Sunday, December 16, 2012

"close your eyes."

Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ Visions of Peace & Liberty

Isaiah and the gang have returned home from exile to find things to be less than expected. The ruins, the oppression, and the return changed them and their relationship with God. So they're hungry for new words of hope and new visions of peace. They're desperate for an updated blueprint that acknowledges the transformation, the things they grieve, and the way forward.

On Friday, President Obama quoted part of my preaching text for today. He ended his speech about the terrorizing disaster in Connecticut by hoping for the One who binds our wounds and mends the brokenhearted. He ended with a call for holy healing.

This is the Advent story. While the wounds are real and remain, there is One who binds them. While our hearts continue to break, there is One who can dwell in our presence, mending the pieces into the semblance of a whole. My brother had a quote on his Facebook page shortly after the news broke and, this week, Mr. Rogers was my preacher: 

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world."
Isaiah and Advent are calling us to open our eyes to new visions of peace and celebration, but we have good reason to pause in devastation and fear this week. We have good reason to close our eyes instead. Because whenever I open them...

I see a teacher and a principal who lunged at the man, desperate to stop him and unable to end it.
I see a 27 year old teacher who hid her children in the classroom cabinets and the horror on her face while she waited for the man to kill her.
I see EMT workers rushing to set up a triage area, ready to be the Helpers and the Hope, soon realizing there was nothing to change and no one to treat. I see them packing up their gear and feeling as helpless like rest of us.

I see brave rescue workers tell children to "close your eyes, keep them closed", leading them to safety. I see that in order to move the blind, the least, and the little, they had to keep their eyes open to the direction through destruction.

Advent is our search for Christ and I hear him in the calm voices that shoo children into cabinets or lead them to the firehouse. I see Christ in the strong hands that secured the scene and the wise media outlets that resisted dramatizing and misinforming - instead respecting the humanity and grief.

We will see Christ in twelve years when the media again returns to Sandy Hook to cover a story about these 20 families and their celebration of what would have been a graduation day.  Christ will have been there the whole time, knitting those mothers and fathers and siblings together for strength and comfort.

It's hard to preach when things like this happen and you need a good sermon yourself. I floated through this morning, telling the truth about Connecticut and Isaiah, but also hugging little children, giving a homeless woman her first communion and receiving a Christmas ham from a parishioner. As I left the church parking lot I saw an East African immigrant pushing a shopping card down Pillsbury Avenue. It was filled with her children all waving to me, regulars in our nursery during ESL classes. Their mother's maroon abaya was rippling in the wind, showing her fierce biceps beneath their modest cover. She was holding them tightly and keeping them together this morning. Our eyes locked together in the universal language of motherhood.

I don't know what to tell you about Isaiah's new vision of peace - maybe because I'm not ready to open my eyes quite yet. And I think that's okay.  There is a time for open eyes and a time for keeping them closed. There is a time for jubilee and a time for weeping. There is a time for garland and a time for ashes. All of these good Advent things are true even if we’re not quite ready for them this morning. 

Like first graders being led down the hallway filled with destruction, I will keep my eyes closed until my teacher says I can open them. And thank God for the Teacher, who keeps watch on the days we need to close our eyes and bear only what we've already had to see. There will be other days for visions of peace - and they will still be present and true when we're ready to open our eyes. Promise.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I dusted your baby book today, Jasper. 

That's further proof that this blog is my shortcut to memory preservation. Here I add a photo and write a few words about what you're up to these days. I have real intentions of printing these entries and adding them to your book someday. Just you wait. It will be a font and style inspired by Pinterest and it will turn out 28% as cool as the original idea. You'll love it, I promise.

You stayed home in Yack-Attack Land with your dad this morning - the poor guy caught it! I had a speedy version of the flu on Friday and felt just good enough to lead worship, but not good enough to serve communion bread. I awoke still achey, wishing I could pull the covers over my head and be selfish for the day. 

