Friday, January 10, 2014

Enough Already

Sermon preached January 5, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

            “Christmas Time is Here”
            I really love that song.  It is one of my favorites of the Christmas season.  Now Julie is the real Christmas music person in our family, and she used that to wonderful effect with our daughters.  The first fall in one of our moves, I think it was our move to Alexandria, Beth was not having a great time of it.  Julie came up with the idea of beginning Christmas music season November 1.  It helped and it stuck.  Now that is much too early for me, but I am outnumbered on this one.  So over the years I have tried to find Christmas music I really like, and have burned a few cds.  On one of those cds, I have five versions of “Christmas Time Is Here”: The Vince Guaraldi Trio, the Vince Guaraldi Trio with a children’s choir, Diana Krall, Sarah McLachlan, and Chicago.  So I like this song!
            But I am ready to say “enough already.”  Christmas time was here, but now we are on to the new year and all the tasks that need to be cared for.  Our normal lives resume.  While I appreciate and agree with some of the sentiment of the song, “oh that we could always see such spirit through the year,” we need to move into the new year.  Christmas will come round again.
            Yet here we go again.  In the church calendar it is still Christmas.  The twelve days of Christmas is a church thing, not just a song about drummers drumming, lords leaping, pipers piping, ladies dancing, maids milking, swans swimming, geese laying, calling birds, French hens, turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.  In the church the Christmas season extends from Christmas day to January 6 – Epiphany.  Today we read the gospel reading for Epiphany, but we think of it as a Christmas story.  This story is part of Christmas for us.  “We three kings of orient are, bearing gifts we traverse a far.”  Don’t we put these three wise men/kings in the manger with shepherds and animals?  It is rather interesting to note that in Matthew’s story, there is never any mention of how many wise men there are.  When it mentions three gifts, we just assumed that each person brought a gift – three gifts, three wise men.  There is no mention that these men were kings.  The gifts coming from a treasure chest seems to give them regal stature.  They enter a house, not a manger.  Jesus could be as old as two years.  Still, we are quick to ignore these differences with Luke’s story and we mush them all together.
            So here we are, stuck with another Christmas story.  Haven’t we had enough?
            But can we really ever get enough of the good news that we find in this story?  What is that good news?  God shows up.  Into our sometimes messed up, broken world, God shows up.  Into our sometimes messed up, broken lives, God shows up.  Here’s how Isaiah puts it: For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you….  You shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.  Here is how the writer of John’s Gospel reflects on God’s action in Jesus: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….  From this fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
            God shows up because God loves us wildly.  God shows up to draw us near, all of us, even strangers from the East who bring odd gifts for a child.  There is no place we can go, where the light of God’s love cannot shine.  There is no place we can go where the light of God’s love cannot draw us near. In the presentation I shared with the Faith Forum on December 15 on being on the right path, I said this: “One of the significant emphases of the Wesleyan stream of Christian tradition is the emphasis on grace, on a grace that meets us where we are. In one sense, wherever we are is o.k.  We are on a path that can lead to God and to our better selves.”
            Any path we are on can be a right path.  This is not to say that we cannot do better, it is to say that we are never without hope, never beyond the reach of this God who shows up and draws us near.  Nothing in our lives is beyond God’s redemption in love.  I think of the words of Dag Hammarskjold: How long the road is.  But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes-by. (Markings, 81)  I think of the words of Henri Nouwen: It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future. (quoted in Melanie Svoboda, Traits of a Healthy Spirituality, 102)
            I don’t think we can get enough of this message of hope, redemption, healing, acceptance, and love.  In a world that often chips away at our sense of worth, that reminds us in countless ways of who were aren’t and what we lack, I don’t think we can get enough of this message about a God who arrives in love again and again and draws us nearer.
            The poet Denise Levertov offers some wonderful imagery for helping us reflect on this good news in her poem “To Live in the Mercy of God.”
And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself.  Becomes
a form of comfort.
                           Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float upheld,
              as salt water
              would hold you,
                                       once you dared.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.

            God’s wild, passionate love for the world – good news that we can never get enough of, good news on which we can glide as on air, on which we can float as on salt water if we dare, good news of this God who comes to us with the persistence and passion of a waterfall.  Amen.

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