SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Dec. 5, 2021
Prayer of the Day
God of grace, your eternal Word took flesh among us when Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Stir up our hearts for his coming again; keep us steadfast in hope and faithful in service, until we receive the fullness of your coming kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Title: Love’s Yes
While Garrison Keiler might have begun his weekly recap of the news from his famous Minnesota town on Prairie Home Companion with the phrase: “it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” I would have to say this past week here at St. John’s has been anything but quiet. And, where as listeners of that classic radio show were accustomed to, and eager even, to hear Keiler talk of haps and mishaps of those small town folks, I don’t usually offer a survey of the past week in our parish setting. Even though a not-quiet-week is anything but atypical around here. But there is something about this week’s angel visitation with a calling and a young woman’s YES that we just heard told in the gospel reading, that is making such a look back seem more than appropriate, more than invited, it seems, do I dare say, necessary.
The week started with us gathering. starting this Advent season with Sunday morning worship (that’s pretty normal). We heard of the priest Zechariah’s own angel visitation, a promise of a son to the old man and his old barren wife, and his hesitancy to embrace this too-good-to-be-true news. That evening, another gathering took place in this sanctuary. It was led by a woman of trans experience known as Qween Jean. She told those gathered, as she had told me a few weeks earlier, that she had felt a calling to reach out to other members of the trans community and other people who felt cut off, disconnected from any faith community, shut out even. Because she herself, raised in a more conversative expression of the Christian faith, was not welcomed to be her authentic self in the gatherings of that community, and was certainly not afforded the opportunity to answer this calling to be a minister of the Word of God, to preach the truth of her own faith. She was silenced not because of her own hesitancy to embrace the truth, but rather it was brought on by those who could not see God at work in her. But we saw it, those of us gathered here last Sunday evening. We heard her love of God expressed. Her pastoral care for those who were listening, ones who might have come with their own wounds from rejection. It was clear that folks heard something helpful, something to cling to, because when it was over, people hung back, stuck around for a while, talked and laughed with Qween Jean and each other. It was a blessing to be present for and I thanked God and Qween Jean that she said YES to her calling.
This past Wednesday, Dec. 1st, was World AIDS Day, and this sanctuary once again hosted the Out of the Darkness event. Again, the gathering was made up of people who truly understand just how dark life can get. Those who lived through the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and early 90’s tell some pretty harrowing, painful, and heartbreaking stories. Our own member Scott Jordan offered some reflections in Wednesday’s e-newsletter. But what resounded again and again this past Wednesday and echoes each time folks gather to remember and reflect on those dark days was the stubborn YES that they lived. Though much of society and even most churches were turning a blind eye, giving a cold shoulder, ignoring with ignorance and hate, and worse – crediting God’s wrath for the disease claiming Divine retribution; the brave were carrying on. Saying YES to caring for sick friends whose families had disowned. Saying YES to their calling to political activism at great risk to their own safety. Saying YES to living another day even when all hope seemed lost. It was a blessing to again be present for this annual event. And I thanked God and those gathered for their continued courageous YES – then and now – as the fight continues.
On Friday, I was invited to and attended a private screening of a documentary that was made about the man who, 30 years ago, started this Out of the Darkness: World AIDS Day event. And though the screening did not happen in this sanctuary, I could not been more proud and honored to see scenes included in the film that were filmed in this place at past Out of the Darkness events. The man and subject of the film is Brent Nicholson Earle. But the film was not about him starting this event. It was about something way crazier that he did about 35 years ago. Feeling helpless as friends were getting sick and dying. Frustrated by the lack of attention the AIDS epidemic was getting. (Some of you will remember that it was years into it before then President Reagan even mentioned the word.) Brent heard a calling to run. Not to run away, but to run around the country. Literally. All the way around the country. He plotted a 10,000 mile course making a circle around the country and then ran it. He basically ran a marathon a day, 6 days a week for 20 months. Finishing on Oct. 31, 1987 by coming back across the George Washington Bridge. The next day he ran the NYC Marathon. Some thought he was crazy to say YES to the voice that was calling him to do this. Others thought him courageous. Most importantly, all along the way, he met people who finally felt heard. When asked why he did it, he gave the answer that became the documentary’s title: For the Love of Friends. It was a blessing to hear Brent’s full story. And I thank God and Brent for the foolishness of saying YES.