Not a chance. Not on a Sunday morning and not with several inches of snow on the ground outside! It was crisp, quiet, and beautiful. I relish Sunday mornings there is snow to brush off my car because the street is silent. Everyone else is tucked away inside. No one on this block needs to be somewhere quite yet. I imagine them drinking hot cocoa and reading the paper - that it's up to me to make a path and report back about plows and life further down Lake Street. 

I returned mid-afternoon to find neighbors out shoveling and building snowmen. I was tired, but giddy searching for my snow pants and your bunting while you finished napping. Then your aunt, uncle, and canine-cousin joined us for a sleigh ride around Longfellow. You were the Prince all bundled and starry-eyed. 

Remember that I spent much of my childhood in California, Jasper. When we moved back to the Midwest, I had to convince myself to like winter. I had to nod and smile through stories about the 1991 Halloween blizzard that I'd missed. (A major ballad for Minnesotans from my generation.) I had to learn to ski and layer clothing and deal with all this darkness. 

I was successful in tricking myself into loving this season. So today I desperately wished to impart a love for winter on you. As your nose turned red and your cheeks collected snowflakes, I watched your smile widen. It filled me with joy to see you that happy.

Your face glowed when we came back inside, too. You ran around in circles jabbering to Dad about your time in the snow. You rubbed your hat hair and guzzled water. You collected a few books and cozied up to me on the couch with a smile, still wide.

But what else about this season?
This winter you are starting to say more words - bus, truck, light, and duck just this week. 
You can put all the animal pieces in your sound puzzle by yourself. Then you give me a high five. 
We have a new bedtime routine thanks to your Big Boy Bed. You sleep with 85 stuffed animals, 12 trucks, an ab roller, 2 nuks, and your blanket. (Whatever, man.) 
You are open to more foods and I continue to be grateful for your love of fruits and vegetables. I've always been a big snacker, but you know how to make braided pretzel sticks fun. 
You nap for less than 3 hours now, but still relish that time alone in your room every afternoon. (What are you doing in there?) 
You color a lot - and you are trying to hold your crayons like me. 
You dance with fury and passion. There is a house band playing in your head and heart every morning at 7:30am. (I dedicate your poops to that band. It really gets things moving.) 
You are wildly affectionate. Hugs, cuddles, and kisses. When I ask for "loving", you wander over and nestle your head into my neck. You always relax for a minute and exhale with a soft, "mmm" sound. Thanks to this ritual, I will never forget your gentleness and sweet smell in the midst of rowdy, busy toddlerhood.
You like seeing pictures of "Baby Jasper". Sometimes I grab you and (using my best Julia Child voice) say, "When Jasper was a little baby, I used to cuddle him and sing Rockabye Baby..." I rock you back and forth like a newborn, your long legs dangling and kicking beyond my reach. You squeal and make cooing noises, happily giving into the snugglefest. 
You are funny. You are sarcastic and silly and sassy. You make lots of faces and crack yourself up. 
You are also quite bossy and moody. You are a toddler and you don't let me forget that very often. Everything's a big deal and emotionally urgent. (You act like me at age 13, which was not my finest year.) 
Today I preached from Joel. Some Jews have returned from exile and home isn't the way it used to be. And so God calls them home again. Give me your hearts, not your clothing. I want full custody, not weekend visits. Return to me and things will change - not the locusts or the sadness or the chaos. That remains and is real. But things will be different because I will be right there. I will ask you what you're longing for. I will wait there while you wonder. And I will listen when you dare to answer.

This is a good text for the season of Advent. It gets me thinking about what I'm longing for.

I'm wondering about that now that the house is dark. My boys are in bed. The street is quiet again. Peace surrounds me and, though the aches are still there, and I realize that I'm longing for more of this.

Snow-filled days.
Sleigh rides and red noses.
My son growing to love the beauty of winter layers.
A place to return home in the midst of things that ache.