Sermon: December 14-15, 2012 Advent 3: Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18 “Discomfort and Joy” There is an old Christmas carol (God Rest

Ye Merry Gentlemen) that includes this line, “O tidings of comfort and joy...” I had planned to preach on the text from Philippians 4 about joy. This is a joyful time of year, right? Then Friday happened... and I was feeling anything but joyful. - 28 children and adults dead in Newtown, Connecticut - 22 children and adults wounded (and some dead?) in China ! These events happened on the same day. Both in elementary schools. It makes me very uneasy... as a parent of a kindergartener and the wife of a teacher. The news hit close to home and made me feel very vulnerable. These are dark days. It’s the third week of Advent and remember, this is only my second winter in northern MN. It is VERY dark here. I have even had to put my 5 year old on the bus in the dark sometimes! Advent is a time to joyfully anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth. am anticipating Christmas, I don’t feel joyful. ! And though I

Yet, Paul tells us in Philippians 4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always...The Lord is near.” At the moment I’m hearing this more as law than gospel, more of a command than a promise. I’m trying to will myself to feel joyful, but I am not experiencing the peace of God... yet.

Social work researcher Brene Brown has recently gained attention for her new book and TED talk on shame, fear and vulnerability. She says that there is a social work mantra, “Lean into the discomfort.” So - today instead of preaching about comfort and joy, I’m titling my sermon “Discomfort and Joy.” Certainly John the Baptist brought up discomforting topics. He challenged the powers that be and was even put to death. He may have preached things that were hard for people to hear, but underneath the message was joy. The Messiah was coming and this was cause for celebration.

So knowing that Jesus’ birth is cause for celebration, how do we “lean into the discomfort?” How do we keep one foot planted firmly on the hope of Christ while reaching out to accept the uncomfortable, painful situations that face us? As an example of how to do this I’m going to read an excerpt from a letter sent to ELCA bishops from Bishop Jim Hazelwood of the New England Synod (which includes Connecticut):

There are no words available to me to adequately express the loss and sorrow I feel over this tragedy in Connecticut. It may be the season of Advent, but it feels like the morning after Good Friday, before anyone realized the word "Good" could be added. Our hearts are broken for the parents, siblings, family, coworkers, first responders, ministers and residents surrounding the Newtown, Connecticut community. We pray, indeed. But, this morning my prayer is more deep sigh, than eloquent words. From across the country, and from our partners around the world, we are receiving offers of assistance, promises of prayer, expressions of a desire to help and be with us. One congregation from Colorado, who lived through the Columbine shootings of 1999, called us to offer financial support, many of my colleagues in the Conference of Bishops as well as clergy from their synods have sent prayers, and offers to help. There is a time for compassion, and a time for outrage. I'm experiencing both simultaneously. Suddenly, the day of the holy innocents has been brought to life, sadly, in our time once again.
Bishop Hazelwood is clearly saddened by the tragedy that happened in his Synod. He is also angry and is not shying away from his anger.

But in the midst of sadness, anger and pain there is a glimpse of joy: other bishops and Christians from around the world are reaching out to him and his synod, offering prayer and caring for their brothers and sisters in Connecticut. It is precisely this sense of connection that brings healing and hope to human beings.

Brene Brown, the social work researcher I mentioned earlier, says that humans are neuro-biologically wired for connection. She spent a decade researching shame and fear and why they occur. People handle shame and fear differently and she wanted to find out why this might be so. Shame, she says, is the fear of disconnection. We ask ourselves, “Is there something about me that if other people knew, they would reject me? Disconnect from me?” There is an excruciating vulnerability that underlies all shame and fear and the difference between people who are stuck in shame and struggle with love, belonging and worthiness, according to Brown, is that the people she calls “whole-hearted” believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They fully embrace vulnerability as the way to authentic connection. Embracing vulnerability looks like this: - saying “I love you” first - investing in a relationship - with a romantic partner, friend or child - that might not work out the way you want it to - breathing through the pain of grief with a friend - courageously walking with another as they wait for the Doctor to call with test results All these things can be avoided. You don’t have to do them. But avoiding them comes with a COST - no relationship. Instead, as we “lean into the discomfort” and willlingly risk vulnerability, we experience what it means to be human, whole-heartedly.

This is the place God leads us in Jesus. I’ve often wondered why God chose a baby to reveal Godself to the world? - a vulnerable, powerless baby... Maybe it was so we could see a bit of ourselves and our experiences in Jesus’ birth. Because we live in a vulnerable world.

One of the ways humans deal with the uncomfortableness of their vulnerable humanity is to numb. We can numb ourselves with food, shopping, alcohol or drugs... But, says Brown, a person cannot selectively numb. If you give up feeling vulnerable, you give up feeling joy. Vulnerability, taking the risk to fully share ourselves with another , may be the home of shame, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, love. As humans, she says, we are all wired for struggle, but also for belonging. And we are all worthy of love. There is another way, Brown says. There is another way says Jesus. - let yourself be seen. Don’t hide behind shame or blame (which is a way that humans discharge their own pain and discomfort). - love with your whole heart - Practice gratitude and joy, even in moments of fear - and believe “I am enough” (Repeat that with me “I am enough.”) Then we can stop screaming at ourselves and others and start listening (to each other AND to God) which leads us to be kinder and gentler to ourselves and others. Which brings us back to the passage from Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Given the awful pain and suffering humans go through and inflict on each other, Paul’s words might seem simplistic. Good Christians might hear his words and answer, “That’s all well and good for you to say (don’t worry about anything), but anxiety is not something I can turn off with a switch. And don’t tell me to pray more because I’m praying daily. But still, the peace of God eludes me.” Maybe you have felt this way. I have felt this; I feel it today as I helplessly listen to people’s pain and watch the news.

But if we don’t lean into the discomfort and press on toward joy, we will end up instead in despair. I’ve been there, too, and I don’t want to go back. We have been praying for Kris Gebhard, son of Pastor Duane Gebhard and Jennifer Therkilsen, director of Kinship. Kris, a graduate student in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was hit by a car while riding his bike a week ago and is still in critical condition with his family by his side. His mother, Jennifer said this about her husband and herself: “We are truly traveling to Bethlehem this Christmas and will be nearer to the stable than ever before. Jesus is the reason and this event brings it all into clearer focus.”

As we light a third candle this weekend, may its light push back the shadows of violence, hatred, grief and shame; may we open ourselves whole-heartedly to love and vulnerability with other human beings. And may our Advent waiting be blessed by Christ’s presence and peace. Amen.

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