I Believe in the Sun: Hope for Tomorrow; Luke 1:26-38
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; November 29, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
It was a sunny January morning: the air was crisp and cold. The lighting seemed stark and the noise seemed sharp as the woman stood at the counter in McDonald’s, staring up at the breakfast menu, not really seeing what was there.
When it came her turn to order, the 60ish African-American employee, tall and slender, asked what she’d like to order, and the woman made eye contact with her said, “I’ve just come from the hospital. My granddaughter died,” and the tears began to flow down her cheeks.
There are some times in our lives when our world caves in. When we’re told by the doctor that there isn’t anything else they can do. When the one with whom you thought you would spend the rest of your life walks out the door. When your best friend on earth dies. When the hope that you were holding onto crumbles in your hands and falls away, like ashes that turn to dust and blow away in the breeze. You look around you and see that the world is carrying on, that people are still rushing from one place to the next, that work and school schedules continue. The sun goes down, the moon comes up, and a new day dawns just like this one did, just like it always has. You wonder how that can be, when your whole existence has so profoundly changed.
I believe even when… That’s the name of our Advent sermon series, that’s the statement of faith that we’re called to proclaim, even in the midst of times such as these.
I believe even when… Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reminded that Jesus wasn’t born into the lap of luxury, that he didn’t grow up in a life of ease. He wasn’t called to preach to the full and the satisfied, except perhaps, to help them see what they were missing. He spent his time with the hurting, the lost and the lonely. And he didn’t die peacefully in his sleep after a long and comfortable life.
Jesus was born into and lived and died in this same broken and confused world where we live. He came to offer life and hope and light to people like you and me.
In this morning’s scripture lesson, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and even before he announces that she will become the mother of God’s son, she is troubled. There are times when we might want and hope and wish for the appearance of an angel to get us out of a rough spot, but for one to just show up when life is moving along just fine…well…I can see where that might be troubling.
“Uh, hi. How are you today? What’s up?”
If an angel showed up out of nowhere, and I hadn’t been desperately praying for that to happen, I think my first thought might be, okay, am I dying? All through scripture, whenever an angel shows up, people are fearful. It’s unexpected, it’s infrequent, and fear seems a very appropriate response.
In Mary’s case, we’re told that she’s troubled. Greatly troubled. Which makes perfect sense, and in a lot of ways, we know that her trouble is just beginning. The angel Gabriel tells her that she’s going to be pregnant with the Son of God, and no matter how many times she might rehearse that line, most people are not going to believe her. She has to know that.
She asks, how can this be? The angel explains it to her. He then says, “Nothing is impossible with God,” to which Mary replies, “I am the Lord’s servant: let it be as you have said.”
The angel leaves her. To continue on her own.
This is a beautiful story of faith and trust if we stop right here and don’t think about it beyond this interaction, as if this is the whole story. When I’ve wondered “what’s next” in a movie or television show that has ended abruptly or unexpectedly, I have to remind myself there is no next: it’s a story, it’s made-up, this is the end. But Mary’s story is a real story, a deep story, a story of a young, single woman who is pregnant, who must face the disappointment of her fiancé, the surprise of her parents, and the scorn of the people in her community. Single, unmarried mothers today don’t have it easy in our culture, but in Mary’s world she faces the possibility of not only rejection—but death. And beyond the issues of being an unmarried, pregnant woman—from our historical perspective, we have a hint of the challenges she will experience as the mother of God’s Son. How it feels knowing the powerful enemies that her son has…how he will make choices that will serve God’s purposes, but will at the same time move him away from her, away from the safety and security of home and family. How she will one day witness his torture and his death.
A baby, lullabies, sweet and mild, peaceful, angels…rejection, danger, deep sadness, heartache.
As we enter this season of Advent, so much is different from what we’re accustomed to. Scott and I have put up our Christmas trees because I love the lights and the color and decorations that remind me so much of Christmas’s past. But I’m not sure if anyone except he and I will enjoy them this year. (Scott likes to “bah-humbug” the decorations, but I’m still going to say that he enjoys them, too, because I’m preaching this sermon and he’s not.) My sister and I canceled the family Christmas in the same phone call that we canceled the family Thanksgiving. That’s something our families have done our whole adult lives, and so of course, not being together doesn’t seem right. I’ve been doing most of my Christmas shopping in the comfort of our family room on Black Friday evening the past couple of years anyway, but there won’t be the annual trip of taking our littlest grandchildren to see Santa at the mall. I don’t expect we’ll be walking the mall, checking out the animated figures that bring them such delight. The parties are off for this year, but for Christmas I think I’ll go ahead and make my pecan pie. I’ll just be forced to eat it all by myself.
It’s all so different this year, which can’t help but be disappointing, and yet, we’ve been given this opportunity to gear down all of our usual busy-ness, and focus on the holy intention of the season of preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ. Though our nativities and hymns and scripture lessons lead us to the birth of an infant on Christmas, the significance of this event is only realized when we claim the whole story, which includes as well, the life, death and resurrection of the One who came to save us. Though we love focusing on his first coming into our world, we know that what we’re doing here today in this age, is preparing for the time when he’ll come again, which will proclaim a whole new day, a whole new age, a kingdom revealed “on earth as it is in heaven.”
So maybe, because of our circumstances in this season this year, the minor keys of the hymns, the bare branches on the table and the urging to slow down won’t be so difficult to embrace. It’s not that there won’t still be joy, anticipation and expectation. I keep wanting to say that I look forward to the “magic” of Christmas that always seems to happen, but I know “magic” isn’t the right word for it. But when we keep our hearts and minds open, we’ll be blessed with holy moments that will remind us…that even when life happens, when we can’t deny the hurt, when we can’t quite see the sunshine, we’ve been given a savior. Who came once, and who will come again. And that gives us hope for tomorrow.
I didn’t know when I stepped up to the counter at McDonald’s that I was going to say what I did, that I would blurt out to a complete stranger that my heart was broken. But let me tell you what she did, how she responded. Somehow, she leaped over the counter, or rushed around it, I really don’t remember exactly how she did it, but in seconds she had me wrapped up in her arms, this complete stranger, and she said, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
And in that moment, a bright light shattered the darkness. I knew God’s love.
I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love, even when no one is there.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.