Believe In The Magic Of The Season

I am almost done catching up on posting, so I am going to post my Advent, Christmas and Star Sunday sermons today!  I went off of the Year of Mark so that I could just “Do Christmas” and it was the best decision I could have made.  I loved getting to really be intentional about preaching within the season and touched on some scriptures that we read every year, but rarely in a service where I have time to actually preach on them.

Here is my sermon from the first Sunday of Advent!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 2, 2018

John 1:1-18

Believe In The Magic Of The Season

We are going to take a brief hiatus from the Year of Mark for the Advent and Christmas season.  We will pick it up again in January, after Star Sunday.

(Which, if you were here last year on Star Sunday, I hope you will consider sharing your Star Story with us.  If you were not here last year on Star Sunday and have no clue what I am talking about, I hope you will join us that Sunday, January 6th, because it is a really good service.)

Here’s why we are taking a hiatus from the Year of Mark:  I told my clergy covenant group this week that I am just not in the mood to do anything but Christmas right now – and that includes when I do church, as well.  And while I have some good stuff that I really want to dig into next with the Year of Mark – some stuff that is coming up and some stuff that I want to circle back to – right now, I am just not in the mood to do anything but Christmas.

I want to decorate my church and my office. I want to listen to Christmas music. I want to indulge in delicious Christmas treats.  I want to preach about this amazing story that, year after year, brings us hope, peace, joy and love.

I just want to step out of reality and believe in the magic of the season.

It has, at times, been a challenging year. Natural disasters have devastated communities, here in our country and around the world.  Senseless violence has threatened people’s safety and refuge. Our country continues to face political upheaval.  And our own church community has experienced a lot of really hard losses.

And here’s the thing – I do not want to put on rose-colored glasses, ignore the problems that need to be talked about and pretend that everything is fine.

But I also want to believe in the magic of Christmas, the magic of the Advent season of waiting, the magic of the incarnation and the magic of these beautiful words from the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and lived among us.  I want to believe in the magic of the glory of the Word, a Word full of grace and truth.

And even though I know there is evil and imperfection and sorrow and grief and uncertainty in this world, I want to believe in that grace and truth.

So we will pick Mark back up again in January. This morning I wanted to kick off our Advent season with this passage from the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John is the most mystical of the four Gospels; so it is fitting, right?  I want to believe in the magic of the season so I am bringing us into the most magical collection of the stories told about Jesus.

The reading that we just heard is from the very beginning of the Gospel; it is the prologue, which serves the purpose of first describing the cosmic and philosophical nature of our universe (that we cannot really comprehend), but then boldly declares this being – this person, this man, Jesus – as a physical manifestation of this cosmic and philosophical aura.

This passage from John is one of the most beautiful and poetic pieces of scripture.  I have always found it hard to wrap my head around what the Gospel writer is saying here, but I also do not think we need to necessarily understand it in order for us to believe it to be true.

That being said, I do think these words are supposed to remind us, like I talked about last Sunday, of the incarnational nature of our faith; that faith is meant to be lived out, in the flesh.

And this year, I just want to believe.  I want to believe in the magic of the incarnation; not only in the magic of the incarnation of God in Jesus 2,000 years ago, but also in the incarnation of God in our world today as good and kind-hearted and faithful individuals seek to do God’s work in their lives.  I want to believe in the magic of the kind of incarnation that propels people to be kind and love one another.  I want to believe in magic of the kind of incarnation that calls people to shine light into the darkness an unequivocally believe that love can and will always win.  I want to believe in the magic of this kind of incarnation.

A few years ago, in lieu of a traditional Advent-candle-lighting liturgy, I invited people to share a testimony about where they were finding hope, peace, joy and love in their lives.  These testimonies were beautiful representations of the incarnational nature of our faith.  Through people’s stories we bore witness to the ways the Advent promises of hope, peace, joy and love were happening in our midst; through these stories the Word that was full of grace and truth became flash and lived and dwelled among us.

This morning I thought I would officially kick off our Advent season by talking about how God is incarnate in our world still today; how I see these promises of hope, peace, joy and love being fulfilled, even in the midst of a sometimes-challenging season of life.

Today we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of hope.  I found hope this week in an unexpected way – in increments of $17.21 as people supported our church through our Giving Tuesday campaign.

In my line of work, I hear a lot about how the church is dying; how mainline protestant churches around the country are struggling with dwindling numbers and struggling finances.  As a church that falls in that demographic, we are not immune from those struggles.

And yet, this week, I had hope.  I had hope as, all day, I received notifications from PayPal that people were donating to our Giving Tuesday campaign.  I had hope as people stopped by the church office with checks and cash throughout the day.  I had hope as people took pride in what we were doing and celebrated each goal that we met.  I had hope as I read the nicest notes and comments that people wrote with their donations.  I had hope when, at the end of the day, we had raised over $2,400.

