Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Saying Yes to God." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.:

"Saying Yes to God"

Luke 1

         Angels don’t show up very often in the Scriptures.  But when they do appear, usually something big... strange...and wonderful is about to happen.
            The angel Gabriel came to tell Mary that she had been chosen by God to help change the world, by bearing the Christ.
Though Gabriel called Mary "favored one,” she apparently didn't feel favored-- at least not at first.  She felt perplexed.  “How can this be?”
            And yet Mary responded to Gabriel by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word."
            In other words, Mary says, “I'm not sure what all of this means.  but nevertheless, here I am, ready to be of service in God's work.  Whatever you say, God."
            What a wonderful, faithful thing for Mary to say!   It couldn't have been an easy decision for her.  Change never is.
            There was a lot at stake for Mary.  She was a young peasant girl from a small village.  Her marriage to Joseph had been arranged. 
Mary was poor...  and vulnerable.   As a female, her economic SURVIVAL depended on marriage.  Her security depended on her attractiveness as a wife and mother.      So-- what did it mean for a girl like Mary to say yes to God’s plan?
            It meant risking all that she had hoped for...   all her plans for her life.    It meant risking her security.  And it meant risking her very life.  The penalty for a woman caught in adultery in her day could be execution by public stoning.  If Joseph believed that her pregnancy was a result of an illicit affair, then-- by law-- Mary could be taken to the edge of town and stoned to death. At the very least, Mary would be disgraced in the eyes of the people of the village. She’d be damaged goods.
            Mary's story reminds us that to be God's servant in the world means risking radical changes in our priorities.  It means placing our very lives into God's hands.   It means trusting in God to care for us—even through dangerous times.
            Yet Mary responded in obedience and trust and courage.   "Here I am, Lord."  I'll be your servant." 
            Now, Mary has reason to be afraid.  Luke tells us-- after the angel left-- Mary hurried to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who had been unable to bear children all her life.  As proof that nothing is impossible with God-- the angel Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant in her old age.
            When Elizabeth hears Mary's voice, the child leaps in her womb, and she knows that she has been especially touched by God.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth calls out:  "You are blessed among women.  Blessed is she who believed that God's promise would be fulfilled!"
            By declaring both Mary and the fruit of her womb “blessed,” Elizabeth begins a series of blessings that weave through Luke’s birth narrative and intensify its tone of joy and praise.  Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon will all add their blessings, praising God for what God is doing at this moment in history   and recognizing that those who are privileged to be instruments of God’s saving work have been richly blessed.  
            Mary starts singing a song the church is still singing today-- a song we might think of as the first Christmas carol.  Her song is a song of joy and praise.      "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed."
            Mary sings about the God who saves not just souls, but embodied people. The God she celebrates isn’t content merely to point people toward heaven. God’s redemptive work begins here on earth. God fills the hungry not only with hope, but with food.  God isn’t satisfied with comforting the lowly, but lifts them up, giving them dignity. This is a merciful and subversive song, that sings of how God shows strength by disrupting the world’s power structures, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly.

            Through the centuries, Mary has been a model of faith.   God needed Mary's freely given "YES” to God's gracious invitation to become the Mother of Jesus.  The mystery of Incarnation could not have taken place without Mary's wholehearted "YES."  And that "YES” couldn’t have taken place without Mary's unbounded trust in God.

            Do you wonder?  How was such radical obedience and openness on Mary's part made possible?  How did she get from saying, “How can this be?”—to “Let it be, according to God’s word”?
            I think it grew out of the sense of trust that had developed in her as she heard the stories of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob...  and how God had always dealt with her people.  That long history had taught her two things about God-- that God was utterly mysterious...  and yet always good.   God's ways are almost never obvious...  but they inevitably work out better than we could imagine.   And that's some of the good news of God. 

