Sermon 11-30-2014; ‘Anticipation’
Ruthie Tippin, Pastor, First Friends Meeting
Pamela Hawkins, Simply Wait – Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent, Upper Room Books, 2007.
My granddaughter Ella is keeping the tooth fairy very busy lately. It reminds me of the song, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”. What do you want for Christmas? We’ve just pushed back from the Thanksgiving table this week… but what are we leaning into? What are we looking forward to? What are we anticipating in the days to come? With so much chaos in the world today, what is there to look forward to?
If you need an answer to that question, ask a child. Last evening, I flew into Indianapolis with a family from Australia… two little children – a girl of 4 and a boy, just 2, and their parents. It was so fun to hear them speak with that thick ‘down under’ accent, and to hear them talk about seeing Grandpa and Grandma, cousins, aunts and uncles. “Are you excited? Do you think you’ll remember them?” Then, as we all moved toward baggage claim, I walked past a group of adults, waiting in that big, beautiful airport rotunda… “Do you think the children will remember us? Oh, I think I see them. There’s a little girl dressed all in pink!” And then… a wonderful leap of a little four year old girl into her Grandmother’s arms. Neither one of them was thinking about the outside world - war, terror, loneliness, injustice, pain, loss… they were wrapped in presence. The presence of one another. This was what they had been looking forward to. This was all they had anticipated, and then some.
This season of the year – perhaps more than any other – is one of anticipation. Children will wake up to search for the Christmas Elf each morning, who keeps moving from place to place around the house. Advent calendars will pop open with surprises every day. Santa will expect his Christmas lists – and remember - he’s going to check them twice! Here at Meeting we’re looking forward to Vespers, to the Poinsettia tree, to Christmas Caroling, to the USFW Tea, to the Children’s Pageant, to Christmas Eve… oh, there’s so much to prepare for!
But… are we anticipating presence? Are we considering the holy experience of God-with-us, God-in-us this season? Are we watching for the Christ-Child? Or are we overwhelmed with gifts, travel, expenses, schedules, family…
The Psalmist brings us an incredible gift… the story of the watchman waiting for the morning. Imagine the darkness of a city, miles and miles out in the desert, surrounded with thick, heavy walls. You are the watchman, moving along the top of the walls, watching everything… constantly standing vigil. Foul weather, any sign of trouble, fire, strangers, enemies, or even friends returning home… you need to be on the alert at all times. How you must long for daybreak. This is how the Psalmist describes keeping watch for God – longing for God. Anticipating God’s presence. ‘My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
(Read antiphonally with person (Watchman) in the balcony.)
Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveller, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveller, yes it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveller, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hasten to your quiet home.
Traveller, lo! The Prince of Peace,
Lo the son of God is come.
Are we watching for God’s presence – for God’s arrival in the world? In us? Or are we missing it entirely? God constantly arrives in the world, but often we’re too busy or too distracted to notice. Mary was not… nine months of waiting, watching, anticipating the birth – she knew. The shepherds could not… called out of their daily lives by a host of angels to come and see God’s arrival into the world. The wise men would not. They, like watchmen on high, city walls had been anticipating, interpreting signs and wonders. They had been leaning over tables filled with charts, books, maps. Coming from the East, with their own way of seeing things, they weren’t looking for a baby… they were looking for one born as King – a ruler of Judah – a shepherd of Israel. Hardly anyone else would see God the way they saw God. And this arrival of God in a world of occupation, militarism, war, terror, injustice and pain would bring chaos… and the promise of peace.
I walked to my gate at the Chicago airport yesterday as the sun was going down. I was entranced looking through the windows, all along the way, as the sky filled with color. As I pulled my roller bag from the G concourse to the L concourse, the sun pulled more and more color through the clouds… deepening to a rich magenta. I wanted to shout out to everyone I passed, “LOOK OUT THE WINDOW!” But I didn’t. When I got to the gate, I asked the staff person a question about the flight, and then said, “When you have a second, you might step over and look out the window… the sky is incredible.” As I walked away, I heard her say, “What?” and another person said, “The sky…”, and then I saw a gentleman standing nearby break into a big smile. He’d watched the whole thing, and saw her reaction when she saw the sunset.
What is there to look forward to this Christmas? More than we could ever imagine. If we allow ourselves the space and mystery of anticipation, we might find God borne into the world in the oddest of places… in a sunset, in a grandchild, in the smell of a barn, in the stars some very dark night… even in pain, in sorrow, in terror, in injustice, in loss and in chaos, the chaos of our own hearts.
Pamela Hawkins, in her book “Simply Wait” writes this story about anticipation:
“As we entered the sanctuary, it was almost time for the Advent Service of Lessons and Carols to begin. After friends made room for us on their crowded pew, we sat down just as the choir moved into place for the processional hymn. When I looked up, I noticed a man sitting alone in the choir loft. He was middle-aged, dressed in a choir robe, and was leaning forward in an odd posture. At first, I thought he had arrived too late to join the rest of the choir at the back of the church. He must have decided just to hurry to his seat.
Yet as I watch him more closely, there was nothing rushed about him, but rather the contrary – he seemed calm and unhurried. This man sat very still, almost strangely so – eyes straight ahead, jaw thrust up, neck taut, holding still as though he anticipated something was about to happen.
Then suddenly he stood up, as if he had heard some cue inaudible to the rest of us. And he broke into a smile that lit up his whole person, a smile like we see on someone who has received wonderful news, yet he stood there alone, no one near him, leaning over the choir railing and into the open space beyond him.
That was when I realized the man was blind. He had not arrived late, but had been waiting right where he need to be - probably where he waited often. He had been listening for the sound of readiness, a sound he had attuned his ears to hear. He was anticipating with his whole being that first sound of movement and music from a distance. He was leaning into the Advent space of God’s gathered people, poised and ready, and when he heard what he had been waiting for, he was moved to joy.”
Please stand with me now. Now hold on, and lean forward – just a little. What do you have to look forward to this Christmas? I’ll tell you. Presence. Lots and lots and lots of presence. God’s presence above you, below you, around you, through you, within you. Be ready. Prepare yourself. Climb up to the top and into the depths of your own life. Lean into God’s presence during this season, during this day, during these moments together. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss this presence. Watch for it. Anticipate it. Emmanuel – God with you. God with us.