All are welcome

I Believe, Even When … All Seems Lost

“I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love,
even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God,
even when God is silent.”

A Jew hiding from the Nazi Gestapo during WWII scrawled this defiant statement of faith on a cellar wall in Cologne. American soldiers discovered it below a Star of David when searching the bombed house.

Today, as we begin the Advent season and the new liturgical church year, let’s begin where the gospel story begins. For some gospels that’s with the birth of a baby but according to others it started long before that. This Advent, by exploring the first chapter of each of the gospels, we will look at our beliefs at the core of our faith as we remember the stories of the nativity.

In 1984 Mark Lowry wrote the lyrics to “Mary Did You Know?” for his church’s living Christmas tree musical. In 1992 Michael English recorded it. It exploded onto the radio, in churches and truly across the music scene and globe. Country artists from Kathy Mattea and Reba McIntire to pop artists Cee Lo Green and Vicky Winans and then across the globe and oceans to Australia and New Zealand, this song has become huge.

One commenter wrote, “Best Christmas Carol” ever.

Why?

For once there is a song full of questions, full of mystery, full of true wonder. In this song where we wonder about Mary, did she truly know what she was entering into as she agreed to the Angel’s pronouncement?

Who was the angel?

You are telling me that a young teen age girl living in an age and land where being pregnant out of wedlock truly was grounds for, if not death, truly exclusion, would have sung for joy at the fact that she was pregnant with what was named as the Christ-child, the Savior?!?!

We begin Advent today. We begin the new liturgical year. We start over. Do you think it odd or strange that we begin in the dark, and really, in lament?

In the womb there is darkness. In the womb there is mystery. We enter a time of wondering.

The world seems ready to explode at the seams and we put up trees, decorate the darkness with lights, bright, shiny objects, whimsical figurines and music….lots and lots of music.

Maybe, if we add enough lights and enough sound and enough food for our taste buds and enough smells of pine, balsam fir, gingerbread, apple cider and hot cocoa, maybe just maybe the lament regarding the world will subside, or at least ebb.

This week as the Grand Jury released its verdict of not guilty, the Midwest town of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area exploded again. Interesting that as we move toward the Winter Solstice, the longest, darkest day of the year that we are brought face to face with the realities of our racism and what it has produced.

Racism and our fear of the other, and specifically those with dark skin, creates here on earth, a torment of fear that in our increased militaristic state causes gunfire and death.

Mary did you know that one day your child would be killed? This is a statement for all the mothers who have had to bury a child because we can’t yet figure out how not to be afraid. Afraid of the dark, afraid of the other, afraid of what we can’t see or don’t know.

Barbara Brown Taylor (former Episcopal priest) is making all the circuits with her latest book Learning to Walk in the Dark.   She illumines the very fact that in our prayers, our ancient texts, our historical religious perspectives, we cherish, we celebrate and we lift up the Light. Isaiah 60:1 says, “Arise, Shine for the Light has come.” Our texts name darkness as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. We have learned to be afraid of the darkness – it is evil, lurking with monsters, dreadful, scary.

But really, why are we so afraid of the dark? Gorgeous stars, fun creatures like opossums and wolves that howl are to be found in the dark. Quiet. Serene beauty is found in the deep sky.

In a few weeks we will look at John 1 which is all about the Light coming as the Word. The word was light and it walked among us. And certainly, when we don’t know what is lurking in the bushes at night, the glowing orange eyes stir fear into our hearts.

But, what about the awe of mystery?   Or, the awe of the darkness?

The mystery of childbirth is amazing.

The mystery of why some rise up against their own complicity to speak out against the injustice around them is awe-inspiring.

The mystery of who we are created to be is both frightening and joyful. We enter such turmoil wanting to know for what purpose we were created to be. Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak says that the question is not for what purpose was I created? But, the question should instead ask, “Who am I? What was I created to be?”

Mary did you know that you were created to nurture, to love, to rear a child and that through these you would be revered by some religions and remembered by most?

Mary listened to the angel. She asked a few questions but the angel did most of the talking. Mary listened.

This week along with the Grand Jury verdict of not guilty, the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced the names and purpose of the Ferguson Commission. Nixon said, “The work of the commission is not about one case………this commission will examine issues that came forth in light of the killing and subsequent demonstrations and protests….”

My lament is the mystery of why it took so long to create this commission. As a seminary student in Webster Groves, Missouri ten years ago, which was 20 minutes southeast of Ferguson and part of the greater St. Louis area, my black colleagues and our black professors spoke of the racism they experienced on a day to day basis. Our ethics professor, was pulled over on more than one occasion though he was not given a citation because he wasn’t doing anything wrong other than being black and driving a car in a predominantly white area.

My fellow student Rev. Starksy Wilson will co-chair the commission. He offers these words as he begins this amazingly important endeavor — “As much as our voices are independent, our lives are interdependent,” Wilson said. “We commit to listening more than we talk.”

Mary, did you know that your belief even when you could have believed that all was lost offered us a greater mystery of hope?

Have you listened to Mary lately?

Have you heard her belief that her being was just what it was meant to be?

Even When we sense our world is exploding at its seems …

Even When we wonder who will lead us next ….

Even When we find ourselves in joy and delight …

Even When we don’t know who we’ve been created to be …

Even When we get afraid of the dark …

Even When, can you believe?