A wise man's foot might stumble;
For Bethlehem is very far
From all except the humble.
But he who gets to Bethlehem
Shall hear the oxen lowing;
And, if he humbly kneels with them,
May catch far trumpets blowing."
--Louis F. Benson
We ushered in Advent this morning like churches all over the country. Decorations are already in the making. Over in the right corner is this huge tree that will be decorated tonight when we hang the green. On both side of the front are these two huge banners my son made he was sixteen. Mary and Joseph and the baby in one scene. The wandering wise men and the star in the other banner. Now in his forties I think he will smile when he sits with me on Christmas Eve. The Choir processed this morning. As they came down the aisle we sang the old lament, “Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransomed captive Israel/ That mourns in lonely exile here...”
After the first candle was lit and the sermon was over we slowly made our way down the front to take the bread already broken and the cup already poured. I kept looking at the people as they trailed by. Many I have known for a long time. Since moving back here last December I see them after over 20 years. The years have not been good to some of them. The lady sitting close to the front with Parkinson’s. The old man who lost his wife this year coming forward on his cane. The young couple hardly able to keep their hands off one another. The divorced and the never married. College kids wondering why we would be singing such a dirge at Christmastime. There were some I knew who lived on limited income. There was another man just recovering from heart surgery. The little frail proud woman who worries about her husband in a nursing home. The father who wonder why his boy will never pickup the phone or answer his letters. One of the men told me just this morning that his boy was in Afghanistan and he was worried. One by one we streamed forward.
God knows we need an Advent. We need a holy reminder that what we do this day pilgrims across the years have done. On good days and bad we have trailed to the altar rail hoping, just hoping that somehow that little piece of bread and that sip from the cup will help us as we make our way back to our pews and back into our lives.
No, we don’t believe in the magical power of the Eucharist—but we do believe deeply in our hearts in the power of the Communion Table. Jackson Browne years ago touched our needs in his plaintive song, “Looking East.”
“Hunger in the midnight, hunger in the strike of noon
Hunger in the mansion, hunger in the rented room
Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
And there’s a God-sized hunger
Underneath the laughing and the rage.”
I love those old Advent words found in Isaiah 40. I claim their promise for all of us who make it to the table and even all those who wouldn’t be caught dead in any church. We all have our hungers and I do believe we find that incredible promise year after year at Advent time.
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arm,
and carry them in his bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young.”