            The old King James Version puts part of Mary’s song of praise this way: “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”  I think that’s an especially apt translation, for it is by our imagining, by what our hearts picture in fear or desire, that we humans are pushed and pulled to act-- or not.
            Imagination can be a channel for oppression or destruction—especially when fear and resentment prevail.  But it can also serve to gather and bless and inspire us.   

            We live in a society in which the gap between the rich and poor keeps widening…  a society in which many people of goodwill are finding it important and necessary to declare that black lives matter… where it’s important and necessary to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors and with refugees and people seeking asylum.    We live in a time of fear and suspicion of people who are different… and a growing number of people believe they need guns to protect themselves against all the terrible things they imagine.   
            We live in a world in which many people lack adequate food or safe water or shelter or sanitation.   The ways of the world seem to have taken over, and mercy is in short supply.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Mary models for us a way of joyful, hopeful obedience, working with God to change the world, hoping in God’s promises.
            If we aim to follow the Jesus whose birth we await this season, we will need to extend hospitality to strangers instead of building walls to keep them out. We will feed the hungry, tend the sick, and welcome little children instead of firing tear gas at them or punishing them for being brought across our borders by parents who are desperately seeking safety.
            When our fears get the best of us and tell us to build walls to keep people out or to arm ourselves to keep ourselves safe, I hope and pray that we will instead run with Mary to Elizabeth—to the arms of a faithful covenant community that will remind us of God’s many blessings and embolden us and help us to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those who are marginalized.
            If you read through the first few chapters of Luke, you’ll notice that several songs.   Mary sings the “Magnificat” in today’s story.  Zechariah sings when his son John is born and his tongue is finally loosened.  The angels sing of peace and goodwill when they share their “good news of great joy” with the shepherds.  And Simeon sings his song of farewell when he has seen God’s promises fulfilled. 
            Why all these songs?  I think David Lose is right when he suggests that singing can be an act of resistance.   African slaves knew this.  When they sang their spirituals, they were praising God and also protesting the injustices of their lives and pointing the way to freedom. 
            The civil rights leaders in our nation knew this, too, as they sang their freedom songs.  
            The protesters in Leipzig in 1989 knew this as well.  For several months before the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai Church—the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas—to sing.  Over two months, their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand—over half the citizens of the city.  They sang songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. 
            Later, when someone asked one of the officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they didn’t crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied, “We had no contingency plan for song.”[1]

            Today, I hope we will sing Mary’s song of praise with her...  and watch for signs of how “the world is about to turn.”
            A lot of what we do when we come together in worship is practicing this imagination of the heart, by the gift and command of God.  In the liturgy, we imagine that love rules already, that the lowly are lifted up, that death is conquered, sin cleansed away... peace triumphant...and Christ touched and seen and tasted.  On the verge of Christmas, we imagine and sing with Mary.
            Imagine with the Magnificat its dream of a justice that re-distributes wealth and privilege and power, so that everyone has what they need.   Imagine a world where the lion and the lamb can be together in peace… where those who have been proud and rich can be in solidarity with those who yearn for a turning of the socio-economic tables… imagine discovering that there can be enough for everyone in God’s realm…and remember that we're invited to participate more fully in God's saving work in the world. 
            Mary was invited to bear Christ.  And so, my friends, are we. 
            We can choose to say YES to God, and open ourselves to let God use us as instruments of love and grace and mercy and justice and peace.
Today’s gospel story is about Mary.  But it’s your story and mine as well.  God has chosen each of us, favored each of us, graced each of us, and spoken God’s Word to, over, and in each of us.
By the power of God’s Spirit, God has descended upon us and conceived Christ in us.   We are called to be God-bearers, a calling that can bring with it extraordinary privileges as well as significant hardships.  But the promise remains the same: nothing is impossible for the One we serve and bear.
We are called to bear the love of Christ out into the world...  and to let it transform the world, as it transforms us. 
          " Let it be with me, according to your word.” 
          " Let it be with us, according to your Word.”
            Let it be!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 23, 2018    

[1] David Lose, “Singing as An Act of Resistance, at, December 14, 2015.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"What Should We Do?" A Sermon on Luke 3:7-18 from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Advent.

