A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Holy Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Holy Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

November 28, 2021

come-share-in-god's-joy

It all depends upon how you look at it. 

In a little more than two years apart, in 2014 and 2017, I had the exact major surgery on each knee. The accidents that triggered the need for repair were nearly identical too – mindlessly walking down the stairs, turning my head to look behind me, missing a safe footing and “pop!” 

The first time I tore my ACL, injured my meniscus and needed micro-fracture surgery I was at home in our quirky 1840’s farmhouse in New York.  It was Labor Day weekend. I had just received an upsetting piece of news from my son and became preoccupied as I began going down the uneven, narrow basement stairs. I turned my head to call David, who was sitting on our porch, missed the next stair, and “pop.” Hearing me scream (and perhaps swear?) David rushed to my side and helped me find a place to rest.  I didn’t realize right away what happened.  It wasn’t until I tried to bear weight on the leg unsuccessfully that I knew I was in trouble.  Six weeks later, I had surgery.  

Though I received competent medical care, it was through a gigantic orthopedic practice. The only time I saw the surgeon was for about five minutes before the surgery and five minutes afterwards.  Otherwise, I saw a nurse practitioner – usually, but not always the same one. I really had no idea what I was getting into with the recovery.  It was harrowing, frightening, and demanding – and it took nearly a year for me to get fully back on my feet. 

For the most part, it was an awful experience that I would have been happy to forget. 

But, one snowy January evening in 2017, after a long day of teaching in New York City, it happened again. This time,  I had just finished dinner with my son, his girlfriend, Sr. Meg and Sr. Susan near Union Square. I was exhausted and a little cranky, eager to get back to my friend’s apartment on the Upper East Side for the night. Susan, Meg and I needed to walk down a long, steep slippery staircase to our train. As I looked behind me to make sure they were OK, I missed my footing and “pop.” Thank God they were there to help me to the train. I think I was in shock when I finally sat down. I never worked harder trying to stay calm, so I would not pass out on the way uptown.

When I finally made it back to Rockport the next day, I knew I was in trouble. Again. The thought of another  surgery and another year of rehab was almost too much.  This time, however, the only doctor who would take my insurance happened to run a solo practice. Initially I worried this wasn’t a good sign.  But, I quickly learned that Dr. John Boyle, “JB” as I called him, not only had been the orthopedist for the Patriots and Bruins, but he was a true healer. Through my tears, I told him about my first awful experience with the other knee. He listened attentively  and reassured me that this would be different.  For one, I knew more of what to expect. Two, he made sure that there was never a time I felt in the dark about what he was doing, what was going to happen, or what I should expect during my recovery.  

There were two other key differences in my recovery from the second surgery. When I realized what I would be facing again, I decided to read much more about the healing process before I had the surgery.  There was one concept that stood out and it had to do with my mental, not physical,  approach.  Post surgery, when talking about my knee, rather than say, “That’s my bad knee or my injured knee,” the suggestion was to say, “That is my healing knee.”  Such a simple shift in mindset, but also profound and powerful.  

Rather than perceiving that I was in a battle to recover from a devastating knee injury, I became a partner in the healing process.  On top of that, JB said I did not need to wear the cumbersome leg brace that had been like an albatross the first time around.  This helped my state of mind immensely, too.

JB was also a master of building trust.  Because he communicated with such kindness, compassion, competence, and wisdom, I trusted him completely.  He listened attentively as  I shared that my post-op pain from my first surgery was the worst pain I’d ever experienced in my life. (And I delivered an 11 lb 1 oz baby by c-section!) He listened to me in a way no doctor ever had before.  Following the surgery a few days later,  when he came into the recovery room, JB handed me his cell number and told me to call if I needed anything. (Such an amazing healer. I’m sorry to say he recently retired.)

So, what does this story have to do with Advent? 

Luke portrays a scene of utter calamity: nations will be in anguish,(pause) distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright    in foreboding   of what is coming upon the earth.” He says, “Yet, ‘the Son of Man {another title for Christ}  (is) coming on a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, things do look bad, but your freedom and healing are on the way. 

