Monday, December 12, 2011

Wait Wait.... Don't Tell Me!

Dec. 11 sermon  at the UU Fellowship of Statesboro

Our reading this morning was one in which Emily Jane Bronte reminds us to cherish the present while placing hope in the great depths of eternal goodness for the future.  And she title’s that poem, “Anticipation.”  Another more contemporary sacred text by that same name and with a similar message is Carly Simon’s song – Anticipation. 

I ask that you participate with me in this message by singing back that word after I sing the first one to you.  So our little call and response will go like this!  I’ll sing:

And you sing:

The story goes that Carly Simon wrote that song while waiting for Cat Stevens to pick her up one day.  At least she was making some good profitable use of her time.  But her song was also initially expressing some of the frustration we feel when we have to wait.  For the chorus of that song goes like this:
Me – Anticipation
Congregation – Anticipation
(Me or all) Is making me late --- is keeping me waiting.

This is the time of year where we often find ourselves waiting.  And that can be frustrating. 

On Monday, I found myself at Hobby Lobby.  Now I don’t shop there often – because I’m not a crafty person – well not that kind of crafty anyway.  But that’s the only store in town that seemed to have these little paper lanterns that had the little tiny lights in them run by batteries.  And I needed more of these to hang on the branches of the path back to the labyrinth in the woods since Georgia Southern’s Gay Straight Alliance kids were coming over that night – and I knew they’d need some light shed on that path. 

I picked up the plastic box with the lanterns and headed to the checkout.  And here is what the conversation that went on in my head:
(Note to Reader:)  Here I get pick up the plastic box of lanterns and go to the back of the imaginary line that beings in front of the altar and heads toward the congregation.)

Oh – my, the lines are backed up. 
Jane are you going to stand in one of these long lines.  You are a busy woman. 

Nah, you are no busier than these other folks and you need these lights.  Get your butt in line like everybody else.

Hmmm.  I wonder why they only have four registers open.  Don’t they know there are people out of work that need these jobs.

That line over there is moving – and mine is not.  Should I change lines?

Jane, you know that doesn’t work.  Stay put.

I don’t think that young man at the register knows what he’s doing.  He must be new or a temp or something. 

Well, why don’t you make use of this time while you are waiting here.  Carly Simon wrote a song while she was waiting for Cat Stevens.  And that author of that book you were reading about Advent said he found Jesus while standing in the line at Cosco.

(looking around – sings)  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus……   No, not here today. 
Oh, you could take out your phone and check your email.

NO, NO, NO…. you don’t need to be one of those people.  Make conversation with the nice lady in front of you.

“A’hem.  That’s a beautiful top you have on.”  “Yes, this is a long line – oh, you’re moving to another line?”…..
Don’t leave me.

Oh, the line has moved, ha – she shouldn’t have moved.  I was right to stay here.  Only one person in front of me. 

Oh no – the cashier has to call for a price.   Waiting,  Waiting….Why doesn’t he do something.  Someone needs to say something to him.  I don’t think I like him very much.  He doesn’t seem to care that I’m a very busy woman.  Oh, the other cashier is having to call for him.  He’s a pitiful cashier – doesn’t seem to know a thing. 

But he reminds me of my son.  John is a cashier at a busy Whole Foods store in Atlanta.  I bet he has a long line of busy people waiting on him right now.
Oh – my turn.

Oh, no bag please, I can carry this.  I hope you have a wonderful day!

(Returning to pulpit)

Sometimes to help us focus on the positive and let us know we are making progress toward some special anticipated event, we use countdown calendars.  And Christians have devised a countdown to Christmas known as Advent.  Now if you were raised in what some of us call a Christian “high church,” you are familiar with the Christian liturgical year that begins with Advent.  Advent means “coming” and of course refers to the coming of Jesus – both as a newborn babe – and for some, waiting indeed, for the 2nd coming.  Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – so today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

At the beginning of the service, we lit the third candle of our Advent Wreath – and I’d like to share a little about that for those of you who may not be familiar with it’s history. 


The circular Advent Wreath and its candles are pre-Christian, a Pagan practice absorbed into Christian observances like many Pagan rites as Christian conversion spread across Europe.

The centerpiece of their spiritual rituals at this time was the living wreath, either formed of evergreens or with a cartwheel woven with evergreens. The evergreen wreath or wheel symbolized the unending circle of life, the rotation of the seasons. The evergreen, of course, was a part of the earth that lived steadfastly through the winter darkness. Lighted candles set within the wreath or wheel brought light to the darkness.

