Year A; Advent 2; 12.8.2019
With much fanfare last week, the Fashion Industry announced the Color of the year 2020: Classic Blue. The VP of Global Purveyor of Color introduced this color and said, “Think Maine wild blueberries, or a feeling of vast expanse (I SWEAR she took that phrase right out of our Prayer Book, “the vast expanse of interstellar space! RIGHT?!) Then she said, “Classic Blue is a calming, confident color, an anchor color offering stability, constancy and connection.”
And so…I look down at my chasuble and stole. I look at the hangings and say, “Aren’t WE special? Look at OUR Blue – the height of fashion for 2020!
But Christians adopted this color long ago as the liturgical color of Advent. At St. Paul’s we bring out our magnificent blue for the four weeks of Advent. For us, the color of Advent is the color of pre-dawn hope. Just this side of sunrise. The color of sky that shepherds or other nighttime outdoor workers might be familiar with: not jet black, not morning sunrise coral, but the hopeful deep, bright blue that says, “I promise you that my light brings you the consolation of the dawn every day.”
This color is also called Sarum Blue, the Medieval Christian Advent color associated with Salisbury Cathedral. The word, “Sarum” is Latin for Salisbury. The cathedral is located in the town of Salisbury on a flat plain in England. Nearby, pre-Christian Stonehenge is also located on the very flat Salisbury Plain and was designed to capture the sun each and every morning unencumbered by trees, hills, buildings and highways. These strange are arranged to reveal the daily hope of the dawn.
In a way, we join with the pre-Christians to claim this pre-dawn blue hue in solemn hope that God WILL bring in the prophet Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom and the justice of a
“a little child will lead them.” The prophet Isaiah shares the hope of a return to Eden where vulnerable and domestic animals lie peacefully with violent carnivores, little babies play safely with poisonous snakes and all is made right by a just ruler – even a child!
Isaiah was prophesying in a tumultuous time when Assyria was on the march in the North destroying any hint of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. And Judah, in the South lived as a nervous Assyrian vassal. Violence, destruction and hopelessness were the daily reality for the people. Into this fear and uncertainty, the prophet Isaiah offered the magnificent hope of what Walter Brueggemann calls, “the restoration of all creation and the rehabilitative well-being of all people.” What a wonderful, comprehensive hope Isaiah offers! [Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 161]
We could use a little of this “pre-dawn” kind of hope, don’t you think? Looking around our world right now, the hope of peace and well-being of all creation and people is hard to imagine. If I’m not seeing news footage of fires blazing in Southern California, I’m seeing horrifying images of vehicles driving on a road in New South Wales, Australia flanked by burning embers, a blaze officials say is too big to put out. At the same time, the extremely wealthy become richer and richer and, as I’ve mentioned before, they are building bunkers, as many leaders reject that the climate is in peril.
And the gun violence. The gun violence that surrounds us in this country reached Brunswick a couple of weeks ago when a dispute broke out on Federal Street between two men arguing over a woman. The argument ended in a gun-death. This Brunswick statistic is now included in the National Gun death and injury tally taken daily.
Our nation is being rent asunder, as divisions become more and more cemented. Social media has taken on a sinister use by groups that wish to do harm and manipulate us all. Facts don’t matter anymore to them. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” a God-given prohibition against lying is mocked and derided.
How are we to live? Where do we find hope?
Let’s look to one of God’s boldest paradoxes in Scripture from the book of Isaiah today. Predators and prey happily and safely dwell with each other. The the most vulnerable and seemingly ill-equipped of all human beings, a child, will take the reins of justice and adults will follow. “And a little child will lead them” is not an idealistic claim. It is one of God’s great truths in Scripture.
A few weeks ago I attended my nephew’s wedding in Rhode Island. My entire family was present: a niece who lives in Manhattan, her sister who is married and lives with her husband and two little girls in San Diego and the sister of the groom who lives in Little Rock all were present for the wedding. During that time I resumed my friendship with my little 4-year-old grand-niece Cora from San Diego.
Cora’s father does not have a religious background or upbringing. Cora’s mother, my niece grew up in the Episcopal Church and was an acolyte. Now, though, the mention of prayer, Christianity, Jesus or religion causes my niece visible discomfort.
This summer, the teacher at Cora’s nursery school (a French speaking school) began complaining about her behavior. My niece is an elementary school-trained teacher and saw some teaching techniques that she did not agree with. So, she decided to change Cora’s school. She interviewed other schools in the area and came upon a well-respected and highly rated school called….Grace Lutheran School. Yes, it is a lovely Christian school!
Cora’s grandmother, my sister, shared with me that Cora now insists on leading grace with her family at mealtime. She has memorized the graces from school and shares them with her family. Her father tears up and her mother has started to remember some of the things she learned in church.
As my sister related this development to me, I heard myself say, “And a little child shall lead them.” It’s happening around my niece’s dinner table. And we can see it happening in the presence of our children here at St. Paul’s.
Christians believe that “little child” is Jesus who came so humbly in the flesh. Who was born into a stable. Whose news caused a dark, midnight sky to show its pre-dawn hopeful blue. Who was born to love, not hate; to set us free in his truth. The little, innocent Christ child is our deepest hope of God with us.
And the darling children all around inspire us to take their lead. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus loved the little children.
So, what would happen if we followed where they lead?