Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sunday's Sermon - For My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3, Luke 2:22-40

Simeon was a normal person who, after a long life, was able to see salvation, salvation given, as we are told in Luke, to ALL people.  And that salvation, holding that baby in his arms, finding the peace of knowing that salvation has come to the world and for the world, he now feels he has finished his tasks here on earth, completed what he came to do, and he asks God to then let him go, “you may now dismiss your servant in peace.”
As we approach New Year’s eve, I often think about what tasks we have yet to do, what we have yet to accomplish here in this life time that will then allow us to go, when it is our time, in peace, work completed, job done, accomplished, finished, a whole life, bookended with a call and a response, created in love and allowed to move forward in peace.  New Years is often a time of reflection.  We reflect on our past year, but we can also use it as a time to reflect on the whole of our lives.  What have been your life lessons?  What has been your life calling?  It usually is not just one thing, but I think God does call each of us to certain tasks in our lives.  I also think there are specific tasks for each life - they are not always the same for every person.  They are not always obvious, not always clear, but we have a call, or multiple calls, a reason to be here.  Sometimes that reason is something that carries us through a long life, sometimes it is something that we have to learn over and over again.  And sometimes it appears to be learned or accomplished and finished early on.
Do you know what you are being called to do in your life?  To help you think through this, let me give you some examples.  I think I've had several life lessons, or things that I have found myself called to do and learn.  One of my life calls has been to be an adult.  While others are called to learn to surrender to God, to let go of their egos and allow God to be the driver, I find that every time I pray for God to tell me what to do, I hear God calling me in turn to take some risks and chances and make my own decisions, some of which will be good and others which won’t, which I will just have to learn from.  I hear God telling me to trust that God will be with me in those choices, but that God will not make them for me.  I’ve had other callings or life lessons as well.  Such as facing my judgments.  Every time I have judged someone, it comes back at me, and I find I have to deal with that, face that, in my own life.  For example, I used to judge women who didn’t know what their husbands were up to.  We hear stories in the news about men who have several wives in different towns and I always judged them – “how can you not know what your husband is up to?”  Yeah. Thanks, God.  I don’t judge that anymore.  What are your life lessons?  They usually are not things that come easily, but they are deep calls to us to be the best and most whole we can be, for God, for others and for ourselves.
As people reach the end of their lives, I am often asked the question, “Why am I still here?  Why haven’t I been able to die?  Has God forgotten me? I feel done here, so why hasn’t God taken me?” My answer is always the same.  “There is something still left here for you to do.  Our job then is, with your time left, to figure out what that is.”  Often a person is not able to completely name what that is, what is left undone, what needs still to be done.  But I have watched people at the end of their lives and I find it is often an amazing time of coming to terms with their lives, of reconciling relationships, of making peace with what has been and with what is.
As I reflected on this, I thought of Thornton Wilder’s book, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”.  The book begins with these words, “On Friday noon, July the 20th, 1714 the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”  This collapse began an intense search into the “why” of that strange tragedy.  In particular, a monk was convinced that if we were to look at the five lives of those who died, we would see that each life was at a place where something had been concluded, that each life was “done” in some profound way, that God’s hand was in the bigger picture of the collapse because their callings, their purposes, their “jobs” here on earth was concluded and so it was simply time for God to call them home.  It is a question that many ponder.  Does everything happen for a reason?  Or at least, do we die at an appointed time?  Is there a bigger pattern and bigger picture that determines the very hour and even minute at which we will die?  Or does God call us home when our jobs here are done?  When we have finished our “tests” or our tasks and done what we are called to do, learned what we have been asked to learn?  In many ways, the story doesn’t actually answer the question about providence, destiny and fate.  In describing these lives and where they were at their final moment of death, the story causes the readers to explore more fully their own beliefs.  But it does so while leaving more questions than answers.  Towards the beginning of the book, Wilder says this about whether or not their fates, their lives and their deaths are determined, “Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God. “
       But more to the point of this sermon, the book ends with these words, “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten.  But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.  Even memory is not necessary for love.  There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
       Under all of our calls, under all of our life lessons, there is a bigger call, a deeper call.  It is to listen and follow God.  It is to follow Love, since that is what God is.  It is to bridge and reconcile and heal all of life with that Love.  Thomas Merton put it this way, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
          Sometimes the distinction between loving God for our own happiness and loving God for God is a subtle difference. “God, help me to find what it is you are calling me to do,” is really a question about me.  It is a question that invokes God, but it still is about me.  “God, how can I serve you?  Where would it be most helpful to you for me to be and what would serve you and your people and your world the most for me to do in that place?” is slightly, but profoundly different.  That difference, between turning to God to make our lives whole, and turning to God so that we might serve God and help God make the world whole, that is the difference between asking God to be with us, following us in our journeys, and following God.
         Simeon has seen love incarnate.  He has seen it, recognized it, allowed it into his heart. He followed God in his call.  He had been given a task, and that task is seeing, recognizing and proclaiming who Jesus was.  Anna, too, had that task.  Their proclamations were about love, were about Jesus.  And having finished their work, they were ready to depart.  They found their calling.  They did it.  And as Simeon declared, he was then made ready to cross that bridge of love and to be dismissed in peace.
          How are you called to follow the way of Love?  How are you called to serve God with eyes of love rather than fear?  As we enter the New Year, my hope for us all would be to move more fully into a commitment to loving God and serving God with our whole beings.  It is the call, the meaning, the resolution that matters most.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Peace

