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On the Way to the Holy Night: And in His Name All Oppression Shall Cease

(a sermon for December 29, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Christmas; last in a series, based on Isaiah 63:7-9 and Matthew 2:13-23)

And so… the baby was born.

Speaking as one who’s been there three times, I can say with some assuredness that when you’re a parent awaiting the birth of a child, especially if it’s your first, you tend to be filled with this hopeful, awe-filled and all-encompassing sense of great expectation!  That is to say, everything in your life – and I do mean everything – suddenly becomes about that coming moment when that child comes into your world.  You’re checking out potential baby names, you’re getting a nursery ready, maybe you’re taking childbirth classes, and you’re daily watching and feeling for telltale kicks from within mother’s womb.  But mostly, you wait, and over those seemingly endless weeks and months of waiting you dream: about what it’s going to be like having a baby around the house, for pete’s sake (!); about who that baby’s going to look like or “take after;” and about what she or he will grow up to become.

So much anticipation (!); and yet it can’t even begin to measure up to that ultimately indescribable moment when at last the baby is born, you’re holding it in your arms and you’re quite literally enveloped with all joy and wonder at the miracle of life.

But then, after the baby is born, something else happens… simply put, you become a parent!

You bring this child home and suddenly, your lives have become all about taking care of this living, breathing little bundle – holding it, feeding it, calming it, changing it, cleaning it – and it’s everything, and nothing like you expected it to be (I remember so well that one of the most terrifying moments of my young life up till that point was the first time I gave my first born son his bath)!  I mean, you’re still filled with wonder over this child but now it’s combined with all the concerns that go along with taking care of a newborn.  Moreover, everything that was considered normal in your life radically shifts: mealtimes, sleep patterns, any semblance of time management, and most especially your own personal list of priorities.  You somehow learn how to configure the straps of a baby car seat, you find that you never go anywhere without extra diapers and a change of clothes, and you discover that the baby’s binky/blanky/luvvy/bear is not only your child’s best friend, it’s yours as well!

Mostly, though, after the baby is born you get serious, don’t you?  You start to worry about a great many things: the sound of a cough, the changing in the rhythm of breathing, or the appearance of a rash that puts you on alert and sends you to the pediatrician in the wee hours of the morning.  You become mindful to the point to the point of obsessive about “baby-proofing” every potential danger in your home and every item that ever comes into contact with your child must first be cleaned and sterilized, often more than once.  But while you’re vigilant about everything you can fix you also become acutely aware of all the real world dangers out there you can’t control, from skinned knees and hurt feelings to childhood disease and an ever-threatening and encroaching world. Yet even then you still do everything in your power to protect your child from anything and everything they inevitably will face in life.   And you do it because it’s not about you anymore, it’s all about the baby; it’s always about the baby!  And when it’s your kid in trouble, short of becoming a raving maniac, you’ll do just about anything it takes to keep them safe from harm.

It’s a lot, to be sure, and more than a little unsettling, moving from this blissful state of expectation to an anxious and ever-heightened state of preparedness; but this is what happens, you see, after the baby is born.

Even – and most especially – when the baby is Jesus.

Actually, I would agree with David Lose who says of our gospel text for this morning that “it’s too soon… it comes too soon… [because] after all, we just celebrated Christmas.”  And truly, it was just five nights ago that we were all there at the manger with Mary and Joseph, gazing with adoration at their newborn child: the Christ child, this one for whom we’d waited and watched and prepared for so long. It was an amazing, beautiful and hope-filled night, and who could blame us for wanting to tarry there at the nativity just a little longer; perchance to stand shoulder to shoulder with shepherds, or to kneel with the magi at his cradle even as the angels’ song lingers in our ears.

But sadly, Matthew will have none of that!  For no sooner do those wise men leave “for their own country by another road” (Matthew 2:12) everything changes.  Suddenly, an evil king – threatened by this child “born king of the Jews” (2:2) – flies off into a jealous, angry, violent rage, innocent children are being slaughtered, women throughout Bethlehem are weeping after the manner of Rachel in ancient prophecy, and the holy family – Mary, Joseph and the Christ child – are forced into the role of refugees, fleeing to Egypt for their very lives.

