Extravagant.

John 2:1-11

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This past weekend, I officiated the wedding of a former youth group kid, Pat Hasler, and his now wife, Danielle.  Pat is an amazing human being, great runner also…and it was a fun night celebrating with new and old friends!  Even his rehearsal dinner was great…it was at Great American Ballpark…it was simply an extravagant weekend!  

I love the gospel story because it is about family, community, and something new.  Jesus is at a wedding, enjoying himself with his friends and family, the disciples and his mom comes up with this problem.  The wedding has run out of wine…which is a huge “faux pas” in those days and an immense embarrassment.  Jesus’ mom wants Jesus to do something about it.  Jesus responds by saying “woman”, which may sound odd to us today, but the actual word translated is more of a term of respect and intimacy.  Jesus, who by this time is 30 years old, then says something like “oh Mom are you serious?” (in a very loving way I’m sure!).  Mary, Jesus’ mother sees something in her son that is special, she knows he is able to do something about this.  Jesus, then does something amazing.  Jesus takes ordinary water, water used to clean dirty feet (you see, in that part of the world it was pretty dusty and when you went into someone’s house, you cleaned your feet and hands pretty good), and turned into wine…what’s more, he turned it into the best wine that anyone at that party had ever tasted!  

At that point, people had been drinking a lot.  Usually, the best wine came out first, then after folks had a lot to drink, they’d bring out the cheap stuff.  But, the master of ceremonies tasted the best wine and remarked about the generosity of the bridegroom.  

Why did Jesus change the water to wine?  To show that there is something new going on in the world.  In a world that is crazy and where we often feel like ordinary water, or maybe even dirty toe jam water, as we walk through life and get dirty and grimey, there is hope.  When we meet Jesus, he  can take the ordinary or dirty water of our lives and turn it into the best wine ever tasted!  Jesus is saying in this story that he is something special, and, as we’ve talked about the past couple of weeks, Jesus is God in the flesh, he is the “visible image of the invisible God” at it says in Colossians.  Jesus is also saying that everyone is special in this story.  You see, I think that the family in this wedding party probably ran out of wine because they didn’t have a whole lot of money…so, when Jesus turned the water into wine, he turned SIX whole jars, HUGE jars into wine…more wine than they could have drunk.  Jesus not only transformed the water into wine and wants to transform our lives, Jesus blessed the whole wedding party beyond measure and wants to show you some amazing blessings and adventures in life.  One thing about Jesus, he is extravagant in his pursuit and love for us and for the community.  These were friends, family, members of Jesus’ family and neighbors.  The author of John is making a statement by having Jesus’ first public miracle happen at a wedding.  God is interested in overwhelming us with God’s love in practical and unforeseen ways…and this God is interested in blessing all of us together.  God’s good news, God’s presence isn’t for just a few, it’s for everyone.

This passage has also been said to give witness to the passing of the old law based on rules, regulations, and works to the new demonstration of God’s presence with humanity.  One of grace, personal love, and on God’s works on our behalf not our own.  

Just like Jesus wants us to experience the blessing of friendship with God and others in order to live lives into something beautiful, new wine, God wants us to have a change of heart of on our religion, how we live our faith, our very lives.

In our faith, in our way of not just showing up at church, but being church, we so often settle for the way things have always been.  We want to know what to expect and to control things.  We want a predictable faith, a predictable religion, a predictable God.   In so doing, we often make decisions and act upon those decisions that are comfortable and do not depict a faith in God, or even ourselves…leaving us feeling like grimey, dirty, used up foot washing toe jam water.   It’s a religion that does us no good.  And that’s a religion that we simply don’t need….and many people have come to the same conclusion and walk away from their faith.

Yet, we then come to something unpredictable, like a wedding, or a funeral, or an action that someone does for us, and we see God’s goodness breaking in.  

In that goodness, God takes our religion, our very selves, and turns it into something beautiful.  We are overwhelmed with God’s presence and extravagant love.  

The last thing about this turning of water into wine.  Jesus fills 6 barrels.  That’s a lot of wine.  Jesus didn’t want folks to feel like they didn’t have enough.  He also didn’t want them to simply seal up those barrels and not share…he poured them out for the entire wedding party!  In those days, weddings were for the whole community and they lasted for days!

Friends, Jesus wants to remind us that we are loved and are called to love ourselves, others, and God with extravagance…to pour out the good wine of God’s faith in us, God’s love for us, God’s religion or binding to us, to all in our neighborhood…and, in so doing, we’ll find ourselves experiencing the life of the greatest party we could ever imagine!

Baptized.

Luke 3:15-17,Luke 3:21-22

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Baptism of Jesus

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I’ve shared this story before.  But it seems pretty important in this season, as I’ve been thinking a lot about Robbie Waddles.  When I was 8 years old, my best friend, Rob was baptized.  When I saw him get baptized, I thought that was pretty cool.  I love Robbie, still do.  We did literally everything together growing up.  He died at age 46, unexpectedly…which is sad, because he was an amazing human…English professor, musician, athlete…and he believed in me, and I in him.  Growing up, if Robbie did it, I was going to do it. 

So, I asked my parents if I could be baptized.  We set-up a meeting with our Baptist pastor, we talked about it, I got real excited…and the next Sunday, I was immersed in this huge tank that was in our Sanctuary behind our choir. 

I did not want to wait, I wanted to get in and get it done.  

I don’t remember much about my conversation with our Baptist preacher.  I just remember that it was something that my best friend did and he was glad…and it sure did make my parents happy.  

In our reformed UCC understanding of Baptism, we believe it to be a sign of God’s faithfulness to us.  It has much more to do with God’s actions on our behalf through Jesus than our actions.  It is also a seal that God puts on us…God’s “signature” if you will.  Baptism marks us as a people living in community with God.  God seals us to God’s self.  We may not always live that way, but in affect, God is saying that he won’t give up on us and that he believes in us.

As Jesus comes up from the water, there is a voice from heaven, God’s voice that has these amazing lines from our gospel lesson this am.  “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased”.

