The following sermon was offered by Rose Feerick at Pescadero Community Church on December 9, 2018.
“If You Want” A Poem by Saint John of the Cross
During Advent, my primary spiritual practice involves getting up before dawn so I can watch and wait for the sun to come. That watching and waiting in the liminal space between night and day, knowing the sun is coming, is what I do to immerse myself in the spirituality of this sacred season.
Advent is not about sitting in the dark wondering IF the sun is going to rise. It is not about surrendering to despair, convinced that the sun is definitely not going to rise. It is a time to train our hearts in the kind of hope that KNOWS the sun is coming even when it is dark outside. I practice that knowing by waking before dawn.
I invite you to practice being in the turning with me.
Today’s readings focus on the stories of two people who show us what it looks like to be a part of the light of dawn.
Our first reading and chant focus on John the Baptist, the prophet in the wilderness. Located in a remote place, outside the activity of his culture, he is able to see and hear clearly that a conversion of mind – metanoia – is needed. He sees that something is happening in his world that is profoundly off what the people of Israel were called to be: a holy nation; a light to the world; a culture focused on loving God the most and one’s neighbor as oneself.
He also sees that God is near and that another way is possible. So he calls people to come into a higher mind – to metanoia – and to another way of living. Quoting Isaiah, John holds a vision of the conversion of the world. Remember that when John is speaking, his country is occupied by the Roman Empire. But still he sees what God is going to do. Jim Wallis says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.” Prophets have that way of inspiring us to see beyond what is right in front of us so that we can be the people we are meant to be with our priorities in the right place, caring for each other and most especially for the vulnerable – the widow, the prisoner, the orphan, the migrant. Prophets invite us to be a part of “moral arc of the universe that is long, but that bends toward justice,” as Martin Luther King, Jr said.
And then we have the story of a young woman who dares to believe that her life can be a part of that moral arc. Did you hear what she said in The Magnificat? “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things….” Mary’s prayer also echoes the Hebrew prophets. And, like John, she is willing to let her life change and be a part of the prophetic vision of her people. Mary’s story is not a sentimental birth story. It is a story of a courageous woman who believes she can participate in the turning of the world. She does her part. That is what we are all invited to do.
Lest we think this is a story about something that happened 2000 years ago, St. John of the Cross turns the story and directs it to each one of us. If you want, you can be a part of this story. If you want, you can let your life serve the moral arc of justice in the world. If you want, the virgin can take root in your heart and change your life from the inside out. St. John of the Cross reminds us that God needs our help.
This does not need to be a great action. We are not all called to be leaders or change-makers. But we are all called to metanoia and we are all called to do the piece that is given to us to do.
Maybe we are called to work with the soil here in Pescadero – looking for ways that farming practices can sink carbon and change the climate for good. Maybe we are called to be good neighbors – to show up at our local Posada and be part of a community celebration that honors all the people who are here, especially immigrants. Maybe we are called to create a business model that honors the dignity of workers and seeks a new economic relationship between human beings. Maybe we are called to be parents who honor and nurture the unique gifts of our children. Maybe we are called to extend a hand to people in our neighborhoods who are lonely or isolated. Whatever is ours to do, let us follow the example of the young woman in Nazareth and say yes to God’s work in our lives.
Finally, I find myself wondering about what it means to live Advent hope in this world where there is so much bad news and where so many of us have had a tough year. I am thinking now of my visit with our friend Kathy, our church poet, who died last summer. I went to visit her shortly after she received a terminal diagnosis, expecting her to be in grief. Instead, she was joyful and upbeat. She told me how grateful she was for her life.
Thinking about Kathy reminds me that Advent Hope is about a quality of attitude – a way of being that has its focus on the light of love that is always present, always near. No matter what is happening in the world or in our personal lives, we can tune into that. We have choice about the orientation of our hearts.
And so this Advent let us teach our hearts to orient toward the light of love. I invite you to get up before dawn one day this Advent – or maybe every day – and watch and wait. Let your heart learn how to trust in the light of love – even in the dark.
sunrise photo by Noa Mohlabane