Christmas I

The famous Prologue of John’s Gospel we have just heard this morning is read twice during Christmas season: One time on Christmas Day, and one time on the first Sunday after Christmas. Actually, you would even hear it three times if you’d attend a midnight Christmas Eve service, this Gospel would be the last lesson, read right after the celebration of the Eucharist to conclude worship. So we hear it for the last time today, and I think it’s beautiful that it is also a day we’re going to bless a child, as this Gospel reminds us that, in Jesus the Son of God, we are all called to become children of God as well. We may not understand everything about this Prologue the first time we hear it, or maybe not even the second or third time, and maybe we don’t even understand it after having heard it a hundred times, and yet, its truth resonates in our hearts, we think it’s beautiful. And so I would say that even if we don’t understand all of it, as we perceive its beauty, we get it nonetheless. God loves us as parents love, or are meant to, love their children. We are the same joy, the same pride, the same anxiety to God as our children are to us. We are loved with the same love, a love that is extravagant, unconditional and everlasting. I guess we could say that this passage of the Gospel is the Gospel in a nutshell, what the Gospel is all about is telling us we are children of God, and meditating on this simple truth would be enough for today, and maybe it would be enough for a Christmas season, maybe enough for a lifetime, maybe enough for eternity. And yet. Yet, as I was preparing the sermon about this text everybody gets but nobody truly understands, including preachers and including myself, I realized that our lectionary invites us to look more deeply into what it means to be a child of God by offering us another perspective about what being or having a child may be, a perspective that is not our 21st century experience, but the perspective of another author of the First century – Paul, Paul who is believed to have sent his Epistle to the Galatians maybe as much as fifty years before John’s Gospel was completed.

What did it mean to be a child in the first century? Contrarily to what we often assume, I think people loved their children as much at that time as we love them now – Maybe they didn’t dote on them or spoil them the way we sometimes do, but they knew what it meant to love a child unconditionally and extravagantly. Yet at the time, being a child meant also something that we generally don’t think about anymore today, and we can find this meaning in the Letter to the Galatians. In the first century, being a child (in a household) meant that you were not a slave. Being a child meant that you were not a slave. And I think having in mind this understanding shines a new light on John’s Gospel. Jesus came into the world, in a very specific world, the world of the Roman Empire where the people of God had lost their freedom, and Jesus came to set the people free. The law Paul talks about that “imprisons” may be specifically the religious law, but more widely, the law also symbolizes for Paul the way of the world, things that are and cannot be changed, the social order and all the things that oppress people. I think it can still speak to us today each time we find ourselves being only agents of other people’s will and whim and maybe also when we are enslaved by our own fears or addictions. We need to be reminded that Christ came to let us be our own person, the person God created us to be, not the person other people want us to be. In John’s Prologue, we are taught that God breaks through into our world with power and brings us power, but it’s another form of power than the power of this world, it’s not the power to control or dominate things or people, but it’s the power to be God’s child, the power to be free and to live authentically. And so, to be a child means much more than being loved, even if it’s wonderful to be loved, but being loved is not just about being protected and defended at the risk of being doted on or being spoiled. In the New Testament, when we are called a child, we are made an heir as Paul puts it, which means: We have a future, we are part of something bigger; we have hope, we will be rewarded; we have a dignity, we can expect and claim respect. We are not slaves to anyone or anything. Which means also: we have no right to consider any other beings as our slaves. In Christ, we are all children. It’s not about our ability to confess that Jesus is our Savior, it is about what God has shown to us in Jesus: Telling us who we are and what we are made for, and living our lives according to this truth.

So how do we do that? How do we get the “Power to become children of God”? Well, one of the things that really struck me as I was reading maybe for the hundredth time this passage of John is that God’s power is represented by his word, and John insists that the word was there in the beginning. I have a sense that most of the time, we assume that at the beginning of something there is always silence. Silence when our world came into being, silence as the child grows in the womb, silence inside of us when we get hurt, silence when we’re in shock, silence when we hear bad or great news– Well, maybe I see things like that because I am an introvert!

