The Third Sunday in Advent, December 10/11, 2016
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane has heard that dreaded announcement:
From the flight deck ~ this is your Captain speaking. We are encountering some turbulence. Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened.
We are encountering some turbulence. Today that statement is not relegated to the realm of air travel. All of life is marked by turbulence. One moment everything seems to be going well, and then, without warning, comes a change at work, a health crisis in our life or that of someone close to us, an unanticipated expense or a reversal, and suddenly we are in a tailspin.
We like to think we are in control … but we know we are not. In many ways we are held hostage by our emotions and apprehensions. How we feel at any given time becomes the barometer for determining our sense of well-being. Our emotions easily determine whether we are happy or sad, dejected or ecstatic. When we are upset and feel frustrated, our emotions should encourage us to take some positive steps to modify our outlook and engage in activities that will lift our spirits. That is why it is so important that we have friends and a sense of community with others. Everyone feels a little blue from time to time, but we dare not let that color dominate our lives.
Today there are many people living their lives on a perennial roller coaster of emotions … with ups and downs that leave them drained and discouraged. Work demands, family expectations, unanticipated expenses, and personal reversals can create stress and anxiety. How important it is that we have strategies and supportive communities that can help us maintain equilibrium. Without some proper balancing factor in our lives we can easily act out impulsively, say things best unsaid, and pursue behaviors that are self-destructive.
Our Gospel lessons for the Second and the Third Sundays in Advent always focus our attention on John the Baptist.
Last week we experienced a bold and decisive John … drawing people out into the wilderness with his powerful call for people to amend their lives ~ Prepare the way of the Lord!
Today we encounter a different John the Baptist. This John is in prison, approaching the end of his life … fearful, uncertain, and dejected.
In reality, many months have passed since John preached to the people in the desert and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. John has been arrested for provoking King Herod and now, in confinement, he has received reports about Jesus and his ministry. John seems to have some second thoughts about his cousin. No doubt he loved him, but John seemed to be wavering in his confidence that Jesus is the anticipated Messiah.
Matthew tells us that John has sent some of his followers to ask Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
What a difference a week makes. Today we must address the contrast we find between the confident John the Baptist of last weekend, with his clear, compelling call to repent and be baptized, and the fearful, uncertain John we find in prison, wondering if he has backed the wrong horse.
Enthusiasm to disillusionment … abounding hope to fearful uncertainty. What a dramatic change in John the Baptist!
None of us should be too surprised at this change in John. We all ride on that same roller-coaster of life … one moment we are racing ahead with exciting plans and good intentions … only to be arrested by life, pulled up short by a sudden change in our life patterns and future expectations.
This fall has been particularly challenging as our nation has been riding a political roller-coaster. The Presidential election is over … half of us are amazed and delighted, while the other half of us are shocked and disappointed. The American people have voted for change and that is what we shall collectively experience now, moving from Barack Obama to Donald Trump.
Whenever things happen that are beyond our control, we get frightened. John the Baptist was living that kind of a moment in prison. Are things working out the way they should … is God truly in charge of his universe? John is not sure.
Many people are afraid this Advent season. About a week ago two members of the Chapel made an appointment to speak with me about their apprehension concerning the future after the election. This couple is not sure if they can continue to live in this country. They are troubled over the plight of refugees and they believe that there is an increase in hatred and intolerance in our nation. While my heart went out to these members, who are feeling of pain and uncertainty, I do not share their despair. I tried to convince them that our call to follow Jesus Christ goes far beyond any election or national policy decision.
Today we light the Third Candle on our Advent wreath, and as we do this we are aware that the tempo is quickening. You may have noticed that the candle we light this week is pink ~ the candle of joy. This time of year is not always joyful, particularly for people who are dealing with the death of someone dear or a sense that their lives have been diminished. For that reason I am delighted that Father Krueger has fashioned and scheduled a Longest Day Service on December 21. Have yourself a Merry little Christmas … just does not work for many folks.
Advent reminds us that we are a hopeful people. Because we believe that Christ is coming again, we enthusiastically engage ourselves in the critical task of bringing healing and justice and peace and hope to our world. In fact I think it is incumbent upon us all to join with the very people with whom we may not agree politically in order to live into the unique values and mission that Jesus proclaimed.
Christian people should set an example of cooperation and common cause for our nation. We have supporters of Donald Trump and supporters of Hillary Clinton gathered for worship today. Together we have purchased Angel Tree gifts for children who need our love. We have Trumpites and Clintonians singing in our choir, serving at the altar and ushering, participating in the Rector’s Forum, volunteering together in the Cabin Shop, and jointly supporting our Restoration Campaign.
Together we can be the Body of Christ in the world where we live …
Together we can embrace Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount,
… speak truth to power,
… work for justice,
… care for the poor and the refugee, and
… offer up some random acts of kindness …
not just at Christmas but all the time.
So let us pray for our new President and those who will serve with him. Please remember: those of us who have been called in our Baptism to serve Christ have a purpose and a mission, regardless of the tumult in the roller-coaster of life. AMEN.