By Conference Minister Diane Weible
The Rev. Loren McGrail, former Mission Co-Worker in Palestine, shared a sermon she preached for the first Sunday in Advent entitled “Hope is Staying Woke.” In it, she talks about the longer, darker days of December and the contrast of that to being called to stay awake, be alert. She asks, “What are we staying awake for?”
As Christmas draws near we feel the answer in the air. As our Advent candles of Hope, Faith, Love and Joy are all lit, we anticipate the reason we have been staying awake all these days of Advent. The Holy One is coming. The Baby Jesus is about to be born. God Incarnate is about to appear.
In her sermon she talks about Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land: “In the Holy Land, we got to celebrate Christmas three times because there are three different Christian groups: the Western church celebrates on the 24th and 25th, the Orthodox churches celebrate on January 6th and the Armenians usually around the 20th. Each time their Patriarch makes his traditional procession to Manager Square and the Church of Nativity to celebrate under the lights of the giant Christmas tree to the [sounds of] marching bands playing bagpipes.”
I can feel the rejoicing and almost hear the bagpipes. I want to sing and I want to dance and I want to shout for joy.
And, I’m very aware that there is danger in re-telling the same story year after year. There is a sleepiness of knowing how the story is going to end even before we have started to tell it. There is an awkwardness in pretending to prepare for the unexpected when we already expect what is about to happen.
This Christmas I want it to be different. I want to feel deep in my heart every beat of this ancient story that I think I know so well. I want it to tell me something different this year. I want to hear it in a new way.
One way I can do that is to pay attention to the signs that are all around me. I mean, literally, signs. I have one in my window at home that is also posted in front of the Conference Office: “This Christmas we remember that Jesus was a refugee…”
I probably would say that I’ve always known that but with thousands of migrants seeking asylum at our Southern borders, that statement takes on a newness that compels me to listen closely for the invitation from God to respond. When we become complacent and think we already know the story and what is coming we may miss out on something new that God is offering to that will shake us from our slumber and invite us into a transformative experience of the birth of Christ.
At the end of her sermon, Loren shared a prayer/poem she wrote from her overly lit and holiday decorated cottage in occupied Jerusalem:
Come Human One, advent our lives.
Come like a thief in the night and disturb
our sleep, our comfortable realities that say
you can have peace without justice,
that say taking someone else’s land or life is not our concern,
that says it is Ok to violate human rights,
break international laws.
Break into our lives, Son of Man,
challenge our certainties,
make us vulnerable to the urgency of your Call
for a new Jerusalem, a Beloved Community here and now
in this place where the streets still run with the blood of the martyrs, in this place all call holy, all call home.
Help us, unexpected One, to become insomniacs
to keep awake, alert, and watchful
for the ways that your coming can be thwarted, obscured, or denied
by theologies that privilege certain groups as Chosen
by peace processes that deny the right of return,
that don’t demand the freezing of settlement building
or walls that separate and divide.
Christ the thief, come take away our fears and insecurities.
Prepare our hearts, our minds, our spirits
for your indwelling presence
your incarnation as a baby, a refugee,
our brother, our redeemer.
May we become uneasy and alive
unafraid and able to hear angels announcing or singing.
May we become your advent lights
of hope, peace, faith, and love.
May this Christmas be a celebration of God’s Advent in your life that wakes you up and offers you a new image of what God is calling you to do and what this broken world needs you to be. Merry Christmas!