Jesus is God in the flesh, the flesh part means that Jesus represents all of us to God and God is represents to all of us through Jesus.  Jesus says elsewhere in Scripture that if you want to see what God looks like, look at him.  In our Christian understanding, God is three persons that are of the same substance.  They mutually indwell in each other’s being in such a tight community, even sharing the same essence, so much so that they are one God and speak as one.  Jesus is unique in that he is divine, yet also human. 

James Torrance, one of the great Scottish Torrance brothers who were writers, theologians, philosophers, and pastors says this about Jesus’ baptism: 

“When he [Jesus] saw the people going down to the river to be baptized by John, confessing their sins, submitting to the verdict of guilty (which is repentance), Jesus said to John, ‘baptize me!  I will submit to the verdict of guilty for them!’  He identified himself with sinners, the he might take their place…”

Jesus’ baptism is for all of humanity.  

This action by Jesus demonstrates the whole of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and even resurrection.  Jesus came to give us life.  We share the same essence as Jesus.  It’s wild, but what it means for us today is that when God looks at us, he sees Jesus and the words of this passage are also addressed to us.  God is well pleased with us!  We are God’s beloved. We often forget that we are God’s beloved…we live as if we are God.  Actually, we are God’s heart.  And, when we look deep into our selves, our true selves, we find God waiting for us there.  

Jesus came to restore us to our true identity.  Baptism signifies a death of our old selves, the old self that lives in its pathologies and old ways of thinking, when we are put under the water.  When we come up, we are reminded that God has cleansed us and that there is new life.

Paul addresses this in Romans 5:5-6; 13-14: 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 

13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We have been freed to live as our true selves, the persons that God created us to be.  My understanding of sin is that it’s always relational.  We hurt ourselves, others, we betray and are betrayed in all of our relationships when we are not living authentically as best as we can as our true selves…and God wants us to be in authentic relationships…where we can be honest, brave, vulnerable, and real.  Righteousness is a relational term.  As is it says in verse 13, we are called to be instruments of righteousness, to live lives that are filled with grace for ourselves and others as we receive it from God.  

Having said all of this…it seems to me like many of us, including myself, are still waiting for something to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  And we come to seasons like the one we are in now, when things maybe are not going as we had planned, yet we find God in the midst of life situations that we never thought we’d be in…God moving in the midst of chaos, darkness, broken relationships.  

Jesus has done the work and this Jesus is calling us to stop waiting and move into his actions for us that can bring us a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a rebirth.  

This rebirth is in constant motion.  Since Jesus is God, Jesus doesn’t end, therefore Jesus’ actions are sealed forever with us, just as we are sealed with Jesus.  At 54 years of age, I am again realizing deeply what it means to present myself to God and others as someone who has been brought from death to life and to be truly “present” to God and others.  This season of so much loss in my life, I am realizing that losing everything, means to gain everything.   My reality, my true self, is found in Jesus as the great Catholic writer, Thomas Merton says:  

“Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness….We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality….God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self.”

God, the Creator, wants you to know that life, real life, is happening through God’s constant actions in and around you.  There is new life, this rebirth, as signified in baptism!  God is doing a new thing as the writer in Isaiah says:

18 o not remember the former things,

    or consider the things of old.

19 I am about to do a new thing;

    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

We may be living in a dry place in our lives.  We may be having a hard time forgiving someone or being forgiven.  Maybe you are waiting for something to happen in your life, but you aren’t sure what that is.  You may want desperately to experience something new.  Friends, We don’t have time to live in regrets, the waiting is over, it’s time to grow up and live, really live as we learn to love ourselves, God, and others.  As Yale divinity professor and author Miroslav Volf says that in our journey, we remember truthfully, we condemn wrong deeds, we heal, we repent, have a change, and we end by letting go of the memory of wrongdoing as we are reconciled through Christ.  

Jesus has brought a new thing and wants us to live reconciled and reset lives as we enter into new reality that is fully present with each other.  You, and our community, have been baptized in Christ.  The old life has gone, and a new reality is upon us.  May we stop waiting and live in the reality of God’s Presence within us, around us, and follow God’s movement towards all of humanity in the streets and neighborhood around us.

Dwelling.

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 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. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,who has made him known.

In our lives this past year, we may have experienced things that have been bleak, dark, and we may have felt like we are in an “in-between place” as well.  We may have been sensing that a change is necessary, we have longed for the warmth of hope, just as we may have longed for the hope of warm sunshine in the spring after a long winter.  Our days get shorter, we experience darkness as we move through the changing seasons.

The changing of seasons is a good metaphor for our worshipping community called Fleming Road UCC.  At times this past year, it has felt like it has been a place of searching and change.  As a collective group of persons, it seems like we have been in an “in-between” place.  We may fill like we are on our way towards something, but we are still incomplete, not fully there.  We have wanted to change and grow in new directions, we’ve had four full with a new pastor, we’ve been working on what it means to be a “community engaged” church, we are experiencing new relationships coming into the building even as we go out into the neighborhood.  All of this is good, we are moving towards something, people inside the church and outside have remarked that there’s something different at Fleming Road UCC, and even different in our own lives, but we are still in between and not yet fully where we are called to be.  

The very definition of the “darkness” means to be in a state of dark, it is an abstract noun.  Yet, it does not mean that one is “dark”, just living in a state of darkness.  That “state” or existence can be changed.  

Try an experiment this week.  Go into a dark room.  Pause for a moment, take in the darkness, look into it.  Then turn on a light and notice the difference.  Notice the change.

Our identity as Jesus followers gives us hope for in the midst of darkness and change, Jesus says this in Matthew 4:16 quoting from Isaiah.  

the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

    light has dawned.”

Sitting in darkness can really be disorienting.  We feel lost, yet the darkness does point us toward a need for light.  

In darkness, we cannot see others around us as we should.   We stumble around often in relationships and because we are not able to see, we experience a break in relationship from folks because of something we’ve done or said, or something that was done or said to us.  Or we simply grow apart over time.  We often sit in darkness and darkness often leads to brokenness which can feel like living in the shadow of death.  