We’ve said before that Matthew’s version of the nativity story is much more cut and dried than that of Luke, and certainly much more somber in tone. And yet, I dare say that Matthew manages to move us – quite dramatically, in fact – from the anticipation of Advent and the revelry of Christmas to the real world that the Christ Child came to save!   The baby’s been born, that is true, and it is glorious; but the world into which Jesus has been born is one filled with pain and suffering: a world where terrible things happen every day; a world of evil where palaces are often the places of corrupt power; where the righteous cower in fear and the innocents suffer… a world, when you think about it, not all that different from today. Truly, the weeping and wailing so prevalent in this morning’s scripture clashes with the songs of glory love we’ve been singing all throughout this season, but then again, even as we were gathered for our Christmas Eve rituals of worship, song and candlelight we were acutely aware that sadness and suffering was even at that moment in our world rearing its ugly head.  Evil, you see, is a hard and fast reality in a sin-filled, broken world; such was the case at the time of Jesus’ birth, and so it continues now.

For you see, to quote pastor and self-described online “homilist” Bass Mitchell, even though as indicated in this morning’s reading, Herod did die, the fact is, Herod’s spirit lives on, “still haunting every little town of Bethlehem, every city, every nation… for Herod is not just a long dead king, but represents the very real presence of evil in our world, evil that still seeks the destruction of innocents, of goodness, of light…”

“Herod,” Mitchell goes on to say, “is alive and well in the violence and crime that each year does untold harm to children… each time a child is physically and sexually abused… every time hunger and disease claim yet another innocent… Herod lives.”

One thing we need to understand about this horrific story of the slaughter of innocent children in the region around Bethlehem is that it represents a much larger story of evil and of death, and of how the seat of power in the world fights against God’s intention that peace and justice is to rule in the hearts and lives of the people.  It’s a story that’s as old as time; indeed, innocents have been dying since the dawn of history and corrupt power continues to run rampant even unto our own time.

So given that hard core reality of life, friends, how is it, then, that we can be so bold as to sing those words of the carol, “And in His name all oppression shall cease?”

Well, that, dear friends, is where the good news of the gospel enters in; this incredible good news that after the baby was born, the story didn’t end.

For what we find in this passage and throughout the gospel story is that whatever atrocities the Herods of this world might commit, God is ultimately in charge; that whatever discord and evil surrounds us in this life God does provide for our needs.  It’s all there in the story of the Holy Birth and its aftermath: in a dream, God motivated the magi not to return to Herod but depart to their own country by another route.  And it’s an angel of God who not only inspires Joseph to take Mary as his wife and raise the child as his own, but also in that moment of impending danger motivates Joseph to rise up and get them all out of town!  And even after the death of Herod, God continues to lead the family of Jesus to the place where they would be safe, to where Jesus would grow “and become strong, filled with wisdom… and the favor of God,” (Luke 2:40) eventually beginning a public ministry along the Jordan River and the Galilee seaside.  From the very beginning, you see, God had a greater purpose in mind; and not even the evil of this world could vanquish it.  Even many years later, when on a cross, it seemed as though a hurting and hurtful world had finally brought darkness back into the world and defeated all of what was ever good, even then evil could not conquer the Son God, the one whom by dying rose to new life!

God, you see, will not give up; God will not give up on the love he has for his creation, God will not give up on the world as he has envisioned it, and God will not give up on you and me.  In spite of the evil of this world and despite our own burgeoning faithlessness, friends, God is faithful.  It might involve a warning to get up and flee the danger at hand or it might be the clear directive to stand our ground; but God will always seek to guide us to exactly where we need to be, nudging us towards the places of living where we can be of the most use to God’s purpose for us and for the world.  Even as the world and its evil seeks to vanquish our spirit – even in those times when for whatever reason we let it happen – God’s not giving up.  Because with God, it’s always been about us… just like a new parent would do anything to preserve and protect and to love that new baby in her arms… that’s how God embraces us… and that infinite love begins and abides and triumphs… in Jesus.

Our readings for this morning remind us that birth, however joyful, also involves pain; that freedom costs, and that the struggle with that which is evil in our world goes on.  But we are also assured that God has promised to take care of us; that God is a God of love who shows us what love is most about, and does so in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord.  What is it that we read in Isaiah’s prophesy this morning?  “It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”  It’s that same presence that continues to carry us today.

