Every week at Vespers,
--we join Mary, the Theotokos,
as she is called in greek,
Mary, the Mother of God, in English
--we join Mary in singing:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

The Western Church has long sung
Mary's song at Vespers
in joyful exception
that even in the midst of a world like ours,
God is doing something wonderful and something new.

Singing Mary's song
in joyful expectation
is a purposeful, intentional act.

Because at the close of a day,
when we look back
at all that transpired of the course of our waking hours
we know that some things were pleasant,
others were not.
Some things seemed to come with ease,
others with great struggle.
Some issues were resolved,
some still linger.
Along with their uncertainty.
Or pain.

It'd be all too easy to sing a song of indifference or woe.
Instead,
the church purposefully, intentionally, sings,
we sing
Mary's song:
"my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

We sing with joyful expiation that God is doing
something wonderful, something new,
even when we struggle,
even when those around us struggle,
even when the world struggles.

Tonight, Jesus speaks of this sort of struggle as distress.
Distress among the nations.
And Jesus speaks of the way our ancient sisters and brothers,
came to know such distress.
Signs in the heavens, moon, stars, earth.

Today we'd talk about
news channels and Buzzfeed,
Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds.
It's all, essentially, the same thing.

One way to look at all of the trouble in our world.
Is to fan it.
Fan the fires.
Feed the turmoil.
Perhaps to make money.
Perhaps to usher in the end of the ages,
as some who call themselves Christian would urge.
For distress among nations, as it is held,
will usher in the end of the ages.
Jesus will return.
And the righteous
-- presumably those who cheered on the fires,
but certainly played no role in making them --
will survive.

Another way to look at all the trouble in our world
is through the lens of fatalism.

The world is self-destructing.
Nothing you can do about it.
So let it self-destruct.
And relish every moment.

Forget about sustainability.
It'll be gone before we know it.
So enjoy the world, with no regard for cost.
Consume more.

Still, another way to look at all the trouble in our world.
is to use the world's struggles.
as proof that God surely doesn't exists,
that God isn't there.
For what God would allow such horrible things to happen?

There's a certain allure to such an argument.
Except, that the notion there is no God
is most often on the lips of people
who haven't endured the very struggles and troubles
they point to.

None of these ways
is the way Jesus advocates
in this teaching,
we hear tonight from Saint Luke's Gospel --
with all its vivid and shocking imagery.

Instead,
Jesus,
-- the very one who will endure the most
extreme
hardship and pain of human struggle,
-- the very one who will endure death on the cross.
Instead,
Jesus suggests the way to look at the troubles in our world,
is the way of joyful expectation.
Joyful expectation that even in the midst of a world like ours,
-- vivid and shocking --
God is doing something wonderful and something new.

This perspective Jesus advocates
looks in between --
in between all the destruction,
in between the devastation,
in between the destress,
looks in between and sees what God is up to.

Lifting up the lowly.
The migrants stranded by war.
And largely disregarded by nations.
God is lifting them up.

Looks in between and see God.
Filling the hungry with good things.
When others would choose to neglect them.

Looks in between.
And sees what God is doing.
As opposed to what God is not doing.

And by the power of the Holy Spirit,
we join God in the marvelous, constructive things.

Which gives us all the more reason for our souls to
"proclaim the greatness of the Lord."
Because people like us become, in Christ,
part of God's joyful expected in-between ways.

Consider the fig tree, Jesus says.
Though totally barren.
After a harsh winter.
It sprouts.
And it is sure to bring the choicest,
the sweetest,
the most hearty of fruit.

In case your ears did not hear as Jesus intended,
in case you missed it:
the fig-tree, dear friends
is you and me,
is the body of Christ,
is God's promise born in us and
given for the sake of our troubled world.

Advent is the church's way of expressing
this joyful expectation that God
is doing something new, something constructive
in this world of ours.

A public witness to this world
that the way of
injustice
and oppression,
and destruction
and death
will not win the night or the day.

Advent is the church's instance that
even though there are signs of distress all around us
however vivid and shocking,
we see signs of hope.
Signs of new birth.
Signs of comfort and joy.
Because we see,
and we are committed to,
what God is doing in between.
For we are illumined by the light of Christ.
Christ who helps us to see what God is doing in this world.
Points us to it.
Actuates it.
As the Word made flesh.
As the Word who made all things.
Is in all things.
And is remaking all things.

Mary was the first to behold this Word.
The first to turn from fear to hope.
The first from sorrow and worry to joy.

In the midst of distress
this Word prompted her to sing with joyful expectation.
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

Tonight, we sing with the very same joyful expectation.
For we see what God is doing
in between the troubles in our world.
What God is doing,
when and where no one else can.
What God is doing
with us and with our sisters and brothers
to bring comfort and peace
in generations past,
and for generations yet to come;
in this and every age.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
November 29, 2015 Jazz Vespers
Psalm 25
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Saint Luke 21:25-36