Joy as Resistance: December 11, 2016

Every year about this time, I start to panic. I’d imagine that a lot of clergy would tell you the same thing. We are trying to finalize Christmas eve services, and get all the moving pieces to line up so that everything goes off without a hitch.

But that’s not what stresses me out about this time of year. What really gets me is Christmas shopping. I get so anxious about buying the right Christmas presents for my family. And shopping for a spouse is the hardest part. Every year Heidi tells me, “I have everything I want…I have you.”

And that is so beautiful and wonderful…and totally exasperating. I’m not going to show up on Christmas morning with nothing, and so I turn into this Christmas detective asking her friends what she really wants.

This year, though, she told me exactly what she wanted (and she told me I could share this story with you this morning). And Heidi is normally so serious and studious, so it surprised me when she told me she wanted this new Nintendo Classic video game console that plays all these old games people from our generation know.

“Great!” I thought. “I’m sure that every big box store around has it on sale, and I can go get one now and wrap it up for Christmas.”

Only, there’s a problem. You can’t find this thing. Apparently Heidi’s dream Christmas gift is the dream gift of the whole country. Stores get it in stock and it sells out in minutes. People are camping out. I’m searching every website I can think of, and the closest I have come to finding it is on a site that will sell you one for six times the retail price.

nes-classic-edition-in-hand

Seriously, if you find this thing, let me know.

I’m missing the “I have all I want…I have you” years.

It’s fun to laugh about this, but we also need to acknowledge that this time of year the pressure to make Christmas perfect is sometimes overwhelming. Because as much as I stress over them, the presents aren’t what it’s all about. And on this third Sunday of Advent, when we are so close to the big night, we read a story about what matters. We read about Jesus’s mother, and the surprise of her life.

An angel comes to Mary and tells her that she is pregnant in the most unconventional of ways. Immediately Mary gets up and goes to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. And Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist, and when Mary enters the house the baby leaps up in her womb and Elizabeth knows immediately that something amazing has happened to Mary.

And Mary turns to her and says the words that we now know as the Magnificat: “My souls magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

There would be a lot of understandable reactions to this news that you are pregnant, delivered by an angel no less. Anger, disbelief, denial, fear. No one could possible blame Mary for those feelings. And, Mary may very well have been feeling all of those things, but in the Magnificat we learn that somewhere in all of those feelings she was also feeling something else: joy. “My spirit rejoices in God”

This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally the one when we focus on joy. And, oddly, we talk about joy by telling the story of a teenage mother in crisis. She was young, she was poor, she was pregnant with a baby that was not her fiance’s. And she must have been absolutely terrified. Her world would never be the same.

And yet, somewhere in there, there was joy. There was hope. There was the promise that as hard as it was, this was a good thing.

This has been, for many of us and for many of our neighbors, a difficult year. It may well be that you are ending the year feeling down, or scared, or frustrated. You may be worried about our world, and our future. That is completely understandable.

And that’s why this year, more than most, joy is so important. To find or cultivate joy in the midst of all that is going on is an act of resistance. It’s like Mary standing there terrified and uncertain, telling her cousin this crazy and confusing news, and still being able to say “rejoice”.

Mary’s joy gives me hope. But it also reminds me that joy is different than happiness. Because what Mary was feeling might have been joyful, but I don’t know that I would say she was happy.

And here’s why that matters for us. This time of year happiness is for sale everywhere. Turn on the TV, listen to the radio, walk into a store. Every advertisement, every display, is meant to tap into your hopes and promise you happiness.

And here’s the thing: as much as people say you can’t buy happiness, the truth is that you can. You can buy happiness pretty easily, really. You can find happiness in everything from a stiff drink to a big paycheck, or a nice meal to a new car. You can get happy pretty easily, at least for a little while. And then you can lose it just a quickly.

But joy…that’s what you cannot buy. It’s not for sale in any store, and you won’t find it by getting every little detail of your Christmas celebration right. That’s not how joy works.

Now, joy does not always come easily to some of us. We prefer quiet dignity and reserved praise. On another level, for those of us who are so keenly aware of the inequalities and pain of the world, being asked to be joyful may even be met with suspicion. How can we be joyful when so many suffer?

Here’s what I think. I think it’s easy to be joyless in this world. It’s simple. It doesn’t take much effort. You can put others down. You can dwell in hopelessness. You can even lob out negative comments on the internet from the comfort of your own home. The best part is that if you lack joy, you don’t even have to do anything constructive. You can just dwell in it.