Alas, our time at the manger is nearly at an end for another year and we go back to the world with all its uncertainty and danger.  But the good news of this Christmastide and always is that we are not left to return to “life as usual” alone, but carried and strengthened by God’s own presence in Jesus, who is truly our Emmanuel; that’s important for each of us to remember as we move forward.  In fact, I would suggest to you this morning that maybe the best thing we can do in this new year – and new decade (!) – ahead is to purposefully open our ears and our hearts to hear those heavenly words of warning and leading that might just be offered us, so that we might claim the power of Jesus Christ himself in order to overcome whatever evil and discord may surround us, and speaking both as persons and as a people, we can rejoice in the assurance that “in his name, all oppression shall cease.”

May you have a happy and blessed new year, my dear friends…

…and may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2019 in Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Life, Sermon Series

 

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By His Cradle We Stand

(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2019, based on Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12)

‘Twas the day before the day before Christmas, and my wife Lisa and I were down at (our local grocery store) Market Basket stocking up on all the food and supplies we were going to need for the holiday; and as you can imagine that place, as one person aptly described it, was “a whole new level of busy!”   So busy, in fact, that at one point I actually found myself mired in an immovable grocery cart traffic jam right there between the dairy section and the deli counter!

For the most part, however, everybody was being pretty good-natured about it: there were a lot of “excuse me’s” and “so sorry’s” going around, and people were laughing about how we should each have been issued  carts with blinkers and “back-up beeps!”  Of course, there were those who were clearly stressed with the whole situation as they struggled to make their way through this morass of shoppers no matter what; and I saw one exhausted young mother who was trying in vain to verbally ride herd on five active children!  Not only that, overhead and all around there’s the unmistakable sounds of “Santa Baby, put a sable under the tree for me…” occasionally interrupted by the store manager announcing a “Christmas Special” at the front of the store!

So unable to move for the moment, I’m standing there and taking it all in, realizing that this is truly the “holiday rush” in all its glory and utter chaos; everyone lost in their own Christmas busy-ness, trying to get to their Yuletide celebrations on time and in one piece!

And that’s when I heard it.

Somewhere in all that noise and confusion, as clear as a Christmas bell, I heard the sound of a very young child… singing.

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear…”

She’s singing with joy, singing in a way like kids do, like nobody’s listening but that doesn’t matter!  Immediately I wanted to see where that song was coming from, but the moment was fleeting and by the time I even looked up the song had faded away and the child – whoever she was (!) – was gone.  I didn’t even get to hear who the song was being sung for (!) – it was just a tiny little “Happy Birthday” song bursting forth amidst all the noise.

And it occurred to me in that moment that I was in the midst of a parable… and that that crowded grocery store could just as well have been… Bethlehem.

Because on another night long, long ago, in that little backwater town the streets were filled to overflowing with visitors – government mandated visitors, actually – who’d come there to be “registered” for purposes of taxation.  Emperor Augustus had actually decreed that everyone should return to their hometowns for this registration, so every home was filled with relatives coming home and every vacancy at every “inn” in town was filled and then some.  And in keeping with the Jewish tradition of great hospitality, there were lots of family reunions and banquet celebrations going on all over Bethlehem with all the laughter and conversation and the occasional moments of drama that go along with such gatherings!  And this to say nothing of the presence of those Roman “registrars” who’d also come to town… in short, this town that was often considered to be far off the beaten path and “least among the rulers of Judah” had never seen a night as noisy, as busy or as utterly chaotic as this!

It was so busy, in fact, that hardly anyone who was there in the city that night even noticed that out behind one of the inns of Bethlehem – where there’d been “no place” for a young weary couple who had just arrived and she who was expecting a child– out behind this crowded inn, in a dark and damp stable surrounded by the likes of sheep and cows and donkeys (!), the time came for her baby to be born, and Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,” an infant’s cradle fashioned out of what just a few moments before had been the animals’ feeding trough.

Amazing to think of it: that in amidst all of everything else that was happening that night in this “little town of Bethlehem,” a baby was born!  But not just any baby, mind you:  this baby was “a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord;” a tiny child who represented “good news of great joy for all the people” for this was the long awaited and long-expected Messiah of God’s people Israel.

