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Monday, December 12, 2011

Stirring things up

I love it when the Gospel reading from Sunday continues to stir up my soul on Monday.

Actually, this Monday, it's the sermon I heard on Sunday that continues to dance around the edges of my mind, inviting me to more deeply consider what the preacher had to say.

If you weren't in church yesterday, or didn't have a chance to reflect on the lessons, you can find them here.

In most places in Western Christendom, the third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudette Sunday. We switch to pink vestments, no - not because Mary really wanted a girl - but the color change begins to signal a shift from penitence or contemplation to the anticipation of the joy of the coming of the Nativity of our Lord.

In Episcopal Churches, however, many refer to this as"Stir up Sunday" - because of the Collect:
"Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen."
I also understand that in our "Mother Church" in England, this was also the Sunday when folks would "stir up" the Christmas pudding which called for it to sit for a number of weeks.

Supposedly, cooks, wives and their servants would go to church, hear the words 'Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord...', and be reminded, by association of ideas, that it was about time to start stirring up the puddings for Christmas.

Just to make the Gospel point, however, John the Baptist makes another appearance - this time, in the Eucharistic Lectionary for Year "B" -  in John 1:6-8,19-28

When the priests and the Levites from Jerusalem ask him who he is, he does not say that he is the Messiah. He says,"I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said."

Not just any voice of any one, crying out in the wilderness. The voice of John the Baptist is the one the prophet Isaiah talked about.

Walter Brueggemann says that, for Christians the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture

Yup. That'll stir things up.

And, that's pretty much what the preacher did. He pointed out that in today’s world, maybe the wilderness is not a desert or a wild untamed area but the everyday world around us.

I think he makes a very valid point.

In yesterday's Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Eric Weiner wrote an essay entitled, "Americans: Undecided About God?" he points out:
For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.

Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.
The reason for this rise in the Nones? Part of the problem, Weiner says, is "that politics is to blame. We’ve mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don’t want the political one that comes along with it".

Those who claim to be Atheists are seizing on this opportunity. Even in "The First State" of Delaware, billboards are starting to spring up that picture Poseidon, then Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Devil. The caption: “37 Million Americans know MYTHS when they see them.”

Some may see the billboard and simply shake their heads in dismay. I look at that and see evidence of a spiritual wilderness.

One of the things the preacher did in yesterday's sermon which was so effective was that he flipped the image of John the Baptist like a pancake. He asked, "Suppose YOU are the voice of one, crying in the wilderness?".

That's exactly my experience this "most wonderful time of the year". I often feel I - and many other Christians I know - are single, lonely voices, crying out in a wilderness of the new religions of consumerism and marketing and, yes, politics.

For the past several years I have taken it upon myself to use "Stir up Sunday" to launch the beginning of the Season of Christmas Joy.

I say, "Have a wonderful Christmas" to the weary looking woman at the cash register at the super market. I also say, "Merry Christmas" to the man at the gas station who takes my credit card.

Of course, I don't say this to a man wearing a yarmakul or a woman in a head scarf or a man in a turban. Indeed, I try to be mindful of the religious holidays of others and make the appropriate holiday greeting. I just expect the same in return when I'm celebrating my holidays.

And, I can't think of a more important holiday for Christians than the Incarnation. 

Indeed, there's a "Christmas Letter from Jesus" that's been circulating on Facebook. If you're on Facebook, you can find one here. It includes these words:
10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.
I think acting like a Christian includes being honest about who you are - in private and in public.

You don't need to start a petition drive to make sure there's a Nativity Scene on the front lawn of City Hall or the Post Office. If you're that passionate about it, put one up in your own front lawn.

If more people did that, there wouldn't be any need for one on any public property.

St. Francis is attributed with teaching his monks that their lives "may be the only Gospel some people ever get to read".

Make sure - at least during Advent and Lent - that people get to see in you "the reason for the season".

Have them see the humble manger that is your heart, preparing room for the coming of the Christ child.

Have them hear angels sing when they hear your voice ring out, "Have a wonderful Christmas".

Have them see the Christ in you when you make sure a family is clothed and fed and their children have toys on Christmas Day.

Do that, and not only will you be a voice of one, crying in the wilderness of The Nones, you'll also be bound to stir things up for an expectation of joy.


Sudie B said...

Hi Elizabeth--I love what you wrote! Just a small correction.... The collect that the 1979 Prayerbook assigned to the 3rd Sunday in Advent has really messed up all the plum pudding makers. There is no way you can get a properly "aged" pudding in 2 weeks. The brandy doesn't have time to do it's work.

Originally, the "Mother Church" (and all the Episcopal BCPs prior to this one) assigned the collect to the last Sunday before Advent. The editors of the 1979 BCP failed to consult the cooks. :-(

Sudie Blanchard, Deacon (and experienced cooker of plum puddings--I am willing to share the recipe...)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sudie - As I remember it, Stir Up Sunday was in November and then again in Advent. And, oh, what I would give for a "real" plum pudding recipe. You can either share it here or email me privately. I would be ever so grateful.

MarkBrunson said...

I have a recipe, as well, but it does not use suet, as the more traditional puddings do!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I wouldn't even know where to find suet, so I think it's okay.

walter said...

4, the Nones are the ones we are looking for, aren't they! 12% may be a good start. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused we stay centered and focused in the moment lyrics and liturgy of life awakening the fullness and mystery of the Good Life. Walter Vitale

MarkBrunson said...

You have to get it from a butcher - a real butcher, not the guy at your supermarket who just gets pre-cut pieces of meat to put out in individual packing.

That is why I found one that doesn't use suet.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, there's a great butcher in Millsboro. I just might ask. Just for a chuckle.

Matthew said...

I would love a good pudding recipe -- fee free to forward one to me at

I made one last year (in November) using dried figs and dates and even bought suet off amazon (but it was vegetable suet in a carton. I even steamed it on the stove for 6 hours. It tasted okay but I am looking for something even better.

It will be too late for this year. I think this is the recipe that I followed. Not sure if its authentic or not:

Bill said...

I hate to go off-topic from food but getting back to the sermon, the thought of myself and others like be being the voice of one crying in the wilderness, stuck with me for quite some time afterward. I think that if you come away from a sermon with any memory of what was said, that was an effective sermon. If you leave and keep coming back to what was said, and it bothers you, then that was a great sermon.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It was a great sermon, wasn't it, Bill?