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Thursday
Dec202018

Advent 3 2018 Sermon -- The Rev. Matthew Stewart

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”

I love that prayer. Every year, in the third Sunday of Advent, we hear those words. “Stir up your power”  Now I am going to confess what goes on in my head whenever I hear it.  For whatever reason, those words make me think of the Bob Marley tune- “Stir It Up.”  And so that reggae rhythm and backbeat start to bounce around in the back of my mind. It’s not exactly the kind of vibe and spirit that we think of for Advent. Advent is quiet. Advent is contemplative. Advent is austere. “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” It’s not bouncy and energized like reggae. And if I have poisoned this collect for you forever, I do apologize, sort of.

But sort of not, you see, interestingly, in the Middle Ages, the prayers of Advent almost every week had that phrase “stir up” in them. In Latin, it’s “excita.” Related to our word excited. And so in the liturgical life of the church of the Middle Ages, in Advent, folks were constantly asking God to stir things up. To energize. To rouse. To bring life and power into the world. But when the English writers of the first Book of Common Prayer begin adapting the earlier Latin language, they decided to minimize the frequency of that word… way less stirring up in Advent. There are many beauties and wonders of our Anglican tradition but a desire for more emotion and transformation and holy chaos… that’s never really been our thing. Peace and tranquillity. That’s more the heartbeat of the Anglican and Episcopal tradition. 

But I wonder if we need to recover some of that feeling of energy and bounce for Advent. A little less quiet reserve. A little more passion. “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”

So, what should our prayer be here? What do we think God should be stirring up in our world? What should God be stirring up in us?

Today’s modern prophet is an Iranian-American. She wrote the text from today after the 2016 Presidential election when the “build the wall” language was deafening around the country. She writes to immigrant women that are coming to America that America belongs to them. Not just that it is kind or compassionate to welcome immigrants in need. Not that natural born citizens who are the “true owners” of America should, out of the goodness of their hearts, share from what is theirs.  No, in today’s modern prophet reading, America belongs to those who were born outside of it. America belongs to those who long for it. America belongs to those whose prayer it is to come to it. America belongs to those that wait in darkness and long to share in its blessings. Not to those who have already drank so much from its wells.

 “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”

The prophet John the Baptist challenges those with power and authority, in today’s Gospel, not to accumulate what the fullness of their power and authority can afford them. Tax collectors and soldiers aren’t to do what was just the common practice of that day to force victims to give up extra moneys. Those with power aren’t to take disproportionate amounts of the wealth of a people. It is the very opposite of the way of God for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

 “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”

The prophet Zephaniah envisions a future where God leads exiles home. Where oppressors are dealt with. Where the scattered are reunited. Where the marginalized are glorified. Where disaster is removed. Where God is envisioned as a warrior… but a warrior who “exults with loud singing as on a day of festival.” I love God as a warrior who sings. I really love that image. God is the one who with power and might comes into our midst to make things right but does it with a song. That God sings justice into being. That God sings healing into being. That God sings reconciliation and community into being. That God is always singing a song of joy, and when we listen for that song: in our hearts, in our communities, in our relationships, that song is one we can join in. And as long as we are singing God’s song, no matter how dark it may get, our hope can never be taken away.

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”