I have hope for the future of this church.

Next week we will light the second candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of peace.  I found peace last Sunday at our monthly Taizé worship service.  If you have never been to our Taizé services, they are approximately 40 minutes long – and we spend 15 minutes in complete silence at the end of every service.

I love that silence.  It is a time where I can talk to God, talk to myself, (think about my home renovations) and just be. We always say that style of worship is not for everyone, but for me it is just so peaceful.

The third candle we will light on our Advent wreath is the candle of joy.  And I found joy last Sunday in the 28 children that attended worship and our Advent workshop.

28!

GUYS.  Do you know why we started the all-ages Advent workshop a couple of years ago?  Because we had such low Church School attendance the Sunday after Thanksgiving and we could never get enough teachers so it made sense to combine everyone and do something simple.

And this year we had 28 kids.

The growth this church has seen this year, particularly with our young families, brings me so much joy.

The last candle on our Advent wreath is the candle of love.  And I saw a bold and powerful witness to love this week when I put out a quick request on Facebook on Wednesday evening to see if anyone could make a meal for the Eckilsons while Audrey recovers from her heart attack and less than 24 hours later had 12 people signed up to make meals over the next three weeks.

I see love in action here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

This year I want to encourage you all the believe in the magic of this season.  Believe in the Word made flesh, in the miraculously holy arrival of Emmanuel, God with us.  Believe in the incarnation – as it was, as it as and as it still has the potential to be. Believe in hope, believe in peace, believe joy, believe in love.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

May We Be Joyful

I was SO excited about worship this week.  The amazingly talented Mary Bee was in town and singing in worship.  She sang the Francesca Battistelli song, Heaven Everywhere and also Sweet Little Jesus Boy.  I was able to bring in a drummer and a bass player for Heaven Everywhere, which just rounded out the sound.  It was so much fun!

Next Sunday is Christmas Eve!  That’s so hard to believe.  I know technically it is Advent 4, but we are going to have our Family Worship & Pageant at the 10AM service this year.  The pageant is shaping up to be adorable, as always (and I am not just saying that because my son is going to be a lamb).  One of the parents came to me with a really cute idea and it’s going to be so fun to see it all come together.

I hope you all are are finding God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season!  Thank you for being part of my year.  I am thankful for you!

Many blessings,
Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 17, 2017

Luke 1:46-55

May We Be Joyful

I think I have mentioned this from the pulpit before, but as a way of introducing this sermon, it is worth repeating: I have a Mary medal that I sometimes wear around my neck. In fact, I was wearing it when Bruce and I first met, causing him to – he admitted years later – assume I was Catholic and consider what it would mean for him to convert if we ever got married.

What can I say? I love Mary. On a very human level, she fascinates me. I love her story, I love her obedience and I love the way God used her – an ordinary, humble, not particularly wealthy or powerful girl – as a vessel for God’s ministry in the world.

All of this is to say: I get excited when I have the opportunity to preach on Mary because I think she has a lot to teach us. Our scripture reading for this morning is no different; it is known as the Magnificat, which is the Song of Mary.

So let’s review the story: An angel appeared to Mary and told her she was pregnant with God’s son and that she was to name him Jesus. Mary asked her how this was possible, because she was a virgin and the angel told her that nothing was impossible with God. With faithful obedience, Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.”[1]

Shortly after, Mary traveled to a Judean town to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant (with John the Baptist). When Mary arrived, scripture says Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb and then Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith. ‘Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth said. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary responds to this praise with the scripture we just heard, the Magnificat; Mary responds to Elizabeth by proclaiming God’s greatness and finding delight in the wonder of God.[2]

The Magnificat appears in Advent every year and, I have to admit, last year when it came around, I gained a new respect for Mary. At the time, I was, like Mary, in the first trimester of my pregnancy, feeling like garbage and – you can ask my husband for confirmation – not really proclaiming the greatness of anyone or finding delight in anything at that point.

And yet, here is Mary, pregnant with God’s son and joyfully singing about how wonderful God is.

Now, Mary’s faithful obedience when she said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” has always been striking to me. In fact, I had that passage read at my ordination; in my mind, there was no greater call in scripture than the one to give birth to Jesus. I have always figured if Mary could handle that, I could handle parish ministry.

But I realized as I was reflecting on the Magnificat this year that Mary was more than just obedient when she responded with affirmation to God’s call; she was joyful. She praised God, saying that future generations would call her blessed because of the work God was doing through her; she gave thanks for the good things God was doing for her and spoke of God’s power and charity.[3]

Let’s get this straight: Not only did Mary say, “Okay, God, I trust you; I guess we are doing this whole Jesus thing,” she also said, “And do you know what, God? You are amazing.”