Unlike the reading from the gospel of Mark that we heard two weeks ago, when Mark’s community was trying to come to terms with the destruction of the temple and life as they knew it, Luke is writing later.  No longer does his community anticipate the literal return of Jesus.  Instead, Luke’s Jesus speaks symbolically to make his point. 

What is the point?  In the midst of utter calamity – which can take so many personal and global  forms –  there can be different responses. Some people may be in anguish, even dying of fright.  Others, stand up and raise their heads.  (Guess which ones we are called to be?)

Today’s Gospel reminds us that we always have a choice when faced with catastrophe about how we will respond.  As Advent begins, we are reminded to not give into our fears, but to look forward to the future with hope.  Yes, there is so much in the world that can make us fearful – COVID, climate destruction, plant and animal extinctions, gun violence, mental health and addiction challenges, grave illness and more.

Today’s message isn’t to deny that these things are real. Or to ignore them. To  pretend that they have no power.  They do.  

Advent is an invitation to be attentive, to recognize the signs of the times, realizing that they are not the whole story. To remember that God  is in the story.

There are many good reasons we might give into our fears.  We may not have enough knowledge about a situation – or we may have too much knowledge.  Sadly, in 2021, we may even have politically induced misinformation intended to stir up our fears.  

When faced with uncertainties, we may feel afraid because we don’t know who to trust. And, if you’ve had a long history of being in situations with people you could not trust, it can be difficult to give someone else the chance to be trustworthy.  This often happens in our medical system – even more so if you are a person of color.  

What difference would it make in our lives, if in the midst of disaster, we lived with the knowledge that God is present, active, coming…that all is not lost; that we are not alone. 

What difference would it make in your life to look at any of the major difficulties that you are facing or may be facing on the horizon      and to live from the conviction that God is present? That God is active working for your healing even when hidden from your sight?

So much of what agitates our fears and troubles our minds comes from presuming that  what we believe is the worst thing that can happen will be what happens. How often do we prejudge situations and other people before we know the full story? We can really work ourselves up    looking for evidence     to support our case that a situation is hopeless.  When we allow our fear to get the best of us, what often happens?  Fight, flight, or freeze. It’s like taking a bad situation and making it worse.  Much worse. 

Instead, what difference might it make to “stand up and raise your heads?”

When we believe that God is our partner, that there is no situation without hope, we can co-create new life out of the worst situations.  If we can be clear-eyed about our challenges  – if we can take to heart the signs of the times – and listen for God’s still, small voice calling to us, we can find a way through dark times.  When we believe with all our hearts that God is present, even when hidden from our sight, we can approach our challenges with courage and confidence.  We can make a way where we may have first thought  there was no way. 

John Dominic Crossan sums it up, “You have been waiting for God, while God has been waiting for you. You want God’s intervention, while God wants your collaboration. God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter itlive it, and thereby establish it.”

This pandemic has presented us plenty of opportunities to choose how to respond.  Yes, there are good reasons to be careful and cautious.  But, we ought not lose sight of the silver linings, the ways in which grace has found new ways to bring life. Because we had to pause and slow down, because we became more attentive, look how many people discovered or rediscovered the outdoors?  Look how many people have developed a new ecological consciousness?  

While the beginning of a new church year tries to get our attention with an apocalyptic message, the world is working even harder to get our attention:  Black Friday Sale! Cyber Monday is tomorrow! Don’t miss out now! Even the church is asking, “Have you signed up for Christmas yet?” And, then there is decorating, getting the tree, writing cards, baking cookies, purchasing or creating presents… In the midst of all this, a voice calls out to us, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with indulgence, drunkenness and the cares of the world, and that day suddenly close in on you, like a trap.”

The temptation, of course, is that we get so distracted by the holidays and the news and all the family activities and our own dramas, that we miss the heart of Advent; we miss what’s most important; we miss seeing the One who is always coming to us: Jesus.  

Luke presents us with a spiritual wake-up call. There will be signs. Some people will be deadened by fear. But, your redemption (your spiritual freedom, your healing) is coming near.  Take time to watch.  Take time to pray. Stand confident and courageous.  Your God waits for you. Amen.