Musings on faith and life from an Alaska Lutheran pastor.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Exits and endings and how I learned to say goodbye in Kazakhstan

Just after I graduated from seminary in 2005, I visited my brother who was serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. I could not have found that country on a map before Jay moved there but I was so excited to see his new world and share his journey.

Kazakhstan was full of new experiences. Some of it seemed drab and strange, like the gray and sad-looking Soviet-era buildings that dotted the capital Almaty or the warm camel milk we bought to drink at the city's bazaar. Some things were wonderful, like staying with the host family where Jay lived for the first three months of his training (his home at the time was farther north, where he would spend two years teaching English).

This host family welcomed us warmly, though they spoke no English. Jay communicated with them in Russian and translated for me. We spent days hiking in the village, visiting other friends, working with the family in their garden and I made bread with the women. On the day we left, Jay's host mom gave me a beautiful white linen handkerchief and told me to save it for my wedding day (the family was somewhat alarmed that I was in my late twenties and unmarried!)

Before we left, Jay told me about the leave-taking rituals in Kazakhstan. Before house guests could leave, it was important to sit down together, have some tea and bread and to thank the hosts for their hospitality. So we did just that before we got on the bus to our next destination. It felt like a fine, fitting end to our week with the family. It was a ritual, it was something to do and it felt good.

Since then I've said many goodbyes, moved a few times, made many exits and endings. Who hasn't? To leave, to exit, to end is part of the journey, essential to do before beginning a new.

Humans have long put rituals to their endings, as the Kazakh family did. We have graduation ceremonies, good-bye parties and blessing and sending rituals at church. In her book Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free, author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot explores the way we say goodbye and the need for ritual around the endings we all experience.

In an NPR interview with Lawrence-Lightfoot earlier this year, she talked about the importance of marking our endings: "I think that one of the things that I discovered through doing this research is that exits can become very defining moments, that in our society, we tend to be so focused on beginnings, so focused on launchings, so tilted toward the future that we don't take advantage of those very important moments of paying attention to our departures."

Pay attention to your departures. The author also said that it's good to pay attention to small departures, too, since the way we handle little goodbyes sets us up for the way we handle bigger ones.

I've done a lot of leaving lately and the topic of appropriate endings and rituals is still on my mind.

Since my last blog entry, I've left my call as pastor at Central Lutheran Church here in Anchorage. It was a planned exit and one that I chose but it was still hard. No one in all of my seminary training prepared me for how hard it would be to leave a congregation that I loved. I left for professional opportunities and for a chance to work part-time and stay home part-time with our baby who is due in late August. I wanted to write about the leave-taking many times on this blog but I couldn't find the words.

Since then I've also left the cute, sunny, conveniently-located apartment my husband and I shared in downtown Anchorage and we've bought a house on the west side of town. Another ending, and again, I couldn't find the words.

Perhaps because rituals work better. At Central I had a going-away party and a blessing and sending during worship. In our little apartment, I sat quietly and remembered how so many formative events of the last eight years of my life happened within those walls.

Stories work too, which is what Lawrence-Lightfoot found in her book. I told my husband funny stories of my early days living in the apartment (before we met). I told my friends a host of stories of life and people at Central Lutheran. Now my husband and I are telling stories about our pre-baby adventures, as we approach the end of our duo and the beginning of our trio.

Lots of Biblical stories mark endings and exits, too. People of God have long told stories of our fore-fathers and mothers of faith. Abram moves to a foreign land. Elisha follows Elijah into prophecy. The disciples leave their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus dies on the cross.

Rituals. Story-telling. Naming the ending as such and recalling why the time or experience matters, just like Jay and I did around that little table in Kazakhstan. Maybe that's the best we can do. Exits and endings are everywhere. And so too, are the new beginnings.

I'd be curious to hear about the way you have marked your endings and exits. What helps? How does it work for you?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Named: Yellow Shoe Girl, Child of God (Sermon 2.27.13)

(This sermon was given at Central Lutheran Church in Lent, Wednesday, February 27, 2013. The texts for the day were Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:21-22).
When I was in 8th grade and trying desperately to look cool and fit in with the crowd, I purchase a pair of yellow sneakers. I thought they were pretty cool but the truth was - I wasn’t. I was shy, nerdy, wore thick glasses and in band. Some kids tried to cheat off my tests and I tried to cover up my high marks when someone asked. My tiny Iowa school had grades 7-12 in the same building, and I lived in fear of the juniors and seniors, especially the popular ones. You can imagine my horror when, one day while wearing those yellow shoes, a junior named Jason Katcher noticed them and started calling me yellow shoe girl. This was not exactly the attention I had hoped for. His buddies started laughing. Over the next year, I would occasionally hear that taunt as I walked by, “Yellow shoe girl!” Now there is flirty teasing and there is mean teasing. This always felt like the latter and definitely not the former. I had been named and the name stuck.