But the assumption for us is that at the beginning, nothing is clear, known or sure, when what the Scriptures tell us is that, from the beginning, there is meaning, there is expression, there is intention. And this is what the power of God is: Not chaos, but meaning, expression and intention. Spirituality today is so much about silence! Everywhere I look, I see spiritual gurus who say we need a break, we need to still ourselves, we need to listen. And I agree this is needed, but it is often just the basis of spirituality for busy people overwhelmed with their crazy lives. The Gospel invites us to a spirituality richer than just being still when, as children of God, we have, as Christ had, the power to break the silence. Jesus came into the world as the word and broke the silence at the time of the Roman Empire. Jesus broke the silence about those we were left out and despised by the authorities. Jesus broke the silence about who God truly was. It’s not that we are all called to become prophets or political activists. Speaking up is not only, not mainly, about being loud on the public square (but more likely just on Facebook). Speaking up is about telling the truth, and that can happen also even if you speak softly. Speaking up is not about being loud, it is about not letting unsaid things that demand to be said.

And so, as children of God, we have the power, and maybe also the duty, to break the silence because silence is not always a spiritual thing, silence can be destructive when we don’t acknowledge the evil that is going on in the world or when we remain confused and lost about what’s going on in our lives because we cannot confront certain realities. As a foreigner, I can tell you that not having the words can make you feel very powerless! More deeply, we know that traumas happen not so much when we have bad experiences, but when we have bad experiences we cannot name or discuss about, that’s when we are crushed by what happens to us, and this is what therapy tries to reverse: By putting words were there were no word, we bring understanding in difficult and sometimes terrible situations. When the word comes to us, we have the power to give meaning, expression, intention, where there were shame, confusion and inertia, we have the power to communicate and as we communicate we are brought back into communion with our deeper self, with God and with one another, and this indeed gives us life and sets us free, moves us from being the slaves, the voiceless, the possessed, to become the beloved children.

So maybe this year, we can think about what needs to be said – not just hoping for things to work themselves out as we sometimes do. It can demand a lot of courage sometimes to say the most simple things. But it’s very interesting and important that John acknowledges that, reminding us that Jesus, as bearer of truth, life and light, was also rejected. It makes us aware of the risks we take and the difficulties we may encounter around us when we become a follower of Christ who chooses to speak the truth, it also can make us aware of our inner resistances to the truth. Most of the time those resistances are difficult to spot because it can be just the way we choose our comfort and our routine over a life lived more authentically. But when New Year shows up, we all long for change and wonder how our lives could be improved. Well, I think the Gospel is here to tell us that it’s only once things have been named, that we can figure them out and discover how we need to act and to change, and that’s only when a new reality can take place and this is really all about the coming of Christ into our world and into our lives: Things can change, we can change. We are not slaves anymore. Being a child of God, being close to the Father’s heart is not mainly about being in God’s good books, it’s about, as Paul puts it, having: “The Spirit of his Son in our hearts crying out”. So may we all bring the Word into our own world this year. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Good afternoon and Merry Christmas!

It’s a privilege to share this very special time of the year with you today! I hope this Christmas will be as beautiful and happy as you wish it to be; whatever it is that you enjoy the most about Christmas, I hope you will find it! And there is for all a special something we may long for…I was reminded of that a few days ago as I have a friend who, instead of posting family pictures on Facebook, uses to send “conversations starters”. And so a few days ago, he asked all his friends what they loved the best about the Christmas traditions. As you can imagine, he got a lot of responses, very diverse: Some mentioned the carols of course, some mentioned the family meal, others talked about the presents, I talked about the creche, a woman playfully responded: “The best tradition about Christmas? I think it’s Jesus!”. But at any rate, everybody had something to say about what made Christmas special to them.

