Signs of Ending & Letting Go

Homily for Sunday, November 27, 2016
First Sunday of Advent

6770916105_4081e531a4_bSigns of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days,
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.
Come, O Christ, and dwell among us!  Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us faith and hope and gladness.  Show us what there yet can be. – Dean Nelson

Two years ago Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.   As many of you may recall, she died a month later, just after Christmas.  Two years ago today when my parents went to church, the opening hymn was the hymn we just sang:

Signs of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days,
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise…

Neither could make it through the hymn.

Advent – the Church’s season of New Year that we begin today – reminds us that life changes, and that change always involves letting go.  Let me say that again:  Advent reminds us that life changes, and change always involves letting go.

This morning’s sermon is for those of us who are in the process of letting go.  The rest of you are welcome to listen in.

I suspect many of us find ourselves in this hymn; there are “signs of endings” all around us.   We are experiencing change.  Be it death, illness, a broken relationship, dashed hopes, failures…  We know about endings; we are in the process of letting go.   And we know how difficult letting go can be.  We know that letting go takes time and can be painful.  We know that letting go is rarely a straight-line journey, that it often involves two steps forward and one step back, and circling ‘round to work and re-work through things.  We know that letting go frequently involves denial and bargaining, anger and depression.  We know that letting go is a kind of grief.

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In the challenge and pain of letting go, we also may have discovered that Jesus knows about letting go, too.  Maybe we have imagined how difficult it must have been for Jesus to convert only a few but not many.  Or how hard it must have been for Jesus to realize that some followed, not because they wanted to share his mission, but because they wanted to eat their fill of bread.  Or maybe we’ve imagined how disappointed Jesus’ must have been in the failure of his message to reach the hard-hearted, or how hurt he must have been to be rejected by the religious authorities, or how painful it must have been for him to let go of the hopes he may have had for a quick establishing his kingdom here on earth.  We glimpse some of his agony in the garden:  “Father… let this cup pass from me.”    But Jesus let go:  “Yet not what I want but what you want” (Matt 26:39).

1640-50Or in our letting go maybe we’ve discovered that Mary knows about letting go, too.  Maybe we’ve imagined how hard it must have been for Mary when Jesus left home for the last time to begin his ministry, or when Mary saw Jesus so little respected, or when she saw Him crucified.   Time and again Mary must have had to say to God as she said to the angel:  “Here I am…  let it be with me according to your word.”   Maybe, if we’ve imagined that Jesus and Mary know about letting go, we’ve allowed ourselves to be consoled by Him or by her, and maybe we’ve come to know that – while they won’t relieve us of the work of letting go – they are alongside us as we work, to console and to encourage us.

Life changes and, change always involves letting go…  Advent also reminds us that when we let go, space is made for God to fill us with more of God’s self.   Which is what happened to Mary.  As when Mary said, “Here I am … let it be with me according to your word,” God was able to enter in, to grow within her, and through her to be born into the world, so when we let go God is able to enter into us, to grow within us, to bear God’s self into the world through us.  Even though there may be signs of endings all around us, as we learn to let go, God “shows us what there yet can be.”

john-hullJohn Hull was a professor of religion at the University of Birmingham in England.  (He died in July, 2015.)  In his memoir, On Sight and Insight: A Journey Into the World of Blindness, Professor Hull speaks of his agonizing journey into blindness.  He tells of his increasing isolation, fear and loneliness as his sight gradually left him.  He writes of how he began to forget what his wife and children looked like, of his frustration and anger at how difficult it was for him to do simple things like cross the street or to get dressed or to eat.  Professor Hull continued his downward spiral toward despair until, one day, he heard the sound of rain.  But he didn’t just hear the sound of rain; he heard rain like he’d never heard rain before, and the sound filled him – overflowed him – with joy and gratitude.  It was a moment of spiritual revelation.  Something had shifted, had been released within him.  Professor Hull realized that, in his blindness, his other senses had become so extraordinarily fine-tuned, that – in spite of no longer being able to see – he was now more fully alive than he had ever been before.  From that day forward, his life turned more and more to joy and gratitude.  Voices he used to take for granted – his wife’s and children’s – he now recorded and played back again and again to revel in the sound of their love for him.  Professor Hull ultimately decided that his blindness was a gift:  “Not a gift that I want, but a gift nonetheless.”

There are “signs of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days.”   Some of us right now are experiencing death, illness, broken relationships, dashed hopes or failures; we are in the process of letting go.   I wonder if we, this Advent, can find consolation in knowing that God wishes to give us gifts, to fill any emptiness with even more of God’s self.  I wonder if we can remember that Jesus knows about letting go, and that Mary knows about letting go.  I wonder if we can allow them to console and encourage us.  Maybe we can ask along with the hymn:

Can it be that from our endings, new beginnings you create?

Maybe then we can sing along with the hymn:

Come, O Christ, and dwell among us!…  Show us what there yet can be.

Signs of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days,
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.
Come, O Christ, and dwell among us!  Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us faith and hope and gladness.  Show us what there yet can be.

Can it be that from our endings, new beginnings you create?
Life from death, and from our rendings, realms of wholeness generate?
Take our fears, then, Lord, and turn them into hopes for life anew.
Fading light and dying season sing their Glorias to you.

Speak, O God, your word among us.  Barren lives your presence fill.
Swell our hearts with songs of gladness, terrors calm, forebodings still.
Let your promised realm of justice blossom now throughout the earth:
Your dominion bring now near us; we await thy saving birth. – Dean Nelson

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