A sermon for the third Sunday of Advent

Bringing a child into the world is an act of hope.

You hope for so many things. Of course you hope the delivery won’t be too difficult. You hope the child will be healthy. You hope you’ll be up to the task of parenting teenagers. But this morning I’m thinking of something bigger than that.

You wonder who they’ll turn out to be. And you hope your child will grow up to be a good person in a world where goodness isn’t something you can take for granted. You she’ll find love—find someone to love, someone who will love her. You hope she’ll have a long and happy life.

We invest so much hope in our children.

So I want to thank you, Cat and Marc, for bring little Chyann Elizabeth to us here this morning. For bringing joy to all our hearts, because who doesn’t love a baby?

But more than that—thank you for sharing your hope. Thank you for inviting us to make your hope our hope.

We hope that in her own way, Chyann will carry forward your values. We hope that she—and her generation—will make the world a better place. As much as we hope and pray now for a better world, we know it’s the young ones coming up now who will have to carry that work forward.

We have such hope for the future. As people of faith, we trust in God’s promises that better times are coming. We hear that especially in this morning’s reading from Isaiah, which talks about a time when the earth and its people will be renewed, when

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom …

Advent is the season of hope. It’s about our longing for better times. And our longing to be better people.

So we wait in hope. Even in the darkest nights of the darkest month, we look for light. We love the bright lights of the season. Who can drive past a beautiful display of holiday lights and not feel joy?

They remind us of the true light that is coming into the world, to quote the beginning of John’s Gospel. That light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Advent is the season of hope, and it’s a good time for a baptism, for the opportunity to reflect on the hope we invest in our children.

Mary must have had thoughts like these herself as she waited, her belly growing larger with each passing week, feeling those little fluttering movements as her baby grew.

What will this baby turn out to be like? How will he live his life? Those are questions she have pondered, too, as she waited for the day when he would be delivered.

When Christmas comes we will celebrate her child as the Christ who embodies our hopes and brings them to fruition.

But he came into this world naked and defenseless, as we all do.

Our children come into the world needy and helpless, but full of potential. Over time they’ll learn and grow. Their true character will slowly take shape. And it’s up to us to teach them what matters.

There’s a poem that caught my eye last month, a sonnet by a poet named John Burt, and I’ve been pondering it ever since. It’s short but I’m not going to read it here, because poetry is a bit like Holy Scripture. You have to hear it more than once, and sit with it for a while, before the full meaning begins to take shape.

I put a few copies on the back table, so if you’re curious you can pick one up on your way out.

But for now I’ll get straight to the interpretation. I’ll tell you that the poem imagines a pregnant Mary—awake in the night as Joseph sleeps beside her—wondering about this child who was on his way. Remembering the amazing promise of the angel Gabriel that he would be great. That he would be holy. And that his kingdom would never end.

And there in the dark she wonders how this child intends to live his life. What is he planning as his little body is taking shape in her womb?

And then it hits her: He doesn’t know. Couldn’t know. This God-incarnate child will start out just like every other human baby.

Being human is something he’s going to have to learn from her. She’ll have to teach him to walk, and to talk, and she’ll teach him something about what matters, too.

She will be the teacher of God, teaching God how to be human. She and Joseph will raise him to be the man he will be.

She will share with him the values she holds dear—and we get a glimpse of that in the canticle we recited this morning, the Magnificat, the song of Mary. And what a revolutionary spirit she turns out to be.

Her gratitude at the blessing God has given her leads into her hopes for a good and just future, for a world in which hungry stomachs are satisfied before the rich get anything. Where arrogant power is toppled, and the lowly and powerless are lifted up.

And her son will grow up to preach that message, to carry forth those hopes. Mary might not have been the one who took to the road as an itinerant preacher, but we can see here where her son got some of his ideas.

Like all human infants, Chyann has a lot to learn, a lot of growing to do. And so this morning we charge Cat and Marc in particular with teaching her how to be human. How to be faithful and compassionate, and to care about the things that matter.

They will be her first teachers, but it’s right that we bless them for this work and pray God’s grace for them here in church—in community—because this responsibility isn’t on them alone. It’s on all of us.

Not just to support them in their parenting. And remember I said that when their girls are teenagers. But it’s on us to live our faith as role models—role models for all the babies of this world. Because where will they learn what matters if not from us?

As people of faith, we encourage each other in hope, reassuring ourselves, when our hopes falter, that God’s promises are good and true.

Because hope is something we share. Something that binds us together. Something we pass along to our children. It is our deepest hopes and desires that make us who we are.

So bringing a child into this world is an act of hope.

It was an act of hope for a poor family living 2,000 years ago in a country that was being crushed under the heel of occupation by the brutal Roman Empire.

It’s an act of hope today, in a world that can still seem so cruel. Where poor people still go hungry, and where power isn’t always used for the benefit of anyone but the powerful.

We give thanks for that birth of hope in the Middle East so many centuries ago, as we prepare to celebrate it again at Christmas.

And we give thanks today for the birth of Chyann Elizabeth, and all the hope she represents. May she live a good and grace-filled life.


Preached at St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Bristol, PA.