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Advent Two 2007 Year A

December 9, 2007

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Matthew 3:1-12

This season of Advent is a time for hope. We sit in the darkness of Advent able to glimpse the hope of a God who comes for us. Hope is Advent's theme. Hope. Longing for that which we expect and want to be — yet while we, like John the Baptist in today's gospel, we are in the wilderness. And as the Church of St. John the Baptist — this could just as well be your patronal feast season!

The prophet Isaiah wrote of John the Baptist:

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

'Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.'”

But the problem with this translation as we have it in scripture is that the original Hebrew from which this passage was translated had no punctuation marks! So what if the quotation marks are moved? What if it says:

"The voice of one crying out

"in the wilderness,....Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight."'

As a diocesan Canon, I preach all over the diocese. My focus is Stewardship and so people expect me to talk about greed — to lay a guilt trip on them. But I rarely talk about greed. Greed is not the problem. Fear is the problem. We are not greedy people when it comes to giving our money away. We are not greedy — we are scared. And greed is just our scream! We hold back our pledge sometimes because we think we need all our money as protection — as security. Only when we see it all as a gift do we loosen our death grip on our money. It is gratitude and only gratitude which alleviates what constipates generosity to God. And yet we fear.

John the Baptist's WILDERNESS was desert. The oppression of heat. The oppression. of invaders. The oppression of dry wells. The oppression of invading pagans.

But our wilderness is fear. We live in a soup of fear. Our oppression is terrorism. Our oppression is bigotry. Our oppression is bullies — be they leaders in our country or leaders in our parish. Our oppression is television playing on our insecurities — telling to buy more — that without what they sell we are not good enough.

We are in the darkness of our own wilderness sand we hope and we long for God.

The thing is that we, in the church celebrate faith hope and love. The three sisters of the church are celebrated and lauded with words and music. But although libraries are devoted to faith and love or "Charity," hope is the step child. Hardly anything much has been written about it in comparison because we humans — especially we Americans, are far too proud to acknowledge the need of hope. And sometimes too proud even to acknowledge the need for God.

But in this season we do. It is foist upon us and we drink it down with the ferocity of a person lost in the desert and given a bucket of cold water to drink. We pretend to be above the need for beauty and mystery, but give us even a little bit and we grab at it and hold it tight. We need God to be God. We need to hope. The need of hope is actually biological. It has been tested.

In a medical lab in the 1920's a doctor of medicine placed two lab mice in tall, black, glass cylinders of water. Both mice were of the same age, the same strength, the same muscle mass and the same excellent health. Both mice began to swim with all their might. The swam to the edge and clawed at the tall glass sides in the hope that they could claw their way up and out of the bright opening at the top of the cylinder.

After three hours, on one of the cylinders a dark lid was placed. The mouse in the closed cylinder began to show signs of failure. It lost its fight and began to slow and then sink until it was mercifully saved. The mouse in the open container went on swimming for another seven hours before being rescued.

Then they switched the mice. Re did the experiment a few days later and the same thing happened. The mouse in the lidded container gave up after 3 hours but the mouse in the open one kept fighting for as much as 12 hours.

There is proof — scientific and liturgical that we need hope. And Advent gives us the chance to express that hope on Sundays and live it into each week.

Like the athlete who works on strengthening weak muscles in case they are one day needed in a sprint — we work on hope in Advent. Because, my dear friends, we all will have seasons when we will rely on those internal soul-muscles being strong — for ourselves and for each other and for this war-tom world.

Anne Lammot tells the story of a night she and her son Sammy were in a hotel suite in Indianapolis — far from home. Sammy was only two years old and while Anne worked at the desk in the sitting room, her son accidentally locked himself in the bedroom. His awareness of his situation was expressed by blood-curdling screams for mercy in darkness. Do you remember those days? A child in a dark room? The light from under the door to the next room- the only saving grace? That sliver of light which reminds him that although there may be all manner of ghostly and goblin behind him and on every side, there is too, this little ray of hope in the darkness of midnight blue.

Sammy screams and wails and screams some more. Anne, pumping through her veins the adrenaline of a mother whose child is terrified and separated from her — calls the front desk for the maintenance department to bring a key and then throws herself across the room to that slit at the bottom of the door. There she can hear what is now gurgling coming from a child whose tears and mucus drape the fearful cries in human frailty like the swags of curtains.

Unable to reach Sammy —unable to hold him, to rock him, to secure his face in two hands and stare into his eyes to calm him down with the reality of her presence; Anne does the next best thing. She tries to speak to him in his terror and his dismay.

"Sammy, Sammy" she says, through her own tears, her own longing for peace in her beloved child. "Sammy, listen, its Mommy."

"I can't see you." Says little Sammy. "I hear you but where are you? Are you there, really?"

"Yes Sammy" she gurgles, unable to hide her own regret at her son's pain and fears. "I am here. I am here."

"It's dark" says Sammy. "I am scared. I want to be with you. Are you there?"

"I am here. Sammy." She says in this detente of fear. Then she has an idea. Not the idea of slapping the maintenance man — an idea which came and thankfully went as fast. A second idea.

"Sammy," she says, her mouth down on the carpet and touching the wood edge of the door's ridge — as if giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to her son through that crack under the door. As if her very breath would keep him from dying of fear and loneliness. "Sammy," she cries through the wailing from the dark side. "Sammy slide your fingers under the door." Slowly, she sees those sweet little pudgy fingers slide under the door- still wet with cheek-tears. She then places her finger in those curled fingers and suddenly, the wails subside. Wails turn to whimpers and whimpers turn to wisps of erratic breathing. And there is stillness.

In that moment, when the desire for being held by the mother is so strong in the darkness and vulnerability of the midnight blue room, where a door seems to be blocking full embrace but where a finger slid under the door seems to be, for now, enough. This, is the life we lead- the spiritual life. This is Advent. The already-not-yet of Advent. Even as we live in the midnight blue, God's reality slips a finger under the door in the form of a person who would give us just enough flesh to stop our wailing. Just enough reality to last us until the embrace to come.

We, you and I, are that little child -grasping in our darkness, that finger of divinity, that entry of the other into our world; yet just enough to give us hope in our fears and our disappointments and our dismay at finding a door between our darkness and God's light.

But God, in the coming, the Advent of Christ, slips a finger under the door.

And it is, for the moment, enough.

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