Sermon at Allegheny College March 11, 2018
“When Thoughts and Prayers are Not Enough: Let the Children Lead”
Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson
Today I chose as a scripture this simple, very familiar story – Jesus welcoming children.
It was a Jewish custom, to have rabbis, or leaders, spiritual leaders, bless children. Parents came with their babies, and children, and maybe some children found their own way that day to Jesus. Jesus, an itinerant preacher was a phenomenon, something of a celebrity, coming to their town. A rabbi who healed people, told stories, spoke of God in an intimate way.
The story’s simple arc then shifts to the disciples who try to shut it down. We really don’t know why. Maybe in the tension that was happening in their ministry, blessing children seemed trivial. In Mark’s gospel, the disciples often do not seem to get Jesus, or what he is doing. They are trying to help, but, they mess up. They step all over Jesus’ message and mission.
We light the 4th candle of Advent, the “Love” candle, as the northern hemisphere is at its darkest. Right now, cold, Arctic weather sweeps across the US. In Florida, we have fog, which we have so rarely.
In the deepest darkness, love was born, in the womb of a young Mary of Nazareth.
In the deepest darkness, love was reborn in the tomb of Jesus, which could not contain him, or that love.
Today I had to force myself to read the news about Aleppo, Syria, an epicenter of darkness during this Advent.
In the midst of a purple penitential season, comes a Sunday of uplift and relief, the pink candle -- for Joy, some say for Mary.
Pink is the West’s cultural color for little girls, and apparently, Catholic Popes, cardinals and priests who wear it on Gaudete Sunday. Let’s light a candle for all the girls today, those who don’t get to go to school, who are abducted by warlords, those who are neglected, abused. For girls who are claiming their power, joy and agency in a world that would deny them. Let’s give them one Sunday in our Church calendar.
Lately, I have been enjoying poet Leonard Nathan’s “Diary of a Left-Handed Birdwatcher.”
Well, maybe it takes more than one candle.
Many Sundays, at my home church, I take advantage of two opportunities: the chance to light a votive candle, and to be anointed by a church member.
The first Sunday in Advent, I went up to the candle station brimming with intercessions. I found myself lighting several candles, and feeling a little self-conscious, even though there was not a line, and there were a lot of “open” candles. I lit one for my sister in law whose husband just died, and my wife who was his sister. For so many people, struggling with health, loss. For our country, for the world. For a goddaughter who can’t stay clean or out of jail for long, who no longer has her children.
Finally, I had to stop, and move on and allow someone to anoint me.
I remember hearing Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote so early in my life:
“It is better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.”
Or something like that.
As Advent approaches, I have become aware that I have indulged in way too much cursing of the darkness recently.
I picked up an Advent book I had read a few years ago, Watch for the Light, an Orbis anthology. In the introduction, there was a quote from Alfred Delp, a German priest martyred under Hitler: