A Season of Expectation

Sermon Description:

Rev. Cindy explores this month’s theme of Expectation.  Do you remember the excitement you felt as a child as the season built and you awaited the arrival of Christmas?  This service will explore the joy of anticipation.

This service will have a special collection for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is one of the four agencies our congregation has voted to support this year through quarterly collections.

Here is the full text of the sermon:

I wanted to start our holiday season here with a sermon that was happiness and light, love and expectation, excitement and youth and all the wonder, and the magic, and the sparkle. Warm hot chocolate and snow falling on your tongue and a tree lighting in the park and skates on the icy pond. I wanted a sermon that was about Turkish delight and reindeer. I wanted a sermon full of the music pealing loud and deep and bells ringing out their wild songs.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
their old familiar carols play
and wild and sweet the words repeat
of peace on earth to all goodwill.

And then right after Thanksgiving, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was attacked, and three people were dead. And then Savannah, Georgia and in the same day, San Bernardino, the biggest mass shooting since another December killing, the one in the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. And we learned there have been more mass shootings than days in 2015. Things are so bad, so overwhelmingly awful, that the New York Times has published its first front-page editorial since the 1920s, saying: (See the third paragraph of the NYT editorial here.)

And as I try to think about Christmas and the expectation and magic, my heart is heavy. When did we become a world where we’re advised to always know the exits, to think about our plan of escape? When did we become the world where people say they think about being shot every time they go to the mall, to the movies, to the doctor’s, to church. To church.

When did my own fear start? When did our fear start? Was it Columbine, or Virginia Tech? Thinking about our own high school and college days? Was it when the movie theater was shot up, something that’s a place we all go? Was it when the Tennessee Valley UU church was held in terror, and I knew it could’ve been us, could’ve been our church? Was it the shooting of Gabby Giffords, thinking of all the times I and we have met with my politicians or stood on a street corner? Was it Newtown, Connecticut, when it could’ve been our child’s school? Was it when Chris Keith and Isaac Miller died, and we knew that violence came close to home and touched the lives of those we love? Was it the community college earlier this year, which made me think of our own community college where many of us have studied or taught? Was it the shots into the protesters in Minneapolis this year, knowing how often,we, too, have been at such protests? When did I stop feeling safe? When did we? When did this threat of violence become so pervasive? And between the liberal churches and the protests and the college campuses and the Planned Parenthood, when did it start to feel like to be liberal was to have a target painted on you?

And in despair, I bowed my head,
There is no peace on earth, I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth to all goodwill.

This is the war on Christmas. Not the color of Starbucks cups, not whether or not you’re wished “Seasons Greetings” or “Happily Holidays.” This is the war on Christmas. This is the war on our hearts. This is the war on the peace that Jesus taught, and yes, died on the cross for.
We deserve a world and a future where to think about “expectation” isn’t thinking about dread and fear, isn’t thinking about guns and slaughter, isn’t thinking about the nearest exit and the escape plan and do I run or hide or fight.
In the midst of despair and pain, I read the words of Teryn Dixon. Teryn was a child at the Tennessee Valley UU church when the shooting happened there. She was ten feet away. Teryn writes: (See the last paragraph of Teryn’s post here.)

Not long after, I encountered the words of Meg Riley, minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Meg’s child, Jie Wronsky-Riley, was at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis on the Monday before Thanksgiving when the person to the left and the person to the right of Jie were both shot by white supremacists. Meg wrote this on her Facebook wall: (See Meg’s post here.)

And then I remembered why we need Christmas, why we spend this season, advent, in expectation and waiting – because our hearts cry out for peace and love. This is why we need a little Christmas right this very minute. This is why the bells peal more loud and deep and proclaim peace on earth good will to all. This is why we cry for peace, people everywhere. This is why our faith response to the shooting at the Tennessee Valley UU Church was to start a movement called “Standing on the Side of Love.” Because this, love and hope, are the only answer, in the end. I mean, yes, legislation, by gum, legislation, but the spiritual answer, the answer to how to answer the dread and the fear in our hearts—it is the love and the hope and peace, amazing peace.

Christmas is about hope. It’s about hope for a world of peace. The expectation is about the babe in the manger that will lead us to a new age, even though 2000 years later we’re still not there. I think I always thought about peace at Christmas as about the peace needed for a world at war, and thought about far away wars in foreign lands. I thought about ending the Iraq war or the War in Afghanistan. But now I know, too, that peace on earth means ending this war on Christmas, ending this war on our souls, ending this war that keeps us in perpetual readiness for the next strike, the next shot fired at our home or our school or our church or our office.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead nor doth God sleep;
the wrong shall fail, right prevail
with peace on earth, to all goodwill.

For our children, let us work to keep the winds of the world at bay, keep the magic and the sparkle and the reindeer on the rooftops and the Grinch’s heart growing larger. For us, we know that the magic of Christmas isn’t about presents and it isn’t about Santa and it isn’t about flying reindeer or trains to the north pole. The magic of Christmas is that it promises us that there is goodness. It promises us that peace is possible. It calls us to open our hearts to love and again and again in the face of loss and pain and suffering and turmoil. It calls us to put the rose down the barrel of the gun. So let the wild bells ring out. Let the cheer and the hustle and bustle come. Let the glitter and the tinsel and the ornaments shine. And let us live in breathless anticipation and wonder that a child could be born on a cold winter’s night in a long-ago land that would call us to remember the impossible, the perfect, the whole, and strive towards it once again.

Till ringing, singing on its way
the world revolved from day to day
a voice, a chime, a chant sublime
of peace on earth, to all goodwill.

Come, Christmas, Come.