But it is a whole lot harder to rejoice. Why? Because joy is hard.

Now that may sound like an oxymoron. Joy is joy. Shouldn’t joy be easy?

I don’t think so. Because I think joy is something deeper than that. But that also means that it’s rooted. And it’s the thing that remains in you even when everything else around you is crumbling down. It has been said by many, in many different ways, that joy is resistance. That is especially true in the worst of days.

I started out telling you about my Christmas present crisis. But here’s the thing: even if I can’t find this thing, I know that Heidi will be just fine. Why? Because I know she is rooted in something that is much deeper than a need for the right gift on Christmas morning. (I’m still taking all tips on where to find it by the way.)

In all seriousness, we know this. We knew it even as children watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. You remember: “Every who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Who-ville did not.” The Grinch hates the celebrations, hates the singing, hates the presents, and hates the whole thing. So he devises a plan to slip down into the town in the night, bag up all the trappings of Christmas, take all the presents, and ruin Christmas.

And he does. And the next morning he stands on his mountain waiting for the people to wake up, and be devastated.

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-christmas-movies-17364435-1067-800But instead, he hears singing. It turns out the Whos woke up and it didn’t matter to them that they didn’t have trees or presents or decorations. And it turns out that no matter what he tried to take away from them, Christmas came anyway. And it stuns him. And he says to himself, “Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The Grinches of the world don’t know what real joy is. And so when they try to take it away from you, they will go only for the things that bring you happiness. And that is not right. But it’s also not the end of the story.

Because joy is indeed resistance. And because joy is how we keep singing in the midst of the pain and fear of the world. I’m fully convinced that nothing strikes fear in the hearts of those who would oppress others more than joy. We do not excuse it. We do not allow it to go unchecked. But we do proclaim that it will not win. Instead we set our hearts up on the front lines, fortified with joy, and we promise to work with Mary’s child to bring light to all the places that need it the most.

But in order to get to that place, we have to get ready. And so, here is my call to you: this Advent, do not settle for happiness. You are worth more than that. Instead, gather the ones you love, and find joy together. Live in the world and look for the moments where joy is breaking through. Open your heart, and let the joy of Christ’s birth really fill it for the first time.

Resist what can never love you back, and rejoice in the One who can. I guarantee that if you do this, no matter what else happens, you will have a truly Merry Christmas. Amen?

When Love Changes Everything (Even You): Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2015

I firmly believe that Christmas is the best time of the year for movies and TV specials. Everything from It’s a Wonderful Life to A Charlie Brown Christmas to Elf to the Grinch to A Christmas Story and beyond. Most of the year I won’t watch a whole lot of TV and movies, but each December there’s a list of shows I need to see to feel like it’s really Christmas.

But while they are all great stories, they are not the story. Because in the midst of all of the more modern Christmas stories, we have the original stories, the ones that in a real way gave birth to all the others.

And on this fourth Sunday of Advent, we have the story of a key player in the birth of Jesus, someone who had to be on board with everything that was about to happen, and someone whose love would change everything: Mary.

Every year at this time we read the Magnificat. It’s a passage of Scripture that tells us how Mary responded to the unexpected and confusing news that she was pregnant. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she says, “and my spirit rejoices in God.”

Magnify is an odd term in this context, but I always think of it like this: to magnify God is to live your life in a way that makes God’s love for the world even bigger and even more obvious to the people who surround us.

And, in a real way, to choose to magnify God, especially in times when we are asked to respond to a new challenge or a new reality in our lives, has a lot to do with how we love. And if anyone could understand what it means to respond to God in the midst of the unexpected, it was Mary. She is faced with the end of life as she knew it, and she responds by saying she is going to rejoice, and make God’s love known to the world.

Mary’s situation was a little more dire than most of ours, and she was the first person who was asked to respond to the Christmas story, but she wasn’t the last. Because though we are called to participate in the Christmas story in a very different way than Mary was, we are invited into this story none-the-less.

That’s because at Christmas time, if we we are going to be a part of this Christmas story, we are called to make the hard choice to love. I don’t use that phrase “hard choice” lightly. I use it because loving this world, and loving one another, requires something from us. It requires us to invest in others. It requires us to give of ourselves. And, most of all, love requires us to be willing to be changed.

Let’s go back to those Christmas movies again. I recently re-watched “A Christmas Carol”. (The Muppet’s version.) And once again I heard the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, and how he was transformed from a grumpy, hardhearted miser to a generous and loving man.