Anyone who has ever survived middle school is very familiar with the name game. You get named. Other kids decide who you are and call you by those names. Jock. Nerd. Popular. Pretty. Band geek. Stoner. Loser. There are lots of other ones that I don’t want to repeat here. You know them. Chances are pretty good that you were called a name and/or you called someone else a name when you were young. Sometimes those names stick. We call it bullying now, but just because we name it doesn’t make it hurt less.

Most of us have passed safely out of middle school, but names still stick. We put them on ourselves or others apply them. Music, media and magazines tell us what we should be. We should be sophisticated and cool. We should be muscled and uber-skinny. We should be the perfect parent and spouse. We should be able to juggle it all and have it all. The world around us offers all kinds of names and sometimes, they stick.

That’s one of the reasons we come to church, Sundays and Wednesdays. We need to get those names and labels washed off of us. We come here to remember who we are. We come here to remember our true name: Child of God.

At baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross. We get our name. We hear that we are called by name in the passage from Isaiah 43. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overcome you.” These words may as well be said at the baptism font, for this is what happens. God names us, claims us and calls us.

We’ve talked a lot about vocation at Central over the past year. You have heard this before but I’ll say it again: When we get our name at baptism – Child of God – we are sent out into the world to live our vocation, which is to love God and help others. Because God has a mission to love and save the whole world, we have  a purpose. When we know and celebrate our true name, our true identity, we’re freed to spend our days loving God and serving others. And you never know how God will use you, not just your accomplishments but also your broken places.

About 15 years after the yellow shoe girl incident, while I was in seminary, I was asked to volunteer for the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Atlanta. I was part of the evening dome team, which put together the evening worship services held in the Georgia Dome each night. I spent time moving equipment around, setting up chairs, helping with hospitality for the bands and other menial duties. I also got to speak at the evening worship event. The leaders were looking for a few people to do 2-minute “spots” about faith and life. I was asked to do one of the speeches and I used the yellow shoe girl story. They put me in makeup and gave me a microphone and I stood there for 2 minutes in front of 25,000 people and talked about how even though people give us names, the name we get in baptism is the most important name of all. No one can take it away from us. And our true name that we get in baptism empowers us to love God and serve others.

I didn’t know it until later, but in the audience was my old pastor, from my high school days, who was the first to encourage me to go to seminary. The next year, he preached at my ordination and gave me these yellow shoes. Every time I wear them, I remember that no matter what other names seem to stick, nothing can replace our true identity. When we know our true name, there is only one way to respond: love God and serve others. Amen.

Monday, February 04, 2013

God's GPS

God has a plan, she said over lunch,
soup and potato chips.
I wondered if God
orchestrated these things,
jobs that end and friends who get sick.

What does God think, up there
about us, down here?
Did God plan it all, or let us choose?
Does God smack His forehead,
a heavenly Homer Simpson?

Is God the GPS that tells us

without judgment, to make three left turns

when one right would have been easier?

We keep driving, anyway.

We know we’re not alone.


(This poem was written in honor of Central Lutheran's youth director, whose last day was January 31, 2013.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

What to do when you grow up (Sermon 1.27.13)

(This sermon was given on January 27, 2013, at Central Lutheran Church, Anchorage, Alaska. The text for the day was Luke 4:14-21, Epiphany 3C).
What did you want to be when you grew up? What did you tell people? What did you tell yourself? It's been said that the gifts and skills we exhibit in early childhood may be a predictor of our true calling and vocation. What did you like to do as a child? When I was young, I liked to memorize books and then act them out, so maybe that's not too far off. But I also wanted to be an astronaut, and then the Challenger blew up. Then I decided to be an on-the-earth astronomer, but when I took high school math and chemistry, I realized I didn't like equations. So, oh, well, here I am.
Think back on what you wanted to be when you grew up. Think back on how you thought your life would work out. Did everything go as planned? Did anything go as planned? Very few of us would have planned for the sudden death of a loved one, being fired from a job or a relationship ending. We didn't know, perhaps, when we were younger, that life would bring us pain, frustration, boredom, grief, anger, fear or anxiety. We didn't plan for death, stroke, cancer, divorce or depression. I don't know about you, but I have often felt like a cartoon character I once saw who got mad when his fellow actors weren't following their lines. He screamed, “None of this is in the script!”

