Hosanna. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. I woke up this morning not quite rested and my heart still hurting with the pain of disappointment and sadness. Yesterday afternoon Nico received the final high school acceptance letter and the one he had been waiting for. As it turns out, it was the one I was waiting for too, even if I didn’t realize it before. It was the letter from the school that was at the top of Nico’s list. The school which is competitive but known for the social good it does, grooming young men to become men of character, and men active in the community. It was the school where Nico thought he could re-invent himself, and grow into the young man he sees himself becoming. As he dreamed aloud of attending this school, I dreamt along with him. His dream, my dream, ended in the form a a single legal-sized envelope with a letter of non-acceptance.
It was a nice letter, as rejection letters go. Softening the blow, that is sure to impact the self-esteem of some of the 400+ applicants who didn’t get accepted. But, the encouraging words of reassurance did not go far enough to comfort my son. He bravely tried to hold back his tears as his dad and step-dad broke the news. Talk about a bad day. His baseball team lost its season opener 14-13. Juan and Nico’s dad were there to watch the game. Then, they broke the news as gently as they could. As soon as I got home I went to his room where Nico was laying on his bed, his eyes puffy and his cheeks still damp with tears. I tried my best to comfort him and tell him that the two schools which had accepted him, were wonderful schools and told him how fortunate he is to have such opportunity, to have a choice. Even as I said this, I felt like it rang hollow for me too. My ego, my ambition, my vision for my son was all wrapped up in his acceptance at THE SCHOOL. I left him alone in the dark of his room crying. Molly, our dog, whimpered as she tried to get to the top bunk where he lay. I went to my room and re-read the rejection letter, and looked over the materials from the schools that had accepted him. As I read through the materials, I thought about how confident I was that he would be accepted to his school of choice, and how he would thrive there. I thought how much I would enjoy being a part of that school community too. I thought about all the plans I made and how I felt certain that Nico’s attendance at this school was all part of a plan–God’s plan. I was certain of it. I prayed for it. How could he not be accepted? As I said good night to Nico, I reassured him that it would be okay. I went to bed wanting to believe that too.
While I was getting ready for church this morning I told Juan how I felt. How I felt certain that this was the wrong thing. Nico was meant to go to this school. This was were he would grow to be the man I envisioned him to be. He would have a fantastic high school experience and go onto college from there. Juan told me that God wasn’t a genie in a lamp. Nico could and would have a good high school experience. Disappointment was a part of life and obviously my plan really wasn’t God’s plan. We left for church and as I sat in the pew I found peace in the music of the youth choir and in the sacred space. The rector started his sermon. It was funny and meaningful. He talked about God’s grace. He spoke of his busy schedule, but how he makes time every morning to begin his day with an hour of prayer. He told us how he prays about his schedule for that day. This is when he hears God’s voice. God’s voice telling him that God is in charge of the schedule. Our rector has his own idea of the day’s events but God just wants him to:
1. Show up
2. Pay attention
3. Tell the truth
4. Don’t get attached to the results.
Our rector said that what makes us crazy and stresses us out is getting so caught up trying to engineer and manipulate situations. Our desire to try to control how we want life to turn out prevents us from doing the great things that God wants us to do. It was all so relevant to me, but it was number four–Don’t get attached to the results–that caused Juan and I to look at each other, knowingly. I was stunned. That was it. I was too attached to the results. Getting too attached to the results caused me to be unaware of God’s grace. God’s grace that is free and available to everyone. To me, to you and to my 13 year-old son who won’t be going to his first choice high school, but who will become the man that God intends him to be despite my best efforts to engineer things the way I want. Grace just comes.
This morning I woke up and nearly got to spend my morning just the way I like: sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed, and surfing the internet. I say, “nearly” because as often happens with a house full of kids and scheduling glitches, at the last minute I had to cut my Internet surfing short and hurriedly dress for church. You can imagine what all that rushing around did to my state of mind before I got to church. But, today all the excitement getting to church, was matched only by all the excitement that was happening at church. Our church, All Saints Pasadena, didn’t just have one bishop there, there were two. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the blessing of same-sex covenants, Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal church, and Mary Glaspool, one of the female bishops in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese, who just happens to be a lesbian, celebrated with us.
Bishop Gene gave a wonderful sermon, based on today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21-28. In his sermon Gene stated how experiencing the love of God through Jesus is like exorcising all those unclean spirits which Jesus cast out in the Gospel lesson. I thought how ironic that this reference of “unclean” probably has been used to by some Christians against LGBT brothers and sisters, but here was Gene referring to the “unclean spirits” as those spirits in all of us which keep us from thinking we are not pretty enough, not wealthy enough, not smart enough, and not worthy to experience God’s love. It was a powerful message indeed. But, that was not moved me the most, it was the entrance hymn, “Sing a New Church.” The refrain of the hymn goes:
Let us bring the gifts that differ and in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new church into being, One in faith and love and praise.
