Something broke for me this week.
It wasn’t the computer in the office, nor my own laptop that broke. It wasn’t my car that broke down, and my phone did not fall out of my hand onto its asphalt deathbed. My marriage didn’t break, and the relationship with my parents didn’t break. I didn’t break a bone, and I didn’t break a tooth. But something broke for me this week.
This is Gaudete Sunday, the third of four weeks of watching and waiting for the Christ-child. The third of four weeks that we hear admonitions about the in-breaking reign of God — that reign where the systems of the world are turned upon their heads. The third of four weeks in which we light more and more candles, hoping to dispel the ever-increasing darkness.
And something is different about this third week. A candle of a different color is burning. Instead of a Psalm, we hear from a second prophet. That overwhelming theme, “gaudete” or “rejoice,” teases us with the joy of that most holy night, just a few short days away.
But something broke for me this week.
I realized this Friday evening, as my husband and I were decorating our Christmas tree. I started to notice how incredibly hard it was to get in the Christmas spirit. We had egg nog, and Christmas music was playing in the background. But something was broken for me.
Ian wanted to blame it on the weather — how can we be excited to cut down and decorate a tree when it’s 65 degrees outside? Then, I thought, maybe the joy of placing balls and beads and bulbs on a freshly-cut Douglas Fir was weakened by the constant need to yell at our 16-month-old cat, who thinks he’d like to climb up that Douglas Fir.
But it became most clear to me in my pre-bedtime ritual — and yes, this is an unhealthy ritual. It’s my time to scroll through some social media headlines of what’s happened in the past days. And that’s where I was finally able to pinpoint it. Something broke for me this week. Or, rather, I wasn’t able to see brokenness this week: the brokenness of our world. And the broken world broke me.
That may have seemed like just a long introduction to a sermon, and in a way, it was. But I don’t just want to talk to you about broken things today. I want to talk to you about three words. I’ve known these words for a long time, but had never really thought about them together yet. As I’ve worked to get acquainted with this building and this community of faith, I’ve started seeing these three words pop up all over: on our website, our calendars, and our bulletins. And these are the three words: prayer, compassion, and justice. Prayer, compassion, and justice.
I’m not sure how this community chose those three words, but they’ve inspired me. Prayer — lifting up a solemn request for someone or something, or an expression of thanks to God. Compassion — holding concern in one’s heart for the suffering and misfortune of others. Justice — the state of fair and reasonable treatment. Three powerful statements.
There’s an old adage given to new clergy: don’t change anything in your first year. Instead, we are to pick three things that the congregation already does, and run with them. Thank you, St Michael’s, for picking these three things for me: prayer, compassion, and justice.
Well, I’ve only been your pastor for a few weeks, but let me commend you. Prayer is something this community does very well. Your compassion for the whole human family is apparent. And I can already tell that your hearts yearn for justice in Trenton and in the world. But, allow me to also say this. We have a long way to go.
These are all things about which I’m passionate, and these are all things that can be strengthened. What does it mean to be a community of prayer, compassion, and justice? Isn’t that what every Christian community is called to be? What does this look like in the world today? I think we, and the whole body of Christ, have a long way to go.
On November 13th, nine terrorists attacked at least six targets in Paris, killing 130 and wounding 368 more. This incident was tragic, and left most of the world speechless. On December 2nd, two terrorists opened fire in San Bernardino, killing 14 and wounding another 22. This incident was also tragic, and there are no words with which to adequately respond.
But many — too many — self-avowed Christians have chosen to respond, many reacting to the hateful Islamophobic rhetoric spewed from a few presidential hopefuls. So far this year, there have been 66 incidents of harassment, threats, or vandalism at mosques in the United States; 24 have occurred in the last month.
So what does it mean to be a community of prayer, compassion, and justice?
It means standing with our Muslim sisters and brothers: it means praying for them, having compassion on them, and fighting for justice.
It means welcoming others — the orphan, the widow, the refugee — with open arms.
It means that “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” It means that “whoever has food must do likewise.” In a lot of ways, being a community of prayer, compassion, and justice looks an awful lot like what every Christian community should do.
And I would be remiss without pushing this one step further. Being a community of prayer, compassion, and justice looks an awful lot like the meaning of Christmas. People are so caught up in thinking that the meaning of Christmas is determined by the color of the Starbucks cup. People think the meaning of Christmas is spending more than we can afford on things we don’t need.
Folks, the meaning of Christmas is broken. The world is broken. And it is only God that can make broken things beautiful again. Now, we aren’t passive in that transformation. God uses us as active agents, broken as we are, to heal this creation; to heal one another. So what does it mean to be a community of prayer, compassion, and justice? And what does Christmas actually look like?
There are two mosques nearby — Masjidul Taqwa in Trenton, and the Islamic Center of Ewing. And this week, a letter will go to both of them from me, on behalf of this congregation, offering our support. Telling them that we stand in solidarity with them, that we celebrate diversity, and that we support their presence in this community. Because that is the meaning of Christmas.
On Broad Street, there is an office of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service has an office. This week I will contacting them to see how we, a small — yet faithful — community of prayer, compassion, and justice, might be able to help welcome Syrian refugees. Because that is the meaning of Christmas.
Something broke for me this week. Maybe something broke for you this week, too. But in the midst of that brokenness, in the midst of that uncertainty, God comes to us and makes us whole again.
So I say to you:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This sermon was preached at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, NJ on December 13, 2015.