Earlier this morning I had one of those NPR “parking lot moments.” You know, that moment you have arrived at your destination but there is still an NPR news story being broadcast that you don’t want to miss, so you pull into your parking spot and listen until the end of the story. This particular story was of a mother off two teenagers who lived in southern California and on the afternoon of October 1, 2017, she drove them to Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend a concert-the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
During the headline act, the mother heard a pop and looked around and saw one young woman in a white tank top hoisted up over a barricade. The woman’s top was covered in blood and the mother knew there was a shooting. At that same moment she heard more pops, many more, and then the screams and panic set in while people scattered everywhere to get away.
She was with one of her children and her oldest daughter had gone on up toward the stage. The mother grabbed her other child and ran toward the front stage area. It wasn’t long before she felt a hand grab her and spin her around and immediately heard the words, “Mom, Mom! It’s me. I’m here!” Now with both of her children with her she escaped out one of the exits to the venue and got behind some concrete barriers and just stayed there until help came.
A few hours later they were allowed to leave and got to their car in the wee hours on the next morning. Little was said in the car during the night drive. They got to the exit of the interstate highway where they lived and as the mother made the exit she came to at stop at the foot of the ramp and that is “when it hit her.” It was at that point she started to cry uncontrollably. From there she drove the few short blocks to their home and got out of the car and fell into the chest of her awaiting husband who enveloped her with his arms and she continued to sob until she could look up into his face and utter “I got them home safe.”
In hearing this part of her story, I could not help but think that those words were words of joy-words of joy in the aftermath of the unspeakable horror and tragedy wherein 58 people were killed and 546 wounded or injured. “I got them home safe.”
As we go into this third week of Advent we are struck with the repeated encouragement to rejoice, rejoice always, rejoice in the Lord from the scripture lessons for Sunday. I couldn’t help but smile a bit as I was thinking of this when I heard the muted sounds of the carol “Joy to the World” being sung by the choir behind closed choir room doors.
I think sometimes we would want things to always be joyful. But the reality of life has taught us otherwise. The carols blasting away in the stores mocks people suffering from the changes and chances of life (like Hurricane Irma), of grief and loss, sadness and depression with the loss of a job or income, worry over the state of our nation and the threat of war.
The Psalmist writes, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.” Think about it…joy is the issue of the seeds of tears. It isn’t joy that brings joy. The seeds of sorrow, sadness, fear, and worry, watered with tears yields themselves in joy. It happens in the moments we feel arrived at “home safe.”
I pray that in this frenzied time of year and the general worrisome nature of things, that you find a place of safety; better yet, provide a safe place where you and others can, just for a moment, allow for the blossom of joy to bloom in the deserts of our hurts and hurting places.
May this continued journey in Advent bring you “home safe” and experience joy.
Happy New Year! No, I am not jumping the gun toward January 1. Time passes to quickly already! But, as you well know, the First Sunday of Advent begins the church calendar. The liturgical year cyclically marks “seasons” whereby we mark time and hear stories in scripture, worship, liturgy, and prayer of God’s love for us in so many ways. Throughout the year we experience the personal stories of our own lives-birth/death, health/illness, loss/recovery, joy/sorrow, success/disappointment. Each year we revisit these timeless themes and events that are such a part of our lives, always happening, and is so doing we frame all of it within the context of divine grace and love, always there.
I was looking at the morning news earlier today and saw an image of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Plaza. I note that as Sunday, December 3, 2017, the First Sunday of Advent, comes we recognize our waiting time for Christmas, the celebration of Jesus coming into our world, our lives, in human form. But I have to ask myself, and I ask you, “Who is waiting for whom?’
To be sure, we anxiously await the coming of Christmas, with gifts, festivities, reunion of families and friends, candles, music, and, lest we forget, Christ. Have you ever considered this thought that God might be waiting on you? St. Augustine of Hippo suggested in one of his writings that humans, when they are born, are hurled out into the world and all the rest of their life is a return to God-the God who waits for us. Many things get in the way of our return; the diversions of other things or activities that become detours on which we can become lost from the journey into the waiting arms of God.
The first thing we will do in worship tomorrow in worship is light the first candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle of hope. The very circle of the wreath itself reminds us of God, eternal and endless. The evergreens are reminding us of the hope of eternal life.
My hope for you this Advent is that these four weeks before Christmas are a time of preparation and that these preparations are steps you might take toward God who waits for you.
A blessed Advent journey home to you,