– Words: Dolores Dulner, OSB (1991)
As I sang this hymn I was so moved thinking about the wonderful ministry of Gene and Mary. I thought about how the Church has so many people in it, people of varying color, gender, sexuality–all splendid gifts from God. I thought about All Saints and its bold undertaking 20 years ago, daring to bless the covenant of Phil Straw and Mark Besson. I was so happy to be a part of my faith community, so proud to be a part of today’s celebration, and thrilled to be singing a new church into being, with all my brothers and sisters.
Today is the fourth and final Sunday in Advent. We lit our last candle today, and we lit it for love. Love for God and love for each other. Honestly. the holidays have come so quickly for me this year that getting into the true Advent spirit has seemed impossible. The first Sunday, Hope Sunday, I really did have every intention, every hope, that I would feel the anticipation of the season. By the second Sunday, Peace Sunday, I was so anxious that I wasn’t feeling the season, that it was hard to feel peace. And by the third Sunday, Joy Sunday, well, I was feeling so overwhelmed with life, that I was just about ready to crawl under the covers and tell Juan to wake me in the New Year.
When we went to church today and lit the fourth candle I was felt as if I was going through the motions. Then, about halfway through the service we got to the Eucharist, that part of the service we celebrate every week. That part of the service I know by heart because even though I am now Episcopalian, I grew up Catholic, and the language of the Eucharist is very similar in both churches. This ritual is part of my tradition and its liturgy so familiar that I almost don’t hear the words anymore. Until today, the Advent Sunday for love. I heard the words of the consecration of the bread and wine, and and it was as if the priest was saying them for the first time. Today, I heard these words for the first time in the context of the Advent celebration for love.
“From your love and in your image you created us, breathing your spirit into the dust of the earth. When we failed to live in love, you loved us anyway, refusing to let us go. In Jesus of Nazareth you showed us what we might become. In miracle and mystery Jesus was born, as we are born and lived as we might live.”
These words struck me how much I am loved by God, even when I have not acted in love. Believe me, with four kids, a full time job and so much in life causing me stress, there have been several occasions lately when I haven’t acted in love. There have been several occasions when I didn’t ask God, the God who loves me and you for help. In this Advent season it was helpful to listen to the words of consecration and understand that in the waiting for Jesus, we see “the miracle and mystery of Jesus born as we are born.” These words helped me also to feel that the way Jesus lived, walking through life in love, was the perfect example of how I need to live, and how love will help me overcome some of those things which are causing me stress and preventing me from dwelling in the Advent season.
I was so moved by the words of love spoken in this consecration, that I suddenly felt peace, and then hope that the stresses in my life would be eased. Quietly, gently, like the flickering candles on the advent wreath, I felt the stirrings of joy. Joy in the anticipation of the coming celebration at the birth of Jesus, the great messenger of love. I understood that this advent message may have come late in the season to me, and it may not have been in order of hope, peace, joy and love, but today, as I listened and heard the words of love, today, I found Christmas.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, Hope Sunday. Advent marks the time in the liturgical calendar when we begin waiting and watching for Jesus’ birth. It’s a time when we, as Christians, prepare our heart for the Christ child’s birth. These days Advent may be familiar to a lot of people from the calendars many of us have in our homes. Calendars which have little doors to open everyday before Christmas. Behind every door is typically a chocolate or a small toy. I usually buy one of these calendars for my kids too, but I also mark the Advent season in other ways. I make an advent wreath, and each Sunday during this season I prepare a family supper and we light the candle. I will sometimes ask one of the kids to read a passage from an advent book we have or we say a prayer.
With all the build-up towards Christmas, its commercialism, and the business of the season, it’s easy to lose sight of Advent, when we quiet ourselves, and wait and watch. Advent always seems to come on the heels of Thanksgiving, so it’s easy to overlook it, and then suddenly find yourself careening into Christmas, without even pausing to catch your breath and reflect upon the meaning of this holiday. Diego sings in the children’s choir at our church and his choir always performs at a special family Advent service on the first Sunday in Advent. This beautiful family service allows me the time to mark the beginning of the season, as I listen to the voices of angels and reflect on the readings.
When the advent service is over, we go to a pot luck where we can make an advent wreath. We learned that the greens on the wreath remind us of everlasting life. The circle reminds us of God’s everlasting love for us and the candles bring light as the winter days grow shorter. They also remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. Sometimes the wreaths have three purple candles and one pink. Each candle symbolizes something different. Today’s candle is for Hope. The Hope that comes to this world in the form of the Christ Child.
The words that Diego and the children’s choirs sang this evening illustrate the meaning of this first Sunday of Advent, Hope Sunday.
Light a Candle in the Night. Prepare the way for the holy light;
God with us, Emmanuel, eternal hope with us to dwell.
Child of hope come in your glory, heaven’s gift the wondrous story.
Messiah King shall come to earth, Prepare your heart for his holy birth.
-Lloyd Larson and Emily E.S. Elliot