Fourth Sunday of Advent 2017 — Preaching Notes

December 17, 2017 (Year B) | Morning Worship Service
by Dawn Chesser

Coming Home | GOD MAKES THIS WORLD OUR HOME
 

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In the midst of Hurricane Irma, babies were born.

  • A woman in Coral Springs gave birth to her daughter on her bathroom floor. Her mother assisted in the birth until emergency workers arrived.
  • A Miami woman gave birth just hours before 125-mile-per-hour winds hit the city. She named her daughter Nayiri Storm.
  • A Delray Beach couple evacuated to Atlanta, where their son, Nathan, was born not in his parent’s home state of Florida, but in Georgia. The couple noted that the name “Nathan” means “a gift from God.”
  • A woman in the Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami delivered her baby girl herself, with coaching assistance from emergency workers over the telephone.
     

Babies are born. Babies are born to rich people and poor people. Babies are born during hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes. Babies are born in cities under siege, in refugee camps, in countries led by dictators, and in democracies. Babies are born to people with black skin, brown skin, white skin, and many variations of those hues. Babies are born to single women, to married gay men; to people who are prepared, and to women who didn’t even know they were pregnant until they went into labor. Babies are born healthy, and babies are born with medical challenges, diseases, deformities, and disabilities. Babies are born into every conceivable condition in our complex world.

UNICEF estimates that an average of 4.3 babies are born every second of every single day somewhere on this planet that we share. (See http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/How-Many-Babies-Are-Born-Each-Day.)

Every time a baby is born, lives are changed. Individuals are changed. Families are changed. Worlds are turned upside down.

ANTICIPATION
by Amy Sigmon
Christmas 2013. I was pregnant with our first child, a baby boy, who was due about two weeks after Christmas (actually on January 6, Epiphany). It felt like I was approximately one thousand weeks pregnant, though by the calendar's reckoning it was thirty-eight. We lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the time, and that winter was colder than most, as a polar vortex caused record low temperatures in many northern states, including Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time on those cold days hunkered down in our 1930s-era apartment, organizing the baby’s room. When there was nothing left to organize, I baked. [Continue Reading]

I can’t help but think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics to “The World Turned Upside Down” from the Broadway hit musical Hamilton. As Alexander Hamilton prepares to lead his men in the battle of Yorktown, he recalls that his wife Eliza is not only expecting him to return home alive, but she is expecting a baby. All this, while Alexander Hamilton goes to fight a war that will eventually birth a new nation: the world turned upside down.

We were inspired by another song, “The Canticle of the Turning,” the lyrics of which capture Mary’s song of strength and hope in the most contemporary and compelling way possible. And just like in the song from Hamilton, this song is about birth on several levels.

At a micro-level, it is about a particular family. It is about the birth of a baby and the turning upside down of a family’s life. It is about how Mary’s whole world is turning. The life she thought she was going to have is gone. She’s not married. She’s in shock. She’s a teenager. She didn’t get pregnant the normal way.

And yet, she responds with a joyful shout. She is not letting anyone steal her joy. She has courage. She has strength. The joy of the Lord is her strength.

But this birth is about more than this family. At a macro-level, it is about the turning of the whole world. For through the birth of Jesus, God is turning the world around to make it livable for everybody. Through Jesus, God is making the world a place of welcome and nurture not just for some—the privileged—but for all. In Christ, God makes this world our home.

The entire hope of God’s salvation is contained in this story. Because in this birth, a new order is called forth. Through the birth of Jesus, the whole world is turned around.

Emmanuel, God with us–Jesus, whose birth will change the course of history.

We live in a time when everything in our world is telling us to be afraid: afraid of one another, afraid of disagreement, afraid of knowledge, afraid of nature, afraid for the future of all people on earth.

My twenty-six-year-old son says he isn’t sure he wants to bring a child into this world, because he is worried about the environment, the sustainability of the planet, and contributing to overpopulation. He’s also worried about his ability to buy a home, settle down, and provide for a family over a long period of time.

