We Waver

December 23, 2012

Isaiah 40:12-26; Romans 4:18-25; Luke 1:46-55



If you have been counting, you know that today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent.  Advent is that liturgical season that has been jettisoned in the interest of expediency.  It has become the “Christmas season.”  One commentator recently complained that there is no ‘war on Christmas,’  the war is on Advent.


Some people don’t really know what Advent is, or why we bother with it in the first place.  This is a really old practice, dating back to the sixth century.  So for the last fourteen hundred years or so the church has been observing what, for most of that period anyway, was a lot like lent.  I suppose that this is the reason that Advent is to some, distasteful. 


I, for one, have not given up one darn thing for Advent.  It is kind of nice, really, to plunge headlong into the excesses of food and frivolity without any guilt.  After all, it’s Christmas!  Cookies started coming weeks ago.  Would I like one?  Why not, it’s Christmas!  A dinner splurge.  There are lots of opportunities for that.  What, my diet?  Why not, it’s Christmas!  I am sure that none of you would qualify my behavior as reckless self abandonment, but let’s face it, some boundaries have gone down!  And why not, it’s Christmas!


Tis the season to waver from our commitments to our diet, our budget, and yet, surprisingly, our discipleship seems to have a little up-tick in commitment.


In the last week or so social media has been ablaze with a movement called #20.  Ann Curry of NBC asked her Twitter followers to commit 20 ‘random acts of kindness’ to honor the  twenty children killed in Newton Connecticut.   Did you hear about that?  Haven’t you been watching your twitter feed?  One lady paid for the gasoline a stranded motorist needed to continue their journey.  Another person paid off the layaway bill of family at one of those ‘big-box’ stores.  It is heartwarming really.


What wavering is going on at the moment, in the discipleship movement anyway, appears to be on the positive side.  Except in the parking lot of the mall in Wyomissing of course.  Just try and sneak into that parking spot I have my eye on.  Except for there, maybe, it is a time of generosity and kindness.  And why not, it’s Christmas!


I do not know if you realize it, but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t Christmas.  It’s Advent.  Advent is that season of the church year when Pastors do their best to stave off every intrusion of pagan ritual and mythology, holding back the wave of Carols.  It is a season of the year when congregations suffer through “There’s A Voice in the Wilderness Crying” and then dash out to their cars after services tune their radio to the “All Christmas music, all the time” station.   On my way in to church earlier this week I saw, on one of those big, bright, computer generated billboards, a notice that on Comcast Cable channel 247 you can hear “Christmas Music” all the time.


All the time?  I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that on December 26, the 27th at the latest, those stations will go back to their regular programing. 


I saw on the news this week a story about a man in Australia who had one of those dash cameras like in a police car.  For some reason another driver got angry at him, followed him, cut him off, rammed him, and finally jumped out of his car, jumped onto the hood of the victims car and with his fist, smashed the windshield.  The news reported noted that, ‘well, there is a lot of stress this time of year.’  It was almost as if they were making an excuse for the behavior by saying, “after all, it’s Christmas.”


I would like to say that the best in people comes out at this time of year, but I can’t.  It’s a mixed bag.  Sometimes we see extraordinary examples of love and generosity.  Other times we see the worst of self-centeredness and violence.  Even those who identify themselves as disciples of Jesus waver.  It is part of the human condition.  Our fidelity is sometimes with Jesus and sometimes, well, somewhere else.


Advent is a season of preparation.  What it is really about is getting ready.  It is about faith formation just as lent is about faith formation except that we don’t have to give up eating meat on Friday.  Advent is about bending our own lives toward the path of discipleship.


I know you have already heard the lessons for today.  I simply want to remind you of two examples of discipleship contained in them.


Paul reminds the Romans of Abraham: “20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”


Isaiah speaks to Israel, living as it were in a land and amongst a people that did not share their faith commitments.  He repeats the promise of God to a scattered people, “26by the greatness of His might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”  The promise remains, if you will just remain faithful, that you will be gathered in.


It is interesting, if you are a word geek like me, to remember that the word spelled Waiver is similar to the word Waver.  Waiver, with an “I,” is to relinquish a claim or a privilege. 


In Luke, Chapter One, it is almost the same, but different.  To the Sarah and Abraham the messenger said, ‘nothing is impossible to God.’  To Mary, a teenage girl in a little town in northern Israel, unmarried – she had been promised by her family to a carpenter who lived there in Nazareth by the name of Joseph, but they were not yet married – the messenger said, “You are going to have a child.” “But I don’t have a husband!”  The messenger said, “do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God.” 

She is up against it.  She is an unwed mother.  She is not rich, she is poor.  She has not privilege, she is a woman in a society that only gives women status through their Husband.  Soon as he hears this he is likely to cancel the whole deal.  The messenger tells her, don’t be afraid.  It will work out, not the way you or anyone else expects, it will work out. 


So Mary finds some way to remain steadfast, to not waver.  She is so certain – how can you not be with those tiny feet kicking around in your belly – that God’s promises, “..as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” that she goes through with it.  She goes the whole way, pondering these things in her heart.  Wondering, faithful wondering, even while her son’s friend comforts her at the foot of the cross.


I do not know how you can do that, I really don’t, unless somehow you are able to keep holding on to that promise.  I wonder if we have learned our lesson.  If God can give a child to an old couple in a tent in Saudi Arabia and change the world; if God can change the heart of one fanatic named Saul so thoroughly that he cannot stop sharing this promise; if God can give a baby to a teenage girl in northern Israel, a baby that people still talk about 2000 years later, why would we ever waver, give up, shrug my shoulders?  I think, I think that it is worthwhile to stick to this promise, even though other promises are offered that seem better at the time.  Advent is important because it is a time of preparation, reminding me to remember these things.


Hang on to this promise that Mary sings.  It will come in handy before we meet again.