Grace and peace to you from the one who was, who is and who is yet to come.
Did you realize that Thursday was World AIDS Day? December 1, marks the day every year---the day to commemorate, the day to pray, the day to raise voices in solidarity with those affected and infected by this virus. This year is the 30th Anniversary of the naming of this disease. This year also begins the 'Getting to Zero' Campaign. With more than 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS the goal is that there will be Zero new HIV infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero-AIDS related deaths world wide by 2015.
World AIDS Day is a day that could pass without much notice. But it was noticed this year; Vicar Brian and I drove to Philadelphia to commemorate World AIDS day with a friend. Some of you probably have heard me talk about Rev. Andrena Ingram. She is the pastor of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown and she is living HIV positive.
I met Andrena while I was an intern with Heidi Neumark at Transfiguration in the Bronx. Pastor Ingram has quite a story.....She was abused as a child; served time in the army; she ended up on the streets with a drug habit and a few kids. Life was hard and tragic, but fortunately she found herself in rehab.
There she met Warren and fell in love. Both of them were on the way to recovery and a good life......They get married; she gets pregnant and he finds out he is HIV positive.
She told us the other night that she is so vocal about the fight against HIV and AIDS because Warren was so silent. He was embarrassed, ashamed and afraid to go into a drugstore to pick up the medications that could have, would have prolonged his life. And so --- afraid, and ashamed twenty years ago under the stigma attached to being HIV positive he died with full blown AIDS.
As we open the bible we read all kinds of stories---stories of famines and floods, stories of infidelity and passion, stories of plagues and destruction
stories of people who wondered in the wilderness, who have been exiled,
who have been oppressed, who suffered---those who need, who want, who long for God’s comfort.
Then good news comes!
On the working preacher podcast one of the scholars from Luther Seminary gives this imaginative explanation: The good news consisted of three words. Someone comes running along yelling, “he is risen,” and the people ask “who?” The speaker answers, “Jesus of Nazareth?” They ask, “who is he?” And the first speakers answers, “he is the one born in the manger, the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the one who was crucified, died and buried.” They ask, “How’d that happen?” So the gospel writer sets down an answer, so that people might hear and know.
He writes: “This is the beginning of the good news..... Just what the people needed to hear, because--well --they needed some good news. Let me draw you a picture. 'In Galilee around 70 CE. There is a war. Upstart Jews are starting to revolt against Rome, and Jerusalem has been taken over. The word is that things in the city are bad. The citizens are of two minds. Some are waiting for God to raise up leaders to move those who don’t think , or believe as they do from the Land. Still others are pushing for submission to Rome as a road to security and peace. Everyone is afraid, life is unpredictable and the price of olive oil is astronomical.'*
No wonder people gather at the edge of the wilderness to listen to a man dressed in camel’s hair, eating wild locust and honey. They need a word---some hope, so they go see this wild man crying out. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
They have heard this before; these are words of scripture. This is the long promised messenger, who signifies a turn of events, who points to the Messiah.
Mark begins his telling of the story, not with a birth announcement or a discussion of lineage but with a prophet who speaks in the words of prophets of old-- words of Isaiah and Malachi. This gospel writer wants us to know that this story has connections with all the other stories told about the people’s experiences with God.
This prophet, called John the Baptist, also points us to the one the people have been waiting for, the one who will speak mercy, comfort and peace into their suffering, into their oppression, into their sickness, disease, and forgiveness into their lives.
John points to the one who has the power to speak new beginnings in our lives, and invites the people, invites us into repentance, invites us to turn around. And we know: this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God. Even if at first it doesn’t sound like it.
Andrena heard this good news, she became a member of Transfiguration in the Bronx as a result of bringing her son Brezlan to vacation bible school. One day Pastor Neumark and I were knocking on doors in the neighborhood and we knocked on Andrena’s door. She invited us in for conversation.
She would later tell me that I was the first African American woman she had ever seen wearing a collar and she was curious about why I thought I could be a pastor.
Through attendance at Transfiguration, Andrena heard the cry of John to prepare the way of the Lord, the call to repentance and amendment of life. She became more involved in church and by the time I finished my internship, she was studying the bible regularly, she even studied through the Metro New York synod’s Diakonia program and subsequently felt a call to ordained ministry.
She did not have a smooth road toward ordination---many on the candidacy committee wondered ten years ago how she would hold up and in a meeting someone asked her “what if you die?" Wait, isn’t that all of our fates? Of course, with Rev. Heidi Neumark as an advocate she made it through the system and has been ordained for over five years.
Yes she heard the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ the Son of God and she knows that story has not yet ended; her story becomes part of God’s story and so does ours! Andrena’s story is added to the biblical story and countless other stories of how this good news has the possibility to change lives.
This story has the possibility to change lives and compel us to move out into the world witnessing to this good news, taking up a cause and advocating for those who are poor, hungry, hopeless, sick and suffering.
Pastor Ingram’s cause is those infected with the virus that causes AIDS, because she knows that story too. And she would like for us to take up that cause, pausing not just for one day to commemorate but committing to Getting to Zero--Zero new infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths. She also wants us to tell the good news that Jesus the Christ makes a difference in this cause and in our lives.That’s what she teaches and preaches through words and deeds.
Because of her experiences she refuses to keep silent!
Because of her experiences she refuses to keep silent!
All of us are not expected to take up this cause or even to be preachers, yet we all are invited to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus the Christ the Son of God -- not just like Andrena but in our own way. We are invited to spread the good news, in our homes, at college, at work, in those areas of life that mean so much to us. Perhaps we are to spread this good news to those we love or maybe to those disenfranchised, or those with low self-esteem,
or young people, or those who are lonely, those who need, want, long for God’s comfort.
And our story, our experience of God’s forgiveness, of God’s love in our lives
becomes for another the beginning of the God news of Jesus the Christ the Son of God.This good news for someone may mean hope, acceptance, love it may give someone for the first time the opportunity to say thank you.
As we wait for the coming of Christ, let us remember that what God was doing all along in Israel, what God has done through Jesus the Christ is what God is doing in our world today making God’s love visible.
In this Advent Season, may God's love become visible through you...... As we watch and wait with expectancy and cry, come Lord Jesus, come!
*Paraphrased from Christopher R. Hutson, "Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4 p,44