We had a technical difficulty with the recording from Saturday, so here's the text from Pastor Maggie's December 2, 2023 homily.
Today is my birthday. It’s strange having a December birthday. I used to have a rule about not decorating the house until after my birthday because I was tired of my birthday being overlooked in the Christmas hubbub—other December birthday people may know what I’m talking about. Maybe it was small of me, but I got tired of feeling like I had to share my birthday with Jesus. He’s got so much else, just let me have this one thing.
But this year has felt different. This year I feel excited and want to decorate, so I’ve been working on it the last couple of days. Lots of houses in our previous neighborhood had lots of lights and things, but our new neighborhood is different. The folks across the street have these LED candy cane lights on their porch, but most of the rest of our neighbors are Jewish, so there isn’t pressure to not let the neighborhood down with my unconventional “Christmas” decorations. So I decided to turn our walkway into an Advent wreath. The path up to our front door has four landing pads, so I got purple and pink lights to turn on as the season progresses.
I found a ceramic nativity on Marketplace that’s like the one we had when I was growing up. The man I picked it up from told me his father and law had made the stable, and that his wife and her mother had painted the figurines themselves. They wrote the date of their project on the bottom, December 1981. I also put some garland and lights on the mantle and on the banister up the stairs, and we put up a pre-lit tree. It doesn’t have any ornaments on it yet, but it’s cheery. I don’t know what it is, but something about this year feels especially hopeful.
We talk about these Advent themes—Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love—a lot. If not every year, then often enough for them to be the “traditional” themes. We talk about how these four nourish us in our waiting. We keep them at the forefront of our mind to help us stave off despair, and to keep us tethered to what is real and true. The things that are deeper and realer and truer than what we might hear in the news or in passing in the world around us.
Advent is a season of preparation and waiting, but I’m not always good at waiting. My ability to wait comes and goes, but I didn’t know how impatient I’d gotten until I was irrationally angry at our refrigerator a few weeks ago. I had started to notice that every time I filled my glass of water, I would just get so angry, and finally I wondered, “Why is this happening?” Why does this nothing task enrage me so? I finally figured it out—our water dispenser counts the number of ounces of water as it fills, and the counting makes it feel like the time stretches out forever. Our previous refrigerator also dispensed water, but it didn’t count. Something about the counting sends me over the edge.
I experience something similar at the microwave, except I can walk away from the microwave and come back. I’m tethered to the refrigerator, I have to hold the glass there, as it counts and fills into eternity. Now, I understand rationally that it is not an eternity—in fact, it’s probably under a minute, but somehow that minute gets under my skin.
The solution I’ve worked out is that when I stand at the fridge and I start to get mad, I remind myself that this won’t last an eternity, and I’ll soon be on my way with a fresh glass of cold water, which is a gift. In the face of the chaos of my brain, I tether myself to something realer and truer. It’s a small, practically insignificant thing, but our lives are made up of these seemingly small practices, and I hope by our paying attention they add up to something more than their little parts.
Our gospel reading today encourages us to watch, to notice, to pay attention, and the Psalm reading talked about our hope for just a glimpse of the face of God. Maybe it’s that I’m entering my 40th year on this earth, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the gifts of my life—the glimpses of the face of God I get, and maybe fail to notice, every day. One of the things I read this week said that Advent “includes a spirit of yearning for that which would be too good to be true (Texts for Preaching, Year B, 1)”. And these three ideas—noticing, hoping for a glimpse of God, and yearning for things that are too good to be true—kind of melded in my mind and became the question, “Why don’t I pay more attention to the goodness in my life?”
I wonder what causes me to be so focused on the things I hope will change. Why am I so impatient when the face of God is right here waiting for me to notice it? We know our human brains are wired for danger, but the thing is, when I focus on the goodness, I’m almost overwhelmed by it. It feels like a flood, a giant wave of gratitude overtaking me. I have it so good. We have it so good.
Yes, the world is a mess. Yes, often we need to be shaken out of our complacency. Yes, we need to be reminded that we cannot save ourselves, that we are dependent on God, that this Advent work of turning and turning and turning our world upside down, our lives upside down as we partner with God to birth Christ into the world in every moment is so important and unimaginably hard. But also, our lives are filled with goodness.
So I want to pause for a moment and for us to just take a moment to quietly focus on the goodness of our lives. Close your eyes and begin to bring those things to mind. [pause] Our lives are so good. There is so much to be hopeful about. So many reasons to be glad.
It’s the little things, isn’t it? Like my nativity. The man I picked it up from told me his father and law had made the stable, and that his wife and her mother had painted the figurines themselves. This means there is a beloved family project sitting in my dining room. You can tell that there were two different painters in the way they painted the faces, and the stable has individual shingles for goodness sake. A group of people who loved each other poured that love into this thing that is now mine to love. We have it so good.
There are people who love us. There are people who would do anything for us, and who we would do anything for. There are people we can call when we feel down and need to talk. There are people we can call when we’re too excited to keep something to ourselves. There are people we get to make comfort food for, and people who nourish us with comforting foods and cozy conversation. We have it so good.
There are comfortable chairs. And good books. So many good books yet to be read. There are good smelling candles to light. There are fire pits to sit around. There are stars to stare at and wonder about. There are neighbors to meet and stories to tell and laughter to share and commonalities to discover between people we never imagined we’d be like—whole internal constellations to explore as we get to know them. We have it so good.
We have access to the kind of technology and medical care that our ancestors could not have dreamed. We can keep in touch with people who live on the other side of the globe, almost instantaneously. We can seek out specialists to treat the niche thing that’s going on with our bodies. We can get basic screenings and preventative care that even our parents didn’t get. Procedures that would have required invasive techniques and extensive recovery are now done as minimally invasive and outpatient procedures. Feminine hygiene products exist, and birth control is more accessible now than ever before. These things, that for us are little things, are still, in some places, big things. We have it so good.
There are so many wonders to discover every day. There’s a poem I like by American poet Lew Welch which goes like this:
Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.
Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody's ever really seen
How many can you find?
How many wondrous small things are waiting for us to notice them? So many reasons to be glad. So many reasons to hope.
Not the least of which is that there’s God, who waits with us, nudging us when the water filter on the refrigerator threatens to send us over the edge—“remember, fresh water is a gift.” Grounding us in the goodness that is already ours while we wait, “yearning for that which would be too good to be true”. And we do yearn, no doubt about it. I’m sure if we compared notes, we would all be yearning for many of the same things. The world is especially full of things to yearn about right now. But what will sustain us for all the waiting and the yearning and the hard work is watching for the goodness that comes along too.
So my encouragement to you as we enter this waiting season, is to notice what arises for you. Maybe what arises for you, like me, will be impatience. Whatever it is, notice it and be curious. Why am I impatient? What is impatience trying to tell me? How might God be nudging me? What goodness am I overlooking? Where can I see God’s face? Notice the small things, so that when the Lord finally arrives, we can look on that loving face and say, “Ah, it’s you. I’ve been waiting for you. Welcome home.” May it be so. Amen.