I am telling you that because I thought it was great to see so many people being excited about the holiday, because the thing is I’ve recently also heard a lot of people saying that this year, it was more difficult for them to be in the spirit of Christmas. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that this year they felt that their hearts were not really in the holiday. And they all had good reasons why. Some of them were going through personal crisis, mainly broken relationships, but I’ve heard also a lot of people, including clergy, saying that it was harder for them to enjoy Christmas because they had a sense that the world is really not doing well and there is a lot of concerns about the future: climate change, economic recession, the way we have been treating one another in our society, you name it… And so actually I thought that maybe my friend asked this question about what we love about Christmas because he too had a sense of general gloom and so, in the midst of all what weigh us down, he would help us be in touch with a little of Christmas’ magic by reminding us how enjoyable it is. He made me think of my dad who told me a long time ago: “There is always something magical about Christmas, always. And it happens no matter what, no matter how much we mess it up”. I think it’s right, there is always something to enjoy about Christmas, no matter what. And as we gather for our service, maybe we can take a few minutes to go deeper and try to understand what this magic is all about.

What is the magic all about? Well, I recently went for the first time to see a performance by a magician. And one thing that I noticed and thought was really fascinating is that the magic always happens in a setting that is very ordinary. Actually, as the show unfolds, the magician keeps on insisting that everything is ordinary. He keeps saying: We stand on an ordinary scene, I am surrounded by ordinary people, I hold in my hand an ordinary box and so on…But suddenly, as the magician moves on the scene, asks questions to the people or opens the box, something incredible happens: The magician starts levitating or he can guess what people are thinking or he opens the formerly empty box and there is a bouquet of roses in it. And that’s what the performance is about. If you go and see the Nutcracker, it’s extraordinary from beginning to end but you cannot say it’s magical. Real magic comes out of the ordinary. Real magic is when something completely unexpected comes out from the most trivial reality. The thing is, this is also true in the world of the Gospel, especially in the Gospel we have today.

We have gotten so used to the Christmas story that it is hard for us sometimes to realize what was really happening on that night, but if we listen closer today, we will realize that it is all very ordinary to start with. Joseph and Mary were heading on a journey they probably didn’t want to take. They had to go to Bethlehem to complete an administrative errand, register for taxes purpose. It is about 100 miles to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, certainly not something you want to do when you’re nine months pregnant, especially if you have to ride a donkey. Then, they could not find a comfortable place to stay, and if they found shelter, they still had to share with the cattle, which is unlikely the best place to deliver your first born. We can romanticize their poverty, but if you’ve ever had to ride three buses to go wait in line at the DMV or if you’ve ever been stuck overnight in an airport with a sick child, you already have a very good sense of what they were going through. The Gospel today is about ordinary lives with their daily anxieties, and yet, yet in the midst of them, this is where God is manifested. I guess for most of us, we see spirituality and holiness as something far away and difficult to reach. But the Gospel tells us that we don’t have to live in a perfect world to find the divine, we don’t need to abstract ourselves from the stress, the difficulties and sometimes the pain of this life to encounter the divine, this is in the very midst of ordinary life that God comes to us. And to me, this is what the magic is all about.

In the dark days of the Roman Empire, when the people of Israel were oppressed and crushed with taxes: That’s when Jesus decided to be born. And so I think it should give us hope too when our lives are not perfect, and even in those times when our world can seem darker than it used to be. This is the promise of the prophet Isaiah: A great light comes, for those who lived in deep darkness. The great light does not come for those who found their way to the light, if you notice. The light comes for those who live in deep darkness. And so, we can have hope, because the Gospel does not happen in some fantastic scenery that is out of reach. The Gospel happens in the real world with all that’s in it. I read recently something beautiful written by the African theologian Jean-Marc Éla that sounded to me very true. He said: “The world of the Gospel is the world of hunger, of wealthiness and injustice, of disease and exclusion, the world of death and slavery. And yet, this is is this world that God is manifested.” The world of the Gospel is our own world, our very ordinary and sometimes very dark world, and this is in this world that God is manifested. Not in heavens, but here on earth. With us.