Mary was not just obedient when God called her to do something that was not easy; she was happy about it!

It is not easy to remain faithful and obedient to God when you are faced with challenges and adversities. But to do so with praise and adoration? Now, that is truly the remarkable part of this story.

I have always been intrigued by the way this passage appears in the lectionary cycle. We are actually supposed to readying chapter 1, starting with verse 46b, not at the beginning of the verse.

Verse 46 says this:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”[4]

The verse, itself, is just barely two parts: A – “And Mary said,” and B – “My soul magnifies the Lord”. But the lectionary instructs us to start with the second half, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” not necessarily citing Mary for what is being said.

As I was reflecting on this text this week, particularly the exclusion of Mary in how it shows up in the lectionary, I realized that perhaps this was an intentional way of forcing us to put ourselves in the narrative.

It is easy to read these words and attribute them to Mary. An angel appeared to her and told her God was going to use her for something amazing; that is a pretty compelling argument.

It is much harder, however, for us to read these words and attribute them to ourselves.

Because not only do we have to say yes to God, but we also have to be happy about it.

How are you proclaiming God’s goodness right now? How are you finding delight in God?

As with most things faith-related, this is easier said than done. It is not easy to trust God in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty of life, let alone praise God while we do so.

Mary’s role in the Christmas narrative reminds us that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But the Magnificat takes this one step further, boldly teaching us that as we respond to God’s call, we should do so with both trust and praise.

We have entered the time of year when many of us are reflecting on the year gone by and setting some goals for the upcoming year. As we do so, I think we should take the time to listen to God speaking to us; calling us to do God’s work in this world; in our families and in our communities.

And we need to do so by praising God for all that God is doing within us; for all who God believes we can be.

Mary sang in the Magnificat,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. [5]

As we reflect on 2017 and also think about what we want to do in 2018, may we all remember these words. Just like Mary, God is doing great things with each and every one of us. God is using our stories to tell the story of our faith. Our lives are bearing witness to the Christian story and to a God who believes that we can tell this story.

Think about this: God believes in us! God believes we can be part of this Christian story. God believes that we can share the Gospel and make this world a better place.

Just like God called Mary 2,000 years ago, God is calling us today. And faith is not only believing that we are who God says we are, but it is also giving thanks to and praising God for calling us to serve.

Because it is a wonderful calling.

So may we be joyful as we respond to God’s call this Christmas season and into the new year. And, like Mary, may we magnify God’s light in our lives, may our spirits rejoice in God’s name and may people know that we are blessed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 1:26-38, NRSV
[2] Luke 1:39-45, NRSV
[3] Luke 2:46b-55, NRSV
[4] Luke 2:46, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:49, NRSV

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This Season Is For You

I completely shifted gears this week in terms of my approach to Advent.  I spent the first two weeks talking about the magic and joy of the season and this week I talked about what it means to be in a dark or sad place during this season.  If you are feeling pain or grief this season, please know that this season is just as much for you as it is for those who are experiencing joy.  You do not have to fake happiness or joy to participate in this season of waiting – be who you are, where you are.

If you are in a dark place this year, please leave me a comment or email me and let me know how I can pray for you.

Happy Advent, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 10, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This Season Is For You

The prophet Isaiah says:

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;[1]

Ten years ago, my parents and my sister and I went on a cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean. One of our stops was Pompeii, which, I am sure most of you know, was a Roman town near Naples, Italy, that was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. The city remained frozen in time until it was rediscovered in 1748, largely – and quite miraculously – in tact. Because so much of the city was preserved, these ruins give us a really fascinating window into what everyday life looked like so many years ago.

Now I say, “I am sure most of you know” what Pompeii is, because – confession time – being the stellar history student that I was, I actually had no clue what Pompeii was until I walked onto the site of the ruins and started listening to the tour guide in my ear.

When I made this same confession to Bruce after I returned home from my trip, he looked at me, kind of dumbfounded and said, “Did you not pay attention at all in high school?”

I prefer not to answer that question.

That being said, not knowing what I was going to see before I got there kind of gave me a more pure and authentic impression of the ruins than I think I might have gotten if I had a preconceived notion of what I was looking at ahead of time.

Because I got there and did not automatically assume I was going to see something that was ruined; in fact, when I arrived, all I saw was something beautiful.

And what that experience has taught me over time is that very often beauty can be found in the ruins; there is beauty in something that is broken, something that is falling apart, something that has been covered up and something that is in desperate need of restoration and redemption.

This is the promise of Christmas, though, is it not? Beauty found in a world that is broken; grace found in humanity in need of redemption; light found in the darkness of a humble stable.