Today is Christmas Eve.  And I find myself anticipating...well - busyness, chaos, lots of singing, acting, music, eating, presents, noise, family, friends, joyful sounds, excitement, driving and, again, busyness.  Our sanctuary is filled with poinsettias and Christmas banners and nativity scenes, candles and words.  We will have 2 vocal choirs, 3 small music groups, bells, a brass choir, organ and piano solos as well as traditional Christmas carolling.  We will have preservice music, then a service, then more preservice music, and another service.  Two pastors, two congregations, two organists, two music directors, lots of volunteers, Santa, Jesus, children, adults, readers, singers, etc, etc, etc all joining together in joyful, planned, full worship.  And it will be glorious and fun.  We will end it all with candles and quiet, only to be awaken from that by a rousing postlude of "joy to the world".  It's the happiest time of the year.


Under it all, I find myself anticipating something else.  I strive to sit in quiet each day for at least fifteen minutes during all of this busyness.  It doesn't always happen, but that is my goal.  To sit.  To listen. To breathe.  And as I do that I find that underneath the anxiety, the stress, the worry, the joy, the planning, the activities and the anticipation of more movement and business, that there is something more. Something that is waiting.  When I am still I find myself waiting, watching, praying, and hoping.  I find myself searching for, and anticipating forgiveness, reconciliation, healing... peace.

I can't make those things happen.  But I know that God can.  And I know that God chooses those things as well.  God, too, wants forgiveness, reconciliation, healing within each person, between individuals, between communities, around the world.  Our Prince of Peace wants those things for all of us.  Often we can be part of creating those things, often we are necessary to be part of creating those things. But sometimes the most we can do is choose to enter the world with peace in our hearts, and choose to be open and offering at all times of those things to all we encounter, and even to the spirits of those we never meet face to face.  We can welcome into our hearts forgiveness, reconciliation, healing... peace.  And pray to embody those things in the world.

Sometimes these qualities are things I only strive for and not characteristics or ways of being in the world that I easily embody.