The magic of the Advent Wreath translated well into Christian practice. With very little change the symbol of light in the darkness, rebirth of the sun, made equal sense to the birth of the Son of God bringing the light to the world. The Christian Advent Wreath initially became popular in Lutheran homes in Germany, then spread to other Christian denominations.  There are different traditions with different colors of candles – but usually three of the candles are purple and the candle for the third Advent Sunday  -- the joy candle -- is pink or rose.  Although the advent wreath began as a Lutheran ritual – the use of the pink candle has Catholic origins.  On the third Sunday of LENT – (which also lifts up Joy), the pope used to give a pink rose to one citizen.  So pink became a symbol for Joy.  There were seven candles lit during lent, and when the Catholic church began celebrating Advent by lighting candles – they used the first four from lent – with the third – again – representing joy.  The others are purple – the color of royalty, of course, symbolizing for them the kingship of Christ.  Now regardless of your own theology – we UUs like purple and pink – so these are just fine with us!

Our advent candle also has the white candle in the middle.  This is the Christmas or Christ candle – and we will light that one on Christmas Eve. 

This is an advent wreath – but some families have advent calendars with candy to eat on each day.  Our wreath has fewer calories though.


I entitled this sermon “Wait Wait…. Don’t Tell Me” – just on a whim, when I wasn’t quite sure what I would be preaching this Sunday, but it certainly fits with the “anticipation of Christmas” theme.  The title, of course, comes from the popular PBS game show – but it also represents our joy in anticipating the unknown.  That wrapped present that says “Don’t Open till Christmas.”  Most of us like things out in the open – but there’s something intriguing about keeping some surprises under wrap.  The negligee industry has profited greatly from that! 

And even we Unitarian Univerasalists – some of us known for our “cold rationalism” – are intrigued and awed by mystery.  We can even be turned on by “anticipation.”  But what are we waiting for?  A UU minister colleague of mine has a blog – in which he points us to another blog about Advent where Christians posted their own ideas and revelations back during Advent in 2009.  And there is one posting by a woman named Bridgett – that’s the only name I can attribute to this quote, but I do want to give Bridgett credit.  She begins by providing a quote attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Luke.  “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”  Then Bridget goes on to point out that just as Jesus was born in a specific time and place – so were we.  And Bridget goes on to post – at 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2009:

“A specific time, a specific place. We were not chosen to be those who walked with Jesus in Palestine. We were chosen to be here. And what am I blessed to see and hear? What will prophets and kings desire to have seen and heard from what I have experienced? Is there anything in my life wondrous, noteworthy, mysterious? Living in the blank page, our response time to the coming of Jesus, all I can think is "there had better be." There had better be something worthy left behind when I am gone. And I had better get to it.”


So, here we are… on December 11, 2011.  Here we are together at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  Here we are…..  waiting…..

For what?
For some politician to provide a master plan?
For some great prophet, guru, or philosopher to show us the way?
For some future with greater beings and thinkers than we?
I think not.

It was the poet June Jordan who wrote:  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” 
Of course, this line was later borrowed by Alice Walker and used frequently by Barak Obama.  But it’s a good line, I think, for Unitarian Universalists – regardless of our theologies. 

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  And now is the time we’ve been waiting for.

Anticipation can be frustrating.  There are those who have really good reasons to be anxious for the future, and we understand that.  And anticipation can be really good too.  So we will enjoy our Advent wreath and the joyful anticipation of the holidays, and even the good works that we will do for others.  But right here, right now is the present that is our most precious present!

Savor the present.

After recording in her poem her wonderful observations of a grasshopper, Mary Oliver writes:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

We have many things going on in our wild and precious lives in these December days, don't we?   But right here, right now, we are with loving people in a place that lifts up justice, service, connection, hope, love, joy, and peace!  
Breathe it in.

Carly Simon ends her song about anticipation with this reminder:  "THESE are the good old days!"

Sing it with me.

These are the good ole days… These are the good ole days… These are the good ole days!
Amen – and Blessed Be!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Christmas Present!

December 8, 2011

The 1973 Christmas season was an exciting time in our household, for Fred III was learning to walk and talk. Since he was saying some words, I and others would naturally ask him what he wanted for Christmas - or what he wanted Santa Claus to bring him. And he would reply with some gibberish. As I listened more closely, I realized that it was the same gibberish each time we asked him. That meant that he definitely had something in mind. What was it that my dear little boy wanted? I could not figure it out. I asked others to listen and they could not understand either - though he said the same word or phrase each time.

When I was in the toy sections of the stores we were in, I would ask him again what he wanted - and even asked him to point to it. He looked around but did not point to anything. Needless to say, I felt my precious child was going to be very disappointed on Christmas morning when his anticipated gift was not there.

One day, while looking at a magazine, he started saying the jibberish word over and over again. I ran to see what it was. He was pointing to a box all wrapped up as a gift --- and saying "Preprin...Preprin..." ---

"Oh, a present," I said. "You want a present for Christmas." And he smiled and clapped for me finally getting it right! There was no special toy or piece of clothing that he wanted. He just wanted the joy of having a present and unwrapping it to see his surprise!

As we continue in this season of anticipation, may we also delight in the pleasure of the unknown!

Peace, Love, and Joy!