 In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus returns to his hometown, Nazareth, and news of his fame goes before him. He had been teaching throughout Galilee and everyone was impressed. Perhaps it was his strong speaking voice, his deep and soulful gaze or his astonishing grasp of the Torah and Jewish traditions. By the time he got to Nazareth, any number of people were already expecting what Jesus might do when he “grew up,” that is, what he might accomplish. Perhaps he'd be a wise and inspiring rabbi that reassured them of their status as the chosen ones. Maybe he'd become political force to overtake the Romans. There were so many things Jesus might be and people had plans.

 Jesus had plans, too. He had his own ideas about what his life would look like, about his life's work. These are Jesus’ first words in the gospel of Luke and it’s a sort of inaugural address. Here’s what you can expect in the coming years, here’s a vision. Jesus walks into the synagogue at Nazareth and reads from Isaiah. When Jesus sat down, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Perhaps the people were thinking, “Well, that's nice. Can't argue with Isaiah.” The eyes of all were fixed on him. Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Hmmm. What does he mean, the crowd wondered? Does this mean he is the Messiah? Is he the powerful leader we hoped for?

 Our story ends here, for the week. You'll have to stay tuned next week to hear what Jesus says next and how the people react. Here's a teaser: the people are not too happy about Jesus' next words.

 Let's stay with the words Jesus speaks here. He's quoting from two different portions of Isaiah, chapters 58 and 61, and references Leviticus 25, regarding the Jubilee year. His words aren't just quoting scripture; Jesus is telling us what he's going to do when he grows up. He's telling us what his life and work will be about. He'll bring good news to the poor, give sight to the blind and release the captives. He'll do this in myriad ways throughout the gospel of Luke. Jesus may have gotten inspiration from Isaiah, but his words are similar to his mother's vision of what God's world could be. Mary's song, the Magnificat, echoes these same themes. Hmmm. Maybe mother really does know best.

Jesus' whole life and ministry will be about proclaiming the good news. And who is the good news for? The poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed. Did it say anything in there about the middle class Norwegians? People who are doing just fine? People who have a lucrative stock portfolio, a secure job or plenty of savings? What about people who take can care of themselves, thank you, and don't want to bother anyone? Is the good news for them?

 The thing is, the good news is really only good news when you realize you truly need it. Before the gospel can be good news, it's terrible news. And the news is this: we all either have been or are experiencing poverty, blindness, oppression and captivity. We may be physically or spiritually poor. We may be literally blind or blind to the needs of others or the way God is present in our world. We may be oppressed literally or we may be overwhelmed by our work or family circumstances. We may be held captive literally or we may be captive to depression, anxiety, self-doubt, holding on to grudges, lack of motivation or life circumstances. Before we can hear the good news of the gospel, we have to see the truth own pain, longings and doubt. This is not the kind of truth we like to hear. One of the reasons Jesus was killed was because he spoke the truth.

 But when you've accepted the bad news about yourself, you're freed up to hear the good news. God is good. God comes to you. God is for you. God gives you comfort. God never leaves you alone. This is very good news indeed. And when you've really received the good news and comfort from God, you can give it to others, freely, and without holding back.

This brings us to today, to this place in time. Jesus wasn't what the people expected, and our lives aren't always what we expect, either. Our life as a congregation doesn't always go the way we had planned. Many of the events, changes and heartaches of ministry that I have experienced were not ones I expected or planned for in seminary. The events of last Sunday's annual meeting were not exactly in my plan. As most of you know, due to budget restraints, the congregation voted Sunday to eliminate the position of the youth and family minster, effective the end of this month. I confess I'm still upset and I'm really sad. Things do not always go the way we had planned.

 And yet. And yet. The good news comes to us right in those places and it does not leave us there. We do not emerge unchanged from an encounter with God. An encounter with the good news gives us comfort but it also sends us out to be the body of Christ, not just to the world but also to each other.

 Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about dissension within the body. That was true for the early Christians in Corinth and every congregation since. It is even true, at times, for us. And yet. And yet. We are still the body. We are still the ones called to carry on Jesus' mission of bringing good news, release, sight and liberation. What’s our inaugural vision for Central today? What hopes and dreams do we have for this congregation this year? How do we join in Jesus’ mission and live out his vision?

