Sunday, January 5, 2020

2nd Sunday of Christmas Sermon

O Gracious God, help us to answer Yes to your impossible call with our lives. Enter and penetrate our souls with your Compassionate Spirit. Come and bless this hour: with a star and in our dreams you guide us onwards. Only the absurdity of love can break the bonds of hate; may that be true now as it was then. Amen. (Based on words of Madeline L’Engle)

What are your dreams for 2020?
What are God’s dreams for you this year?

Our Gospel reading for this 2nd Sunday after Christmas, reminds us that God intercedes in our lives – often in our dreams…

In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel first comes to Joseph in a dream, telling him take Mary as his wife. And he does so. And Jesus is born.

But in the second set of dreams, behind it all, is King Herod.

As one author & priest noted: "Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn't enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee." (Joy Carroll Wallis)

The magi come from the East. They are not Jewish but they have observed a star and want to pay homage to the King of the Jews. Even as Herod scrambles to figure out what this all means for him, the star guides the magi to Jesus.

But after giving their gifts – they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they left for their own country by another road.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and warns him to flee with Mary & Jesus to Egypt, away from Herod & his violence and only return after he dies.

For us, this Gospel reading presents a challenge to us, in the midst of the noise of our lives to see the signs, to listen to the dreams, to know that God is still risking it all and reaching out to us.

What star guides you to the Christ child today?
What dreams does God plant in you? How do you hear from God in your life? In your prayers?
and Why does God risk coming into our world this way?

The Risk of Birth by Madeleine L'Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled to scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make His home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

God takes the risk and is born for us out of love for God’s creation. God takes the risk and the magi pay homage. God takes the risk and Joseph protects as Mary cuddles Jesus on their way to find safe refuge.

We live in such times of hate. Jews attacked here in the US. A Middle East full of unrest. Christians kidnapped in Nigeria. Australia on fire. Wars and the rumors of war. Honor and truth seemed to be trampled to scorn in our world.

So where would God have us look? Where does Love still take the risk of birth?

There was once a monastery that had come upon hard times. Once it was filled with young monks and its great church resounded with the singing of God’s praise, but now it was almost deserted, with a handful of elderly brothers shuffling through the cloister struggling to pray and work.

On the edge of the monastery woods an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would go there from time to time to fast and pray. Whenever the venerable and wise rabbi was there, the monks felt blessed by his presence.

One day the abbot of the monastery went to visit the rabbi to seek his counsel. The rabbi welcomed him warmly. First, the two prayed silently together; then the rabbi made tea for his guest. As he set the cups on the table, the rabbi said to the abbot, “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts. You have come to ask a teaching of me. Very well. I will give you a teaching — but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”

The rabbi leaned in and looked straight into the eyes of the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you. He lives among you now.”

The abbot did not know what to say; he left the rabbi’s hut without a word. The next morning, the abbot called his brothers together. He told them he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods — but warned that the teaching was to be spoken once and then never said again. The abbot then looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.”

The monks were stunned by the abbot’s words. What could this mean? they asked themselves. Is Brother John the Messiah? Or Father Matthew? Or Brother Thomas? Could I be the Messiah?

They were all puzzled — and unsettled — by the rabbi’s teaching, but faithfully obeyed the abbot’s instructions that it never be mentioned again.

As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a special reverence. There was a gentle, peaceful quality about them that was hard to describe but easy to notice. The few visitors to the monastery found themselves deeply moved by the life of the community. Before long, people were coming from miles around to be nourished by the prayer of the monks. More and more brothers joined the community. As the monastery began to rebuild, the joy of their prayer once again resounded through their church — and hearts.

The old rabbi was never seen again — but the old monks, who had taken his teaching to heart, forever felt his presence. [Source unknown.]

“The Messiah lives among you” — today we celebrate that reality in our lives: that God’s Christ is present among us in our love for one another, in the mercy and justice we work for, in the forgiveness we extend and accept.

Our lives are filled with “epiphanies:” the moments of awareness and understanding, discoveries of abilities and potential, realizations of the love of God in our lives. In dreams. In seeing a star.

In this New Year, may we seek to find the Messiah in our midst, following the star of God’s reconciliation and justice, enabling us to behold Emmanuel — “God with us”— in every experience of charity, consolation and forgiveness, whether given or received.

What are your dreams for 2020?
What are God’s dreams for you this year?

May our dreams and our lives live into the mystery of God and God’s love, for God is with us. Amen.

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