have the words of comfort coming from the prophet Isaiah. “Comfort, comfort my people.” Yes, Jesus’ words and actions make us uncomfortable, but in a strange dichotomy, God also comforts us. We need to be comforted. In a world of pain, we need consoling. What do you think of when you hear the word “comfort”? Hot cocoa? Blankets? Fire? The author talks about a way in the wilderness – a place with chaos and no clear boundary – maybe even no end. God is in the chaos, in the wilderness, and in the world of pain. God speaks to us words of comfort. That word is so important, for God’s word is forever. God speaks to the people of color who have been profiled. God speaks to the women who have been harassed. God speaks to the immigrants who have been denied. God speaks to the homeless who are living on the streets.

            What should we cry out? I think our culture is currently overwhelmed. We are bombarded with so much hate and harassment that we don’t even know where to begin. We could speak many prophetic words – words against racism and sexism and gun violence and hatred. I think we have to speak out against all these things, but maybe it is easier to start with one word rather than many – and maybe that word is love. We wait with love for these things to end. Waiting with love means being fully present – not anxious for the future, or nostalgic about the past. It means being ready for change because God will make a way in the wilderness. The child that comes into the world holds the promise that the world will be turned upside down. If only it would happen sooner than later, we might think. Yet, we wait.

            As you put up your decorations this year, or as you begin your traditions, remember why you are doing what you do. Is it for family? For friends? For neighbors? For God? Who is included? What do you cry out? I encourage you to begin a new tradition – just one – one that cries out with love. Maybe you write to your local politician. Maybe you give to an organization that helps people who are oppressed. Maybe you read a book to educate yourself further on other cultures or traditions. Maybe you sit with a friend who is different than you and just listen. Whatever it is, take that time to cry out for love, and wait – because the Christ child is coming, and bringing love for the whole world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Christopher R. Hutson, “Mark 1.1-8” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 46.

[2] Judy Yates-Siker, “Mark 1.1-8” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 45.

[3] Dennis Sanders, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century November 8, 2017, Vol. 134, No. 23, p. 21.

[4] Ibid., 21.