So what difference does it make, and how God is manifested in our world today? Well, we often say that Christmas night was very quiet, and some find it amusing because most babies are everything but very quiet. But what we mean when we say it’s quiet is that we have to pay attention. The sign, according to the angels, is a baby wrapped in bands of cloth, laid in a manger. Nothing but very ordinary. And yet, it makes all the difference because it’s about love, and love makes it all worthy. I don’t have any child of my own, but I met a lot of moms in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of them happy about the process of giving birth and yet, never I have ever heard one of them say that they should never have had their children because delivery was too painful. It would seem absurd to say such a thing, wouldn’t it? Of course, it’s worth it. And so, maybe this journey was the worst for Joseph and Mary and yet it turned into something so wonderful for the love manifested in their baby. If you have ever really loved someone, you know that already. Being with those you love makes it all worth it. It does not mean that suffering is part of the plan. It means that there is something bigger than our suffering that is worth living for, and it is the love of God and the love for each other, and if you think about it, this is all what Jesus’s life and teaching will be about: Showing us the love of God and teaching us to love one another.

So maybe when the times seem more difficult, this is the call we have to answer: loving God and loving each other even more, so we can be brave enough to face the pain, the disappointments and the anxieties. We’re not on our own. God is with us. Jesus came to show us the love of God and to teach us to love one another, he still does and we can rely on him. Christmas means that God is with us and so it’s the end of loneliness as we have always known it. Is it divine irony or sense of humor, I don’t know, but I love it that, as Luke notices, Jesus was born during the first census that ever happened in human history. As the Romans were counting the people, it is as if God said to them: Count me in. Count me in also, I want to be a part of this. Count me in, I want to be part of history and I want to be a part of everyone’s story. So count me in. And as you count me in, they will be able to count on me: to love, to comfort, to strengthen, to liberate. This was at least Isaiah’s promises and we are witnesses of how those promises have been fulfilled in Jesus. As followers of Christ, it is our turn to make them come to life around us. “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness in the world” wrote L.R Knost “All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

Amen and Merry Christmas to all!

Advent III

It’s nice to be here on this 3rd Sunday of Advent! We’re almost there and, as we come closer to Christmas, our liturgy reminds us to “rejoice”. This Sunday is known as “Gaudete Sunday”, the Sunday of joy, and this is why we light a pink candle instead of a purple one this week. We take a break from the spirit of repentance to remember the joy it is to know that the Savior is coming. I don’t know if there is a specific reason why we chose pink, I am not sure it is widely acknowledged as the color of joy, but of course it makes me think of the song: “La vie en rose”, where Edith Piaf sings that, because she has found love, the whole world around her seems to be colored in pink. It’s interesting because I read recently in an article that “La vie en rose” is not only a romantic idea, but it could be a scientific fact: When you’re in love, the chemistry of your brain is changed and your eyes see colors differently. Of course, you don’t see everything pink, but your vision is somewhat changed and you see the world in a softer light. Well, we know that already, don’t we? We certainly see the world differently whether we’re happy or unhappy. When we have joy inside, everything seems more joyful around us, or at least, we find reasons to hope. When we’re unhappy, the whole world around us can seem like a depressing place. And we can experience that during the holiday season. All the festive activity around us may appear in a sad light as we deal with our own issues with our family, our health, our money, if we feel we lack something or someone to live for.

And so, this is very wise that our liturgy reminds us to rejoice, with the pink candle but also with our readings from the Bible. From Isaiah to Zephaniah to Paul, the same chorus resonate in our church today: “Inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy”, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart”, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice”. The theologian Henri Nouwen offers an interesting reflection about joy. He says that happiness is this feeling that comes from the outside: We pursue happiness, because we think happiness is something we can find in the world. This is quite typical of what we do at Christmas: we seek for good food, nice presents, pleasant company. That’s what happiness is about. Joy, on the other side says Nouwen, comes from the inside. It is something that only God can give us, something that shines out of the darkness of our deep self, as the light of this candle shines through the night.