But this Christmas Eve I wait, watch, search for and anticipate their coming.  I trust that God is bringing them.  And I will look with eyes open for ways to be part of that, in my own life and in the world.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Today's Sermon - God is Doing a New Thing

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Luke 1:26-55

We are all familiar with the saying that the only two things you can count on in life are death and taxes.  But I think the reality is that the only thing we can REALLY count on happening in our lives is change.  Change includes death.  (I don’t, however, know about taxes.)  Yet as much as that is true – that change is the only thing we can count on occurring in our lives, it is also the thing that is hardest for us humans to bear.  We fight change, even when the changes are good changes.  We don’t want to let go of what is familiar even when it isn’t comfortable.
But the bigger thing we have to remember is that God is in that change.  It is God who is constantly doing a new thing.  In today’s passages, God brings life to an aging Elizabeth.  God brings Jesus to the young, unwed mother, Mary.  Mary proclaims God is raising up the valleys, bringing low the mountains, raising up the oppressed, bringing down the rich and powerful.  God is doing new things, big things, unexpected things, in these scriptures, but also all the time.  Change is hard.  Any kind of change is hard.  I think about the changes Elizabeth and Mary faced, though, and they seem huge.  Elizabeth caring for a new baby as an older mom.  Of course she wanted the baby, but that did not mean it would be easy.  I think about Mary, and the fears she had that Joseph might abandon her.  Poor, young mother, caring for this new baby.  And again, even though she welcomed the amazing gift of being Jesus’ mother, it doesn’t mean that change was easy.  I saw this wonderful quote a few weeks ago…

The thing we can count on is that God is with us through all the changes.  We are God’s beloved children and that means that the new things God is doing are for our good, for our wholeness, for us to be the most loving and God-filled people we can be.
Bob sent me the following story last week and I thought it was really appropriate for this morning.
>A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee . One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn't come over here.” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma ,” they answered.  “Great to have you here in Tennessee ,” the stranger said... “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied.
“Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really great story for you. ” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple.  The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great.. Just what we need.... Another preacher story!”
The man started, “See that mountain over there?" he said, pointing out the restaurant window. Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, who's your daddy?' Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?' He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so badly. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?'  But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.  Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?' The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church was looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?'  This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy. 'Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.' With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.'  The boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.'''  The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn't that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story! As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” And he walked away. The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, "Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's governor of Tennessee!”
I don’t know if that story actually happened, but I know it is true, none the less.  We are God’s children and that is an amazing inheritance to claim, something that can change our lives if we allow it.  It doesn’t mean things will always be easy.  But it does mean that through the changes, through the new things that come our way constantly, that God is there, will be there, continues to be there.  God brings amazing wondrous things.  And as we approach Christmas, we remember the most wondrous new thing of them all – God coming to be with us as one of us.  That is a new thing worth celebrating this day and every day.  Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Choosing to Give the Benefit of the Doubt

I was watching an old "Joan of Arcadia" episode the other day in which Joan was spying on her boyfriend and best friend and caught them "hugging".  She assumed, then, that they were having an affair, though the reality was that they had been talking about Joan and how much she meant to each of them.  Judith, her best friend said, "the thing about Joan is that even when you are pushing her away, she sticks with you.  Most people don't do that.  That makes her worth keeping."  But Joan didn't hear what Judith had been saying and she attacked her, physically, assuming she was trying to "steal" her boyfriend.

I've been thinking about this at two different levels.  First of all, I realized that I have been blessed with an absolutely amazing group of friends, people who "stick with you", no matter what.  I think Judith was right.  Most people don't do that.  When you are no longer serving them, when you've messed up, or for whatever reason, people move on, often, and quickly.  Again, I have an amazing group of friends who are still there, some for 30 or more years, and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful.  So, to all of you, my amazing friends, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for being steadfast and loving the imperfect being that is me, through thick and thin, for all these many, many years.

But the second reason this has been stuck in my head was Joan's assumptions about what she saw. Why do we see things the way we do?  What causes us to make assumptions one way or another about situations?  I think it can be very easy to assume that people are acting against us, talking bad about us, pulling away from us, acting maliciously, striking out.  I was at a gas station the other day and I saw a woman move away from her car and start yelling at a man in another car.  The man just looked bewildered.  Apparently, he had not seen a bag of groceries she had put in the road and he had almost hit it.  ALMOST.  He didn't see it.  It was on the ground where she'd put it down while trying to juggle another bag and a small child.  No one was at fault and nothing was actually damaged.  She could have focused on how lucky it was that the bag didn't get hit.  She could have focused on the not-so-great choice she made to put a bag down in the middle of the road.  But instead she chose anger.  She made assumptions about his behavior that led her to become attacking and even abusive towards this stranger.