John the Baptist (an icon from the Orthodox tradition)

"What Should We Do?"

Luke 3:7-18

The third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been known as Joy Sunday.   That’s why we lit the rose candle today and heard the apostle Paul urging the church to “Rejoice always and in everything.”
            Yet, as I meditated on the scripture passages for this Sunday, I kept remembering how painful a season this can be for many people-- people who are lonely, people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, people who are struggling with illness and wondering where God is in the midst of it all…  people who are depressed, people who are trying to maintain their sobriety during a season of parties… people who are too poor to be a part of the festival of extravagance the merchants would have us believe is what Christmas is all about. 
            There are people who are hungry or food insecure...or who are worrying about how they’ll pay their bills.  Then there are terrible events that have filled the headlines in recent weeks. The list could go on and on. 
            We grieve that there’s so much wrong in the world.  We’re still waiting for the kingdom of God, and we yearn for it.  We wait and hope for what we can’t yet see.
            During the weeks of Advent, we’re in a conversation with the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptizer.  In the scriptures, we hear words of consolation and of challenge.   Today, we hear John the Baptist saying to the people who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”               
            What do we make of this blunt talk?  Where’s the good news in it?     

            Apparently, a lot of the people who came out to hear John the Baptizer’s message did hear his message as good news.  Gospel from God.   Some of them even started to wonder whether John was the messiah they’d been waiting for. 
            Things were terribly wrong.  The people were living under the occupation of the Roman empire, and at the mercy of tyrants like Herod… or dishonest tax collectors.  Things were wrong, but they were hoping God was going to do something about it.  
            One of my colleagues suggests that when John compared people to a brood of vipers, he was saying they are like snakes curled up in hiding inside a pile of logs.  When the fire of God’s judgment comes near,  when the light of truth exposes us, we try to slink out from under God’s gaze.[1] 
            “Hey, don’t look at me!  I didn’t mess the world up!” we protest.  “I’m okay.  After all, I’m a child of Abraham.  It’s those tax collectors and Pilate and Herod that are to blame.  It’s those criminals and greedy corporate honchos and crooked politicians… or immigrants…  or [fill in the blank].  It’s those other people who are to blame for this mess-- not me!” 
            We make excuses and look for others to blame precisely because, in our heart of hearts, we know that we are not clean.  We, too, have contributed to the mess.
            I think John the Baptist is right.  “This means you,” he declares.  “Don’t even think about relying on the fact that you’re a child of Abraham…or a good Christian…or whatever, to exempt you.”
            So…how can a message like this be good news?

            I’m grateful to Richard Rohr for some new insights on John the Baptist I found in his book,  Jesus’ Plan for a New World.[2]   Father Rohr, who is a Franciscan priest, suggests that John the Baptist is probably far more important than we have realized.   The beginning of the gospels tells us that John appeared and preached in the wilderness, “proclaiming a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
            John “cries out in the wilderness,” radically questioning the very legitimacy of the existing religious order, and showing how religion needs to constantly reform.  The keepers of the religious status quo kept sending people out to question John.  
            When John preached a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, it was revolutionary.  Jews were supposed to follow the Law—the Holiness Codes of Torah. This upstart was making it too easy to get God to love you and forgive you. 
            The people were filled with expectation.  They were questioning in their hearts, whether John might be the Messiah they were looking for.  But John was pointing to the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. 

