So this is the Second Sunday of Advent- the Sunday of Peace! And the lectionary readings call us to “Prepare the way for the Christ Child to be born among us…”

But many of us look for and expect a little baby in the manger and we never allow that little baby to grow, perhaps because doing so helps us keep our focus away from the actual preparing that we need to do to prepare for Jesus to come among us.

We look for the baby who can entertain us by the baby (googoo gaagaa) sounds, who looks cute and who can be cuddled, but who does not make any demands of us.

In our pursuit of finding Jesus in the manger we do not pay attention to the fact that Jesus is all around us- all the time. We somehow forget that the baby grew up and today dwells among us! Or maybe we simply are unable to recognize the Jesus that is always in our midst.

This Advent season let us ask ourselves that question!

WILL WE KNOW JESUS?

WILL WE KNOW JESUS if Jesus came to us as anything other than a ‘baby in the manger?’

WILL WE KNOW JESUS if Jesus appears as someone who lives with HIV/AIDS?

I can almost hear Jesus saying, “NO you will not recognize me as anything other than a ‘baby in a manger because I was ill and you did not come to see me. In fact you TOOK AWAY MY HEALTH CARE!

Let us think about this for a little bit-

HIV/AIDS is an auto Immune Disease and remains a major health issue for the world. Did you know-

  • Most people can live long, healthy lives with HIV if they are diagnosed in time and get treatment and care in a way that is non-stigmatizing, but in 2012 almost 14,000 people died of AIDS in the United States.
  • Among the most vulnerable are girls, young women and racial ethnic persons and 1/4 of people worldwide are unaware of their status.
  • Trans women are almost 50 times more likely to contract HIV and yet it remains an ‘invisible’ epidemic because trans women are too often ignored in health advocacy, stigmatized for their diagnosis or are criminalized.

(Based on WHO analysis of 15 countries)

  • More than 60% of U.S. women rely on publicly funded family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood for their primary health care but not all public family planning clinics offer HIV testing.

AND it is UNDER ATTACK!

  • It’s been a little over a week since Black Friday turned into a bloody Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, leaving 12 people gunned down, three of them dead. The accused killer is a Christian man of “religious conviction.”                                 (New York Times)
  • Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), while at the same time stripping federal funding for Planned Parenthood and withdrawing healthcare coverage from more than 17 million Americans.
  • In Illinois we know what the proposed budget is doing to social services and public health care agencies.

I wonder what would happen if the people in power saw Jesus, in the persons whose health care services they are taking away, whose lives they are playing with and whose future they are risking!

I can almost hear Jesus, lying in a hospital bed saying, “I WAS ILL AND YOU WERE BUSY TAKING AWAY MY HEALTH SERVICES.”

So how does one find PEACE in the midst of such unrest on this Second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace? PEACE is the freedom from disturbance, freedom from war and end of violence. PEACE is quiet and tranquility but how does one find it?

I don’t know! I don’t have an answer. But this I know…

  • I know that people live in fear and respond out of fear.
  • I know that people react to misinformation or to lack of information. If we took the time to understand one another we would find ourselves in a very different place. We would know that Public funded family planning programs help save taxpayers billions of dollars each year by avoiding costly medical expenses.                   (Analysis from Guttmacher Institute)
  • I know that in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the world, the United Methodist Church commits itself to a holistic approach of awareness, education, treatment, community organizing and public advocacy.
  • I know that as people of God we must go beyond charity and bring transformation that reflects our faith and addresses the social injustices of inequality, poverty, and sexual violence, which are silent factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • And I know that
    • We must step out of our places of privilege and comfort and negotiate with government and non-governmental organizations.
    • We must stand up against structures and policies that continue inequalities, poverty and gender disparity.
    • We must work towards breaking the silence and cultural taboos of openly discussing health care issues or the lack thereof…
    • We must be willing to take the risk that comes with truly being Christ’s presence in this world- whether it means
      • stepping out to the road,
      • participating in a demonstration,
      • calling and writing to the political leaders,
      • leading an educational session inside a room or
      • offering your services of care to others.
      • And above all- I know that the Bible holds a message of compassion, a message of justice and of standing with the marginalized.

And if I look at who is marginalized in this day and age, and if I am able to work at seeing Jesus in those eyes, those feet, those hands- then I am moving in the right direction. If I am working toward changing Jesus’ statement to, “I was ill and you did all you could to make my life better,” then I know I am doing the right thing.

And I can be at PEACE with that!

(Many statistics are taken from mic.com)

This sermon was originally preached at Broadway UMC in Chicago, IL on Sunday, Dec 6, 2015.

Rev. Alka Lyall

Rev. Alka Lyall is a life-long Methodist. She grew up in the Methodist Church in India and came to the United States in 1996 as a seminary student. She is an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference and has been serving the people of God, with the people of Northern Illinois Conference, since graduating from Seminary in 2000. Alka is currently appointed to Bethany of Fox Valley UMC in Aurora IL. She has two sons and a husband without whose support she could not have done anything. Alka has always been an active and involved member of the church. She was a delegate to World Methodist Council as a youth representative from India in 1986 and later served on its Presidium. She has been a delegate to 2012 and alternate to the 2008 General Conference. Alka has chaired and served on various boards, agencies and committees in her conference. She currently chairs the Annual Conference committee of the Northern Illinois Conference and serves on the Board of Directors of Northern Illinois Conference Justice for our Neighbors. She is also active in the Northern Illinois Conference RMN task force. Alka desires to share the love of God, which welcomes all people, with all the people of God but especially with those who have been rejected, refused and forgotten by the church. Her prayer is that someday the church will open its doors to all people and to that she continues her ministry.
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