The Pompeii ruins tell a story; the story of a civilization from thousands of years ago, but also the story of a hope that is brought to light with the realization that sometimes not all is lost. I learned while wandering through the ruins that resurrection is more than just what happened on that first Easter morning; it is what happens every time God takes something that seems to be completely ruined and gives it new life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-often quoted prophetic book in the New Testament. It is sometimes called “the Gospel of the Old Testament,” because, when read through the lens of Christian theology, the promises found in these prophecies find nearly perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah is one of the most complex books of the bible, however, because it reflects a period of time that spans hundreds of years of Judean history and was likely constructed by more than one author. It is traditionally broken down into three sections: First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55 and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.

The breakdown of these sections is actually really important from a historical perspective. I know, I know, look at me, giving the history lesson. But if we understand the history, we understand the context of what is being said and why.

First Isaiah is dated prior to the Babylonian exile, Second Isaiah takes place while Israel is in exile and Third Isaiah is post-exile. This means that where we comes into the narrative this morning, in the 61st chapter of Isaiah, Isaiah is speaking to Israel immediately following their release from captivity. Here the prophet is speaking, bringing good news to the people of Israel – who have just come out of exile – of their deliverance and glorification.

They had nothing; the people of Israel had been in exile and when they were released, everything was in ruin.

But Isaiah says in this passage that he has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed and to comfort those who mourn. The devastation and ruin of many generations will be restored – the nation will be built up, raised up, repaired.

All is not lost, Isaiah promises. You will be made whole again. There is beauty in the ruins.

Sometimes I think we need to hear these same promises today.

When I was in seminary, I used to think it was so unfair that finals fell during December and the season of Advent. I was supposed to be waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, not writing papers and cramming for exams! How was I supposed to experience the beauty of this magical season when I was stressing over school? I could not wait until I graduated and took my first call and was able to fully live into the joy of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Well, I did graduate; and I did enter my first call; and I had every intention of experiencing the joy, magic and beauty of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

And then my grandmother passed away – on December 19th. Her services were held on December 23rd. After they were over, Bruce and I drove through the night to get back to Rehoboth in time for me to preside over our Christmas Eve services.

My point is this: Yes, Christmas is beautiful, magical and joyful. But life still happens in the midst of it. The hard stuff does not stop being hard just because stores are playing Christmas music.

In fact, sometimes this time of year the hard stuff is even harder.

I think our world sometimes gives off this false impression that we have to be happy throughout the entire Christmas season, but I think it is equally important to remember that Christmas exists not because we are whole, but because we are broken. Jesus was not born into a world that was perfect; Jesus came into a world that desperately needed to be redeemed. 2,000 years ago, grace was shown to a world in need of a savior and I have to believe that the same thing will happen again today.

Advent is a time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child, but also waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that God is with us. It is a time where we can live in the ruins of our lives, believing God will build it back up again. It is a time where we can fully experience any pain or grief we might be feeling, knowing that God’s love is stronger, God’s light is brighter and God’s grace is more powerful.

And guys – living into this season in the midst of the hard stuff is just as beautiful as living into it in the midst of the magic. Just like the ruins in Pompeii, there is real beauty in the mess.

Because that is when the promises Isaiah talks about become real.

We sang Christmas carols at my grandmother’s funeral; because she was a piano player, an accomplished musician and would have loved nothing more. And in those moments, just like Isaiah prophesied, we were given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We joined our voices with the hosts of the heavenly angels, not necessarily because we felt joy, but because we needed to know that God was with us and that we were not forgotten.

Friends, I spent the first two weeks of Advent preaching about the joy and magic of this season, but there is another side to it – grief, pain, sadness – that are just as real and just as worthy of Christmas morning as the joy and magic are. If you are feeling that grief or pain or sadness right now – please know that you are not forgotten. I know this is a really difficult time of year and that sometimes you feel like you have to fake joy in order to be part of this season. But you do not; this season is for you, even in the midst of your grief, pain and sadness, the promise of Emmanuel will still be fulfilled.

This sermon was going to serve as a segue for an invitation to you all to join the Board of Deacons and me next week to release paper wishing lanterns into the dark night sky and let go of some of the burdens you feel from this year.

But then we found out that those lanterns are illegal in Massachusetts.

So we are not going to do that.

Instead, I am going to invite you to let me pray for you this season. If there is something that is on your heart, if you are grieving or if you are in pain, please let me know how I can pray for you. This season is for you. This season – this season of waiting, of hoping, of believing in these promises Isaiah prophesied so many years ago – is for you.

So find beauty in the midst of the ruin. Believe that you will be built up. Trust that Emmanuel is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 61:4

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