Sometimes when someone doesn't respond to us it is because they are busy or overwhelmed or sick. But it can be easy to assume they are mad at us or pushing us away.  Sometimes when someone snaps at us it is because they've had a horrible day and are just at their wits end.  But it can be easy to assume they are a nasty person or mean or, again, pushing us away.  Sometimes when accidents happen, they are just accidents that happen.  But it can be easy to accuse a person of being stupid or malicious or worse.

I know a few amazingly peaceful people.  And it seems to me that part of that peaceful attitude is that they make positive assumptions about what is happening around them.  They don't tend to take things personally, or assume the worst about a situation.  They choose to assume the snappy person is having a bad day, that the stranger who almost hit their bag just truly was at such an angle in the car that they couldn't see it, that the person who hasn't responded to them is just overwhelmed.  If Joan had been in that mental position, she might have asked what was going on, or assumed the hug was just exactly what it was - a supportive hug.  Maybe that's optimistically naive.  But I've watched these peaceful people respond with those positive assumptions, and the result is amazing.  When they can respond with compassion to someone else's snappy-ness, when they can simply give space to another person who is failing to respond, not only does the person responding remain happier and calmer, but the one acting out usually calms down as well.  Even if the assumption is wrong, even if the other person really had malicious intent or was pushing or pulling away, choosing to respond with a positive assumption seems to either push the other to be honest and direct, or can help to simply dissipate a problem.

We can choose to not assume the worst.  Or at the very least, we can ask about our assumptions.  "Are you upset with me or is something else going on?"  But when we assume the worst, we set everyone up.  In the Joan of Arcadia episode Joan's assumptions almost cost her both her best friend and her boyfriend.  The lady in the gas station nearly missed an opportunity to connect positively with another person and potentially gave them both a bad morning.  Fortunately, the man she was yelling at appeared to be one of those peaceful people I'm talking about.  He got out of the car, talked quietly and with a slight smile.  He looked the bag over carefully to make sure it hadn't been hit, gently handed it to the woman with an apology and a kind smile.  He asked how old her child was and said that she seemed to be such a pretty little girl.  The yelling woman was taken aback.  And while at first she continued to rant and rave, she started stumbling over her words and finally started to cry.  The peaceful man reached out a hand, gently squeezed her shoulder, asked if there was anything he could do, and they ended up standing in the gas station while the woman cried and talked about all the stress she was experiencing over the holiday season.  The man's peaceful demeanor changed the conversation for both of them.  It was a gift to me to witness as well.

My prayer is that we might choose more often to give the benefit of the doubt.  And just see where that might lead us...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday's Sermon - Advent II - Comfort, Comfort