I love the band Over the Rhine, one of their song lyrics is “All my favorite people are broken”.  I love that line, we are all in the same boat.  None of us are competent or good enough to get through this life deal without experiencing darkness, lostness, or brokenness.  The difference is how much light we want shining on our lives to expose us in our darkness.  

Actually, more than that…we need darkness in our lives in order to grow into our truest selves…its only after everything is taken away, not seen, before we can be truly seen for who we are and to see that ourselves…why is that?  Because we construct so much artificial light that we think will keep the darkness away, we build lives of comfort and deceive ourselves in believing that we can control when the darkness comes.  We can’t…all we can do is lean into it, embrace it, and walk through it…knowing that as we stumble about, that we are also able to see deeper because we have to…

A former spiritual director of mine, Todd Long, gave me a great book a while ago by Parker Palmer called  Let Your Life Speak, In it Parker talks about depression and darkness.  He states that we need to embrace our wholeness as persons in those dark moments, look into them, and use them as times of understanding who we are, our true selves as Thomas Merton, the great catholic philosopher and mystic might say.  

Parker says this in his book:  

Over the years, the befriending intent of this figure never disappeared but became obscured by the frustration caused by my refusal to turn around. Since shouts and taps, stones and sticks had failed to do the trick, there was only one thing left: drop the nuclear bomb called depression on me, not with the intent to kill but as a last-ditch effort to get me to turn and ask the simple question, “What do you want?” When I was finally able to make the turn– and start to absorb and act on the self-knowledge that then became available to me– I began to get well. 

The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another from of self-distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self-planted in us by the God who made us in God’s own image– the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be. 

PP

True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril.” 

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Our passage from John gives us a glimpse of where real life comes from, or who it comes through.  Jesus is described as the light that shines into our lives, exposing everything through love, and enabling us to move through the darkness in our lives to find out true selves.  Jesus not only sheds light, but gives us an example to follow, an example of service and generosity and deep awareness of his true self, others, and the divine presence all around him and us.  Listen to these words from Eugene Peterson’s translation of our gospel text:  

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

Friends, like a thief in the night, we can let darkness overwhelm us, but that is not our identity, that is not our true selves, we may live in darkness, but there is a light in the depth of that darkness…and this great light has entered the world and our lives…actually, this great light has been in us all along…made in God’s image means that God put God’s self in us from the beginning…”in the beginning was the word, and the word…”. 

 As we stumble around in the darkness, may we go deep as we seek out light.  

Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our neighborhood, became flesh and bone just like us.  God made God’s dwelling, with us!!!  In us!!!  All around us!  Jesus is a visible expression of that divine expression that we encompasses us and invites us to the work of awareness to live into…

Jesus came to reveal to us what it means to live in the fullness of who we are called to be in our truest selves.  We have received grace upon grace, we are given new opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to experience rebirth even in the midst of the in-between times.  The light of Jesus is here, we may not always like what we see, it may cause us to ask deep questions, but the light does transform us and can bring us into places of beauty in our lives, in our neighborhood, work, and even in our church!  

This light was the word made flesh, Jesus, who invites us into sacred moments where we can catch glimpses of God’s glory, and our glory, and experience fullness with others and with God.  

Treasure.

Luke 2:41-52 

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and 

friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for
him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parentssaw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,and in divine and human favor. 

The setting for this mornings’ gospel is a pilgrimage that Jesus makes with his parents and a whole host of others to Jerusalem to celebrate passover. It was a huge festival that every pious Jewish family would want to make. 

It’s important to note that the authors up to this point in Luke have made Mary and Joseph the center of the story, Jesus doesn’t do anything without them. However, in this narrative, Jesus begins to take center stage. 

It’s also interesting to note that the authors give Jesus’ age. He’s 12. He is in the process of entering adulthood and this story is meant to mark a place of growth for Jesus. He’s making a statement. 

But, before that statement, we have the dramatic emotional experience that some of us as parents have gone through. Realizing you don’t know where your kids are. Now, I haven’t forgotten where my kids are for a complete day, but I have had a few moments in places like Central Park in NYC, King’s Island, or Disneyland where I’ve turned around for a brief moment and couldn’t find my kids…that sense of urgency in finding them brings up all sorts of feelings that we parents fear. 

Part of that emotion is out of a sense of wanting to protect our kids, but also the thought of losing them, of losing the relational connection, is overwhelming. That’s true not only with kids, but with anyone that we have a relationship with. 

So, Mary and Joseph have left Jerusalem, they’ve been gone for a day before they realize that Jesus isn’t with them. Now, before you judge them as parents, remember that this is a different culture. Unlike today, Mary and Joseph are a part of a large clan of relatives. They all share a sense of responsibility for each other and for their kids. So, it would be natural for Mary and Joseph to assume that Jesus was being taken care of, and that when their clan left, that someone would have Jesus. 

But, that wasn’t the case here. They had left Jesus. When they went back to Jerusalem to find them, they searched for him for 3 days! Could you imagine the panic and the angst of his parents, missing someone they loved? 

After three days, they went to the temple. I’m not sure what led them there, maybe it was a sense of needing to go and seek spiritual comfort at the temple, or maybe they heard that Jesus may be there, who knows. But, when they got there, they found Jesus in the middle of religious scholars, listening, asking questions, being curious…it says that even the teachers at the Temple were amazed at his answers, his maturity, and understanding. 

I’m not sure what Jesus was talking about that day, but my bet is that it had a lot to do with God’s love being summed up by how much God loves us and calls us to love others…of a God who created us out of relationship, for relationship…a God who gives us community with one another, with God’s self, and with the world around us. Jesus was listening not only to the teachers, but also to God’s Spirit revealing to him where community can be made present. 

When Mary, as any mother would, asked Jesus why he put her through this…why the anguish of wondering where he was, Jesus responds, “why were you searching for me, you should have known I’d be in the one place where I can intimately experience relationship with others and with God.” 

