Nov 28th, Making Room, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
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Nov 28th, Making Room, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
This is the first Sunday of Advent, the season we remember and retell the wonderous story of Mary, a pregnant teenage young woman carrying divine love in her womb, forced to travel to Bethlehem with Joseph because of a census. You know, we imagine them knocking on the door in the middle of the night asking for shelter, as the child is about to be born. The scripture says the child was born in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough. Because, it says, because there was no room for them in the Inn.
There was no room.
During this Advent season, we’re going to imagine our lives as that in asking ourselves, is there room? That’s the question every heart must answer. Is there room on this first Sunday of Advent with hearts so full of anxiety, despair, fear? Is there any room for hope? Over the last 18 months when we’ve experienced so much trauma, how do we make room for hope?
Angie Thomas wrote a book called “The Hate you Give”. It’s a heartbreaking story of Starr, a young black woman wrestling with where she belongs in the world. When so much of the world tells her she doesn’t belong because of the color of her skin. There’s a moment in the story when Starr is in the car with her mother out of the blue. Her mom says, you weren’t breathing when you were born.
What she says and her mom went on. I had you when I was 18. Still a baby myself. Mama thought there was no way that I could be a parent. But I did everything right.
I quit drinking and smoking. I made every doctor’s appointment. I even played Mozart through some headphones I placed on my belly. I’ll see what good that was. You didn’t even finish a month of piano lessons.
But in that delivery room when they pulled you out, I waited for you to cry. But you didn’t cry. Everyone started running around. I freaked out. Your Daddy couldn’t calm me down. And after the longest minute of my life, you cried.
I cried harder than you, though I knew I must have done something wrong. A nurse took my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, Sometimes you do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right, friends. Hope. Hope is the fuel that gives us the energy to keep doing what’s right.
Even when so much in the world right now feels wrong, Anne Lamott wrote. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait. You watch you work. You don’t give up that’s Advent hope to keep doing what’s right.
Even when everything feels raw, I feel we’re in the midst of a hope crisis. I mean, I hear people say they’ve given up hope. There’s so much hate and hate seems to be winning. There’s so much division and I fear those divisions will never be healed. I hear people say it’s hard to see anything that makes them hopeful right now.
The problems of the world are just too big. Nothing ever changes. So why even bother trying to do what’s right?
Have you noticed it too? The weariness, the despair, the hopelessness around us.
Frankly, we’re exhausted after 20 months of a global pandemic. I mean, we’re over it, but it refuses to be over with us, not to mention your own individual struggles and the chronic issues of gun violence, racism, homelessness. And then add the climate crisis on top of all of that. And when I start saying all of that out loud, it just makes me want to go take a nap. There’s so much of everything that just feels wrong that feels overwhelming.
I kind of want to just be whelmed for a while, not overwhelmed. How about you? When our hearts are so full of anxiety? Fear, despair. How can we make room for hope?
I’m not talking about Pollyanna, “pie in the sky”, fake optimism, pretending things are fine… When they aren’t. Hope is different. The difference between optimism and hope is that optimism, has you and me as its source. Hope is grounded in God.
William Sloane Coffin put it this way. Hope is a state of the mind and heart, independent of the state of the world.
If our hearts are full of hope, you can be persistent. Even when you can’t be optimistic, you can keep the faith despite the evidence. Knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful. Hope is wonderfully, defiant.
Hope isn’t a naive belief that everything’s going to be okay. Hope is the confidence that no matter what, no matter how bad things are, you’ll be okay. Because you’re loved with a love from which you can never be separated, a love stronger than anything you will ever face. A love stronger than even death itself. And when you make room in your heart for that kind of hope, you somehow find what you need to keep doing what’s right, even when everything in the world feels wrong. A reporter interviewed Reverend William Barber, a prominent leader today fighting for racial and economic justice.
And the reporter said, Reverend Dr. Barber, you’re doing good things, but it’s really hard to see what difference any of it is making right now. We seem to be taking giant steps backwards in the fight for equality and justice. What keeps you going? I love how Reverend Barber responded.
