09 Dec ‘I hear you’
The Rev. John C. Brink
Dec. 9, 2018
When I was a kid growing up in Gary, Indiana, Christmas was not necessarily “the most wonderful time of the year.” When I was 1-1/2 and my dad was 36, he died just after Christmas, after being sick with nephritis, a kidney ailment that is usually taken care of today by antibiotics or dialysis.
My mother was left to carry on, earning a living to support us, and take care of my two older sisters – 3 and 5 years old at the time – and me. From that day forward, I was left with only stories of my dad, who was a surgeon and a professional musician, playing with legends like Hoagie Carmichael and Paul Whiteman.
I can’t even imagine what that first Christmas must have been like for my mother, who her grandkids called Mimi. But I do remember what childhood Christmases were like for our little family. I can recall getting a sad feeling as December rolled around.
From my little kid perspective, I knew there wouldn’t be too many presents under the tree, because Mimi worked full time just to provide us the daily necessities. I’d probably be getting some things I needed, but not much that I really hoped for. When I got a little older, I learned to keep my sadness to myself because I didn’t want to make Mimi feel any worse than she already did. The sadness that I felt around Christmastime as a kid still creeps in, even today.
And yet – what some call the Gospel in two words – and yet…
In our gospel lesson today, we hear the words of Isaiah the prophet assuring us that thanks to the Lord our God, “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” I didn’t know it as a little kid, but as an older kid I got an inkling of this promise at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
Mimi was a devout Catholic and led my sisters and me to a strong faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ. We always loved Christmas Eve Mass. I was an altar boy. I truly loved serving in Mass. I loved that time with my family, which seemed to begin filling the hole in my heart that Santa couldn’t fill. My life growing up in the Catholic Church surely led me and assures me to this day. Mimi was pretty clear about the value of faith in our lives. She was willing to let me leave the Catholic church for the UCC. She said, “It’s not the building – it’s what’s in you, with Jesus.”
In our Scripture from Luke this morning, John tells us the story of the word of God coming to him in so many ways. Most noted is his time in the wilderness … full of darkness and quiet. He went to the towns and strongly proclaimed the baptism of repentance for “We are to prepare the way of the Lord … who is coming to us as the salvation of God.” Of course, everyone wondered, “Who are you, and who is this you proclaim to be the salvation of God?” They thought he was possessed by evilness.
This lesson is always interesting, as we wonder, what was John doing in the desert? How did he live?
There are many such deserts in our world and in our lives. Sand and barrenness, or, here in New England, forest and trees: Fun to walk among them, as long as you know where you are and where you are going.
There are other deserts as well. Sickness and addictions. Sadness and depression and many more. The desert, the wilderness, whatever you call it, can separate us from the light of the day and light of our lives.
After my father’s death, it took me a while to find my way out. I will always be sad that he was unable to come out of the wilderness of his illness. And yet, he was strong, and loved and helped my mother to his last day. Mimi told me about the last few days of my dad’s life.
They lived across the street from the hospital where he was a surgeon. One day, he made a decision to admit himself to the hospital, fairly certain he would not return. He left their house to walk across the street to the hospital. He stopped at the end of the walkway, turned and waved, and blew her a kiss. She said she, in many ways, spent that time in their home folding up the dreams and memories of their marriage and tucking them away. He died three days later.
I am thankful I heard a voice like John heard in the desert. I’m thankful for my amazing mother, who cared for us even as she lost and grieved the love of her life. She heard the voice of God’s assurance that she could make her way with my sisters and me, if she went slowly and carefully, one step at a time. She did just that. She was amazing indeed. I miss her.
Mimi had a prayer life that helped her, and eventually us. Most nights, we prayed the rosary and said prayers aloud. She taught us how to hear the word of God and Jesus and trust and move forward … one step at a time. Mimi lived to 93 – 58 years after she lost her husband and we lost our dad. Mimi was my voice in my desert so often when I cried out, “I want my dad … why don’t I have a dad?” She taught me how to pray for peace and hear the word of God to assure me that dad was okay, and we would be okay as well.
Yes, we were handling some dreadful pain, and yet … we made our way from the desert, searching for and hearing the voice of God, to assure us and lead us to a full life, strongly secured by our faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ.
Each night, my prayer now is with my mother and father and Jesus, giving thanks for our lives and our trust in God, as our creator and protector, and yes, our father. As a kid, I first thought the Lord’s Prayer was a prayer to our dad. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
My mother gave me my dad’s dress watch which he received when he graduated from Indiana University Medical School in 1942. I wear it only for the most special occasions and I love to say, “My dad keeps watch on me.” I am certain he does, and now along with my mother, since her death in 2006.
Where do we, where do you, hear the voice of God, the word of God, calling you or maybe responding to you in the desert? Our prayer groups are a wonderful way to center ourselves and join others in the walk with Jesus in both the brightness and the darkness of our lives. We pray together and then we can pray alone.
Prayer — calling to God and listening for the word of God — is a strengthening and assuring touchstone in the walkways of our lives. Music, too, can help us to settle down and be in peaceful time with God and Jesus Christ.
Silent reflection is another way to step back from the noise and distractions of the world and be in a place of peace and quiet with Jesus. I am happy and lucky to walk a 2-1/2 to 3-mile pathway along a marsh and river in Scituate almost every day, if I plan right and just do it.
I can be in total silence, warmed by the sun and stopping at different places to offer my prayers and listen for the word of God. I am so into it, I might forget where I am or what was bothering me that day. I can even forget my lingering Christmas sadness. I love this time, and Betsy and I share it on the weekends.
John the Baptist called the people then and us now to expect more, and to look for a God who makes a way through the wilderness. There were so many in Isaiah’s day that must have made the best of life in Exile. We can only imagine.
God does not call for the status quo, but for us to strive to be people of love, care, and change – to be the ones to help others and ourselves out of the wilderness of life that can be devastating, at times.
Truly, we are companions in life. In each other, we meet Jesus on the road of life.
Jesus cannot be explained as the next chapter of humanity. His birth to a virgin named Mary (which, by the way, is my mother’s name) is the most amazing gift, from a gracious God and Father, we might seek and receive over the Christmas celebration of Life.
The gospels tell us that knowing where this priceless gift came from, who His people were, isn’t really going to help us know the Life and Truth and Love of Jesus.
And yet…if we want to know about Jesus, we have to listen for the voice of one calling from the wilderness, and then be prepared to meet Him on the road. He is there for us, as we make our way from days and times of darkness and wilderness to days of brightness, wonder, and joy.
Will you pray with me?
Lord Jesus, even though, in our sin and waywardness, we sometimes cannot find a way to You, we give thanks that in Your Love, You find a way to us.
Help us in our daily lives, in ways large and small, to turn and return to You. Help us to hear one and one another.
Show us how in the ways we live our lives, in the ways we relate to others, particularly those in need…we can show the world our joy at knowing the Good News of Christmas:
That you have come to us and shown us how to come to You. A gift beyond our human value.