Jesus refers to being in his father’s house. We can get caught up in the masculine reference to God, but the Israelites used Father in a relational sense, it has much more to do with attempting to describe God in intimate, relational terms than subscribing to God masculine qualities. Language sometimes fails us in giving testimony to our experience. 

God is closer than any parent, God is within us and outside of us, God is “other”, we are not God, yet God reveals to us who were created to be, saved to be, and sustained to become.  

Jesus is experiencing God’s joy, God’s Presence, God’s love in the temple. 

It seems like Mary, like many parents, was not able to “see” or  “hear” her son in this moment…but, she paused, listened…and saw and heard him in that moment.  Mary doesn’t continue to scold him, she doesn’t understand all that Jesus is saying, yet she knows that her child is authentically experiencing God. It says that she treasures these experiences in her heart. Treasure is a great word, it’s something of immense value. In other places in the new testament, there is the parable of giving up all that you have to find the hidden treasure, it also says that where your treasure is, there is your heart. 

Friends, this is a hard one…harder than we thing.  Where is your treasure?  Do the work of finding your heart…not others hearts, but start with yours!  I know 

Mary’s treasure was in her son, the relationship they had, Jesus also treasured his mother, he didn’t intend to cause her anxiety, but he was also growing in his understanding of God’s love for humanity. God’s desire for us to experience love for God, for others, and for ourselves. God’s summary of the entire law, of the 10 commandments, into loving relationship. 

It’s fitting that we have this gospel lesson after Christmas, the coming of Christ bringing to us the promise of God’s loving presence…now, we are called to grow in our understanding of that Love by following Jesus’ example. In Luke 2:52, it says that Jesus grew in his teenage years up until his public ministry at age 30 in wisdom and in God’s and others favor. 

Jesus was marked with God’s favor…Jesus represents all of humanity, therefore we are also favored by God. May we treasure these stories about Jesus, may we understand that our treasure lies in deep, abiding, and even curious love for others and for God…may we seek and see God in all that we meet and may we find ourselves in the Father’s house, which is the temple, which is the body of Christ, understood to be placed in the world and encompassing all of humanity.

Friends, may we experience God’s love as we practice loving the world around us. 

Darkest Night

Luke 2:1-20 

The Birth of Jesus

2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,

14 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Well, 2021 is finally coming to an end…and yet, it seems a bit like deja vu, doesn’t it!  My goodness!  What a year 2021 has been…on top of 2020…and it seems like 2022 will start off in similar ways!  

Wars, rumors of wars, political nonsense, disinformation at every turn, isolation, changes happening so fast around us, and another COVID variant!

It reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray from a few years ago…if you remember that movie, the main character that Bill played was stuck in a loop that repeated his day, the same day, every day…it just so happened to be Groundhog Day!

Friends, it may seem like we are stuck in a loop in our lives, a place that is dark, without hope.  Yet, if we do the work, and receive the gift that Christmas offers, of light in the midst of darkness, we can break out of being stuck in this loop.  

We have been through a lot these past couple of years, but tonight, here we are,  together in some way, whether here in the sanctuary, or on Zoom, Facebook, we have gathered to hear this story again!  

With the passing of my mom and so many other things this year, I have been thinking, reminiscing of Christmas cookies, Christmas dinner at my mom’s house, Christmas trees, all of it.  This year, many of us have had to ponder on a deeper level what Christmas is about, it’s about something new being birthed…in us and in the world around us.  Childbirth isn’t easy, it’s painful…yet, what do we call babies after they’ve arrived?  “Little bundles of Joy”.  Possibility, mystery, love, struggle, suffering, growth, and presence are all wrapped up into babies.

Babies grow into adulthood through the throes of life.  Our faith does as well.  Sometimes we have to remember that things are formed in dark places, like the womb.  Faith, also is birthed in darkness.  And, faith is not about certainty…it is simply believing, deeply, that you are not alone in this world…that there is a God who resides within you and all around you that is with you…a God who entered humanity, became human, in the form of Jesus.  

December 25 is not actually Jesus’ birthday.  No one really knows when he was born.  So, why December 25?  It was decided by the early church because it is close to the annual winter solstice.  

The winter solstice is also known as the “longest night”.  It is the day of the year where it’s darkest the longest.

A mutual friend of mine and Sean Gladding’s, Katrina Harper, posted this on social media last week:

Winter Solstice is the time when ‘the sun stands still’, the shortest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, days become shorter from June 21st on, until around December 21st, when the sun seems to rise and set in the same place for a while. Then slowly the sun begins its journey toward the south again, and the days grow longer until the peak of sunlight at the Summer Solstice. 

The longest night of the year bears within itself the promise of the return of the light, the ‘rebirth’ of the sun. Thus, the Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the darkness of the womb from which creation arises. We honor the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, the dark night of the soul and the rebirth of new hope and vision. When we move deeper into the darkness instead of avoiding it, we find the gifts the darkness holds. To some, that may mean moving into the shadow aspect of self. What needs to be released, to be brought into the light of our awareness? Even in our darkest moments we can find the seeds of growth and healing within.

The darkness of the long winter nights that culminate in the Winter Solstice is also a time to honor and celebrate the world of the unseen, of dreams, and of intuition. When we cannot see with our physical eyes, we learn to trust the inner vision, the power of insight and inner knowingness. The journey into the darkness prepares the way for celebration: in gratitude we rejoice in the return of the light, the promise of the sun lighting our path, the promise of new beginnings.

Uki MacIsaac

The symbolism is great.  Throughout history, people and culture have known “dark times”.  Times when things are in upheaval.  Unless we aren’t paying attention, we must know that we are also in a time of great change and upheaval.  And, let’s be honest, all of us go through dark times in our lives.  The question is, are we going to try and ignore the darkness, or live into it and grow and find God in the depths of it?  

Friends, the reality is that the church has so often preached a message of hope, of joy, of peace, of love, and even a message of Jesus without the darkness that we see around and in us, without struggle…and God is saying to us on the symbolism of this night…to look into the darkness in order to see a candle, a flame, of love…of promise, of relationship, of incarnation…

Into this season, God has called and placed us.  We are asked to embrace the dark night, because in the darkness we can learn so much.  

