3 Advent 2016: Midwife to the Holy

It is a dangerous world.

Justice is suspended slightly beyond our reach
over a precipice we cannot span.

The Earth we call fragile
will fume and crack and shake,
and likely grow and thrive and produce
eons after our species
has made it uninhabitable for our kind.
It is a dangerous world.

The dark is not darkness to God
but it is still an absence of light to us –
the activity of human evil
foment greater threats to our safety
and greater chaos at the shores of our hope.
It is a dangerous world.

The Season of Advent
is all about the dangers of the world we live in.

I know that all over of the town and city,
and throughout the country
preparations for Christmas
begin right after Halloween,
and intensify until red ribbons and white lights are everywhere.

But in the eye of that commercial storm
that has been brewing now for over a month,
in liturgical Churches like ours,
the four weeks before Christmas
are held as an important “Season” all its own.
For 14 centuries in fact,
Advent has stubbornly struggled
to hold back the tide of Christmas until,
on December 24th,
it can no longer withstand the procession of time.
Why have a season like that,
when everyone loves Christmas?
Why hold back Christmas or try to diminish its splendor.
Because, quite frankly,
it is a dangerous world.

You see, the Christmas spotlight is focused on an infant.
It is difficult for us to see past that sweet baby.
In the story of a small family
nestled around a newborn child,
need to be prepared to see and hear
what lies at the dark edges of that manger.

It’s tricky.
We receive newborns with “Ah!” and “Oooh.”
And that is as it should be.
An infant is more marvelous than we can possibly say.

But the season of Advent gazes into the gap
between the promise of what is to come –
that blessed baby –
and the chaos that is here and now.

We peer into this gap at Advent,
knowing that Christmas is just beyond us
but averting our gaze
even though we would rather stare at the promise
than at the chaos.

Even so, Advent is not a punishment;
rather, it is a method
of building spiritual muscle.

To look into the gap
between what has been Promised
and the Chaos that is here,
is to become wiser
and stronger
and more savvy
in a world that requires us to be clever not innocent.
It is a dangerous world.
Today, in Isaiah and Matthew,
we hear the promise of a different kind of Creation:
A NEW Creation.

In the NEW Creation
weak hands will be strong,
lame legs will dance,
thirsty deserts will gush,
dry sand will well up,
the exiled will come home,
and the captives will be ransomed.

The NEW Creation
will be under the reign of God instead of Chaos.

The NEW Creation
is not yet born,
but it is alive.
The NEW Creation
is a tender green shoot
still gathering shape in the dark, wet soil of winter.

But it is ALIVE.

Notice, please, that you and I are not promised
we will be alive
to see the world free of chaos,
only that the reign of God is coming.

The promise is simply
that the Creation is moving toward
an order that sustains life
in all of its mysterious complexities,
while at the same time slowly moving away from Chaos
with all of its attending threats.

Now the voices of cynicism and disbelief,
the thinking limited to pure reason,
and the dogmatism of science or economics
as the only possible lenses
through which we should interpret the world,
all have dismissed
the possibility of God’s reign.
There is no sense in arguing with them
any more than it makes sense to argue
with dogmatic religious thinking.

But for those of us in between –
who look for light and life
upon the entire spectrum of possibilities,
and have fewer limitations about what is possible,
there is something else.

There is an ancient wisdom.

That wisdom whispers to us
that we have a promise
and the promise is coming.
At the same time
it warns us about the Chaos within which we live.
But what this ancient wisdom asks of us
is to live AS IF,
as if we were already under the reign of God.

It asks us,
with the full sobriety of knowing the potential cost,
to live as if the promise has arrived.
All the prophets,
from Moses to Jesus to Dorothy Day,
tell us that by living AS IF
God’s reign is already here,
we become midwives to holy.

Let’s stop right there.
I want us to think about that:
Midwives to God.

As God painfully labors
to bring forth the New Creation she has promised,
we can be her midwives.
Midwives to God!

If you think this is just a metaphor I am playing with…
you’d be right.
But it is a metaphor that is cast in the mud of reality.
There are more ways to assist
in birthing the New Creation
than the number of stars we can see with the naked eye.
Conversely, there are countless ways
we can contribute to the Chaos as well.

But today I want to leave us thinking about just one way
we can act as midwives to the holy.
It hovers around that punch line we heard in the Gospel:
The least in the kingdom of God
is greater than…(you fill in the blank).

Or we can come at it from the negative.

The only way human beings are able to rape and murder –
or eve to hold, voice, and act with bigotry –
is if God has been turned into a mirror.