A few requests: Please be extra kind to each other over the coming weeks. Please be extra attentive to the gifts you have that can contribute to the body of Central Lutheran. Please be extra willing to say yes when one of the pastors or members of the youth committee asks you to help, or asks you to share your faith story during Lent. Please be extra conscious of the fact that when you don't think you need to be here at worship, we need you. We need each other.

 Please know that the God who gives you comfort and peace has also entrusted you to the task of caring for others. Please know that your vocation – your purpose that goes beyond your job – is grounded in our common faith and life. Please know that when you were baptized into the body of Christ, you received your first and true calling: child of God. Please know that it is here that you are empowered to go out do all those things – big and small – that you were really meant to do when you grew up. Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

God, Suffering and Christmas

The question is as old as time: Why suffering? Why, God? Put another way, it's the theodicy question: how do you reconcile a good God in light of suffering?

Many versions of this question have been asked and answered in light of the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a few weeks ago. There are other forms of suffering we've heard about this year, from Syria to Hurricane Sandy, that cause us to ask the questions anew, for this day, for this time.

The answers are diverse, and frankly, most of them are entirely unsatisfying. Pundits and pastors comment on the nature of God, as if any of them could speak for the unknowable. There's an old saying, "Anytime you are absolutely, positively certain that God is on your side, it's time to get a second opinion."

In the end, there is precious little that can be said when we claim to speak for God or God's intention. In the wake of Newtown, I read a helpful commentary on triumph and tragedy as compared to the Virgin Mary's song, The Magnificat, by Luther Seminary Professor of New Testament Matt Skinner. Read it here.

When we speak of God and suffering, the only real and true and comforting words I find or offer is this: God came down. That's the message of Christmas: God came down to dwell with us, not to fix things but to be a loving, hopeful, saving presence. As Lutheran Christians, we believe that in the end, love wins, hope wins, light wins, even if it can't be seen now or in our lifetime.

On Christmas Day at Central, here's the image we used on the front of the bulletin, courtesy of Central member Sandy Mjolsnes:

The caption was a quote I found recently by someone named RW Griffin:

"We did not break into his light. He crashed into our darkness."

That is the message of Christmas and the response to suffering that gives me hope.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Shepherd's Story (Sermon 12.24.12)

(This sermon was originally preached on Christmas Eve, 2012, at Central Lutheran Church, Anchorage, AK. It was presented orally, as a dramatic monologue, in some variation of the text below. I was wearing a shepherd's costume. You'll have to use your imagination. The text for the day is Luke 2:1-20.)

Do know you what it feels like to give up? I don't just mean give up on a project or give up on someone you thought was dependable. I mean, do you know what it feels like totally give up on yourself? Do you know what it feels like to give up hope, hope that people will care about you, or that you can make a difference or hope that the world really is a safe and wonderful place to live? Do you know what it feels like when everyone has given up on you?

That's how I felt when I became a shepherd. As you know, it's not a desirable job, it's not a respectable job. It's the job you do when there's no other option besides begging or stealing. And I admit, I've done a bit of that as well. Shepherds are known for being thieves, degenerates and liars. Some towns won't let us into city limits. Our testimony doesn't count in court. We're considered unclean by temple authorities and priests. I haven't given a proper sacrifice in years; there's no way to do it. Everyone else has given up on me, except the sheep. I gave up on God a long time ago, too, because I figured he'd probably long since given up on me.

That's why my story is so amazing. I'd long since given up, until one chilly winter night a few years back. My buddies and I were out a long ways from city limits. It was a clear night and we were watching the stars as much as we were watching the sheep. We hadn't seen any wolves in ages, so we just let them wander. One of the guys had a few small loaves of bread, which barely tamed our appetite. I admit, we were probably having a conversation not fit for mixed company. Suddenly, there was a bright light. I heard some of the other guys gasp for breath; one shouted. I was paralyzed; I couldn't say a word. Out of the light, I saw a figure, some kind of person, or something. It didn't seem real. I was so scared I couldn't even think straight. Was I having a dream or a nightmare? The person, whatever it was, spoke. It said, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and laying in a manger.”