In the darkness of Christmas night, there is a great stirring, movements towards hope and something new.  There are shepherds seeing and hearing miraculous news while dutifully minding their flocks.  There are wise men and women seeking knowledge and growth.  

The passage that we read tonight is full of subversive beauty!  Caesar August, the Roman emperor was the head of a political cult that set him up to be divine, a savior, the lord, one who didn’t have any failings, a winner at all costs…and he lived in imperial power exacting a census that was a sign of his authority and ability to collect taxes and contribute the wealth of Rome.  Yet, Jesus comes to us impoverished, on the run, and in a dirty stable.  His coming is announced to a group of outsiders, literally, shepherds and not some great proclamation to the entire empire, this proclamation came from the heavens to a few shepherds and wise men and women so that it can be carried to and for all of creation.  Amazing!

Into that dark night, a baby is born.  Emmanuel or “God with us”!  Jesus, Emmanuel, born to us, humanity.  God, entrusting God’s self to us, in darkness, and to a couple of teenagers who were still trying to figure things out!  God, who gives hospitality and relationship receives hospitality and relationship.  The “uncreated” creator giving over itself to its creation.

Into the night, a small light came on to the scene of history that grew to a blazing fire illuminating hope, peace, grace, friendship to ALL, welcoming the outsider, showing radical hospitality.  This Jesus that says he will be with us in the darkness birthing new life and possibility to us and to those around us!  This Jesus that reminds us that the church is not the latest program, fad, building, numbers, or whatever but that we are the very body of Christ!  We are becoming more and more radiant as we acknowledge the hard and struggle of life, share that life together, and look at each and see the “glory on each face”!  

We have opportunity after opportunity to meet God in the darkest places and to grow into people of radiance as we wait for the morning light!  

Friends, in this new year, may we walk together in whatever darkness that we are in.  May we embrace where we are on this journey together.  And, may we look into the darkest nights of our lives for the hope of Christ to be born again in us and around us…and may we proclaim and rejoice in this king, this savior, this lord, this friend to us.  

Joy.

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
    God has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
    call on God’s name;
make known God’s deeds among the nations;
    proclaim that God’s name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for God has done gloriously;
    let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Joy!  The third Sunday of Advent, our third candle gives us the word Joy.  Joy is defined as follows:

: a feeling of great happiness

: a source or cause of great happiness : something or someone that gives joy to someone

: success in doing, finding, or getting something

That last definition seems to fit this season of “giving”.  We fritter about doing things, looking for gifts to give, and we receive gifts from others.  

Yet, do we experience joy?  It seems to me that oftentimes when we look for joy or think that things will bring us joy.  We are disappointed or disillusioned.

In Scripture and even in the world around us, we find that there is great joy in announcing the coming of Jesus.  Jesus is coming to bring restoration, wholeness, justice, peace, forgiveness.  The very meaning of the word Advent is “appearance,” “arrival,” “dawn,” and “return”.  

Most in this culture know that Christmas has something to do with the arrival of Jesus.  Yet, we can’t seem to remember why we should have joy.  We are reminded often in this culture with clever phrases like “Jesus is the reason for the season”.  Sometimes commentators on some channels or so called news outlets will talk about a “war on Christmas”.  Based on the amount of spending and consumerism…and the number of times of I’ve Christmas movies reappearing, I’m not exactly sure what war is being fought and who’s winning.  

All of this to say, it is oftentimes hard to find joy when we are being pushed so many messages trying to break through to us.  We are busy, we have things to do, we can’t slow down and expect everything to be done by December 24.  

We have expectations of what Christmas joy should be, yet we may not always experience it.  We need time to slow down and experience joy.  It takes making space in the midst of craziness to be still.  That can be hard, but it’s so necessary.  When we slow down though, we often are faced to sake some hard questions around life.  

In our passage this morning from Luke, John the Baptist is announcing the arrival of Jesus with some harsh words.  He’s calling many in the crowd, a brood of vipers.  He’s talking the crowds that the system, their way of being, all of it, was being struck down.  They ask John what they should do.  John gives them a response that they may like.  That deep change, a change for the better, was on it’s way…he goes on to tell them to get rid of things, to get to your core of who you are…that this change will be hard, but you’ll be better off for it.

And, I’m not sure what John was expecting, or what joy he was experiencing…and I’m sure he didn’t know that he was about to face a horrendous death at the hands of King Herod just a short time afterwards.  Later, when he was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for death, he had some hard questions to face.  I wonder, did John, in the midst of his expectations being dashed, in the midst of his sorrow, did he find joy?  It seems like he certainly found some courage, but, i have to admit, I don’t know how I’d feel in the place of John.  

When we read the Isaiah passage, we hear a reminder that does give us joy in the midst of so much change that is surely coming, not only to the people of John’s time with the arrival of Jesus’ public ministry, but also to us today as we live into this advent season.  That God is with us, that God will not let go of us, that God is in the midst of all of the change calling us towards the best version of ourselves…and that growth, or repentance, which, again, simply means a changing of one’s mind, of understanding what is deep within your heart that God dwells in, is upon us.  How we respond to God’s Presence within and around us is up to us.  

I believe that the message of Jesus bringing freedom does give me joy.  How?  Because Jesus demonstrates to me a God who isn’t far off, isn’t affected by what we experience.  The words of Isaiah ring loud within my being because God just isn’t saying words, God knows what it’s like to be oppressed, to be captive, to be overwhelmed, to be in season of life that is foggy, uncertain, to be brokenhearted.  God has experienced all that we experience.  God has experienced sorrow, deep sorrow.  Yet, God still came to us, God listened to us, God demonstrates throughout history and through Jesus, and even now through God’s Presence and Spirit, in and through our communities and each other, that we are not alone.  