This is the one whom the prophet Isaiah proclaimed would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” the one on whose shoulders all authority shall rest and grow continually, the one who shall rule over a kingdom of endless peace, upheld with justice and righteousness “from this time onward and forevermore.”  This is the one that the angel Gabriel told Mary would be called the “Son of the Most High;” the child who is, as the angel described him to Joseph, Emmanuel, which means “God Is With Us.”  This is the “Word made flesh [that has] lived among us,” (John 1:14) what Paul described to the Hebrews as “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews 1:3)  He is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); He is the light of the world that enlightens all humanity; He is the bright new morning star; He is love Divine and love incarnate; He is the Messiah; the Christ of Christmas, and the Conqueror of death; He is the way and the truth and the life…

and …he’s a baby (!); this tiny helpless infant who’s just been born in a manger, of all places.

Amazing to think of it:  that on that busy night in Bethlehem, a baby – this divine child who would be named Jesus – was born… and yet, despite the fact there was a bright star shining overhead and, not far away from there, a multitude of the heavenly host was praising God and singing songs of peace on earth and good will amongst all people…

…even then (!), hardly anyone even noticed.

Oh, there were a few: the shepherds, for instance, the ones who had experienced something holy and heavenly that night, and were compelled to go and look for the sign of which they’d been told, and to see this newborn Messiah for themselves.  There were the “wise men from the East” who were seeking “the child who has been born king of the Jews” and looked to the stars to guide them to the place of his birth.  And surely there were others: perhaps the innkeeper, or the guests at the inn who had boarded their animals in the stable, or maybe the faithful few in the neighborhood who’d heard of this birth and were moved by some Spirit to check it out.

Maybe… but in truth, there weren’t many… at least at first.

Because we also know that in amidst everything else happening that night, there was something else… something that was silent and holy and divine… something almost like a song piercing through the world’s confusion, its darkness and its sin as clearly as love itself… as God himself…

…God in the guise of a child!

And this is why we’re here tonight, why in the middle of all of our celebrations we’ve come away so to visit this little manger to see what has happened and to behold this wonderful, holy child.  In the words of the hymn from which we’ve been drawing some inspiration in this season, “O Holy Night,” “Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.”

There’s so much going on all around us right now: in our own homes, with our families coming together for the holiday, among our friends and neighbors, most certainly in the world around us.  In ways personal, professional, political and ever perplexing, the world keeps on spinning and we stay busy in every sense of the word.  But tonight… on this night divine, something wonderful is happening, and we need not only to take notice but also to rejoice…

…because God has come to us and abides with us.  God is WITH us… for he is Jesus, our Emmanuel…

…and tonight, by his cradle we stand in love and adoration.

Glory to God in the highest!

And Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2019 in Christmas, Jesus, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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On the Way to the Holy Night: For Yonder Breaks a New and Glorious Morn

(a sermon for December 22, 2019, the 4th Sunday of Advent; 3rd in a series, based on Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25)

If it could ever be said that there’s a “forgotten” cast member of the story of Christmas, I think that it would also have to be said that that role easily belongs to Joseph.

Not long ago I came across the work of a clergy colleague on-line who did a survey of all the words contained within the Advent and Christmas hymns included in his congregation’s hymnal.  And what he discovered is that in those songs there were, as one might expect, 309 references made to the Christ Child; also 48 mentions of angels, 31 references to Mary and 23 words about shepherds.  But quite interestingly, he found that in this particular hymnal was no reference at all made to Joseph; not a one!  Well, of course, that piqued my curiosity, so I did a very quick search of our “Chalice Hymnal” and found… only one mention of Joseph (it’s from “Angels We Have Heard on High,” by the way: “See within a manger laid, Christ whom choirs of angels praise; Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, while our hearts in love we raise.”); and even there, Joseph’s sort of an “add on” to the larger story!

Now, granted, if you dig a little deeper into the wealth of Christian hymnody there’s some wonderful music to be found in which Joseph figures prominently – “The Cherry Tree Carol” and “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” for instance – and there’s also some wonderful contemporary music out there (“Joseph’s Lullaby” comes to mind) that beautifully seeks to tell the story from Joseph’s perspective.  But by and large, the music of this season tends to cast Joseph in much the same way we see him in the crèche: as a quiet, ever stalwart presence kneeling at the manger even as he’s overshadowed by the likes of shepherds, wise men and farm animals; just another supporting player in the nativity drama dwelling in the shadows of holy light.

