"How?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – 12/20/2020
Each week during Advent, we have been journeying through questions like When, What, and Who and now today we arrive at How. By the way, as a bit of foreshadowing and selfish plugging for Christmas Eve service; Thursday we will delve into the question of Where. But as for today, as we come to the fourth Sunday of Advent and speak of God’s Love, we again must talk about the question of “How?” So to begin for today, let us hear a poem by St John of the Cross called, "If you want:”
"If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, 'I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.' Then, under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us. Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—the sacred womb in your soul, as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is God’s beloved servant never far. If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street pregnant with Light and sing …'"
We have all heard the Christmas stories time and again. We are all very familiar with how the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she is to bear a son and Mary asks, “But how can this be?” In fact, if you came to the Children’s Program, and are coming to the Christmas Eve service, you will have heard it three times just this year. But what we often paint over with eyes blinded to the immense wonder of it all, is the awe-inspiring answer to the question of “How?”
Because in this question, we not only get a sense of just what God is capable of, but we also can be witnesses to just how God plans on changing the world. So, we must handle the process of wondering how God’s Love can enter our world in the first place. Even Mary who is being visited by an angel of God is fully cognizant of her physical limitations and what she has and has not done herself. And so it is natural for her to ask of the angel, “How can this be?” Which is a beautiful moment that allows us to come along side of Mary and be with her in the surprise of that moment. I guarantee you if an angel of God appeared to any one of us, especially some of us, and said that we would bear a child of God and we would name him Jesus, I think surprise might be the first of many emotions, and “How can this be?” might be our most muted response.
And while the physicality is important because God incarnate is important, the moment we fail to align ourselves with the One who is vitally important for us, God Incarnate, then we fail to see the Divine in each and every one of us. For we are, as the poem “If You Want” spoke of, midwives of God Incarnate in our lives. Each of us has within us the God-spark of our creation, something perhaps that has lied dormant for many years or for all time, but I guarantee you is there inside you. God calling you to be the hands and feet of God to our world, God calling you to beget love as God begat us. God calling us to, and looking down upon us with, favor at the time of our birth and throughout our lives. And while we do not have the birth pangs that Mary must have been experiencing at such a late stage in her pregnancy; we have pains of another kind that we fail to act upon.
We feel the tug of the Holy Spirit calling us to be more loving to one another and we ignore it. We feel the kick of the words of Jesus Christ, our Savior, calling us to be more just and to work for a society in which all God’s children can be loved…and we ignore it. We are out of breath and need to slow down and sit with God, to be present with our Almighty, to bask in the warmth of Love that comes from on high, and we would rather keep busy and gain wealth, or fame, or prestige, or power, or what have you. Our lips, our hands should burst with love for one another; but instead, we focus on separation, difference, and whatever “I” can use to keep “you” in a place of lowliness. And in response, perhaps our question for today gets reversed and thrown back at us when God asks us, “How can this be?” How can a creation I have loved and favored and birthed turn away so easily.
The second action in the question of “How?” describes how God will enter our world, how God will change our world, and how God will forever bring Love once more into our world. This is the act of us responding as Mary did when she trusted in the angel’s message and answered, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary might have questioned the physical nature of the Immaculate Conception, but as soon as she was told how it would happen, her next moment was an act of faith and trust in God. This is the answer to “How?” in terms of God’s Love returning to our world. We also must be people of trust and faith that while God’s will and action and love may be beyond our human understanding, it is in us and within us to be the hands and feet of that love to our world. We, in essence, are the “how” that will carry out the mission that God began through Jesus Christ. We are how God blesses the world when we use our abilities and the aforementioned God spark within us to be actors of hope and peace and joy and love.
And when Mary cries out in her Magnificat that we heard Julie read today and says that God has shown strength and scattered the proud, God has brought down the powerful and lifted the lowly, God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty, God has helped those who are God’s servants in remembrance of God’s promise of mercy and God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants forever; Mary is crying out in thanks to God for blessing her and the world with Jesus. But this cry of thankfulness at the magnificence of the Lord is an eternal cry to all generations to follow that we must be the ones who enact the “How?” and take the teachings and lessons and life of Jesus Christ and be that God Incarnate self we are to each other in our world.
Because this is the only way God’s Love which we are reminded of every Christmas, which we celebrate and remember this time of year, which we long for in our lives, will ever happen. God has chosen us to be the answer to the great question of “How?” Not because God cannot do it by God’s self, but because God chose for us to have the free will to either enact God’s will in the world and share love, or turn from our Incarnate God-spark and let the light fade. This places us as the ones with agency; again, we must be the “How!”