Jesus did come, he did arrive.  And, he did also die and have many of his expectations shattered.  Yet, there was something deeper.  Something more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  This Jesus’ power was not found in conquering Rome or forcing himself over us, his power was loving deeply.  Loving to the very core of all of us.  Not giving up on us, even in death.  This love that God has for us and that we can share in does lead to sorrow, but sorrow always gives way to joy, a deeper joy than simply a song or words can describe.  

I don’t always get it, but, at times I catch glimpses of this joy.  It can come in the midst of a run, or in the gift of listening.  Listening, however, can be hard.  Yet, it’s so important if we are to experience joy. When we listen to deeply to our hearts, try to live in a deeper awareness, it can be scary at first, but then freedom comes to live as we were intended to live as we look deep into our lives and find God, in the midst of our sorrow, and moving us towards joy even in that sorrow.  

Christmas celebrates the birth of a child.  Childbirth, and I’ve said this before as I’ve been told, can be painful.  When McKenzie and Brennan made their appearance, out of hours of labor and pain, there was so much joy!  Life is also filled with sorrow, but the joy of their presence is so much more.  Being a parent has brought change, I’ve changed, I continue to change.  I have to listen a lot…and, sometimes, I think others in my family actually listen to me.  

A few years ago, in a different church that I served as a pastor, we went on a journey together to listen to our community, I remember visiting with a new friend who lived near the church  He’s Jewish.  But, he said our church was is his church because he lives in the neighborhood and he wants it be vibrant and good for others.  

Friends, there are so many people in our community hoping to see a new story emerge within the church, and in our church in particular I believe.  That new story starts with commitment.  And, just like being a parent, we don’t know how things will turn out, but, as we listen to one another, to our community, and to a God who has entered into our experience and calls us into experiencing life together.  At times it will be painful, filled with sorrow, yet there is a deeper joy welling up within us as we listen, work towards justice and forgiveness, and actively expect God’s Presence to come to us now and in the future when everything is restored to what it should be.

So, I’m in and willing to take that risk.  And, I believe we all are as well!  Amen?

Messenger.

Luke 1:68-79 

68  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69  He has raised up a mighty saviorfor us in the house of his servant David, 70  as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.71 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break uponus, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

Luke 3:1-6
The Proclamation of John the Baptist 

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene,2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
 and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 

How do we receive messages these days? What are some examples of messengers? 

As I read these passages in Luke, the word messenger came out loud and clear. 

There are stories of messengers throughout history, especially when they bring good news. However, things may not turn out great for those messengers. 

One of the most famous messengers was the Greek courier, Philippides. There was a great battle between the Persians and the Greeks. Philippides had run a message to the Spartans for help with the Athenians. He ran for a couple of days apparently. His last run was from the city of Marathon to Athens. When he arrived at Athens, the Greeks were eager to hear the outcome of the battle, Philippides had good news and exclaimed, “Joy! We won.”, then legend has it, he fell over and died. 

Not a great ending, but that is where we got the name for Marathon races. And, I love them, and feel like dying at the end of one…only to get excited about running another one! 

But, Philippides did have good news to share and ran long, hard, and with much pain to share it. 

Our gospel lesson this morning is all about a messenger who has come to share truly good news. 

Our first passage in Luke comes right after Mary’s song where she talks in beautiful ways about God’s promise of a Savior, of the Messiah, the deliverer coming to the world through her. A song where she reminds us that God does keep God’s promises. 

In our text, it is Zechariah’s turn to give us a song. Zechariah is high priest and he and his wife Elizabeth were well past their years for childbirth. When Zechariah heard that he was finally going to be a dad, he didn’t believe it…so, the angel delivering the news said that he wouldn’t be able to talk because of his stubbornness in not believing. It says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. 

In the Old Testament, when someone is said to be filled with the Spirit, that means, sit up, wake up, and listen. Zachariah has a lot of respect, he’s older, he had gone through a lot in life, he had given up on being a dad, yet through it all, he was faithful. He may have been shut up by God for a time, but I think even that was a gift from God. God was not through with Zachariah, even though he had lived a long life, God was saying to him, YOU, even in your advanced age, have a purpose that will change the world! Zachariah had time to sit, be still, and listen to the rhythm’s of his heart and hear God’s whisper in his life. 

He was ready to share. When his mouth was loosened, praise and wisdom followed. As well as reminders. Zachariah tells us that God is powerful by using the symbol of a horn. In antiquity, the horn was a symbol of power. It made a loud noise and help, or deliverance, would follow. If you had a horn, you had powerful friends. God was bringing salvation, was making things right. 

Zachariah is also sharing that God has made a covenant with humanity. That God would rescue us, would show mercy, and that our hope is coming. 

He then says that his son, John, will be the messenger. That John would come and prepare the way…and would shine a light for those living in darkness and guide us towards peace. John would bring good news of God’s entering humanity, of restoring right relationships, God would keep his covenant and make God’s loyalty and love to humanity known through John’s cousin, Jesus. God was not only living in community with us through Spirit, but would also physically live with us. The uncreated entering creation. 

Humanity often lives in darkness, we bump about not knowing where we are going. We break things, cause damage to ourselves and others, even destroy one another. Yet, God says that we were created for so much more, for mercy, forgiveness, and for relationship. And, to serve others and God without fear as it says in verse 74. 

Jesus would guide us towards the way of peaceful living with one another. 

And, John does just that. In our second Luke passage, John speaks to the crowds who come to him, some curious, some ready to change, all wanting something more. John rails against the religious, political, and social structures of the day. It’s no accident that Luke mentions the year, and the different leaders of the day. Luke is reminding his readers the setting in which John gives his message. John is standing in the public arena calling all towards repentance, to change towards a new life signified in baptism…the old life is gone, a new life has come. 

John is one crying in the wilderness, reminding his readers of the wilderness that they were in when they left Egypt…it seemed like it may take a while, they wandered around, but in God’s time, they were delivered out of the wilderness and into something more. 

Not all may have experienced this…some died in the wilderness. But, we have to realize that God is committed to the whole picture, all of humanity. With God, no one is lost, even if they are on different parts of the Journey. John is telling us that Jesus is coming to us now to show us and remind us that the Kingdom of God, of heaven, God’s Presence is here, now, and will be with us forever. 