            Luke's gospel tells us that, when Mary found out that she was pregnant with the Son of the Most High God, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  When Mary spoke, Elizabeth's child leaped for joy in her womb.
            That child grew up to be John the Baptizer.  God called him to be a witness to the light of God, revealed in Christ.  John knew that a lot of things get in the way of receiving God's love and joy.   That's why John was preaching about getting ready for the more powerful one who was coming.   Prepare the way!  Repent! 
            In Charles Dickens' play, "A Christmas Carol,"  Ebenezer Scrooge is London's most notorious miser.  He's a mere shadow of the joyful person he was created to be, hunched up against the world...  stingy and suspicious.  When the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own grave, the reminder that he will die breaks through all the defenses and helps to put things into perspective.  He's overwhelmed with a piercing sense of remorse for how he has been living.  He repents!
            Seeing the light of truth after living in the darkness for so long can be scary.   But what follows his rebirth into new life-- is joy!
            This Advent, John the Baptizer comes to us, telling us that we need to change our ways.
            The message of Advent is that God in Christ is coming into the world.  In Jesus, God's Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.   What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

            Edward Hicks was an American sign and stagecoach painter in the early nineteenth century.  He’s known almost exclusively for his many paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom. 
            One of these, entitled “The Peaceable Kingdom with Quakers Bearing Banners,” was painted during a time when tension and separation had split American Quakers into two groups.  In the background is a cluster of very somber-looking people.  But in the foreground is a depiction of the peaceable kingdom:  a leopard is lying down with a lamb.  A little child is embracing a lion. 
            Those somber-looking people in the background are connected to the peaceable kingdom by a banner that declares, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”  The sinuous ribbon with its beginning in the mists of eternity weaves its way through and among them, braiding them together.
            Our Christian joy and faith aren’t based solely on the evidence we see in the present-- but on the hope of the future.  Our Christian joy comes to us in our experience of God’s presence.   So, how are we called to live?
            Three times in today’s gospel lesson…  “What should we do?”   That’s a question for us today.
            What should we do, as we yearn for God’s peaceable kingdom?  What should we do, to live more fully into the reign of God? 
            I don’t have any simple answers for you today.  But I think our faith is calling us to move beyond the simple answers on either side of important issues, to listen to one another’s perspectives, and to pray together and work together, and open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading.
            One of the challenges we face today is our desire to live in safety, while responding faithfully to the needs of our neighbors near and far.  It isn’t uncommon during an electiAon season for us to hear political rhetoric that plays on our fears.  But we need to learn from history... and be guided by our faith.
            During Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, too many religious leaders and others were silent.  When fear and xenophobia prevail, there can be terrible consequences.
            Over the past few years, some of us have been thinking about historical parallels between the current debate over refugees—from Syria and now from Central America—desperate people seeking safety and refuge in the United States   and the plight of European Jews fleeing German-occupied territories on the eve of World War II. 
            Among the many who tried-- and failed—to escape Nazi persecution were Otto Frank and his family, which included his wife, Edith, and his daughters, Margot and Anne.  The Frank family visa application documents were discovered in a New Jersey warehouse in 2007. 
            As historian Richard Brietman wrote, “Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security   and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war.”[3]  And so Anne Frank and her family perished in concentration camps. 
            In contrast to those who were silent and passive during the horrors of the Holocaust, an entire town in occupied France sheltered 5,000 Jews at great risk, in a “conspiracy of goodness.” 
             In occupied France, collaborators delivered 83,000 Jews, including 10,000 children, to the Nazi death camps, and only 3,000 returned.  But the residents of Le Chambon and the surrounding area quietly took in and saved as many Jews as their entire population, who came to them for shelter and refuge. 
            The people of Le Chambon were Reformed Christians, descendants of the French Huguenots.   Motivated by their faith and remembering their own history of persecution, they welcomed the refugees and housed them in private homes, on farms, as well as in local schools.   You can read about this in the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.[4]
            What should we do?   What do the “fruits of repentance” look like?
            Our scriptures say in various ways that we are to orient our lives to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
            This Advent, God is ready to be born in the cradle of our hearts and lives, either for the first time or as a renewed birth, as God-with-us reaches new depths within our very souls.  And this, my friends, is reason for JOY! 
            Do you remember what Ebenezer Scrooge was like when he was re-born that Christmas?  He couldn't keep his joy to himself!  He was filled with the joy of new life...   and he just had to share his joy with others!
            When we receive the JOY of Jesus Christ, we're called to proclaim the light that outshines all darkness.  We're called to carry the light out into the world    and be witnesses of the light. 
            God calls us out of darkness-- into the Light that overcomes the darkness.  Our job as we wait for Christ to come again in power and glory is to proclaim the good news of Jesus, who is the light of the world… the Christ who calls us to live lives that reflect his light!  
How shall we live?  We are called to feed the hungry…and minister to the sick… to show God’s mercy and justice in our lives.   In Matthew 25, we hear Jesus saying we will be judged by how we feed those who are hungry, how we give those who are thirsty something to drink, how we visit those whose who are imprisoned, how we welcome the stranger.”[5]   
In the words of one of my favorite hymns, we are called to “live into hope-- of captives freed...  of sight regained...  the end of greed.”[6]  We are called to live as God’s blessed peacemakers.[7]
            On this Third Sunday of Advent, there is good news—joyful news.  No matter how dark things look, we know that darkness does not have the last word.  Jesus, the Light of the world, has come and shines in the darkness.  The darkness does not and will not overcome it.
            So--  let us rejoice always.[8]  Let us live prayerful lives-- lives that show gentleness to all we meet... and embody God’s love for those who are lonely and hurting.   Let us pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything…  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.
            The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
            Come, Lord Jesus!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 16, 2018

