Weekly Words of Wisdom 12-2-20

Sermon 11-29-20 – The Rev Jen Van Zandt

Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

So how did it actually get to be Advent? It seems as though this year has both dragged on at a snail’s pace, with time standing still, imprisoned by daily and hourly heart-wrenching headlines, endless zoom calls, and bad news from relatives and friends. At the same time…time has flown by, as we have worked harder than ever at our jobs, harder than ever at staying sane in our homes, trying to create clever and creative ways to combat boredom and isolation, trying to carve out enough space under one roof while everyone is on zoom calls at the same time, with one router and modem, learning how to deal with disappointment after disappointment, and push back against all that threatens our lives, our families, our community, our future, and even our own faith.  Yes friends, we are still in exile.  And we are in deep need of some light in the growing, literal and figurative darkness.  

I have a number of friends who shared with me the noticing of the shortness of days.  So, in spite of all that I just mentioned there is some good news…

First of all, we are only 23 days away from winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. I look forward to that every year! I have a friend whose father was on the faculty of a small college in North Carolina.

One of his colleagues actually did the astrological assessment, and somehow the shortest day is actually Dec 8th but we will just use the solstice date instead. Because, as I said last week, if it were light on Christmas eve, we wouldn’t see our Christmas tree glow and glisten. We wouldn’t see the candles. We wouldn’t enjoy the fire so much. So…the darkness has a purpose.

More importantly we are only 27 days away from a light that will dispel all of the darkness; The Christ Child.

The servant who is described so beautifully and poetically in Isaiah 42, is a concrete example of God’s powerful and trustworthy resolve, to break us free from exile and darkness and fear.  The servant is the one who does and will do God’s bidding, bring about justice, offer words of hope, create a vision for a new thing that we cannot yet perceive.  The servant is also equipped by the ruach, the wind, the spirit, the breath to bring newness and hope and justice for all.  Especially those who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy, which on any given day, are not only the faces that we see on the television and on the internet but also, I think, you and me.

I don’t imagine I am alone in saying or even quietly thinking, on many days, “Geez, I am not sure how much more of this I can take”. And yet here we are.  The fact of the matter is – life is challenging enough without the restrictions, and the threats put on us and the entire world, by COVID. Further, we still have a really fuzzy picture of a future with some normalcy and a larger sense of hope.  So what are we to do between now and then?  … between now and the coming of the light?  

Well, some of us like to keep busy, to pass the time and think about the negative things to eschew anxiety. So for those of you who like to keep busy.. I want to invite you to slow down, to ponder this servant, to ponder God’s intentions for the world because of the servant.  

There are others of you who get ground to a halt in times like this, and when you do, and you sit waiting for things to get better, I want to invite you to pick up, and ponder, and read about this servant, and God’s intentions for you because of this servant.  

And for those of you who like to get things done and feel good about ticking things off your list, I want to invite you to ponder this servant, and God’s intentions for you because of this servant.  

Bible scholars will widely debate who this servant is, but a lot of them agree that it can be a number of applications throughout the church year.  Isaiah was written about the Israelites when they were still in Babylon in exile and so this was a prophet saying a servant was going tocome and restore them back to their Jerusalem, back to their temple.

Obviously, as we commence Advent, we want to think of the servant as God Incarnate; the Christ Child.  There’s another application, a change, and really a charge for us all, in Isaiah 42.  I want you to think about this in the first person, I want you to think about this as if it is you. Let me show you what I mean.

Here is my servant who God upholds, God’s chosen in whom my soul delights.  God has put his spirit upon me.  I will bring forth justiceto the nations. I will not cry, or lift up myvoice or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed Iwill not break, A dimly burning wick I will not quenchI will faithfullybring forth justice, I will not grow faint or be crushed until I have established peace and justice on the earth.”

My friends, this is something we can repeat and say over and over again, because God calls us as the faithful to bring justice and peace and love to those who are vulnerable and weak and afraid.  It sounds a little strange to say “I will not cry or lift up my voice or make it heard in the street” and what this is saying is that “I won’t preach this, I will actually livethis”.  I will live it so much that others will feel calmer in my presence. I will live this so much that people will be willing to share more of their own heartbreak, their own frustrations, their own fears, their own regrets. 

Friends, this is the way we can be part of bringing the light to the world.  We are the city on the hill.  We are a beacon of hope for others but we can’t do that if we don’t allow God to bring a hope inside our hearts as well

So, I charge us all to keep pondering Isaiah 42 and bring the peace and the light.  A light that can dispel all kinds and ALL darkness forever more.  May it be so, Amen.

Bring Light To The Darkness

Dear Saints,

Well, here we are in Advent. How did that happen???

The paces of our lives are moving in the weirdest rhythm ever; both more slowly as we hold back on regular activities, events, travel, family gatherings and school(!), and speeding up as we eagerly await increasingly hopeful news of vaccines and dream of future freedom. Call me crazy, but I think Advent is coming at the ‘perfect’ time.

As I write this, we are still in November, barely.

I have a number of wall calendars in my home, each with a different theme. The one on my study is of New England coastal scenes. It’s my favorite. But…some of the monthly photos don’t always match with my mood for the month. So…sometimes I tear off the new month’s picture and re-use the last month’s photo, which I may have liked better. The problem is…these calendars are stapled in the middle of the 12 months, literally. So sometimes I have to add little tape to keep the new month connected with last month’s photo. (Go ahead and judge, we all have weird little habits!)

So… November’s calendar was the lucky recipient of October’s (re-used) photo, which was of the Marblehead harbor, where I lived for a year after college. Ahhh the good old days. But in recent days and weeks with changing temps and opening/closing windows, the calendar portion started slipping. I never got around to taping it. Yesterday ‘November’ was hanging on by a thread. How about you?

For those of you who are handling this year really well, just taking it in stride, stop reading. For the rest of you, stay with me. The beauty of Advent arriving (which is an oxymoron since advent means waiting) is that it gives us an opportunity to…turn our attention to something new, something hopeful and something that is a reminder of God’s unconditional and unending love.

The arrival of the Christ-Child is the concrete reminder of Immanuel, God-with-us. It is the also the most beautiful invitation to ‘turn the page’ and see what God has in store for us in spite of our weird habits, our need for control and our wanting to hold on to a past that seemed so much easier and bright, in retrospect, of course.

This Advent and Christmas will be like no other, but it doesn’t mean it won’t have its own special gifts and blessings unless we keep lamenting about what is not possible and/or try to keep repeating what has already been done. IS 42 says,” I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?”

I invite us all to be open to seeing the new visions that God has for us this December in Advent. I invite us all to bring light in the darkness to those who cannot see it or who have lost their way. I invite you all to remember that even though we will not be able to worship together that doesn’t mean our community is adrift. Just mending nets so we can make more ‘fishers of [people]’ when we reconvene.

By the way, the photo for December is a light house on top of a hill in the snow.

Seeking the newness of this Advent with you,

Rev Jen