I don't know if you can even believe this, because the story is so crazy, but I swear it's true. This person, this messenger, this angel, was actually sent to us. From God. I know, it's totally crazy. I was raised as a good Jewish boy who went to temple regularly, before my job made me unfit. I know that God spoke to lots of people, like Abraham, Moses and Elijah. But there was no way God would speak to me and my buddies. But when the messenger finished talking, I knew it was true. The messenger was from God. I wanted to interrupt and tell the messengers that they had gotten the wrong people. If it was true, if the Messiah had been born, the news should come first to the priests, or the scribes or at least some faithful Jews. Not us. We're nothing. I wanted to tell the messengers they had the wrong address. But I was too scared. I kept my mouth shut.

And then, something even more crazy happened: dozens more of these messengers, these shining beings, appeared. Just out of nowhere. They started signing. They sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.” It was the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The sound was so big and the music so rich. I almost forgot to be afraid. Almost!

Just as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone. The light went out. There was only the dark of the night, some confused sheep and some even more confused shepherds.

We just stood there for a few seconds, staring at each other. Then one of my buddies decided we might as well go to Bethlehem (that's the city of David) and see if there was actually anything going on. Was there a child born who would become the Messiah, the chosen one the Scriptures fore-tell? We left the sheep (I know, I know) and ran toward the city. I know it seems like we should have gone to the temple   or at least to the homes of some very important Jewish people. That's where the Messiah would have been. But they wouldn't have let us in anyway. We didn't even talk about where we were going; it was like we just knew. We stopped in front of a modest home, we barely even knocked, ran inside and there they were, a woman, a man and a baby, lying in an animal's feeding trough. We knew the child was the Messiah, and we kept interrupting each other, stammering and stuttering out what we had seen and heard. The couple, Mary and Joseph, didn't seem as surprised as you would think people would be if shepherds burst into their guest quarters and called their baby the Messiah. They listened and we talked and then we just stared at the baby.

 And then we went home and found our sheep, but that's not exactly the end of the story. Even though this story is amazing and even outrageous, it's not even the most dramatic part. The most dramatic part happened after we left Mary, Joseph and the baby Messiah.

 Remember when I said that I had pretty much given up on myself, other people and God? Well, it's true. There was no reason to hope for anything better than a few more years out there with the sheep, feeling unwanted and shunned every time I came into town.

 As we left the home where Mary and Joseph and the baby were, I noticed something. There were no angels hovering over the stable that night. In fact, Mary and Joseph didn't even know about the angels. No one else on the streets seemed to know either; no one else was rushing to see the child. The angels didn't come to the temple, they didn't come to the very important Jewish people, and on that night, they didn't even come to Mary and Joseph or their families. The angels came to us. Everyone else had given up on us, except God. The angels came to us. God sent them to us.

 I don't know if you know what it feels like to give up. So I don't know if you know what it feels like to realize that someone hasn't given up on you. God didn't give up on me! God doesn't give up on you! God doesn't give up on any of us. And God comes right into the places where God is needed most. I felt  unwanted and unloved. God came. I felt disconnected and despairing. God came. I felt like the world wasn't fair. God came. I felt like nobody understood me. God came. God comes right into the places where God is needed most. God comes to you, right where you need him most. God comes in the very places it seems as if He has no business being. God comes to you. He might not send a bright and shiny messenger, so you might have to look a little more carefully. But He comes. God will never, ever give up on you.

 I said that the most important part of the story happened as we left Mary and Joseph and the baby. What happened was this: I realized that God cares, God came and God loves. And suddenly, without warning, I began to share the good news with everyone I met. Because God comes. God is here. God never gives  up on any of us. Amen.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The word of the Lord came (Sermon 12.09.12)

This sermon was originally preached on Sunday, December 9, 2012, Advent 2, at Central Lutheran Church. The text for the day is Luke 3:1-6. Some details of the opening story are changed for privacy.

I ran into an old friend recently, just after Thanksgiving, who asked if I had my Christmas tree up yet. No, I said, I like to celebrate Advent for a week or two and then put up the tree. She asked, “What's Advent?” I took some time to explain the four weeks of waiting, the time of preparation and quiet reflection. I talked about my family and personal traditions of the Advent wreath, candles, prayer and devotions. I talked about how Advent is a time to focus on what matters instead of getting caught up in the busy-ness and consumerism. When I finished, she said, “Wow! That sounds great! Maybe I should start celebrating Advent, too.” I asked if she had her tree up yet. “Of course,” she replied. “I have five.”  Then she told me about her Thanksgiving eve-Black Friday shopping marathon.” Sigh.

There are so many competing voices this time of year. The quiet song of Advent gets drowned out, unless some retailer decides there's money to be made on Advent wreaths, devotional booklets and blue candles. Advent doesn't speak very loudly; it's hard to hear and to perhaps harder to heed. Who speaks the loudest in our world? Who or what distracts us and fights for our attention? Who has the power to speak and command a captive audience?

