31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 29, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
At the top of a mountain with a sea of golden leaves below and the blue, blue sky a canopy overhead. In that place, we know that God is with us.
Walking along the sandy shore, with the rhythmic waves rolling in and over and out. The horizon stretching out for forever. In that place, we know that God is with us.
In this Sanctuary, decorated with Christmas wreaths and Advent banners, filled with the joyful noise of music, conversation, prayer, and laughter. In this place, we know that God is with us.
For over 8 months though, we have not been able to gather in this Sanctuary for worship, and separated from this holy place that helps us connect with God, it’s hard to always be certain that God is with us.
All of the world is God’s and all of the world is God’s Sanctuary – those places we traditionally think of as holy and extraordinary and also those ordinary places where we live our every day lives.
In this Advent season, in these days of waiting and anticipating the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us, I invite you to see and experience how God is with us in the everyday and the ordinary. How God comes to us in ordinary objects. How God is present with us in ordinary places. How God surprises us by being with us in the most ordinary of ways. How God calls, guides, and blesses ordinary people – people just like us. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, Emmanuel, God is with us and that makes everything and everywhere holy.
Your head might believe that; however as you look around your current worship space, at the laundry that needs to be folded, at the clutter that inevitably collects on computer desks and dining room tables, your heart might be struggling to believe that this, your current worship space is sacred. That God is with you in the midst of all of the ordinary stuff in your house.
Years ago, I knew a woman who attended an incredible weekend faith retreat. It was a mountain top experience for her where she connected deeply with God, a time when every fiber of her being felt God with her, and when she came home, instead of being even more deeply connected to her church community, she stopped attending. She stopped attending because she could not find God in the every day, Sunday morning worship. It was too ordinary.
Too ordinary. God comes to us in the ‘too ordinary’ as well as through the extraordinary. In the gospel of John, the writer tells us God comes to us through words. Words – so ordinary. We use countless numbers of them every day. They surround us on signs, in books, in conversation, and on the Internet.
And yet, through those ordinary, every day words, spoken, thought, and written down, God is with us. In the beginning, the Word was with God. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3).
Everything that was created was created through The Word – and it still is. Our words, our ordinary words, create. The words we speak aloud, the words we think in our heads, the words we hear, affect how we see and interact with the world. They have the power to heal, the power to inspire, the power to bring life to ourselves and others. And God is with us in every word, not just those in the Bible, not just those in spiritual devotionals. God is with us in every single word, guiding us, loving us, bringing us hope.
Hopefully, you joined me in lighting the candle of hope as we opened our hearts for worship this morning. There is something about a candle flame that always helps me feel connected to God. Perhaps because the Holy Spirit came to the first apostles in tongues of fire. Perhaps because it makes me think of this passage from John: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:3-5)
Our human spirits respond to light. It brings us hope that no matter how long we might feel like we are walking in the darkness, we trust that God’s light will shine on us. God will bring light into our darkness, and God’s light will always prevail. Christ’s light will shine in the darkness of hopelessness, and hopelessness will never overcome it.
Those are such comforting words to me in any season; however particularly in this season. We will get through this. God’s light is shining on us. God’s light is with us. God is with us.
Our hearts are inclined to know God is with us in extraordinary lights like the Sanctuary Advent wreath with these great big candles or when we look up at the stars in the night sky. Some in our congregation have even been blessed to see the Northern Lights in person and witness how God’s light shines brightly and beautifully, even in the dark winters of the Arctic Circle.
Somehow it feels easier to experience God with us through those extraordinary lights, but what about an ordinary light bulb? Doesn’t feel so wondrous. And then, you put lots of little light bulbs together on the Christmas tree and decorating houses and yards, and all of a sudden, these plain little light bulbs help us experience the wonder of God with us.
And if God is with us in these little bulbs on a tree, then why not in flashlights and cell phones and lamps. God’s light is all around us, opening our eyes to the fact that God is with us in the extraordinary, and God is with us in the ordinary, making everything and everywhere holy.
As we walk these Advent days, as we journey in anticipation and expectation, I pray that Christ’s light will open your eyes to all of the ways God is always with us. I pray that as you spread peanut butter on bread to give to those who are hungry that you will feel the sacredness of this peanut butter, the sacredness of this bread, the sacredness of this act. And as you gather pants, shirts, and waterproof gloves, board games, dolls, and superhero figures into holiday gift bags for the children of Bristol, I pray you will see these items, as holy, transformative gifts of love, joy, and hope.
And as you light a candle, drive by a neighbor’s Christmas yard decorations, even as you turn on a light switch, I hope you will feel to the depths of your soul that God’s light is with you. God is with you.
The good news of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us. That all the world is God’s, and that includes the laundry to be folded, the food to be cooked, the office and school work to be done. God is even with us in the clutter that accumulates on computer desks and dining room tables. God is with us. God is with us in the extraordinary, and God is with us in the ordinary, bringing hope, light, and love to all.