I was reminded of that last week as I attended a baptist funeral. A lady sang a solo, and her voice and the words of the hymn were so full of sorrow, but suddenly it turned into something so beautiful, it was filled with hope and joy, a hope and joy that came out of a deep place of mourning and pain. No matter how dark the world around us, when God gives us joy we can see the world differently, maybe not colored in pink, but we see it in the light of faith, hope and love, and it changes everything. Like the voice of this lady who was singing this hymn, we can find within ourselves something that is stronger than all the pain, something that helps us to carry on living, something that may be stronger than death itself: We find joy.

Now how does this happen? “Rejoice”, you know it can be just a word after all. Is joy something that is really in our power to make happen, especially when we go through depression or mourning or maybe experience sickness, poverty or loneliness? And if it is God who gives us joy, what can we do to receive it?

I must say I had a hard time pondering those questions, until I paid closer attention to our Gospel today. At first, this Gospel seems to be out of place for a Gaudete Sunday. Luke concludes from John the Baptist’s words that he was “proclaiming the good news to the people”, but his calling them a “brood of vipers”, his prophesying a “baptism of fire” and his injunctions to repent and change habits seem hardly good news. And yet. Yet as I think about it, there is a strong correlation between his message and the invitation we have today to rejoice because there is a correlation between joy and action. Joy leads us to action, and action leads us to joy. One of the best definitions of happiness I’ve heard in my life was by the philosopher Spinoza. He wrote centuries ago that happiness is about enjoying to be who we are. True happiness is the joy of being oneself. And he said, it’s not only about human beings. We only have to look at the playfulness of our pets or even of wild animals to know it’s true. The panther knows how to run and therefore she rejoices when she runs. The bird can sing beautifully and rejoices in singing. As human beings, we have many different abilities as a specie but also as individuals and we rejoice when we use our gifts and do what we know how to do: the athlete enjoy exercising, the cook enjoys cooking, the writer enjoys writing.

But it’s not only about physical or intellectual activities, and this is where I think John nails it. It’s about the abilities of our hearts. God has given us extensive abilities to love, God has basically created us for the mere purpose of loving, and we have to use our hearts to be happy. We are sons and daughters of God, not only children of Abraham, and we are made of stone, we have hearts of flesh. So we need to love, concretely, and that’s what John the Baptist encourages the crowds to do. It’s not new to us that we are called to change. We can hear calls to change everyday in our society, changes that will bring us happiness: Buy a new car, find a new love, make a new trip. But not only those changes seem often out of reach, we know also that in the end, we don’t find the happiness they were supposed to bring. With John, it’s much more simple. John invites the people to open themselves to generosity, to live faithfully their daily lives, to not take advantage of the little power they may have over people. John invites the crowd to open their hearts. Our heart is a muscle, we have to use it. By using them, we literally enjoy ourselves, rejoice in being children of God. On the other side, lack of happiness is often paralyzing. When I am sad, there is nothing I want to do. We often say when we have depression that: “Our heart is not in it”, and that’s very true. If we’re depressed in the season, maybe the best way to rejoice would be to find a little something to do, a little something to start with that helps make our hearts feel alive. John does not invite the crowd to linger on their sins, their shame, their guilt. As he invites them to repentance, he asks them to bear fruit, to be active, to do something. And he teaches that we don’t need to do things that are very complicated. I have two friends in a retirement house who are very limited physically, but one of them write cards everyday to the people she knows, and the other one has made it her mission to welcome newcomers in her community and has lunch with each one of them. Maybe these two older ladies cannot do much, but they use their hearts and their hearts are alive and you can tell they rejoice when they talk about their “ministries”. John invites us to give our coat not because we are bad people who need to learn how to behave, John invites us to give our coat because it will bring us more joy than our selfishness – not the joy of being a good person who does the right thing, but the joy of making other people happy.