Isaiah 40:1-8
Mark 1:1-8

     The poet, Clementine von Radics said this, “You silly little girl, you think you’ve survived so long that survival shouldn’t hurt anymore.  You keep trying to turn your body bullet proof.  You keep trying to turn your heart bomb shelter.  You silly thing.  You are soft and alive.  You bruise and heal.  Cherish it.  It is what you are born to do.”
Living is hard.  And so, it is no wonder that we have Isaiah’s words for us today…  “Comfort, O comfort my people.”  We are all looking for that comfort, for that reassurance in hard times.  We are all looking for a sense of peace in the face of adversity.  We are all looking for salvation from whatever we are struggling with.  I saw a post the other day, “If Comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more time.  But I would really settle for less tragedy to be honest with you.”
But even as we yearn, we want, we ask for comfort, Advent is also the time of waiting.  That comfort doesn’t come right away, we aren’t healed instantly, the resurrection comes in steps, over time, sometimes so slowly we don’t even see it.
The journal, “spirituality and practice” lists several things we can do during advent to signal our willingness to wait, our commitment to waiting during this Advent time.  These are:  Let God sit in the director's chair.  Give up your fantasy timetables and go with the flow. Do not try to push the river; all will happen in God's time.  Let go of any negative images you carry around about waiting. Have faith that all good things come to those who wait patiently.  Grow through periods of waiting that entail darkness and dread.  Work to reduce your anger and frustration about waiting.  Always be a person animated by hope.  Take time during periods of waiting to count the many gifts and good things in your lives.
These are great suggestions and yet, I admit from a personal perspective that I don’t wait well.  I get really impatient and easily frustrated.  Yesterday was a perfect example of this.  I’ve had my computer for over a year now, which is in itself an amazing thing since I seem to zap computers as well as other electronic devices, as many of you know.  But it has been a long time and so now my computer appears to be in full-collapse mode.  It runs extremely slowly, and it freezes up on a regular basis.  I’ve taken it to Geek Squad several times.  They “fix” it and usually it comes back with more problems than when it left.  Again, this is typical for me.  My electro-aura simply zaps anything and everything electronic, and since I use my computer a lot, it tends to develop problems quickly.  Being in a close relationship with an IT guy who specializes in these sorts of things is not actually helping either.  The computer works for him.  Just not for me.  Yesterday my computer developed a new issue.  I was working on my sermon and wanted to use some internet resources that I had bookmarked and set aside for this Sunday.  But as I tried to pull up those pages that I had bookmarked, they failed to load.  I sat and watched as my lap-top connected to the internet, disconnected from the internet, connected and disconnected itself in rapid succession.  I ran the “trouble-shooter”, which told me the problem was not with my computer but with the router.  But since we currently have a plethora of computers, smart phones and other devices that connect themselves to the internet and none of these were having issues, I knew that no, despite the computer’s desire to blame something else, the problem was once again with my lap-top.  I became extremely frustrated, impatient, did not want to wait until things could be fixed or redone or set up in a new way.  I did not want to borrow someone else’s computer since my sermon was partly written on my own already, I did not want to deal with the waiting.  I wanted things fixed NOW.
But, as with every challenge, when we have eyes to see, we can choose to look at everything that happens as blessings from God.  This, too, in this moment was a blessing because it did call me to sit still, to wait, and to think about the lessons in that waiting, for me, in that moment.  The article from Spirituality and Practice that talked about the commitments we can make to waiting during Advent also talked about the spiritual gifts that come from the practice of waiting.  These include developing patience, giving up of control and accepting what IS, learning to live in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility, and most of all, trust in God.
Our culture has become more and more an “instant gratification” culture.  There is very little opportunity for us to learn patience, to learn to give up control over our surroundings and the things that happen to us, to learn to be wholly present in the present, despite whatever we have or don’t have in each moment.  There is very little opportunity, as we depend on our things, and on our toys and on the internet and our instant access to information, communication, resources, etc to learn to trust God for what the next moments might hold for us.  With all of that, is it any surprise that people are not as interested in faith issues?  For those who have not experienced needing to rely solely on their trust of God, and finding that that trust really is enough to carry us through, that God really is with us, why would we trust God?  If we haven’t experienced it, why would we do it?
Waiting is hard.  But God gives us this gift, and we have the chance to grow from it.  John the Baptist came paving the way for Jesus, inviting the wait before Jesus’ began his ministry.  Isaiah proclaimed the coming of justice, of comfort, of release from oppression.  But none of these things were instantaneous.  They were coming.  These passages were and are calls to live into hope while we wait.  To trust in God, while we wait.  To let go of control, while we wait.  To learn patience while we wait.
I think we will find that there are gifts even beyond those listed above in our waiting.  I found this quote as well…