And yet… I would submit to you that despite this, shall we say, subdued presence in the Christmas story, it is Joseph, this adoptive father of Jesus, who not only brings Mary and by extension, us, to the manger, but who also by his very example leads us “yonder” to what is beautifully sung in “O Holy Night” as “a new and glorious morn.”  Joseph, you see, is perhaps the singular figure within the nativity story who quite literally takes us to Bethlehem… and beyond!

Now, to understand this, we need to remember that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, from which our text this morning is drawn, in terms of both narrative and tone, is most definitely different from that of Luke.  Luke’s story is filled with singing angels, adoring shepherds and the baby Jesus born in a stable.  Matthew’s version of events, however, is much more cut and dried, remarkably brief and arguably a far more somber account of things: to wit, after an entire first chapter listing off a genealogy that connects Abraham to Jesus, Matthew begins by simply saying, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.”  No shepherds or angels on high, no “no room in the inn,” no manger, no swaddling clothes – in fact, the wise men don’t even show up until the second chapter – but what follows is, in fact, one of the most essential parts of the story and isn’t it interesting; it’s told from Joseph’s perspective.  And as such, if I might quote pastor and biblical scholar David Lose here, it’s not so much “a story of wonder [as it is] as story of heartache.”

Now, I know that to suggest such a thing runs headlong up against just about every image we’ve ever had about Christmas; make no mistake, there’s heartache in abundance here! Because as Lose also reminds us, Mary and Joseph were real people – very young people, in fact, not to mention impoverished and without any semblance of earthly privilege or power. “In our imagination,” Lose writes, “Jesus never cried, Mary looked more like a blushing young bride than someone who had just given birth, and Joseph is calm, protective and paternal.” And yes, that’s how we might prefer this story to go but in fact, as Matthew begins his version of the story, the whole event is bathed in… scandal.

To begin with, we’re immediately told by Matthew that “when [Jesus’] mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”  Understand that in first century Palestine, engagement was not viewed as it is today – as a romantic declaration of marital intent – but rather, engagement was considered to be “a legal contract, binding in every respect… [it] was essentially to be married with having consummated that marriage or even living together.”  So for Mary to be “with child” now would have been seen as sure and certain evidence that Mary had been unfaithful to Joseph; and, in full accordance with Jewish law, would have been punishable by Mary being dragged out to her father’s house to be publically disgraced and to face death by stoning.  And that, in and of itself, is about as disturbing a possibility as we can imagine; remember this is Mary, the mother of Jesus (!) we’re talking about here!  But even that very real and, yes, very legal possibility aside, imagine the kind of pain and anguish Joseph must certainly have felt at learning this news… once again, Mary and Joseph were real people with real feelings living in a real, not to mention harsh and judgmental world.  Mary already understood what was happening to her, that’s true; and yes, Mary must have worried about how this claim about the Holy Spirit was going to be received in and around the village of Nazareth.  But Joseph… we’ve got to imagine he’s devastated by this turn of events.

But we’re also told that Joseph is a “righteous” man.  In the Greek, the word is dikaios, which means “upright,” “virtuous,” or “just in the eyes of God;” and as such, one who sought to live wholly in accordance with the law set forth in the Torah.  In other words, once Joseph had received this news, according to the letter of the law, there could well have been a rush to judgment for Mary.  But “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” Joseph chose the second option, “to dismiss her quietly,” quickly and quietly breaking the marriage contract; in essence granting her a divorce without any public fuss.  So right away we have this new perspective on Joseph, as a man who despite what must certainly have been a deep sense of betrayal and suffering, immediately looks to what’s best for Mary… and that’s just the beginning.