In Luke's gospel, in the beginning of chapter 3, Luke tells us about power. He lists an emperor, governor, other political leaders and two high priests for good measure. These are powerful men. When they speak, people listen. People respond. People obey. It seems like the word of the Lord should come to one of those seven powerful men. The word of the Lord should come to the Emperor, it seems, or at least one of the high priests. But it doesn't. Read through the entire list of leaders and see where the word of the Lord comes. It comes to John, a wild-eyed prophet who eats locusts and lives in the desert. The word of the Lord comes to John.

What would Luke write today? In 2012, Barack Obama was president of the United States, David Cameron was the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Sean Parnell was the governor of Alaska and Dan Sullivan was the mayor of Anchorage; during the papacy of Benedict the 16th and the leadership of ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson and Alaska Bishop Shelley Wickstrom, the word of the Lord came to... Where? Where does the word of the Lord come today? Is it coming? How? Would we notice it?

Let's think about this together. What happens when the word of the Lord comes to John the Baptist in the wilderness? When the word comes to him, he shares it broadly, all over the region around the Jordan. So when the word comes, we are to pass it on. What is the content of this word of the Lord? What kind of message does it bring? It calls for two things: repentance and preparation. Repent and be forgiven. Prepare the way of the Lord. How does one prepare the way of the Lord? Fill in the valleys, bring down the mountains, make the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth. This is not  a description for a civil engineering project. Do not hire a bulldozer. This is about justice. This is about righteousness. This is about taking care of those who do not have enough. This is about the wealthy sharing more than a few easy tax write-offs that they'll never miss. This is about broken relationships being restored. This is about letting go of whatever is keeping us from right relationship with God.

I think Luke starts out his gospel with powerful people to show that while they might seem loud and powerful, in the end, they don't rule the world. In fact, all those leaders were long dead by the time Luke wrote his gospel, 90 AD. But the followers of Jesus remained, and their numbers were growing. Perhaps Luke also starts with all those leaders to remind us that the word of the Lord comes to us not in some ethereal sphere or make-believe place, but comes right into our real world, into our political, social and economic world, just as it is.

Where has the word of God come for you? Has it come from political leaders or those with great power and influence? It's possible, but let me tell you, that is not where the word of the Lord has come to me. The word of the Lord came to me from my Polish grandmother, who kept her faith and trust in God even after she spent many years in a Siberian work camp during World War II, where she watched her beloved sister die of starvation. The word of the Lord came to me from a member of this congregation who recently lost a loved one and said, “I feel God's presence through the support I've received.” The word of the Lord came to me from a member of this congregation who is undergoing chemotherapy and said, “We need to appreciate every day. Those people out there walking around on the sidewalk have no idea how lucky they are.” The word of the Lord.

The good news for us this Advent season is that despite the powers and principalities of the world, and despite the noise and busy-ness, the word of the Lord comes. It's comes. God comes. That is the promise for you and for me. That is the promise for all. The word of the Lord comes.

And when the word of the Lord comes, it comes through people and places we might not expect. The word of God often comes through grandparents, parents and friends. The word may come from a child, a stranger, or someone you don't particularly like. Stay awake! The word of the Lord may come during coffee with a friend, at the dinner table, at work, at school, even at the shopping mall. Don't expect the word of God to come from people in power or noisy news-makers. Don't expect in on CNN, MSNBC or FOX. It might not even always come to you at church. God has this bothersome trend of speaking through those on the margins. Are we only listening to the voices of the powerful? Are we seeking relationships with those with no socio-economic standing or privilege? The word of the Lord comes.

When the word of the Lord comes, it doesn't just leave us as we are. The word of the Lord changes us. Otherwise it wouldn't be good news. It cannot come to us and leave us unchanged. If it did, we'd already be perfect and we wouldn't need a savior. So when the word comes, it changes us. That's not always easy. It calls us to repent, to turn and go in a different direction, toward God. The word of the Lord calls us to prepare the way of the Lord, which means making the world a more fair and just place. The word of the Lord calls us to fill in our valleys, knock down our mountains, smooth out our rough places and straighten our crooked ways. I don't just mean we ought to do this in our community and nation. We are to do it in our own hearts as well.

The word of the Lord comes and we are not left unchanged. The word of the Lord comes, and even God is not left unchanged, coming in flesh, coming into our world. Amen.