[1] Mary Harris Todd, in a sermon at
[2] Richard Rohr, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount.  (Kindle Loc 1668)
[4] Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed:  The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.  Harper, 1979. 
[5] Let it be noted:  there were responses to the “fill in the blanks.”  The people at Littlefield Presbyterian Church are well acquainted with Matthew 25.
[6] “Live into Hope.”  Lyrics by Jane Parker Huber.
[7] Matthew 5, in what we know as “The Beatitudes.”
[8] Philippians 4:4-7

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Prepare the Way." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday of Advent

"Prepare the Way"

Luke 3:1-6

The time for John the Baptist to come out of the wilderness came in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius.  Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was ruling Galilee. Annas and Caiaphas were serving as high priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Luke places John in historical context, much like how the Old Testament prophets were introduced, placing him and his call to prepare the way for the Lord in the middle of worldly events and places.
He reminds us that God sends messengers in the center of our earthly life, too. In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when Rick Snyder is Governor of Michigan, when Francis is the Pope in Rome, when J. Herbert Nelson is Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we are reminded that no time is forsaken by God. All time is subject to God’s inbreaking. Prepare the way of the Lord!
Luke’s litany of government and religious authorities does more than date John’s ministry to 28 or 29 CE. It also contrasts human kingdoms with God’s reign. The claims to any authority that Tiberius or Herod or the high priest make are not ultimate.  God’s people owe allegiance first and foremost to God. And it is God’s word that sets John’s ministry in motion. John has been commissioned to prepare the way not for Caesar or any earthly authority, but for the one true Lord.
           The major focus for Luke is salvation, but it’s important for Luke that we understand the messy reality of the day-- to understand the world into which God is bringing salvation.  The word of God came to John in the wilderness, and spoke through John to a wounded and unjust world. 
            John proclaims a baptism of repentance that leads to release from sins.  The word that’s translated as “release” is the same word that Jesus uses twice in Luke 4 to describe his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…to proclaim release to the captives and…to let the oppressed go free….” 
The release that follows repentance doesn’t un-do past sins, but it does unbind people from them. It opens the way for a life lived in God’s service.  When John proclaims this release, he’s fulfilling his father Zechariah’s prophecy:  “You, child…will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness / release of their sins.”[1]
I agree with Judith Jones when she says that this salvation “looks like a new dawn for those trapped in darkness and death’s shadow. It is light that reveals a new path, the way toward peace.[2]         
The second Sunday of Advent invites us to anticipate the drawing close of the holy in our midst. The scripture texts invite us to listen to the voices of those calling us to be prepared to welcome the Messiah.  John the Baptist comes to us, proclaiming the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
            God chooses a nobody—an itinerant preacher to call people to repent and to prepare the way.  John went into all the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  Luke quotes the prophet  Isaiah:
            “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
            ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
            make his paths straight.
            Every valley shall be filled,
            And every mountain and hill shall be made low,
            And the crooked shall be made straight,
            And the rough ways made smooth;
            And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”[1]
            “All flesh.”  All people.  All humanity. 
Luke quotes Isaiah’s prophecy detailing what is required if all flesh is to see the salvation of God. Make straight desert highways. Valleys will be lifted up, and mountains made low.  