A few days ago, I was coming back from DC to my home in Arlington and I missed a street where I was supposed to turn to get back on 395, and suddenly I found myself at 5pm stuck in heavy traffic downtown. I was feeling very frustrated and also angry at myself for not having paid closer attention to what I was doing. And then, as I was bitterly sitting through traffic, I saw this homeless lady coming to me. As I handed her a five dollars bill, she said to me: “I am so happy you’re here, it’s been half an hour nobody gave me a dollar, I think I am going to cry”. I thought I was going to cry. Suddenly, I found myself so happy I was on the wrong way, stuck in traffic, so I could help this woman. Her joy made me happy. Meeting one another made both of us happy, we rejoiced in each other over something that was really not much: a five dollar bill. We hear a lot in the Christmas season than the joy should be more in the giving than in the receiving, but to me, the joy is in the sharing. The joy is in the sharing as we care for each other and we experience the goodness of God in the midst of us. And that’s exactly what a church community is supposed to be.

The best definition I’ve ever heard of holiness was by a poet, not by a theologian. And this poet said: Holiness is the ability to be joyful. So let’s train our hearts to give and receive the joy in each other and let us rejoice in God because God, as holiest one, is the first to rejoice and God rejoices in us: “He rejoices in us with gladness” as Zephaniah puts it. Amen.

Advent II

As I was preparing for this service, it felt difficult to remember that we are still at the beginning of Advent when Christmas seems already just around the corner, in just a little more than two weeks from now! Yet today, we have just lit the second candle, and we are asked not to rush and to take our time with the Scriptures. We are indeed at the beginning: The beginning of our liturgical year, as we start a new cycle, leaving Mark’s Gospel for Luke’s, we’re also at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel (We’re in Chapter 3, but it is believed by most scholars that this is where Luke started his redaction and that he added the nativity later). And so we find ourselves at the beginning of everything, at the root, in the desert with John, who, as he announces the coming of Christ, reminds us of our baptism, the beginning of our Christian journeys.

This past week, I was reading a book interestingly called “The unhappy secrets of Christian life” (I picked it because I was intrigued by the title) and the author, Philip Yancey, tells about his years in college and how he struggled with the Christian faith in different ways and one of the stories that he tells really struck me. One day, he invited one of his non believer friends to a reunion with other Christians, hoping to convince him to join his church. The meeting was actually a discussion about what the Christian faith had best to offer, and everyone shared their points of view. Some of the Christians said that, because of our belief in the resurrection of the dead, only our faith can offer real hope (the response I usually give!), some others talked about happiness, peace, social justice and so on…But Philip Yancey’s friend did not say anything and so, at the end of the meeting, Yancey asked him what he thought. That’s when his friend told him that he was very surprised to hear all those people talking about their faith as if it gave them something that made them superiors to others. He said: “I thought that what makes you a Christian is that you acknowledge that you are a sinner!”

I thought that what makes you a Christian is that you acknowledge that you are a sinner!”. Not hope, not happiness, not peace, not social justice. The only difference between us and non-Christians is that we admit that we are sinners, not better than anyone else. And that’s it. And it sounds very true to me. The Christian journey starts with a baptism of repentance, an acknowledgment before men and women and before God, that we are all sinners. And that’s exactly where we are today, right there, at the beginning, in the desert with John the Baptist.

So what does it mean, to acknowledge that we are sinners?

Well, I think for most of us, most of the time, we think about sin as a breaking of the rules. From our childhood, we are taught we need to obey our parents, our teachers, to conform to a certain way of behaving in society, to follow the highway code…And there is certainly some breaking of the rules involved when we sin. Yet I think that more deeply, for John the Baptist, the awareness of our sinfulness is something that starts way before, in the desert, where very likely there are few rules one needs to obey since there is no human society. I was actually in the desert recently, I went to see the Grand Canyon for the first time last weekend, and as we were driving in the desert, I could sense growing inside of me a feeling of awe and fear at the same time. I think the desert is a place that is very humbling because it makes us realize how small and dependent we are, how much we need to rely on God to create for us what we need for our lives and how much we depend on others to provide for us what we need for our lives. John the Baptist proclaims that: “Valley are filled and mountains are made low” because the desert brings all of us to level surface, to our basic needs, to our reality as human beings, human bodies in need of water, food and shelter – and bathroom stops…Indeed, nobody is better than any one else! But the thing is, there is so much we take for granted all the time. We forget we are nothing without God, without the generosity of nature and our relationships with one others. We keep forgetting our neediness. When I was a teenager, I thought that, by inviting God into my life, I would make so much progress that at some point I’ll be okay and do all things right! But as you can guess, as I added years to my life, I realized I would never be “fixed” if by that I meant I could do without God’s forgiveness. This is the paradox of religious life: At some point we believe that we can be so religious, and therefore so perfect, that we don’t need anyone, not even God! This is typically what the Pharisees were doing. But if we don’t want to be a Pharisee, we have constantly to go back to the wilderness to realize how incomplete we are without God and without one another.