12391826_1091623084223622_5445554595415901362_nAnd as I was watching, I started to think about a lot of those other Christmas shows I like. The main character often goes through some sort of transformation. George Bailey finds hope again. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. Charlie Brown learns what Christmas is all about. The list goes on…

And, when you think about it, as much as these are Christmas stories, they could also be Advent stories. Because Advent is all about getting ready. Advent is all about our own transformation. It’s about preparing our heart for someone who is coming, and about opening it up to new ways of being.

Christians are supposed to transform the world for good. But that’s a tall order. It’s hard to change the world. We can do our best, we can work for good, we can pray for peace, but in the end, we find out an important truth: you can’t create love in the world, until you find love in yourself. And love changes us.

Even Christmas movies know this.

Scrooge realizes the error of his ways, and his heart is transformed, and only then does he give generously. Charlie Brown finds meaning with his sad little Christmas tree despite the fact the whole world has gone commercial, and no one understands what Christmas is really about anymore. And if you’ve ever seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, in the end we find Clark Griswold, who just wanted a perfect Christmas, finds the love of his family despite the fact that just about everything has gone wrong.

If we’re really serious about Advent, if we’re really serious about preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, if we are truly using this season to focus on what is coming, there is no way that we won’t be changed by it. Maybe we won’t have a big, miraculous, carol-filled Christmas morning, but inside our heart, if you listen closely, you’ll hear the change happening and the love filling us.

And as powerful as that love is inside of us, it’s even more powerful when we share it. What if in the face of all that we find troubling with the world, we showed the world what God’s love really means? What if we showed how powerful it could be.

You’ve all probably read or watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. It starts out, “Every who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Who-ville did not.” The Grinch hates the celebrations, hates the singing, hates the presents, and hates the whole thing. So he devises a plan to slip down into the town in the night, bag up all the trappings of Christmas, take all the presents, and ruin Christmas.

And he does. And the next morning he stands on his mountain waiting for the people to wake up, and be devastated.

But instead, he hears singing. The Whos wake up and it doesn’t matter to them that they didn’t have trees or presents or decorations. And it turns out that no matter what he tried to take away from them, Christmas came anyway. And it stuns him. And he says to himself, “Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The story tells us that the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day. And he returns all the things he took, and is welcomed to the feast and, yes, even carves the roast beast.

When he saw the love that the Whos had, when he realized that this love was inside of them and couldn’t be taken away, that’s when he realized what it was all about, and that’s when he was changed too.

You are I, we are not Whos from Whoville. But we are Christians. And we are the people who spend this time of year preparing our hearts for the one who is yet to come, and being transformed in the process. And we have something we can share with the world.

This time of year, no matter what is happening around us, we are called to prepare our hearts to love anyway. We’re asked to open them up and to get ready to welcome Christ into the world. But more than that, we are called to love that world.

I was thinking about that last Sunday when I spent the afternoon with our confirmands. As you know, they had a bake sale during the open house earlier this month. That night they sold things they had made, and they made several hundred dollars. But the best part of the story is this: they didn’t keep a dime for themselves. Instead, last Sunday we went to the store to buy toys and other gifts for young people who otherwise wouldn’t have them this Christmas.

That’s the Confirmation class’s Christmas story. They are choosing to magnify God’s love for the world through their actions. And their story is one that can inspire all of us.

That’s because Christ still comes into this world. Christmas still happens. It didn’t just happen once, it happens all the time. Because Christmas may be about the story that we read. It may be about Mary and Joseph, and the baby and the manger, and no room at the inn. But that’s not the end of the story. The great Christmas story continues to play out, and the truly incredible thing is that you and I are invited onto the stage, and we even get to choose our own lines.

And so, as we prepare for Christmas Eve just a few days from now, here’s the big question: What is your script going to say?

The confirmands, they wrote a pretty good Christmas story this year. One that will change them, and one that will change the world. It’s an example for all of us.

And my hope is that your script too is going to be full of the words and actions of one who wants to magnify God, and to live out Christmas. My hope is that it will be one of a person who has been transformed by the love of God, and who now wants to love the world because of God.

The Grinch, Scrooge, Charlie Brown, George Bailey, and all the rest…those are great stories. But so is yours. And this Christmas, if you really open your hearts to the love of Christ this year, then your story is about to get really good. I can’t wait to hear it. And neither can a world that could use some good stories right about now. Amen?