St. John’s continues to be a welcoming place for a large contingent of folks who feel disenfranchised and cut off from their original communities of faith for one reason or another. This welcome that we extend is especially appreciated when it is time for a memorial to be had for a friend who has died. No surprise, we’ve had a lot more over the last year and a half. This weekend this sanctuary has hosted two. Without exception, these are not your usual memorials. Most of the time they will include a lip sync tribute or two. There will be wonderful, funny, heartwarming, bittersweet stories told. Different names and pronouns might be used for the same individual. One time we even had a vogueing tribute offered for one who was quite legendary for their own vogueing talent. I am always thankful that even in the midst of grief and sorrow, shutting out the rejection that has been spoken and heard, the friends and chosen family still are saying YES to their identity as cherished children of God. They are saying YES to the promises God makes with us in baptism. And it is always a blessing to see a life celebrated in this house where YES is spoken to each one of us.
With all these YESES still echoing from this past week, it is a continued blessing to hear again of Mary’s YES and add it to the chorus. Our gospel reading for today told the episode that the church refers to as the Annunciation. The angel visits this very typical and very insignificant young woman from a very typical and insignificant Middle eastern village, and announces that she is going to give birth to the son of God. But maybe it should be called the invitation. Because Mary does have to say YES. But she does. “Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word.” That’s fancy Biblical speech for YES. She could have said no. However, like all those I have mentioned, Mary said YES, and we are blessed for it. My great fear of theologies that strive to lift Mary above human, that seek to rationalize her into sinlessness, that demand that she be perfect in order to birth Jesus; I fear that they disconnect her YES from those I have mentioned and those that each of you live and express every day. Because while I have highlighted a week of YESES from beyond our Sunday morning worshipping community, I know that each one of you has your own list of YESES that you have spoken and that you continue to speak and live.
And the root of all these YESES, is the first YES, the ultimate YES, the eternal YES. That is the YES that is spoken by God. Within the angel’s message to Mary is God’s YES to a world that has rebelled. For humanity that can seem to be at war with everything that God wants for us. God in Jesus Christ, the son who is promised, God says YES.
Now YESES may appear to be born from hope. And hope is a good word for Advent. However, our Advent word for today is love. Because God’s says YES to the world with the promise of Jesus not because God hopes that Jesus will make everything better and all our problems will be solved. God says YES in Jesus because God loves the world. Many of you know the verse well – For God so loved the world that he gave… And our YESES are born out of and rooted in this gift of God’s love, made known in Jesus, that lives in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Mary – young and unwed, said YES to this controversial and potentially problematic pregnancy because she loved the world and wanted to help bring in the Son, or it was for love of her own people to see David’s royal line reborn, or maybe it was just simply her love for God that made her an obedient servant. Qween Jean loves her community and wants them to hear the good news as she has heard it. Brent even said it, it was for the love of friends that he said YES to his run. And I see it in this community – a YES because there is love for a motherless child, a YES to service out of love for infirmed neighbors in need help and support, a YES to a career of word and service born in love, a love filled YES to family members who are in need, a YES to forgiving a friend or lover because there is love, a YES to a challenging job for the love of the clients who are served, a YES to serving this ministry with countless hours of volunteering. Like St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, I give thanks to God for you with joy.
Let all your YESES, past, present, and future be rooted in God’s loving YES to you, spoken at the font, echoed everyday, renewed at the table, testified to in the Word, shared in community. Know that they are planted in us by Christ and nourished by the Spirit so that we too might embrace the power to say YES when called upon to love in Jesus’ name.
The Rev. Mark Erson,