Sermon for December 1, 2019

Scripture: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

How many of you are familiar with the rubber band technique?  You wear a rubber band around your wrist and when you are trying to combat anxiety you snap it against your skin. 

It’s a physical reminder to reset your thoughts.  

The angels in the Bible seem to function a bit like the rubber band technique.  They show up and immediately the first thing they say is, do not be afraid.  I can imagine in a less idealic recount, their statement might have even been  accompanied by a slap across the face as if to say snap out of it.  Be present.  Get with God’s program.  You are losing focus.

And let’s be honest.  In Zechariah’s case – who wouldn’t lose focus.  No one had heard from God for 500 years.  How could anyone imagine something different at that point?  They lived in a culture dictated by a different understanding of the world.  They managed to maintain their religious identity - but I can imagine that after 500 years they can no longer imagine other possibilities.  And even if they could generate a glimmer of something different in their imaginations – the idea of being able to make such a thing a reality must have seemed downright ludicrous. 

And then along comes this angel saying fear not – something new is about to happen.  Snap.  Zechariah literally seems stunned.  He is so disoriented by the whole encounter all he can do is basically say, are you out of your mind?  At which point he is struck dumb – unable to say a word until his brain reset and so he could once again imagine the possibilities of God.  And when he finally spoke, he cast the vision of possibility for all who heard him.  God is about to act in the world.  Get with the program.  Step up and pay attention.

I wonder how often we miss the possibilities of God because we refuse to allow our brains to reset.  We refuse to reorient ourselves.  The world orients us in a specific way – but I dare say God’s direction is often different.  And so we need the reminder – Do Not Be Afraid.

I have a bit of a reputation in our office for saying no to things.  My initial reaction to most things that are different from what we’ve done before is to say no.  Luckily for me, the team knows me well so they never actually listen when I say no the first time.  Instead, after I say no, they say, Do Not Be Afraid.  OK, they might not say that exactly.  But they say something that forces me to reset my thinking.  They act as my rubber bands that snap me back to a worldview of possibility, a worldview of hope.  

In a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Bud Reeves for First United Methodist in Fort Smith Arkansas, Rev. Dr. Reeves talks about the importance of knowing where we are going.  You might wonder – how do we know where we are going.  

Well, in the office we know where we are going because we talk about it with one another.  We tell the story of what we want to be in the world so that as we act in the world we fulfill that story.  Without the story – our team wouldn’t know what to do.  Without the story – we would be left governed by personal preferences and fear.  But with the story – we (or at least our team, even when I’m saying no) is able to tolerate the unknown.  We act in accordance with the story even if the outcome is not assured – that is hope.  Hope compels us to act upon the narrative no matter what the outcome.

But what is the narrative.  Rev. Dr. Reeves included this story in his sermon – I think it sums up the narrative we are supposed to remember.  Rev. Dr. Reeves said this, I heard recently about a children’s program at a public elementary school. Because they were cautious about being too religious, they had a nice little program scheduled, and the content centered around family, friends, and fun times during the holidays—all of which are good things, but none of which are the reason we have Christmas. The program was called “Christmas Love.” For the grand finale, a line of kids was supposed to march across the stage with pieces of poster board spelling out the words “Christmas Love.” Their backs were turned to the audience, and at the exact moment, they were supposed to turn around to spell the words with the letters on their poster board. Moms were backstage to make sure they marched out in the right order, but once they got on stage, they were on their own. Sure enough, one little girl holding the “M” in “Christmas” got her sign turned upside down. So the moment came, and the kids turned around, and what the audience saw was not “Christmas Love” but “Christ was Love.” Without meaning to, the elementary students had told the truth of the Christmas story after all. They had set the stage for a real celebration of Christmas!

Christ was love.  That’s it.  Emmanuel – God with us – was love.  Our job, as Christians, is to live our lives according to that story.  That is where we are going – we are going to love.  

This advent we are focusing on angels among us – we are focusing on the rubber band technique, snapping ourselves back to God’s story.  We have temporary feather tattoos and bookmarks for you to take and use.  Every time you see the tattoo, bookmark, or something that reminds you of an angel for that matter, listen for God saying, “Do Not Be Afraid.”  Pause.  Reorient your thinking and then when you’re ready to let your life speak, live a life that tells the world that Christ is love.  Amen.

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