Excerpts from a sermon preached at The American Cathedral, Paris, France
December 10, 2017
Alfred Delp, a 20th century German priest, executed by the Nazis for his participation in the Resistance, wrote from prison words that have stayed with me for years:
For years, I have preached that if Jesus was a carpenter, then his cousin John the Baptist was his demolition contractor. If Jesus ushered in the dawn of a new day, then John was the alarm clock. Now I’m here to tell you that if Jesus is the way to new life, then John, whom we visit every Advent, is the great interrupter of our old lives.
Interruptions – minor or major – break into the normal state of affairs and stop the continuity of events, like a metro strike or a power outage. Interruptions can also be opportunities filled with possibilities, like an unplanned pregnancy or an unexpected job offer.
I am convinced that Christ happens in the interruptions. Though I don’t always welcome them in the moment, I believe that most interruptions are invitations of grace waking to be recognized and received.
That’s what happened when the doctor told me that I had dementia. On Easter morning – right here in this cathedral – I heard the voice of God saying: “Tracey, it’s time to welcome this interruption and transform it from an exile to an exodus, from a death sentence to a pilgrimage, from an intrusion to an invitation.”
I am not suggesting that God gave me dementia. I do not believe that God gives us any illness, disease, natural disaster, or misfortune. However, as I’m learning firsthand, we can encounter God in any circumstance as the Holy One is always standing beside us. On Easter morning (of all days), John the Baptist interrupted me as a voice crying in the wilderness: “You might have dementia, but God isn’t finished with you. So prepare the way and get ready to build God a new mansion with your life.”
Wherever Jesus traveled, into villages, cities or farms, they interrupted him, “laying the sick in the marketplaces, and begging him that he might touch even the fringe of his cloak” (Mark 6:56). Did Jesus reject or refuse all these interruptions? No, Jesus saw the realm of God at hand as an interruption to be welcomed. Moreover, Jesus was an interrupter himself. He interrupted the ordinary lives of some naïve fisherman by inviting them to follow him. He disturbed unclean spirits and demons that were holding innocent people hostage. He intruded upon the profitable career of Levi, the tax collector. He interjected himself into the argument James and John were having about being the greatest.
One of the challenges and opportunities of gospel living is to make room for interruptions: to look up and stop what we’re doing when we hear, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt but….” God only knows what wonderful experience is about to happen, or what gifts might be given and received. God only knows how we might be instruments of grace, how we might ease someone’s pain or share in another’s joy, and how we might experience life more fully.
The other challenge of gospel living is to be willing to interrupt the flow of things: to interrupt when we need help or when somebody else needs help. As disciples of Christ, we’re also called to interrupt the status quo when it needs changing; and to interrupt acts of hatred, evil and oppression whenever and wherever they are found.
As you go about your daily life this Advent, try keeping your eyes open and ears attuned to the possibility of meeting Christ and seeing glimpses of God in the interruptions. And when your finely tuned plans and well-ordered routines are interrupted, try to remember that life happens in the interruptions and that God might be building (or rebuilding) in you a mansion in which Christ might come and dwell. - Tracey