Friends, just like the marathon runner, we may be tired, we may be worn out, we may want to give up. But, we’ve got good news, we have a God who is calling us to live differently, to change, to repent and live in forgiveness of our stuff and the stuff of others, to let go of the past and live into a new future even as we practice a new Presence, and to have peace…real peace.  Peace in scripture is not the absence of conflict, but a deeper sense of faith that we can live into.  We may not know the future, we may have a lot of uncertainty, but we also are all connected to one another and a divine flow of God’s love that calls us into.  Friends, we are never too old, we never have it all figured out, but if we are willing to submit to one another and to God, just as God demonstrated through Jesus, we can come out of the wilderness and into the promise, the hope of salvation and into the abundance of life that God promises! 

Now, it’s one thing to say this, to talk about peace and presence in the midst of so much dissonance and change, another to experience it. But, I can personally attest to his, I have experienced this, along with others in this room this morning, in conversations with friends from this church and in the neighborhood and throughout the city… 

As we come to this table today, we are reminded of God’s abundance as we are called to this table together…look around you as we come forward, look at each other in a new and wonderful way, put the old behind…and also, look inside of you, God is doing something in each of us…something new. After communion, as you leave, look at others that you see or meet in a new way as well, the promises of God are being fleshed out all around us! 

Watch.

Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Exhortation to Watch

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

What catches our imagination when we see things clearly?  Or maybe not clearly?!  There is a lot of “looking”, watching, seeing, in this morning’s gospel passage.  

I was looking for lyrics to songs about seeing as I was writing this sermon.  Then it hit me as I did a search for “seeing”.  The problem is not seeing something, not seeing that so much is changing in the world, the issue is what do we see, or who do we see?  

These are some of the most longing and beautiful words about seeing from the musical artist, Peter Gabriel, from a few years ago:

In your eyes

The light, the heat (in your eyes)

I am complete (in your eyes)

I see the doorway (in your eyes)

To a thousand churches (in your eyes)

The resolution (in your eyes)

Of all the fruitless searches (in your eyes)

Oh, I see the light and the heat (in your eyes)

Oh, I wanna be that complete

PP

I wanna touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes

Love, I don’t like to see so much pain

So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away

I get so tired working so hard for our survival

I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

And all my instincts they return

And the grand facade, so soon will burn

Without a noise, without my pride

I reach out from the inside

The issue for us, is do we see out of love, deep love…not just love for another human, a project, or even a church or a family, but the deep universal love that keeps us grounded, helps us to come alive.  The love that God gives us of God’s Self.

Richard Rohr this week in my daily devotional said this:  

Those who truly live in The Story have embraced and integrated their personality, shadow, woundedness, family issues, culture, and contextualizing life experiences under The One. . . . This is a truly integral spirituality, a truly catholic worldview, and the unrecognized goal of all monotheistic religions. These, like Jesus, desire “nowhere to rest their head” except in the One and Universal Love. 

We come to this morning’s gospel lesson and its word on seeing, on watching.  The setting is right before Jesus and the disciples have their last supper.  Jesus is teaching in the temple and telling folks that they should recognize the signs all around them.  That there is distress in the nations, a foreboding of what is to come and to be on the look-out for the Son of Man, the Messiah.

It’s interesting that not much has changed since Jesus gave those words.  In Jesus’ time there were protests, Roman oppression and rule, unjust systems and folks rising up to challenge them, and wars, always wars.  

Today, if you only watch the news for 5 minutes, you see about the same things.  Different actors, but still the same.

Not only are their signs of the times that tell us that something isn’t right in the world, but we see so much in our own lives:   conflicts with others, a deep sense of distrust, a desire to win rather than work together towards good goals, a deep sense of anxiety and fear within culture and within ourselves.  We not only see signs of distress in culture, but in our lives.  I talk with folks all of the time that are dealing with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and situational as well as chronic depression…as well as grief and loss…which is OK, it’s part of it…I know it so well in this season of my own life.   

We all see things that can lead one towards despair and even confusion.  What’s going on here?  We may wonder.  But, Jesus has other words for us, that when we sense some of the things I just mentioned, there is a deeper promise that God has made to us.  We are not alone and that God has come, is here, and will come for us.  

The writer of Luke is telling us that God’s promise of entering humanity is upon us.  That in the midst of the anxiety, distress, and confusing times, that there is good news.  When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways:  one is fear, the other is faith that God will keep God’s promises and we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love.  

Rather than looking at the events around us with fear and anxiety, we can live with confidence and courage.  A Greek word that is used often to describe God’s Presence is Parousia.  It means literally presence, arrival, or visit.  God’s Kingdom is upon us, God’s Presence.  The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?

Do we sense that something new is emerging within our lives and do we live in expectation of this newness being made known?  Do we get wrapped up in the anxiety and emotion of external issues that arise around us or are we able to take a deep breath and sense that something good may arise out of whatever situation that we are facing eventually?  Or, better yet, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with whatever is happening and know that we are not alone and that we can share whatever is happening with others and with God?

I believe that cultivating this sense of Presence is key for our lives.  If we work from love, from faith, we can see so much in our lives and in the world that strengthen our faith in God and in others…if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us.  As we listen to ourselves, others, and attempt to look at even familiar things with a sense of God’s presence in everything, we can catch those glimpses of God that can move us towards growth.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.   Advent literally means that we are preparing for the coming of Jesus.  It is about arrival, coming into place, viewing something in a new way.  Today, we have a sign of a candle being lit representing hope. 

Hope is defined in the dictionary in several ways: 
a person or thing that may help or save someone.grounds for believing that something good may happen…a feeling of trust.

