Sunday, December 6, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Sermon preached December 6, 2009

Texts: Luke 3:1-6

“Once upon a time.” When you hear that phrase it usually introduces a fascinating story, one which often takes places in a fantastic location and often has wonderfully odd creatures. This phrase has been used probably since about the 14th century and by the 17th century was a familiar way to introduce the telling of a story. Comparable phrases are found in many languages. While the stories introduced by “once upon a time” are interesting and usually have some lesson for our lives, we know we don’t live in a once upon a time world. We also know we don’t live in a world of “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” though stories that come to us like that are also wonderful, as are stories set at some indefinite time in the future. But that’s not where we live, either.
We do however, sometimes live in this kind of world: “when the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.” That’s the “Age of Aquarius.” When the stars all align, then I will: take better care of myself, take my faith more seriously, change. If only this, this and this were in place, life would be nearly perfect. I will be happy when I have the job of my dreams, no longer have to worry about money (at least not much), find the just-right person to spend the rest of my life with. We have all lived here for a little while, I would guess, and there is a temptation to have this be the primary orientation of our life.
Luke offers us a different sense of time. Luke does not tell a story that begins: “once upon a time,” or “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” or “someday,” or “when the moon was in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligned with Mars.” He offers a very different beginning. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Besides being a little boring and dry, what does this
tell us? It offers us a very different sense of time – concrete, specific. More than that, we need to know that this litany of names does not portend an age of Aquarius. In many ways Luke is telling us this is an anti-Aquarius time, a difficult time, a harsh time. The names given here are not remembered for being particularly kind to the people of John, the Jews. This was a hard time.
Yet, yet, this is God’s time. I think Luke is telling us that “now” is always God’s time. Now is always God’s time. There are no circumstances that cannot lead to a deepening of our faith, a deepening of our humanity, an enriching of our relationship with God. In one of her books, Joan Chittister writes: Christmas is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace…. Christmas is the obligation to see that everything leads us directly to God, to realize that there is no one, nothing on earth that is not the way of God for me. (Gospel Days, 149)
There is no time that is not God’s time – God’s time for enriching our lives and helping us make the world more caring, more just, more peaceful, more beautiful. We don’t need to wait until the stars align to deepen our faith, take our spiritual practices more seriously, be more caring, take better care of ourselves and others, tackle the difficult change we need to make in our lives, become more fully human and more fully alive, deepen our relationship with God. We don’t need to wait until everything is just right because frankly that will never happen. Now is the time, not once upon a time.
Denise Roy, mother, psychotherapist and spiritual director tells a wonderful story about finding grace in an unlikely place (My Monastery is a Minivan, 54-55). She shares that she and her father are political opposites, so they avoid political topics whenever they are together. However, her father began sending out e-mails, sometimes long e-mails to try and convince his children, including Denise, of the error of their ways. “It got so bad that every time I saw his name attached to an e-mail, I’d sigh and delete it before even reading it.”
But one morning she was sitting down to write a reflection on “grace.” It wasn’t going well. She was having trouble getting started. When nothing else seemed to help, she thought it might help to distract herself by checking her e-mail. Wouldn’t you know it, there was another one from her father. She was getting ready to delete the e-mail when something inside her told her to open it up. It was one of those things that was making the rounds by e-mail, but it was just what she needed. Here’s what it said:

The man whispered, “God speak to me,” and a meadowlark sang. But the man did not hear.

So the man yelled, “God speak to me!” And the thunder rolled across the sky. But the man did not listen.

The man looked around and said, “God, let me see you.” And a star shined brightly. But the man did not notice.

And the man shouted, “God, show me a miracle!” And a life was born. But the man did not know.

So the man cried out in despair, “Touch me, God, and let me know you are here!” But the man brushed away the butterfly and walked on.

Don’t miss out on a blessing because it isn’t packaged the way that you expect.

And Denise Roy smiled and reflected: “Grace even arrives by e-mail.” Now is the time, not once upon a time.
Advent tells us that God’s time is always now, no matter how difficult and challenging a time it is. That’s not to say God caused all the difficulty to teach us something. It is to say that there is nothing that happens that God cannot weave into our lives for our own growth. Advent tells us that God’s time is now. Christmas tells us that everything can be part of the path to deeper faith, richer humanity, closer connection to God.
The message of the season is not once upon a time, but now is the time. Amen.

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