I like the way Jill Duffield describes this:  “A great leveling will occur. Rough places smoothed. Obstacles obliterated. Nothing will stand in the way, obscure or create a stumbling block for the coming of the Lord, for the gift of salvation. No one will be left behind, sacrificed because they are slow or infirm. All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[3]
            On this second Sunday of Advent in 2018, John the Baptist calls to us to repent…to prepare the way of the Lord. What do we need to do to get ready?
            Whatever it takes will not be easy or painless. Transformation requires radical change, and change brings discomfort. Heeding John’s call means giving up our self-satisfaction or apathy or ambivalence. It means pushing past our fears and resistances, whatever gets in the way of submitting to the re-formation of God.
            Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. Luke’s gospel is full of images that help us envision what that means. Mary sings of the God who has looked upon her humble state, the One who saves by de-throning the powerful and exalting the humble…sending the rich away empty-handed and filling up the hungry.[4] Jesus blesses the poor and the hungry and those who mourn but announces woe for the rich and well-fed.[5]  On the Day of Pentecost Peter warns the people, “Be saved from this crooked generation.”[6] The word that’s translated as “crooked” is the same word that Isaiah uses for the things that need to be straightened out.
            Preparing for God’s arrival means re-thinking systems and structures that we see as normal—but that God judges as oppressive and crooked.  It means preparing to have God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. The claims that the world’s authorities make often conflict with God’s claims. God’s ways are not our ways. But God’s ways lead to salvation.
            What this re-shaping looks like is different from person to person, from congregation to congregation, from community to community, but it does require repentance…turning.  It can shake things up.
            John’s preaching of repentance will literally turn people away from the powers that be to God and it’s a threat to those invested in the present order. When we read further on in the story, we hear that John’s preaching will ultimately lead to his beheading, and later Jesus will be crucified by the empire. Those who are threatened by repentance and forgiveness and newness will not go without a fight.
            In the season of Advent, Christians prepare to celebrate a deep mystery of our faith, the Incarnation, how God came to live among us, full of grace and truth, in the person of Jesus.  Part of what Incarnation means is that God is with humanity and works in and through us. 
            I believe in a God who works in and with and through us, through the work of those who are learning to love as God loves, those who are learning to love peace as God does, those who love justice and mercy as God does.  Through those who are learning to reject violence in their own lives… and who work in small and large ways to end violence and hunger and injustice in our world…. 
            God isn’t finished with us yet. 
            Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace and justice requires changing the world as we know it.  Preparing for God’s arrival means re-thinking systems and structures that we may see as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked.  It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us,  and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. 
            John’s call to repent reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.[7]  John and Isaiah call us to open ourselves to let God work in our minds and hearts   and to let God work through us to re-shape the world’s social systems. 
            The good news is that God’s ways lead to salvation.  God’s glory will be revealed in Jesus, who comes to save us.  This is good news for us and for the whole world:   all flesh will see God’s salvation.  All humanity will see God’s salvation. 
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 9, 2018

[1] Luke 1:77
[2] Luke 1:78-79
[3] Jill Duffield, in “Looking Into the Lectionary, 2nd Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018” at Presbyterian Outlook.

[4] Luke 1:52-53
[5] Luke 6:20-26
[6] Acts 2:40
[7] Isaiah 55:8