Stir up your power, Lord

Older Homilies (2009-2013)

Preached for the Third Sunday of Advent with St. David of Wales Episcopal Church

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

This is Advent, a time when we face the darkness of the world and ask for light.

This is wilderness, a place untamed and raw and totally cut off, where we wait, and cry to God for help.

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

Every third Sunday in Advent when I hear, in this prayer, of God stirring up his power/ I think of bare feet walking across a creek bed, the sediment swirling up in murky clouds through clear living water with each step; or, I think of spices at the bottom of a large pot full of broth that must be conjured with a wooden spoon for the flavor to spread. The biblical language is not so gentle, however. It comes from Psalm 80 a psalm often read in Advent for its 16th verse, which begs for God’s right hand man to come among us with the power of God’s strength. The psalm is plea for God to break his silence and make himself known amidst the total decimation of his people. “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up your strength and come to help us!” the psalmist cries. It is one of our great, scriptural traditions to demand this kind of attention from God when the whole world seems to have gone wrong. You have hidden your face for too long, O Lord. You told us we were a chosen people and here we are, left for dead, trampled on by enemies, scorched by the heat of this world’s glaring cruelty. Where are you, God? Why do you not act? Stir up your power, arouse your wrath and, like a sleeping lion stirred to wake by the clamor of injustice, pounce upon the wicked in our midst.

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

It seems at times that it would take great might just to reach us here. The prophet Zephaniah looks at his people, tormented by corruption, lawlessness and murder, and imagines that it would take a warrior to bring triumph and rejoicing back into their midst. It would take a God who came singing, flinging prisoners upon his shoulder, swooping up the scattered ones to bring them home, trampling down every enemy he meets along the way.

Likewise, the Baptist John looks at his people, bewildered in their search for answers, and imagines fire. “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” he says, and he speaks of One to come who will separate the evil from the good with a winnowing fork, to incinerate the evil once and for all.

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

It seems at times that it would take great might just to reach us here. Beneath the din of unceasing news reports, behind dull eyes that have seen so much senseless violence. It seems that it would take a mighty arm to straighten all the crooked paths that have led us to this hell. It seems that it would take the power to move mountains just to find us in the place where we are cowering, beneath the stockpiles and the sadness and the speechless gasps. It would take a mighty god who could reach down through the madness we have made and pluck us up and hold us safe and protect us from any evil that may come. It seems that it would take a mighty God to save us from ourselves.

And yet the tool of our God’s strength is not the ax that John imagined. Neither is it a winnowing fork, nor is it a fire. The tool of our God’s strength is in the cross where he suffered in the same way that we suffer still today: senselessly. The might of our God is born in the feed-trough of a manger, tender and defenseless as an infant child, dependent on a mother’s human hands for care.

This is the power that we ask for, still. This is the great might that we pray will come. To stop pretending that the world as we have made it is OK. To let down our defenses and acknowledge the real horror in our midst, side by side with a real God who loves us through it. To love, knowing that our love can bring us pain, can leave us out in the world beyond ourselves and our ability to protect and guard. To shed tears for those we do not know, to hold the ones we do even tighter still, to lift a voice in outrage, to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. To dream of a world where disaster is no more, especially when the idea of it seems crazy, and work to give that dream flesh and breath to sing with. This power belongs to God. This is the power Christ comes to baptize with: a world shimmering with such exquisite light that our hearts break each time evil threatens it, and weep when death still seems to carry it away.

If you are angry because you are fed up with the thousands of innocent children and adults who are killed and maimed by guns and violence in this and every country, every year, then let your anger burn for justice until God’s just and peaceful world is come. If you grieve because the loss is more than you can hold alone, then let God’s consolation fill your heart. And if you rejoice because the goodness of God’s world shines brighter now for all the darkness that surrounds it, then lift your voices high and sing.

Now is the time. This is the place. God is with us.

One thought on “Stir up your power, Lord

  1. Onces again you were able to comfort me during this overwhelming time of sadness that we have all experienced. I do cry out to God for answers …
    I missed hearing you preach but I am grateful you addressed this horrible nightmare and shared it on line. We all need to be bold and speak out
    May God richly bless you my dear friend
    Love from me, Susie

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