He said, We’ve read the Bible. We know how it ends. Love wins. Love always wins. We just aren’t at the end yet.
Can we make room in our hearts for that kind of hope? Reverend Nadia Boltz-Webber tells the story of speaking to a group of middle school kids at a Church camp. And, one girl raised her hand and anxiously asked Pastor Nadia, what advice do you have for someone my age who might be bullied and not have many friends and is maybe someone who other kids make fun of? Nadia said. She looked directly into this girl’s eyes and said, look, kid, I’m so sorry that’s happening. And I totally get it because I’ve been there.
But as horrible, as horrible as it is right now. Just do whatever you can to get through it, because I promise you one thing. Grown ups who are bullied in middle school and survive it are like ten times cooler and more interesting adults than the ones who are doing the bullying. You’ll get through this and you’re going to be amazing.
I promise you, those kids will be nothing but a footnote later on. I mean, come on. Who wants to peak in middle school? And Nadia said this girl’s whole face changed like she was just told some combination of “the cancers treatable, and you’re stunningly beautiful”.
Her anxiety turned into hope.
Nadia said she remembers that time in middle school in her life all too well. The psychological armor she had to put on every day just to endure it. The powers and principalities of middle school felt absolute and the anxiety and fear it created felt totally inescapable. I can relate how about you? But Nadia said, “I survived it”.
And regardless of how powerful those bullies seemed to me at the time, for the most part, I can’t even remember the names of those kids anymore. Except for that one girl, Debbie. I was thinking this week I was thinking this week about how at different times in our lives, there are powerful forces that overwhelm us that can feel inescapable, you know, it might be unhealthy relationships, depression, addiction and illness. There might be a period in our lives when everything seems to be going wrong and we can’t imagine anything going right.
What if we thought about these forces as emperors who ruled for a certain number of years and then their rule ended. But during their reign, it felt like nothing else existed. I was thinking about how the birth of Jesus begins. In the Gospel of Luke, it says in those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire world. Now the only reason to take a census was so that people who already were poor and without hope could be taxed to pay for the military that was occupying their land.
So people without hope were given more reason to feel hopeless. And then Luke says this was the first census, meaning there’s going to be more that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
I’m curious. I wonder for people like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds… Shepherds who were the lowest of low in society. I wonder for people like that in this story. I wonder if the power of men like Caesar Augustus and Quirinius felt overwhelmed, inescapable, hopeless.
What forces in your life or in our world right now feel inescapable, unsolvable, hopeless right now?
How might we make room for hope on this first Sunday of Advent? I mean, real hope.
We need something. We need something that feels more powerful than the forces that rage around us.
So we’re told about these powerful men, Caesar Augustus, Quirinius.
And then we’re told about a vulnerable, powerless child born in an animal’s feed trough and some shepherds. Real nobodies in a nearby field who are told, don’t be afraid. Don’t be anxious. I bring you good news of great joy for a child is born for you this day. Emmanuel, God with us.
So here’s what I want you to notice.
The power of men like Caesar, Augustus and Quirinius. I mean, must have felt insurmountable, inescapable for Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But the only reason we know their names. The only reason they’re remembered at all is as a footnote to that child born in a manger. Those whose power at the time felt so absolute, so immovable, so permanent are only a footnote to Jesus.
A footnote to the word made flesh, a footnote to the one who embodied love, a love that refuses to be defeated, a love that promises us the worst will never be the last.
Think about those forces that seems so powerful. So inescapable.
Imagine naming them out loud and then say, footnote the political divide. Footnote, racism, footnote, gun violence, footnote poverty and homelessness. Footnote your depression. Footnote your illness. Footnote those family conflicts.
Footnote your anxiety and fear. Footnote. Don’t get me wrong. All of these things are very real, so real.
But they’re not the whole story or the end of the story. Hope defiant hope is trusting. God is still writing the story. And that despite the darkness, a light shines, a light. No amount of darkness can extinguish.
And when we make room in our hearts for that kind of hope, we keep showing up, trying to do what’s right even when everything’s seen all wrong. Trusting the day the day will come.