Magnify: A Sermon on Baptismal Promises for May 31, 2015

We usually hear the story of Mary around Christmastime. On the third Sunday in Advent we read about how the angel Gabriel came to Mary and gave her the surprise of her life. She was pregnant, and not by the guy to whom she was engaged. And she asks the angel, “How did that happen? That’s impossible!” But Gabriel just replies, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary goes from there to visit her cousin Elizabeth, a woman who was not supposed to be able to be pregnant, and yet who was about to give birth to a baby who would grow to be John the Baptist. And when Mary enters the house John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. And when she tells Mary that, Mary responds with what we’ve come to know as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

An icon from the Taize community.

An icon from the Taize community.

And now, here we are, in the end of May, reading what may sounds a lot like a Christmas story. And it may feel out of place. But in truth, this story comes up twice a year in our lectionary, once near Christmastime, and once in late spring, right about seven months before Jesus was born, and about the time when Mary would have been figuring out that something was up. And so today, on the day when we in the church remember the Visitation, we read the Magnificat again.

That word “Magnificat” is Latin and it literally means “my soul magnifies”. And when Mary, a woman who was not wealthy or powerful or likely to be chosen for anything that had to do with royalty, really realizes the importance of what she has been asked to do, those are the first words she says: my soul magnifies the Lord. That’s her first response.

It’s sort of an odd turn of phrase in today’s language, though. When you think of what it means to “magnify” something, what do you picture? I can’t help it but I always go straight to a magnifying glass, like the kind I played around with as a kid. Except I wonder what it means to magnify the Lord. Because as a kid I’d use a magnifying glass to make something that was small look bigger. Hold a magnifying glass over tiny writing and suddenly it is readable. Or look at grains of sand through it, and all of a sudden you could see different colors. The seemingly insignificant became bold.

And that’s wonderful, but God’s problem is not that God is too small. God is immense beyond our wildest imaginations, and we only need to open all our senses up to know that God is all around us. But sometimes that is difficult. Sometimes for as much as we want to see and feel and hear evidence of God’s love, we just can’t. And that’s when we look for signs of God around us. And, often, we find them in others.

That has often happened to me. Times in my life where I have felt lost or uncertain or wrestled with doubt, I was able to look to other people and see God’s love in them. It was life changing. And it taught me that the way we live magnifies the Lord, not just for ourselves, but for others.

And so, that’s when the magnifying glass comes in handy. Not because God needs to be made bigger, but because our attention to, and understanding of, God does. We are the ones who need the magnification that the glass provides, not God. We need help to refocus, and to see things in their proper light. Because it is by looking at people like Mary, and what she did, that we are able to understand more about God, and about God’s love for us.

Mary said “my soul magnifies the Lord”, and that’s really true. Mary becomes a magnifying glass through which our focus is changed, and God becomes clearer to us. By magnifying the Lord, Mary teaches us what it means to be loved by God, and chosen by God to do surprising and amazing things.

And Mary teaches us that it’s not enough to just see God more clearly. Because God also requires of us action. Because just as Mary had to be an active participant in the story of Jesus’ birth, we too have to be active participants in helping to bring Christ’s light into this world.

We can make the choice to magnify God in this way with out lives. But in order to do so, we have to look at ourselves, and see what kind of lens we are. Have we covered ourselves so that the light of God cannot penetrate us? Have we shut our souls so that the warmth of God’s love is never reflected to others?

Or, have we cleared off the lenses of our life, and are we letting God’s light shine through them? Have we chosen to live our lives as magnifiers of God’s love?

I ask you those questions today because I am going to ask you some other questions later in the service. After the sermon, and the hymn, we are going to be baptizing our newest brother in Christ. Gavin’s parents are going to bring him forward, and they are going to make promises about raising him in the faith, and teaching him about God. And Gavin’s godparents will also do the same thing. But it won’t stop there.

And that’s because we, the gathered congregation, are asked to make promises too. Because baptism is also about community. It’s about a congregation saying, “yes, we will love this child and teach him and help him to grow in love for God”. Those are serious promises. And they are promises that ask you to live your life in a way that will magnify God for Gavin as he grows up in this place.

And that’s true not just for Gavin, but for every child and young person who comes through our doors. The job that each of us has, not just the parents, is to help to teach the children and youth in our community what it is to be a Christian, and what it means to live your life in service to something greater than yourself.

