The Rev. Josephine Robertson
St. John’s, Kirkland
Until I was ordained I spent every year of my life from the age of seven in choir and I grew up singing Morning Prayer, including the Magnificat every Sunday (which explains a lot). So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I read the lessons of darkness, and suffering assigned for today the first theologian I heard echoing in my heart was Leonard Cohen. Leonard is one of my favorite theologians because his music grapples so honestly with our broken, beautiful world.
His last album, released just before his death last year is perhaps the most poignant tribute to the work and legacy of Jesus I’ve ever heard. Like Jesus, Leonard is Jewish. But he called himself a lover of all religions and once said he thought that Jesus was perhaps the “the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness… A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion.”
Cohen’s final album is named You Want It Darker and he might as well have written it for the first Sunday of Advent.
Here stands Jesus today with lightening in his eyes, he who will launch a movement that will spread both darkness and light across the world. Here stands Isaiah who sees the crushing darkness and the blinding light that is possible in creation. Here stands all the saints and prophets who dare to dream. It is a new year. The rest of the world might order things differently but for Christians 2018 begins today. It comes in with a thunderclap. It arrives with the desperate cry for God to come close, and the trembling fear that God will do just that.
Today we step into a season that is outside of time, into a season of waiting for something that has already happened and is still happening. Today Mary goes into labor for a new order, a labor that has been going on for eons. Today we are anxious midwives hoping to catch the child who has come, and is coming, and will come.
It is 2018, and a new year. Same as the old year. 2017 was rough. 2017, like the year of Jesus’ birth was one of those years that felt like someone had dared the world that things couldn’t get worse, and the powers and principalities took up that bet and ran with it.
Cohen’s opening lines to You Want It Darker have never felt more appropriate, prophet that he was…
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Cohen’s You Want It Darker, like Jesus’ prediction of suffering and darkness, looks the evil of the human order full in the face. Here we see the truth, that God has trusted us with our own futures and we have squandered that trust. That God has given us the ability to chose life, or oblivion and we are speeding down the road toward oblivion daring God to say something about it.
Remember, there is the Holy Mother, laboring to bring forth a new creation, still. There stands Jesus in the center of the whirlwind of history, still. There stands Isaiah at the threshold between hope and suffering, still.
In the midst of darkness, Cohen sings:
I had to look up the meaning of that word. It is Hebrew, and means “here I am.” Not in the sense of a teacher taking attendance. But in the spiritual sense. It is the word that Abraham speaks to God in response to God’s call. It is the word that signals God’s presence among God’s people in the midst of suffering and hardship. It is the word that stands for light that cannot be drowned out by darkness. It is stubbornness, rootedness, presence.
If the Gospel had been written in Hebrew, instead of Greek, it is the word that Mary would have spoken to the angel. It marries our effort to God’s. It roots our being in God’s I AM. Hineni. In the midst of a song of darkness and suffering and conflict it is a reminder for us of Advent.
It reminds us that we are still here.
Let it be our word this Advent, flung into the face of the darkness. Let it be a reminder to us who wait for the coming of God into the world that She is here, hineni, has always been here, hineni, and will find us over and over again.
Despite it all. Despite sickness that wrings tears from our eyes, despite death that comes too soon, despite suffering and fear.
We are still here.
God is still here.
No matter how dark the world becomes, hineni.
No matter how hopeless we might feel, hineni.
This is the promise of Advent. While we sit in the fearsome and uncomfortable already and not yet.
Isaiah promises us with fire in his eyes that God, whose presence shakes the very foundations of the world is still here. Still breaking into the world. Still shaking up the things that seem unshakeable.
Jesus promises us with lightening in his eyes that God, who made all things and makes all things, and remakes all things is still with us.
God our Mother sings “Hineni” into the darkness.
God our Father speaks “Hineni” into the fires we have set.
Beloveds, we are still here. And God is still with us. God whose son had the madness to sit with thieves, and prostitutes. Who stood firmly on the side of the poor and the sick and the outcast. Whose glory we miss every time he comes again, because it is humility and suffering.
He is the one who turned the world upside down, and today he demands that we join with him in doing that again.
(Lyrics Copyright Leonard Cohen)