Advent III – December 13, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
“What then should we do?” On this third Sunday in Advent, it’s a question asked three times, by three different groups of people – the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers.
It’s a question hot on many lips today – the growing crowds of the unemployed, tax collectors and those who pay taxes, and yes, soldiers and those who support or oppose war.
“What then should we do?” Everyone is looking for a magic answer – or, at least an easy answer. Everybody wants the magic formula. A magic solution.
Well, I want to talk this morning about magic. Specifically, these three things: the magic of the mission of the gospel, the magic of the Eucharist and the magic of the Dance.
“What then should we do?” John’s response is very direct: There is no magic. Have you got two coats? Give one to someone who needs one. Do you have power? Don’t abuse it. Do you have authority? Use it wisely.
In the prophetic mind of John the Baptist, there is no magic. There’s only pragmatics: Share. Give what you can. Be Fair. Don’t cheat. Do no harm. Don’t abuse power.
There’s no magic to the mission of the gospel for John. The magic is created in the doing.
“What then should we do?” Well, we can give thanks and praise. We can make Eucharist.
I can still recall – almost 24 years after my own ordination – that this was the very question that was hot on my lips. And now, today, less than 24 hours after his ordination, I’m quite sure that’s the question on the lips of Jon Richardson.
Actually, as he prepares to preside at his first Eucharist, his question is probably more like, “Holy Mother of God, what the heck am I supposed to do now?” In fact, he’ll probably be whispering that question to me behind the altar in just a few minutes.
Presiding at Eucharist is a daunting task. Other than preaching, it is one of the most naked, vulnerable tasks one can do. It is about bringing all of your brokenness - my brokenness - all of the brokenness of the people you are called to serve, all of the brokenness of the world, and offering it all before God for reconciliation and healing.
It is awesome – and awe-full – and magical.
Yes, it’s all that, but it is not magic.
The magic comes from the symbolic power of what we do together. Because, when we bring all that brokenness before God and all the saints – past, present, and yet to come – for reconciliation and healing, Jesus promises to be fully present to us.
And, I believe He is. It is daunting and overwhelming and always, always a privilege to be a vehicle and servant of God. The Eucharistic is a magical, mystical dance into which we are all invited so that we might leave this place and dance out into the mission of the gospel. Yes, it’s magical and wonderful, but it’s not magic.
“What then should we do?”
Well, that brings me to the magic of the dance, which I think is the magic of the Gospel and the Eucharist. In the interplay between Word and Sacrament, is an invitation to a Holy Dance.
First, here’s a story behind the story. This was told to me by my friend, Rev. Lauren Stanley, who has been a missionary to Sudan and is now missionary to Haiti:
During World War II, a musician by the name of Larry LaPrise served in the European Theater. After the war, LaPrise and his friends formed a band called the ‘Ram Trio’ that entertained the crowds coming off a day of skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. One of the songs he wrote – or so the story goes – is one that all of us know: The Hokey-Pokey. You know this song, right? Most of us have sung it and danced to it, usually as kids and then again, for some unknown reason, at weddings.
In the old days, when the priests would celebrate in great stone cathedrals, they would turn their backs to the people, and sing the Mass: “Hoc est corpus meum!” Their voices would reverberate throughout the cathedrals, and as the echo moved throughout the cathedral, what they would be signing – “Hoc est corpus meum” – would sound like Hoooo-cuuussss pooooocuuuuus . . . . . . .
From that term – “hocus pocus” – LaPrise came up with the “Hokey Pokey” (although there are some who claim that the song and dance existed in England during the war). In 1949, LaPrise and the Ram Trio recorded the song and it soon became nationally known.
“What then shall we do” – with the information in this story about a silly song and dance? Well, think again about the last part of the song: You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!
Isn’t that what John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, is calling us to do? Isn’t he fairly yelling at us, “Repent! For the kingdom of God has come near to you!”? “Repent” means “turning yourself around.” That’s what John is telling us to do – and in this morning’s gospel, he’s telling us how to do it. That’s what the Hokey Pokey is telling us to do: Turn ourselves around!
Turn around and walk together – as the Body of Christ, coming to the table to most fully meet the Body of Christ. Every time we do that, we’re turning ourselves about – away from the things that society tells us are important to the things that God proclaims are important. Turn around and come into the mission of the gospel.
It’s the third Sunday in Advent. Our collect prayer asks God to “stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us . . . .” God is asking us to turn ourselves around and make room for the coming of Jesus, the infant Messiah.
“What then shall we do?”
Well, you start with one hand, because sometimes that’s all you can do (maybe it’s just an extra coat). Then you put in a foot (which you don’t use to kick someone). Then you go for your right side, followed by your left.
And then, if you can, if you’re willing to be bold – to take a risk for the Gospel, for Jesus, who gave His all for you and wants all of you, just as you are without one plea – if you can have that kind of courage, Jesus asks that you put your whole self into the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ (known as the church), you turn yourself around and you commit yourself to the Christ child who is coming into the world.
It’s something we have to do over and over again, this turning around, this committing ourselves. But we can do it. And we can start to do it through the Hokey Pokey, believe it or not. It’s a silly song, at least on the surface. But when you learn the real meaning of it, when you learn what the words are and what the intentions are, it becomes something a whole lot more significant.
“What then shall we do?”
Well, are you willing to do this? On this Third Sunday in Advent, sometimes known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’, are you willing to stand up and dance the Hokey Pokey with me? To begin to take a small risk for the gospel?
Put your right hand in. Take your right hand out. Put your right hand in and shake it all about. Do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, that’s what it’s all about.
Put your left foot in. Take your left foot out. Put your left foot in and shake it all about. Do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, and that’ what it’s all about.
You put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around.
‘Cuz that’s what it’s all about.
Yes, that’s what the magic of the mission of the Gospel, the magic of the Eucharist and the magic of the invitation to the Dance is really all about!
And you, too, can do it! There's no magic. It just about basic pragmatics.
The magic is created in the doing.