Listening Hearts

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
December 1, 2019
Wisdom Reading: Luke 1:26-33, 2:8-20, Native American Religious,
Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
Advent Series: To Follow that Star!
Message: “Listening Hearts”

Wisdom Readings
Luke 1:26-33, 2:8-20
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Native American Religious, Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
For the Great Spirit is everywhere; The Spirit hears whatever is on our minds and hearts, and it is not necessary to speak to The Great Spirit in a loud voice.

I was reading a blog the other day about this coming season of the church; Advent. The blogger spoke of the serenity of the season, a time of quiet waiting, of gathering together, a time of patience and expectation. The author spoke of this time in the church year as a time of rest and renewal. It was a comforting writing, positive thoughts, of reassurance of the joy of the birth of the Christ child.
The story is a familiar one to all of us. Most, if not all of us, know the story. It is the stuff of legend, of fantasy, of myth, of joy, and celebration – it is the stuff of pageants gathered in the church, children dressed as angels, shepherds, sheep, and Mary. It is a beautiful story and we begin this advent season a bit differently this morning.

Rather than starting with the waiting and the expectation, this year we begin right in the middle of the story. The wondrous, mysterious part of the story of the angel Gabriel sent by God to share with Mary incredible… unbelievable news. She is going to be pregnant; the child will be a descendant of King David; he will be a great leader.

Picture if you will, Mary alone we can presume, perhaps sees a great light that surrounds the messenger from God… or perhaps it was just a light in the messenger’s eyes that told Mary there was something special about this message carrier. The author of Luke leaves the angelic appearance to our own imagination… whatever we might think, we are told it was a perplexing message, yet, a beautiful story.

Angels have a way about that in stories… they bring a certain beauty and mystery to any story. Angelic beings appearing with a message from God… whether it is to a young woman such as Mary, to shepherds living in the fields watching their flocks in the night. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people…”

It is picture worthy… the angelic messenger with an incredible message of a deliverer coming via a young woman to save God’s people… It is picture worthy, shepherds in the fields on a starlit night encountering angelic beings in the night sky with a message of a savior, the Messiah, declaring peace on earth! Can you see the artwork? Can you envision the picture the author of Luke is painting here… serene, majestic, full of hope, comfort, and peace?

There is part of this story that wants me to break into the Don McLean song…
Starry, starry night, Paint your palette blue and grey, Look out on a summer’s day, With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.

However, I’m not sure that is the kind of picture the author of Luke is painting here. This story the author is telling, it is not such a serene, mystical, mythical, comforting tale. It is the story of a young woman who is discovering from a strange being from another realm… or at least a stranger she has never met before she is going to be pregnant. For young single woman in her time and place was not a comforting or serene situation in which to be. For her, religiously speaking… it could cost her, her life!

And this she is told is no ordinary pregnancy… this child would come to take the throne of his ancestor David and reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end. This was a religious and political nightmare.

I am not sure Luke is painting a reflective, meditative, comforting picture for the audience… Luke’s author is painting the stuff of rebellion and revolution. The religious elite would not welcome this news… the Empire would not welcome this news.

And the shepherds in the fields and the message of the angels are no different. This same message… not everyone would be happy with such good news. And to bring the news to shepherds? Shepherds were considered low on the ladder of society in these days. Poor, migrant, nomadic, dirty, untrustworthy… and supposedly the messengers of God have brought them the news? Seriously?

This story is turning the status quo, the religious and political powerful and norm on its head. I am not sure the message of the author of Luke is supposed to instill in us rest and reassurance, comfort and positive thought… in many ways, we have domesticated the story of Advent and the narrative of Jesus birth. There is something about power and privilege that changes the tone of our story today…

Perhaps the light we follow, the bright star we seek is not a gentle guiding heavenly light, rather a consuming fire that burns within much like the prophet Jeremiah who wrote, “There is within me something like a fire and I cannot hold it in.” The listening hearts of Mary and the shepherds did not hear a gentle reflective voice… it was, according to Luke’s narrative, perplexing, it was terrifying… These listening hearts heard a call to action! The shepherds listened to the call and went to tell the story. Mary, after she had heard the news visited Elizabeth. And sang out… “God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

As I pondered this message for today the movie Harriet kept coming to me. I don’t think I will share any unknown spoilers but I want to share a couple of things that I believe resonate with this morning’s message. Harriet was a praying woman… she said she heard God talking to her, she said as the result of a head injury… but could hear God guiding her. But her prayers constantly led her to action, led her into danger… putting her life on the line in so many ways. When she finally ran her preacher told her, “There’s not much time. You got to be miles away from here at dawn. Follow that north star. If there are no stars, just follow the river. Listen for them. Fear is your enemy.” Follow the light of the star… and listen.

She would become known as Moses… leading slaves to freedom over countless miles. Over and over there were those who told her it was too dangerous too risky… though she would not be dissuaded! She put her life on the line for those who were enslaved, oppressed, forgotten, and killed. And when there were even those in the underground railroad who wanted to sit back and wait… she said no! In one of the most moving scenes of the movie she stood toe to toe with those who wanted to wait for civil war,

“We can’t just give up and wait for war. We gotta get back to work, bringing slaves to freedom. By train, carriage, horseback – by foot if necessary! Many of you don’t know slavery first hand. You were born free, or maybe you been free so long, you forget what it’s like. You got comfortable and important…” She knew the light she followed… she knew the voice her heart listened to… she would not be silent or wait…

I look at our world today, at our country, our community… untruth, disinformation, oppression, racism, shaming of the poor, continued stripping of rights, religious bigotry… and the continued barrage of injustice… On this World AIDS Day… the stigma, misinformation, and injustice that surrounds this disease is still too prevalent… Religious prosperity gospel promoters that prey on the poor as staff at the highest levels of our government.

We have too many in the church who are colluding with the state and have not remembered, or do not care for Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning… “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” We have too many tools in our country today. We have too many in the church that want to reflect the unjust policies of our government rather than the unconditional and inclusive love of God.

I am not telling you anything… the list is long… far too long! It is to this the story of Advent and Christmas speaks!

Now is not the time to sit back and reflect.

This is not a time to be silent, rather we must be active and vigilant.

Now is not the time for serenity, now is not the time to wait…

It is not a time to sit back lest we become comfortable and self-important.

The work… the birth of Jesus, is among the poor, the outcast, the discriminated against, the oppressed, the ignored and forgotten. The author of Luke told us as much through the words of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry… “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because I am anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” To this we are called… turn the status quo on its head, stand toe to toe with the powers that be, be good news to the poor, release the captives, see the blind, and set the oppressed free!

Do not be lulled to sleep by the constant barrage of deflection, distraction, and misinformation so rampant in our world.

Do not be lulled to sleep by the weight of the task before us.

Do not be lulled to sleep by the overwhelming desire to sit back and let someone else carry the load.

Do not be lulled to sleep by the desire for comfort and serenity.

But Awaken to the light that bids us rise! Awaken to the light that beckons us forward!

Awaken to the inner voice of God that speaks to our listening hearts!

Rise and resist the temptation to wait…

Be Justice in the World this Advent.

Be Love as God loves in the World this Advent!

Be the very reflection of the Love of God in the World this advent! Never relenting! Ever persisting!

Tune in your listening heart!

BE the Light of Jesus in the World this Advent. Make it so… Make! It! So! Amen!