Parents are such an important part of that. Church community is so important, but children learn even more about faith at home than they do at church, because they are with their parents so much of the time. And how their parents live out their own faith, how they magnify God, will shape their childrens’ spiritual lives for as long as they live. The choices they make about faith will never be forgotten.

But parents can’t do it alone. I recently read an article about children and youth in church that told me something I’d never known. It said that a child or a youth needs at least five interested adults in their church community in order for them to really connect with their faith and feel a part of the church.

Think about that for a moment. Five adults. So maybe one could be me, and another could be Pastor Cat. I hope we are both that for our youth. But what about those next three or more? Who will they be? A Sunday school teacher? Their handbell or choir director? A volunteer youth group leader? Maybe an adult who always takes the time to ask about their week? Or the one who sleeps on the hard vestry floor overnight when there is a lock-in, or cooks breakfast the next morning?

Who will be the adults who will magnify the holy for the next generation? Will you be one of them?

You don’t need any special training to do that. You don’t need a seminary degree, or one in early childhood education. And you don’t need to be versed in the latest music or trends. You simply need to care about the children and youth in our church enough to embrace what it means to be an intergenerational church, and to live your life as a magnifying glass for God’s love.

When people ask me what our goal is here with our children and youth, and what we want them to learn, I think they expect a list of things. Learn the Lord’s prayer, learn about the Bible, learn the stories of Jesus by heart.

None of that is a bad idea. I hope that by the time our youth graduate from high school they will know all that and more.

But more importantly than that, these are the two things I hope the young people in our church learn first: 1) That God loves them, and 2) That we love them too. If they take nothing else away from a children’s sermon or a Sunday school lesson, I hope it’s that. The rest will come in due time, but it will only stick if they know those two other things first.

That is something to remember on baptism days especially. Because there is a long line of children that have been brought up to this same baptismal font, including some of you decades ago who still sit in these same pews. People who are not still with us made promises to them too. And because of that, they sit here today, and they sit in other churches elsewhere, ready to make promises to another. There’s real beauty in that.

And today we will join our promises with them, and we make the promises again with another beloved child of God. We make the promises to support Gavin and his family. And in a real way we tell Gavin that we already love him, and that God loved him first and will love him all his days, and even beyond. That is the promise of the font, and it is one that we all can magnify in our lives together. Amen.

Magnify: Sermon for December 21, 2014

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

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When Catholic friends of mine come to visit Protestant churches or worship services, they always notice the differences. Most Protestants don’t take Communion every week. And we don’t stand, sit, and kneel throughout the service. But the thing I have heard more often from my Catholic friends than not is this: Where’s Mary?

My grandmother was a first generation Italian American, and a Catholic. Her name was Maria, though everyone called her Mary. Just about every family in her neighborhood had at least one Maria or Mary in it. And when she named her own kids, three have names derived from “Maria”, including my mother. And even when she and a priest had a bit of a theological disagreement, centered around the fact she married my Protestant grandfather, and she left the church, her devotion to Mary continued.

And so, like my Catholic friends, I often wonder why we in the Protestant tradition don’t lift up Mary’s story more often. Because, as one of you said to me this week, “without her, we wouldn’t be here at Christmas”. Mary remains one of many strong women in the Bible who changes the course of our faith and yet, like some of the other women in the Bible, we don’t tell her story nearly enough.

That’s unfortunate because we, and especially our kids, need to hear stories of Biblical women. But, most importantly, Mary’s story is not just one for girls and women. It is a story for people of all genders to remember, because it is a story of strength, of courage, and of choosing to glorify God.

In today’s reading we hear about how the angel Gabriel came to Mary and gave her the surprise of her life. She was pregnant, and not by the guy to whom she was engaged. She asks the angel, “How did that happen? That’s impossible!” But Gabriel just replies, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary goes from there to visit her cousin Elizabeth, a woman who was not supposed to be able to be pregnant, and yet who was about to give birth to someone else we know; John the Baptist. And when Mary enters the house John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. And when she tells Mary that, Mary responds with what we’ve come to know as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

The word “Magnificat” literally means “my soul magnifies”. And when Mary, a woman who was not wealthy or powerful or likely to be chosen for anything that had to do with royalty, really realizes the importance of what she has been asked to do, those are the first words she says: my soul magnifies the Lord. That’s her first response.