And so just as St John of the Cross reminds us, “If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, ‘I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.’” If you want you will see the “how?” of God’s love Incarnate within you as “under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever.” If you want you have within you the “how?” to change the world as God “grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”
Yes, dear pilgrim, the “how?” is within you, within your “sacred womb in your soul.” For indeed, “God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is God’s beloved servant never far.” So, if you want, God has already given you the “how,” God is calling you to the “how,” and when you answer and embrace the love that God burst forth into our world with that Christmas so long ago, you dear pilgrim live into the “how” God gave. For the Lord is with you, the Holy Spirit is within you, and the Most High loves you. May we then all answer just as Mary did and proclaim, we are the “how,” Amen!
 St John of the Cross, “If You Want,” From Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.
Rev. Tony Romaine
As we continue our journey through the Advent season this year and we explore the great questions which we are all taught from an early age, Who, What, Why, When, Where, and perhaps even How; today we reach the question of “What?” Specifically, what peace we should focus on during Advent. But because we should always have a definition to work from, according to Merriam Webster’s (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peace) dictionary, the definition of peace is:
See, the peace that we are being called to is a physical peace, but it is also a mental state where we can be happy and joyful and content; indeed peace-filled. At the same time, the peace that we are being called to as Christians is not a passive peace in which we merely wait for God’s eternal reign to come and then there will be peace. No, our peace must be one where we actively engage in our world and decide to be the peacemakers, just as Jesus came to teach us. Thus, our peace calls us to be discontent with the ills of our world and to work for change. So, as we further define the “what” the peace of Advent, of God, of Jesus Christ is calling us to, let us dive into exploring the concepts of content and discontent.
Peace is a state of being content when we realize and recognize that our God is always with us and we are going to be okay. Just as the hymn we sang a few minutes ago reminds us, we are to take comfort in God. Peace is a state of contentment when we listen to Scriptures like 2 Peter that tell us how God is playing the long game and our years amongst all of God’s creation is like a drop in the bucket. Peace is also knowing that even though I am only one of seven billion people God knows me and every part of me and longs for the best for me.
Peace is also knowing that because of free will, some things of our world are going to happen which are not within my control. Peace is being content in how God made me, how God uses me, and the future God has planned for me. And being content is also trusting and being at peace with not knowing every little bit of my future. Peace is content when we have bad days or good days, when things go our way or do not go our way. We are content when we do as the Psalmist asks of us and turn our hearts toward God and then we will be at peace.
And yet in order to truly define the “what” of what God’s peace is calling us to, we must also be discontent. In a very basic way, we must be discontent when others cannot live at peace; or be content themselves. We are called by the life and teachings of Jesus to be discontent when society does not allow others to live in peace. We are called by the life and teachings of Jesus to be discontent when the laws of our world do not allow for peace. We are called to be discontent when others cannot live into who God made them to be, where God made them to be, what God made them to be. We must be discontent when the love that God longs for all God’s children is held back from all God’s children. We are called to be discontent when the peace that we enjoy cannot be enjoyed by all the world. We are called to be discontent when there are still those in this world who do not know of the love of God. We must be discontent until that one fine day when all will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and washed in the waters of eternal glory.
See, the “what” of peace is indeed one of being content and discontent. And yet there is another part to our “what” for today too; the great question that we must all ask ourselves, “What does God’s peace look like for me?” Yet, I would ask another question too, “In what ways must I move from being content to being discontent and from being discontent to being content?” Or in other words, “What is it I need to do less of to live into God’s peace, and what do I need to do more of to bring about God’s peace?”
This is the true “what” that our God is calling us to during the Advent season. We are a people who have been, and still are, on an extra-ordinary journey this year. We have had to experience things in one year that the world has not seen for a hundred years. And in this season where we remember that God burst forth into the world to bring about peace, we are ourselves wondering what peace truly looks like or even means. But in this manner, we must be reminded that for the Lord one day is indeed like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. And so, while we are waiting for the peace which comes through Christ to come once again, we must believe in the “what” that God’s peace will bring about.
We must trust in God and whatever our days hold and we will indeed be in a state of tranquility or quiet. We must work for peace in the communities we live in, within the families we are a part of, within the places we call home and the places we go. For then we will all be able to join in the peace that is provided for by law or custom. Not the laws of the state per se, but the Eternal Commandments to love God and love one another.
You must be happy when you look in the mirror and see the wonderful creation God made in you, when you see the places God has led you, when you see how God works in and through you and then you indeed will be at peace, free from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.
And when you see that others around you cannot live in this way, when you see how divided our world is and how hate-filled some corners of creation are; extend a hand, make a call, speak out in your corner and work for God’s love to shine. For then we will all be at peace and be able to live in harmony in personal relations.
And when all seems lost, or the world seems too big to change, or life seems to be spinning out of control, or you just cannot look in the mirror for the sins you hold onto hold you back; remember the One who came who baptizes with Holy Spirit, remember the One who came to be the Peace of our world, remember the One who came to forgive you and to be your stillness in the storm, your peace and calm; the One who came to remind you just how loved you are, and be content that God was so discontent with the world that He sent Jesus to bring about peace. What an amazing “what” of peace that is, Amen!