Author Libby Anne, writing in a recent article from Patheos titled "Why Aren’t Millennials Having Babies," echoes these concerns. Libby Anne notes that the high cost of childcare, combined with job inflexibility, causes many young adults to delay marriage and starting a family. In addition, she writes,

Oh and also? Health insurance. That plays a role in these decisions as well.

Government-funded childcare, universal health insurance, paid maternity leave, a higher minimum wage—all of these things would help ensure that Millennials who want to have children feel they are able to do so. And yet, those who complain most about Millennials’ low rate of childbearing tend to be those most against the above.

She goes on to write about the what she calls the “gig” economy that many workers must navigate today, and which, for many, leads to long work hours, holding down multiple jobs, and unpredictable or constantly changing work hours. This lifestyle may make it difficult to imagine how one might work and have a family at the same time. She also points out that some older generations have judged the millennials for delaying or not having children to be a “selfish” generation who can’t imagine not giving their offspring all the privileges and opportunities they grew up with and feel entitled to have.

The truth is, says Libby Anne, many young adults would love to start families. But the struggle with few employee benefits, such as paid maternity leave, when combined with student loan debt, the high cost of childcare, and unstable housing options make it impossible for the millennials to feel they can responsibly bring children into the world.

This is the reality for young adults today, and I do not wish to dismiss these very legitimate concerns. But I do wonder if it has ever been different for the vast majority of people on this earth. As noted above, babies are born into all different kinds of conditions in this world, many of them suboptimal.  Certainly, Mary was not in an optimal situation for having a child. And yet, when confronted with this shocking news, she did what all of us must do: she reached deep into her soul and found courage that came from a place beyond her own self, beyond her own limitations and fears. She found courage that came from her absolute trust in God.

Can we be as courageous as Mary? In the midst of dire circumstances, Mary was willing to receive Christ, physically, into her womb.

Are we willing to receive Christ into our hearts? And are we willing to live with Mary’s courage? Can her song be our song too? Can we refuse to give into the fear that the world screams constantly into our lives? Can we reject the notion that everything is spinning out of control, and embrace that the world is simply about to turn, just as God intends it? Can we admit that there are things about our world that need to be turned upside down for the sake of others?

DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Refuse to demonize the other, no matter which side you are on.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
God makes this world everyone’s home.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Receive the peace of Christ into your hearts.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Respond with courage and joy.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
It is God who is doing all of this.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
God is leading us to respond with joy.
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
For the God of my heart is great!

 

 

Anticipation

by Amy Sigmon

Christmas 2013. I was pregnant with our first child, a baby boy, who was due about two weeks after Christmas (actually on January 6, Epiphany). It felt like I was approximately one thousand weeks pregnant, though by the calendar's reckoning it was thirty-eight. We lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the time, and that winter was colder than most, as a polar vortex caused record low temperatures in many northern states, including Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time on those cold days hunkered down in our 1930s-era apartment, organizing the baby’s room. When there was nothing left to organize, I baked.

I had spent the season of Advent feeling almost mystically connected to Mary, the young mother of God incarnate. I had given thanks more than once that I hadn’t had experiences like hers, traveling at the end of her pregnancy and having no safe place to give birth. (I was registered at a brand new hospital in the suburbs that my husband and I joked was like a castle.) But I no doubt shared some aspects of the experience of pregnancy with Mary. Certainly, we had both been captured by the same wonder of feeling our babies kick as we tried to go to sleep. We had been awakened for the third time in the night as the babies shifted against our bladders. We had been excited and nervous at the same time. I wrote in my journal that season, “Baby Caleb will be here any day to turn our world upside down.”

There’s nothing like spending the season of Advent, which is focused on anticipation, like experiencing it physically in the last weeks of pregnancy. I was nearly beside myself with the anticipation of bringing our baby boy into the world. Unlike the coming of Christmas, which arrives on December 25 no matter what, I had no idea when Caleb would make his arrival. In this season of Advent, as you make your heart ready for the birth of the Christ child whom we know comes to us, what else are you anticipating? What waits inside your heart or soul, set on its own timeline, ready to turn your world upside down?

 

Categories: Year B, Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 24, 2017

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