Because just when Joseph is about to bring some closure to this situation, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  She’s going to have a baby boy, Joseph, and you’re to give him the name of Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins; and the reason this is all happening this way is because of Isaiah’s prophecy that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”  The upshot of all of this is that as soon as Joseph awakes from this strange yet familiar dream, he’s calmed down and we’re left to assume that he’s got some deeper sense of God’s intention with all of this.  And thanks be to God that he did: in the words of Leonard Sweet, at the moment the angel of the Lord appeared “the whole miracle of Christmas momentarily rested on Joseph’s shoulders, awaiting his freely chosen decision to either accept or reject the stunning news of an impending Messiah.”  The good news is that like Mary before him, Joseph said yes, and “did what the angel of the Lord commanded him.”

And a few months later, there’s that so-called registration in Bethlehem, which also not by coincidence was happening just about the same time as the baby was due; which meant that the city was crowded, the inns were full but maybe there’d be a stable out back… well, you know the story.  But first, to quote David Lose once more, “I think it’s safe to say that the months leading up to Christ’s birth was not one blissful baby-shower after another but were fraught with anxiety and concern and flights of emotion..” actually not unlike the kinds of struggle we all face, baby or no, along the journey of life.

Actually, given all of this backstory, I’d like to think that Joseph spent those months getting ready.  It’s been said, you know, that when a woman is expecting (or for that matter, as we’ve seen in our own extended family this year, in the process of preparing for an adoption) her maternal instincts kick in immediately; but for the father, it sometimes takes that singular moment of holding that child in his arms that he becomes a father!  But not so with Joseph: I have a sense that in those days leading up to manger of Bethlehem Joseph was likely spending every moment surveying the landscape, so to speak, getting ready for this momentous, life-changing, world-shifting act of God, all the while trying somehow to comprehend what being the earthly father of the Son of God would actually be for him!

There’s this wonderful moment in the film “The Nativity Story” in which Mary and Joseph are talking to each other about the same things that all new parents talk about: what it’ll be like to have this baby, and how they’ll manage to do everything that needs to be done with a baby; to take care of it, and feed it and clothe it and change it and bathe it.  And Joseph, at one point in this conversation, says, “I just wonder if I can teach him anything.”  That’s perfect, and might I add, a very legitimate fear; and yet, as this incredible story begins to unfold what we discover is that not only was Joseph prepared for the day of his birth he was ready for the next day as well.

In fact, I have to say that these days, when I think of Joseph, it’s not so much the “silent, holy night” in the manger that I envision… in truth, I’m thinking about the next morning as the sun is rising.  I mean, in those moments after the birth itself, after the infant Jesus was wrapped in those swaddling clothes and lying asleep in the manger; when the shepherds had come and gone and Mary was silently pondering in her heart all that happened that night; and when the animals had grown weary of all the excitement and had opted to get some sleep themselves.  I like to think that in those moments after the bright star of that holy night had begun to fade and a new day was beginning, there was Joseph, standing at the gateway of the stable and watching the sun rise over the streets of Bethlehem; just the same way it had done on countless days before, but now in a way unlike ever before in the history of God’s creation.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

There would be more to come:  the arrival, at some point soon, of magi from the East bringing expensive and very prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; the news that Herod wanted to “pay homage” to the new born king even as his minions were seeking to slaughter any and all newborns that might fit the profile and provide a threat to his power; and then, yes, another angel’s message in a dream telling Joseph to get up and take the child and his mother to Egypt to keep them safe.

In other words, the story was just beginning; but in these wee hours of the morning, Joseph was ready for what was to come.

You see, that’s the thing about Christmas: so often, especially given that it comes at the end of a long Advent season of waiting and watch, we assume that the manger of Bethlehem represents the end of the story, when in fact it’s just the beginning of the story of Christ’s coming into the world… the story of light piercing through the darkness of life… of redeeming hope in a culture that seemingly thrives on the threat of hopelessness… of joy unending and triumphant… and of our lives, yours and mine, beloved, changing forever because of this one holy child who grew up to save us all from our sin.

So Merry Christmas, friends… and I hope and pray that it’s everything it should be for you and yours.  But remember this… after it’s all done, our time at the manger, that’s when the work of Christmas and faith really begins:  to, like Joseph before us, walk into the new and glorious morn of Jesus’ birth, and by his counsel start to change this world for the better, making our fervent hope of peace on earth and goodwill a reality for our lives and living here and now.

And in doing so, making sure that…

…our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2019 in Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Old Testament, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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