Sunday, 06 December in Founder's Chapel at nearby University of San Diego; again this year I'll describe Lessons & Carols at USD as "an exceptionally worthy piece of preparation for God's birth in our very midst, 'fulfillment beyond all human reckoning,' as one of the worship leaders described it," in my words from 2008. Here's Advent 1 2008 followed by Advent 2, Lessons and Carols @ USD 2008. The lute-playing "Angelo Musicante" by Melozzo da Forl was on the program cover again this year.
Our ecumenical Faith, Order & Witness Committee used to meet at USD quite regularly until it became impossible to schedule a room; the near-elegance and broad, gracious layout of the USD campus always makes me wonder. It's an expensive, church-related school with an overarching emphasis on justice, but like almost all the students I've seen walking around campus and in the dining hall, most of the students in today's program were atypical for San Diego, and as a group not at all characteristic of the tremendous ethnic, racial, cultural and economic diversity that is the San Diego I interact with every day and the San Diego of the condo complex I currently call home.
For the processional we sang "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Be with us, God-with-us, ransom your people, pay the price to free them, to liberate all of us from captivity to everything that holds humans and societies cultures in chains.
Comfort ye, my people! Every valley shall be exalted; the mountains and hills made low-- from the exilic Isaiah 40:1-11 and G. F. Handel. Jesus of Nazareth lived The Way that raises deep caverns and valleys, levels mountains and hills, straightens treacherous roads (repairs those potholes, too); that way is life on the edges of conventional society, words and action that subvert conventional political and religious pretensions to power. Doing justly and loving rightly includes advocacy for equity for everyone everywhere, reversing superfluous wealth and unseating corrupt government. The way of the baptized includes speaking truth to power and living as servants to all.
Erin Lovette-Colyer, Director of The Women's Center at USD was homilist. She suggested we put Mary's story into our own story into Mary's story into our own... and told us she'd talked with three "wise women" in her life as part of her preparation to preach at the worship event. Her own mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer; her recently widowed aunt and her brother's wife, her sister-in-law soon to deliver her first child. Erin told us no doubt Gabriel was well prepared to engage Mary in conversation. What teenager wouldn't want to and need to discuss the momentous future she was being asked to enter? I'd never thought of that, but of course Mary had to talk about it, but the main thing is Mary said "Yes."
Erin described so many of us as afraid to die, afraid to live and afraid to give birth and during this Advent 2009 I still find myself in the same almost forever of being afraid to die (not only to past disappointments and human expectations, but lots more, too), afraid to continue living with lack of basic community, with isolation and loneliness and still afraid of giving birth to a new life for myself and the strangers around me. What if, what if, what if not? Seems as if I still think somehow I can do it on my own, which definitely has not worked at all and after all, in baptism I'm already dead, I've already been raised from death to new life. At the end of her talk Erin Lovette-Colyer asked if we would be doing Advent with an attitude of hope rather than anxiety and "being honest with myself" my anxiety level still is far too high for a modicum of comfort, yet I'm doing Advent with hope, too.
Isaiah 11:1-10 was one of the readings ...1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 4abut with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth...9bfor the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Before the recessional the choir sang last year's recessional song, "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy," an arrangement of a spiritual from the West Indies, proclaiming Mary's Baby Body "came from the glorious kingdom."
Jesus came from the glorious kingdom to make this earth a glorious kingdom, as full of the presence of God "as the waters cover the sea." In the power of the cross and the power of the Spirit, we live as God-with-us, God among us. The feast and the season of Epiphany is not all that far away, so in the words of one of my very young students quite a while ago, to live as the Body of Christ means "that we can be city lights!"
Observing Advent, hoping and longing for the Divine Presence in our midst ultimately is about desiring and longing for the death of death itself, hankering after Easter. Afraid to die? But God can only resurrect the dead! And I'm dead, already--baptized! How do we practice easter in the midst of tombstones? How do we live as if among the artifacts of death? Remember, remember... the straight path, the smooth, level road is the way of the cross, the axis mundi connecting heaven and earth as we live incarnation, resurrection and pentecost together. Celebrate eucharist: taken, blessed, broken and given...