There is something deliciously wonderful in the anticipation of the good that is about to come.  There is something amazingly wonderful in the moments before you open that first Christmas present, in the moments before you see a new baby for the first time, in the moments before that visitor you’ve waited for has come.  There is something incredibly life-giving in the hope and anticipation of Advent.  Experience it, live it, enjoy it.  For it is a gift from God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sunday's Sermon - Keep Awake. #1 Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. ..Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we are told, once again, to keep alert, to keep watch.  We need to be faithful, to not wait by sitting and doing nothing, but to actively prepare for the coming one by doing those things that create in us a space, first to see Jesus when he comes, second, to be ready to receive him in the most unlikely of places, and third to be ready for our lives to be changed quickly and completely by his presence.
Again, this does not mean failing to be active.  It does not mean sitting and waiting.  “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”  It means watching from a place of being ready, of living fully, of being ready for the coming of Christ.
We just don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  I am reminded of the passage from Mitch Albom’s book, “for one more day” in which his characters have this dialogue,
“Life goes quickly, doesn’t it Charley?”
“Yeah” I mumbled.
“It’s such a shame to waste time.  We always think we have so much of it.”  I thought about the days I had handed over to a bottle.  The nights I couldn’t remember.  The mornings I slept through.  All that time spent running from myself.
We may struggle with different things, different issues, different situations.  But we all struggle with something.  If we knew that our life would end tomorrow, what would we do differently?  More to the point, if we knew that Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would we do differently?  If we knew that our world was about to turn on its head, that the prince of peace, our wonderful counselor, the alpha and omega, the God of love were coming tomorrow, what would we do differently?
During Advent we prepare by remembering that God came to us as a baby, helpless, little, innocent, new, and to an unexpected mother in an unexpected time and place.  We remember that those with eyes to see did see and were blessed in the seeing.  We remember that others were threatened, but mostly people just didn’t know, couldn’t comprehend that God would choose to come to us in this unusual way.  We prepare, we wait and watch, by remembering all of this.
But the thing is, God does come anew each day if we have eyes to see God.  Part of being ready to see God is being prepared to see God, is being open to seeing God.  Where is God moving today in your life?  Where is God showing up today in your life?  During Advent we are reminded to pray, to ask, to be able to see God’s presence, care, love, amazing grace when it comes each day.  And sometimes we do see it.   And what about when we can’t?
Father John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, wrote this about a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders.
It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long.
I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn't what's on your head but what's in it that counts; but on that day. I was unprepared and my emotions flipped.
I immediately filed Tommy under "S" for strange... Very strange.
Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of Faith course.
He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Parent God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone, "Do you think I'll ever find God?"
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very emphatically.
"Why not," he responded, "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then I called out, "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find (God), but I am absolutely certain that (God) will find you!" He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.
I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line – (God) will find you! At least I thought it was clever.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated…Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer.  Before I could search him out, he came to see me.
When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
"Tommy, I've thought about you so often; I hear you are sick," I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of weeks."
"Can you talk about it, Tom?" I asked.
"Sure, what would you like to know?" he replied.
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?
"Well, it could be worse.
"Like what?”
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S" where I had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, "is something you said to me on the last day of class." (He remembered!) He continued, "I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, 'No!' which surprised me. Then you said, 'But (God) will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time… "But when the doctors removed a lump… and told me that it was malignant, that's when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success?
You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
"Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn't really care about God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said:
'The essential sadness is to go through life without loving..’
But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.
"So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him.
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"Well, talk.”
"I mean. It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that." …
"The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning."
“It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me."
"It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years."
"I was only sorry about one thing --- that I had waited so long."
"Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to..
"Then, one day I turned around and God was there.
"(God) didn't come to me when I pleaded with (God). I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. C'mon, I'll give you three days, three weeks."
Apparently God does things in (God’s) own way and at (God’s) own hour.
"But the important thing is that God was there. God found me! You were right. God found me even after I stopped looking..."

That’s the grace of Advent.  God comes even when we aren’t looking.  God shows up even when we don’t feel anything is different or anything has changed.  We are called especially during advent to prepare for that coming.  To wait, to watch, to look.  My prayer then for us all is that we have the eyes to see when God comes, each and every time.  Amen.