by the Reverend Sally S. Weaver
On this Sunday we have the option of using Canticle 15, the Magnificat of Mary. You’ll notice that we heard this Canticle in the place of the psalm this morning. In the Magnificat we hear Mary’s words in response to the angel’s announcement that she will bear God’s son. Mary says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary’s spirit joins ours this 3rd Sunday in Advent in rejoicing in God. And in the epistle we just heard, Saint Paul exhorts the Christians in Thessalonica to “rejoice always.” It appears that this Gaudete Sunday is aptly named; it is indeed Rejoice Sunday.
What is it that we’re rejoicing about? We’re rejoicing in the coming of the light. Today’s Gospel reading tells us that John the Baptist came “as a witness to testify to the light…[John] himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” We rejoice today that we too can testify to Christ’s light in the world.
Pondering today’s readings sparked the memory of a little girl, someone I haven’t thought about in over 40 years. Her name was Enid; she and I were friends during 4th grade. I didn’t really want to be friends with Enid. There was nothing horribly wrong with her, but there was very little that was really right. First off, there was the fact that she lived with her aunt, uncle, and young cousin. That was odd: that she didn’t know her father, and that her mother was unable to be with her. Second, she dressed funny. Her clothes were too big and too long and out of style. Her aunt even made her come to school with her hair in curlers on the day we had our class picture taken. Even her name was old-fashioned and strange. Finally, she found pleasure in absolutely everything; it was slightly unnerving. It was inevitable that Enid and I become friends, since I was an outcast too, although for very different reasons. I was tall and large and no good at sports or games. I longed to be liked by the petite girl who looked like a ballerina or the athletic girl who could climb a rope. Instead, I was stuck with Enid who I found alternately embarrassing and annoying.
That Christmas of 4th grade, Enid and I spent a lot of time together. We looked at the elaborate window displays of the department stores. While my parents drove us through nearby neighborhoods we admired the outdoor displays at people’s homes. I was not a jaded 9-year-old, but I marveled at Enid’s reaction. Every colored light fascinated her. Every animated figure mesmerized her. Every strain of music captured her complete attention. She found thrill and delight in every aspect of the season.
And so Christmas day came, and as usual the presents were somewhat of a letdown. My parents had a habit of giving as gifts not items that we desired but things that we really needed, like socks and underwear. It was that Christmas day that my brother uttered the line that became a much-beloved family saying: “Not another tee shirt!”
The day after Christmas I went to Enid’s to inspect her haul. Enid showed me with great excitement the gifts she’d received from her aunt and uncle: socks, underwear, a new slip. Then she proudly displayed her favorite present: a piece of elastic band, the kind sold in fabric stores. Her aunt had sown it together in a loop. “Look at this,” said Enid. “This is perfect for playing Chinese jump rope.” Enid was right, we subsequently had untold hours of pleasure with that simple piece of elastic. But my initial reaction was disappointment that Enid’s Christmas was as mundane and practical as mine.
“These are stupid gifts,” I said to her. She immediately leapt to the defense of her aunt and uncle and their gift choices, irritating me further. Getting worked up, I proceeded to tell Enid just what I thought of her attitude toward Christmas decorations and gifts and her life in general. I unloaded on her my frustrations with her wide-eyed, open-mouthed awe at everything related to the season. By the time I finished I was red-faced, breathless, ashamed of myself, and not about to apologize. I will never forget Enid’s response. She said, “But Sally, it’s all about Jesus.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I fully appreciated Enid. Her alcoholic mother regained custody of her at the end of that school year and I never saw her again. As a 9-year-old child Enid knew what it takes most of us a lifetime to learn. It is all about Jesus. And our response to the coming of Jesus, to the light of Christ, is wonder and gratitude and rejoicing.
About now, a couple of weeks before Christmas, we expect to be reminded of the evils of overspending, overconsuming, overeating. Overdoing is not a good thing, we know that. But even among the glam and glitter, we may see Jesus. We can be struck by the beauty of tinkling Christmas lights. We can hear in a new way the lyrics to a Christmas carol we’ve known all our lives. We can feel wonder at the silence of a snowfall. We can appreciate the cheeriness of strangers we meet and the unexpected kindnesses that we encounter. Lights and music and human warmth, even at a social distance, can provide us glimpses of the divine life. Enid saw Jesus in a bit of elastic. She knew there was love expressed in that gift. She knew that all love has but one source, and that source is God, that source is Jesus.
Enid was only 9 years old. She wasn’t cool, she wasn’t popular. But she was probably the best teacher I ever had. She testified to the light. She looked at the world and saw Jesus.
And so, loving Jesus, open our eyes to behold the world around us and to glimpse you at work in it. Sweep away the darkness from our hearts. Prepare our souls for the coming of your brilliant and cleansing light. And always and everywhere, Lord Jesus, teach us to rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. In your name we pray. Amen.
The Reverend Sally S. Weaver is co-priest in charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org