It’s sort of an odd turn of phrase in today’s language, though. When you think of what it means to “magnify” something, what do you picture? I can’t help it but I always go straight to a magnifying glass, like the kind I played around with as a kid. Except I wonder what it means to magnify the Lord. Because as a kid I’d use a magnifying glass to make something that was small look bigger. Hold a magnifying glass over tiny writing and suddenly it is readable. Or look at grains of sand through it, and all of a sudden you could see different colors. The seemingly insignificant became bold.

And that’s wonderful, but God’s problem is not that God is too small. God is immense beyond our wildest imaginations, and we only need to open all our senses up to know that God is all around us. But that’s the issue. Because sometimes, despite how big God is, and how much God surrounds us everyday, we just don’t acknowledge that God is present. Because it is our understanding of God is way too small.

And so, that’s when the magnifying glass comes in handy. Not because God needs to be made bigger, but because our attention to, and understanding of, God does. We are the ones who need the magnification that the glass provides, not God. We need help to refocus, and to see things in their proper light. And it is by looking at people like Mary, and what she did, that we are able to understand more about God, and about God’s love for us.

Mary said “my soul magnifies the Lord”, and that’s really true. Mary becomes a magnifying glass through which our focus is changed, and God becomes clearer to us. By magnifying the Lord, Mary also teaches us what it means to be loved by God, and chosen by God to do surprising and amazing things.

And Mary also teaches us that it’s not enough to just see God more clearly. Because God also requires of us action. Because just as Mary had to be an active participation in the story of Jesus’ birth, we too have to be active participants in helping to bring Christ’s light into this world.

And this reminds me of something else I learned about magnifying glasses as a kid, something that I am perhaps glad our own kids are down in church school right now and so will not hear. And that is, that you can use a magnifying glass to set things on fire.

I learned this as part of some sort of lecture given to kids in some youth program I was in about how to survive if you are ever lost in the woods. I’m not sure why they taught us this, because the likelihood we were ever going to be lost in the woods was much less than the likelihood we’d accidentally set our front lawns on fire, but I digress.

And so the teacher taught us that we should always carry a small magnifying glass if we are hiking so that if we get lost, and need warmth, we can make a fire. You just take a bunch of old, dry leaves, hold a magnifying glass over them, and the sun will hit the magnifying glass, and the reflection will burn so hot that the leaves will smolder and you will have fire.

Now I’m not recommending anyone try that, but I think there’s a greater meaning here. Because each of us, like Mary, can choose to magnify the Lord. Each of us can be the lens through which the world comes to see God in new ways. And each of us can let the light of Christ shine through us bright enough that the places in our world that need light and warmth the most can be set ablaze with Christ’s love.

We can make the choice to magnify God in this way with out lives. But in order to do so, we have to look at ourselves, and see what kind of lens we are. Have we covered ourselves so that the light of God cannot penetrate us? Have we shut our souls so that the warmth of God’s love is never reflected to others?

Or, have we cleared off the lenses of our life, and are we letting God’s light shine through them? Have we chosen to live our lives as magnifiers of God’s love?

The literal meaning of the word that the original Greek text uses, the one we translate as “magnify”, is “extol”, or to “praise” or “glorify”. And I like the idea that by magnifying the Lord we are glorifying God. In our historical tradition one of our catechisms even asks what our purpose in life is, and the answer is “to glorify God and enjoy God completely”.

And so, to me, the question is how do we use the lens of our life to magnify and to glorify God?

As we prepare for Christmas Eve, and as we reject today on “love”, the theme for this last Sunday in Advent, I think that’s what it’s all about. We glorify God by loving God, and loving one another, and loving others. And I think that letting God’s love pour through us unencumbered for all to see is the truest way of glorifying God.

Because you can spend your life talking about God. You can tell people all about God and how wonderful God is. But if you don’t live your life with love, nobody is going to believe you. They’re just hollow words, and the world is not any better for them.

But on the other hand, if you love, in every sense of that word, if you even just try…you glorify God, and your soul magnifies the Lord.

And so, today we lit that fourth candle, the one for love, as a sort of prayer. We ask that God will help us to love more this Christmas. We strive to love God, to love one another, and to love the world just a little better this year.

It’s that love that will bring us to the manger on Wednesday night. And it’s that love that we pray will remain with us all year, as we use our lives to magnify the love of Christ that is breaking into this world, and making it brighter.

May your last days of Advent be a blessing, and may we all prepare ourselves for the task of helping the light that shines in the darkness to burn brighter this Christmas. Amen.