First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
December 10, 2017 – Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 1:5-15, 18-20
Sermon: “Paradox of Christmas Blue”
During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zachariah. His wife was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”
But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”
I invite you to pray with me the prayer of paradox:
We have more conveniences, but less time. More knowledge, but less judgment. More medicines, but less wellness. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We have learnt how to make a living, but not a life. We have added years to life, but not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back. But have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We have conquered outer space, but not inner space. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted our soul. We’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice. These are the times of more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are the days of paradox—how do we respond? Amen
I invite you to contemplate the paradox of blue.
Long ago in my twenties, a friend of a friend of a friend invited me on a very unusual excursion. Most would have declined the offer, but back then, I was obsessed with a little island off the shores of San Francisco—known as “The Rock,” or Alcatraz. The invitation was to spend 24 hours in a locked cell. Does that not sound awesome?!
To this day, when I think about the paradox of the color blue, what comes to mind is the blue of a sky taunting a prisoner—the eyes can see the blue sky, but the body is confined to a cold gray cell. Freedom is so close but so far away.
The paradox of blue.
A paradox is a seeming contradiction that is beyond the “normal” way of thinking. To be able to see pelicans fly unconstrained across a blue sky may seem peaceful to one sitting freely on a beach, but to a prisoner, the sight stirs anguish.
The four weeks leading to Christmas, known as Advent, are a paradox. We are told to have joy, and yet may experience sorrow. Advent is a time for hope, but what about mass shootings, destructive fires, and tax reforms that continue to benefit the wealthy? We are supposed to wait and prepare for the birth of Christ, and yet can’t help but hurry to all the sales.
In anticipation of Christmas, most people probably spend more time at a shopping mall than they do at another place. I think captures the essence of Advent—a sacred space where one surrenders to an honesty about the feelings of one’s heart and relinquishes ego-driven desires—for in a hospice house, we are no longer captive to our culture and are free to respond to God’s invitation to deeper communion in preparation for the ultimate journey.
When we think of blue joined with Christmas, we are reminded that death, illness, war, economic hardships, violence, inequality enter into the season of Advent with us. Life’s troubles do not take a seasonal break.
Maybe that is why in our Scripture reading from Luke, the Advent story begins not with joy, but with deep sorrow. Our Christmas story today tells about the elderly Jewish couple Elizabeth and Zechariah, a childless couple living in a time when having children was a necessity for survival. As a childless woman in the first century, Elizabeth must have endured personal disgrace.
The Scripture says that Zechariah prayed for Elizabeth to conceive. After years of seeing others have children, and none of his own, I wonder if he ever doubted his faith. Doubting one’s faith and Advent do not seem to go well together. And yet, I know for me if there is any time I doubt my faith most, it is Christmas time. I think I struggle with doubt because of the feelings of sorrow, and if I have sorrow, then I must not have joy, and if I do not have joy, then how can I prepare for the birth of Christ?
Maybe you’ve experienced a paradox of feelings in your life journey. It is part of being human. Sorrow can be present in the joy of Christmas because inevitably we will experience a Christmas without a mother, or father, a brother, a sister. Without a spouse, or loved pet. Or maybe even a child. For when we dare to love, then the possibility of being hurt, watching death overtake life, knows no timelines of what part of the year will tug at our hearts.
It’s easy, when in sorrow, to think God has left and forgotten us.
That is why the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah can bring hope. Alone in the sanctuary, an angel comes to Zechariah saying, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John.” But doubt prevails and Zechariah does not believe the angel. And for the next nine months Zechariah the priest is sentenced to silence.
Silence may seem like a punishment, but I think about what the Buddha said about silence: “Silence is an empty space, space is the home of the awakened mind.”
I wonder if Zechariah sentenced to silence experienced a time of spiritual awakening.
Now, I must warn you, the thought process we are about to embark on is mind boggling because we like to think in present time and space…think about the universe. Then contemplate what it means to experience spiritual awakening.
Part of an awakening process involves change, change in our energy because our perspective and thoughts begin to transform. Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism refer to wheels of energy in our bodies as chakras. There are seven main chakras in our bodies and each represents the seven colors of the rainbow, an alternative to our dualistic black and white consciousness.
The fifth chakra is located in our throat. As each chakra or energy is related to color, the fifth chakra’s color is blue. Blue connects us with the Divine. Blue energy is soothing, calming, and healing. In Buddhist philosophy, blue is the color of pure mind—the mind that is uncluttered by thought where the mind becomes free. Blue is the energy of symbolic thinking.
The fifth chakra’s essential function is communication—the gateway between the outer and inner world. Only through expression does the outer world know what is going on inside of us. We only know what’s inside someone when they choose to tell us. One of the most profound human needs is the need to be heard—if we cannot be heard, we cease to exist in anything but our own minds. In the divine order of the universe, the essence of spirit and the element of sound are intricately connected. Communication connects the universe together as the primary means for sharing information, values, relationships, and actions.
The throat energy chakra is the internal gateway between mind and body. What if Christ is the external gateway between humanity and the Divine?
And so when our Scripture story is read in a way that escapes our ordinary thinking, then the birth of Christ becomes a cosmic communication to awaken us to an understanding of Divinity. Maybe that is the Christ we need to put back into Christmas—the one who comes and shatters our doubts, silences us and leads us on a path of spiritual awakening!
When I am honest about Blue Christmas, I realize that maybe that deep unspoken sorrow this time of year represents my own Alcatraz-like self-imprisonment in a mind that yearns to be connected to the spiritual flow of the universe. A universe that communicates to us that the Divine energy of Christ is the cosmic and universal Christ energy that lives within every one of us, that seeks to ransom us from captivity but we respond with resistance. That is the paradox of Christmas blue. May we escape our secular way of thinking and experience the freedom Advent expresses.