Let us make no mistake about evil –
and by evil, I mean the plain old human kind
with not supernatural about it.
We are all capable of tremendous evil.
You and me, and everyone we know,
is capable of deadly and awful behavior.
Let’s just be very honest and clear about it.

The German soldiers
who assisted in the genocide of 12 million people,
or the German middle class
who watched silently as Jews, homosexuals,
and leftists
were scape-goated
and then gradually reduced to the status of vermin,
were ordinary people like you and me.

The Cambodians,
Guatemalans,
Salvadorans,
Rwandans,
Russians,
Bosnians,
Iraqis,
Turks…pick a country
where repression and genocide
has been practiced openly within memory.
In every single one of them
we can see ordinary people like you and me
slipping into silence
and passively accepting evil
until it becomes a full-blown participation in that evil.

The point is: no one here is immune,
and each one of us
is capable of practicing and participating in evil.

Think back to the war of your generation
and your youth:
W.W.II,
Korea,
Viet Nam,
the Gulf Battle,
Iraq,
Afghanistan…
How easily did the words, “God and Country”
slip off our tongues?
How seamless a garment
was the establishment of war
with the establishment of religion?
How snuggly did the Gospel of Jesus Christ
fit into the flag of the Constitution,
and how quickly did Jesus’ face and manner
come to reflect our own as we opposed our enemies?

When God becomes the mirror
in which is reflected
all that we want to see and believe about ourselves,
then any horror is possible and justified.
It is then the world is made
an even more dangerous place.

Our greatest threat
is not from Atheists or Agnostics
who relegate God to irrelevance;
it is from our own capacity
to project our desires,
and our prejudices,
and own fears
onto God
as if they were coming down from heaven
instead of wafting up from our own darkness.

The Gospel has an antidote for this threat –
something that can shatter the shiny reflection
of any mirror.

“The least in the kingdom of God is greater than…”
When we swell with pride at our own power,
we need only look around to see God
in someone who is powerless.
Truly see them.

When we feel satiated and relaxed
in the comfort and safety of our own homes,
we need only listen for God
in the fear and anxiety
of those whose homes have been taken away.
Truly hear them.

When suspicion or animosity wells up within us
toward people we presume are not like us,
we need only touch them
because God lives within their body –
their gay, lesbian or heterosexual body;
their Asian, African, European, or hybrid body;
their well-educated, marginalize, or mainstreamed body;
their Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist body.
Truly touch them.

When the flag of our country –
and remember, in this congregation
we do not all have the same country and flag –
when the flag of our country
is pointed like a missile in flight
to attack the evil in some other country,
then we need to awaken to the sounds of our enemy – because somewhere
in that stereotyped mob of bad-guys,
God is calling out for us to listen.
We need to listen
and awaken to the God within “them.”

“The least in the kingdom of God is greater than…”
Just when we think we are being so good –
we see the least is gooder than us.
Just when we think we know the truth –
we understand that the least is wiser than us.

Just when we think we are right –
the least is proven more perceptive than us.

The Gospel has this built-in correction
to our nationalism,
our chauvinism,
our parochialism,
and our ethnocentrism.

Just when we have identified the borders,
corrected the membership list,
codified the rules,
painted God in the image and hues of a self portrait,
the Gospel says,
“The least is greater than you…”

Believe it,
or risk becoming
and doing awful things.
So if we wish to be midwives to holy,
and assist God in the birth of the New Creation,
we need to become good at recognizing God
in the least…
at the end….
or with the servant.

It is a dangerous world.

It is made all the more dangerous
by religious people who turn God into a mirror.
It is made all the more dangerous by us,
when we ignore the least
and the last,
and the servants.
All of them,
God has embraced
as greater than you and me.

When the Gospel is heard and taken seriously,
mirrors will be shattered.
When that happens,
God is assisted in her struggle
to bear forth the New Creation.

We have one more week of Advent.
The pressure is intense.
The cervix between God and us is thinning,
the veil nearly transparent.

We have one week left
to savor our role as midwives to God.

It should rightly make us speechless
even though we must speak;
and we must work furiously
to keep the chaos away
while God is in so vulnerable a state.
The way we practice our spiritual midwifery,
is to prepare a place in the midst of Chaos
for the New Creation to be delivered safely.

The way we practice our spiritual midwifery,
is to look in the places
and among the people
where we least expect to find God’s presence.

It is dangerous
but it is the birth of a New Creation
that gives meaning to the risks we must take
and even the life we must one day loose.

Let us hold back Christmas just a little longer,
and savor the incredible privilege
of being God’s midwife
in the birth of the New Creation.