And so during Advent we are invited to remember. To remember that we need God, and to get ready to receive God in our lives. Now how does it look like?

Well, I don’t know how it is for you but I think that, for most of us, when we prepare to receive a special guest, we spend a lot of time cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s nice to make an effort, but sometimes it’s exhausting. It happened to me several times to spend so much energy on the cooking and the cleaning that when my guests finally showed up, the only thing I wanted to do was to go to bed! This is ridiculous because when I am invited by friends I never think: “I hope it’s clean at their place” or “I hope they have prepared this complicated French recipe”. All I wish is that they will be happy to see me, that we will have enough to eat and drink even if it’s not very sophisticated, and all I wish is that we can share stories and have a good time. Well, I think that one thing that the Gospel teaches us is that it is with us as it is with God. Jesus did not come on earth and God does not visit us expecting everything will be clean and we have prepared something very sophisticated. What the Gospel teaches us is that God came among us to eat, drink, and share stories, to be with us and to be one of us, to be in fellowship. The preparation we are asked to do in Advent is not a spring (or a winter) cleaning, remembering all our sins and cultivating a guilty conscience. Our preparation in Advent is the preparation of a joyful heart, like when you start getting excited because you are going to be visited by someone you love. This is true for Advent, but of course it is mostly an image for how we are supposed to live our lives: Like there is something good to be expected, like there is somebody very special to meet with along the way, and to be reunited with in the end.

It’s interesting, if you think about it, that John does not so much ask people to find the way, or to find their way. This is often the thing we wish for though: that we may find our way. But for John, it’s about making a way, making a path, in the desert, where often there is no road at all! It’s a good image for our lives. We can’t wish to know exactly what is good, right, what the perfect life is, but we can all do something, keep going because there is this hope that somebody will meet us on the road and that it will give sense to everything. All of us, we experience things that don’t make sense at all and this is the reality of evil. It should not be, and so there is no good reason for it. Yet, in spite of evil, our lives still have meaning because this is by living our lives, making our ways, that we meet with God. Maybe you have experienced that when meeting your spouse or when you had your children: you experienced you could finally love your life because every step on the way led you to be with those special people.

Well, once again, I think it is the same with God. We look back at what happened to us, and all can or will make sense because our lives are the ways that lead us to God: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth”. We find in the Scriptures this wonderful promise that our lives are worth it, no matter how twisted or how painful they are, because as Isaiah said a long time ago: “All flesh shall see the salvation of our God”. How much different our perspective on our whole lives would be if this truth really could really sink in: “All flesh will see the salvation of our God”.

Because in the end, of course, the thing is: it is more about God finding us than we finding God. I think that what Luke tells us is mostly that, if the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness, God can find us anywhere. No matter the way we take, there is always a way for God, even when there is no way at all. Maybe today we feel in our hearts that we have been too hurt to believe in God, or maybe we think that we have hurt too many people to interest God. But the Gospel and our service of healing remind us that there is no obstacle for God: valley and mountain are both alike, we are all on our way and we can trust that God’s grace will meet us wherever we are. And this is what accepting our sinfulness and receiving forgiveness could look like. After all, it is only the beginning of our journeys. Amen.