Faith is similar and somethings this Sunday can be called the faith Sunday.  Faith is defined in the dictionary as trust or confidence in someone or something especially when things are not black and white, it is also a strong belief in God based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.  Faith can give us hope, which is deeper than optimism…

Luke is calling us out to have faith and hope that we may never understand, but we can live into or apprehend, we can’t prove it.  But, it is a faith that keeps us alert, keeps us living expectantly.  We are called to be open to God’s breaking into our lives in the most unexpected ways.  God is showing us things all of the time.  We can be stubborn or attempt to control what signs God may be giving us, we can be resistant to God’s Presence out of fear and a desire to cling to what we know.  Or, we can see, that, just like the seasons give us clues that change is upon us, that God’s Presence in our lives has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive.  We can see that as we stay alert and practice listening or noticing the signs of God’s activity, that we can have lives filled with meaning, purpose, and even gratitude in the midst of all of the craziness that we experience within us and around us.  

Truth.

John 18:33-37

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Who are you?  That’s a great question.  Who are we?  I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I don’t like to be labeled.  I like running, but I don’t want to just be known as a runner.  I want to be healthy.  I’m a spouse, parent, friend, etc…but I want to also be known as a someone that cares, is open, loves well, is inconsistent at times, but always willing to go deeper in who I am with others and with myself.  Same thing about being a pastor.  Love it.  And, quite honestly, being at Fleming Road UCC has rekindled my love and deepened my call of being a pastor.  But, I want to be known for deeper things as well…a friend first as Christ was/is a friend.  

You can go down the line:  politics, theology, associations, etc.  I want to be something more than the things that I may engage in…I think we all do. 

This morning’s gospel lesson is about getting to the truth of who we are.  

It is also full of drama.  The writer in John is attempting to tell a beautiful story about “truth”.  In our culture today, people are always talking about biblical truth.  It’s interesting to me on how many things people say is biblical truth, while others say the exact opposite as biblical truth.  It’s one of those dead end arguments, if you say something is biblically true, it’s like you are trying to shut down an argument.

But, the writer of John is trying cut through the distractions and point to Truth.  I’d say truth with a capital “T”.   A truth that isn’t convenient, but is deep and lasting, and requires courage to live into.  A truth that has much more to about relational reality than facts or figures.  

The dramatic fashioning of the story is interesting.  The actors in this drama leading to Jesus’ crucifixion have all left the stage, except for Mary Magdalene, the disciples, the religious rulers, the mobs, all have left and its just Jesus and roman governor, Pilate.  

Pilate is intrigued by Jesus.  He has some doubts on Jesus’ guilt.  He is not resolute and he wants to be practical, but he’s curious and he’s searching for an answer.  Jesus was just before a mob demanding his crucifixion.  I’d imagine that the crowd there that day was filled with tension, fear, anxiety.  They were under roman rule, they were enslaved to a religious system that was propping itself up by they’re going along with the system.  They did not want to give up on what they had lived under because it was familiar and they could not see beyond to what Jesus exemplified.  

The religious leaders also needed a distraction to maintain power.  Jesus was challenging their system, their way of living, and they needed to show the crowds they were still in charge.  

They all needed a scapegoat if you will, someone to blame their issues on, someone that they could punish for their own sin.  And, Jesus seemed like a good one to scapegoat.  

Yet, they could not kill Jesus without Roman approval.  But, Pilate wasn’t convinced.  He wanted to appease the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and he also did not want civil unrest.  So, he pushed the pause button and questioned Jesus in private.  

He starts with some probing questions, “ are you the king of the Jews”.  The “you” in Greek is emphatic, are YOU the king of the Jews.  Jesus is also curious; he wants to know if Jesus is being prompted to ask or if it’s his own question.  Jesus asks, is this your idea?  Pilate responds, that it’s his own people who have betrayed Jesus, and wants to know what it is he’s done.  

Then Jesus talks about his kingdom.  His kingdom is not of this world.  The kingdom of this world is about power, prestige, hierarchy, status, enslavement of the masses, and fearful individualism where the focus is on some type of survival, scarcity of resources that pushes one towards selfishness and violence.

Yet, Jesus’ kingdom is not about any of those things, its power comes from humility, confidence, and service.  It is non-hierarchal, relational, and collaborative.  It frees up everyone from slavery to whatever is keeping them from growing towards a deeper truth of who they really are.  It is not based on fear or anxiety but brings peace, presence, and abundance.  It gives us loving community and friendships with others, and it is marked by non-violence.  

Jesus goes on to say that he has come into the world.  That’s a huge statement.  Jesus is saying that he was, before he was even born.  He existed before he came to us in a feeding trough, a manger somewhere near Bethlehem.  And that he came to testify to the Truth.  And, the Truth is embodied in the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.  Jesus says that he is the truth and the truth will set us free elsewhere in scripture.

We so often want to say we believe in the Bible as Jesus followers, but we don’t believe in a book, we believe in the God that is revealed to us through Jesus that is described in the Bible.  Nathan Hamm says this:

The Word of God is “living & active”


because the Word of God is Jesus.

Books don’t live & act. People do.

The Word didn’t become a book.


The Word became flesh.

This Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth, to testify that there is a better way to live and find our being.  Friends, as we go into the world around us, as we listen to our neighbors, we will find God active, we will find so many things that will point us towards a loving God.  And we will grow.  

We often ask the question, how will we survive and grow as a church?  

If we have any chance of growing closer to God, of seeing our church not only survive, but thrive, then we have an opportunity, just like Pilate, to ask Jesus what is truth.  But, unlike Pilate, we can have courage to live on the side of truth, to know the Jesus that embodies truth and to follow his example of going into the world and finding the places and people where God is at work and invite them into our fellowship, even as we join them in friendship in the world that we live in.  

If we can dare to risk this, we will move from death into the resurrection, life filled with Jesus, filled with Truth.

May it be so with us.

Endgame.

Mark 13:1-8

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

My son and I used to have a tradition of going to see the Marvel movies together when they came out.  As he’s gotten older, we have not done that as much…although we did go and see the new Marvel movie, The Eternals, last week.  Which was pretty good, except for the guy behind us snoring…I guess he had a long day…and, I hope that if any of you ever fall asleep during one of my sermons, that you don’t snore…at least loudly.  

Endgame was one of the Marvel movies that Brennan and I saw together.  It was the culmination of several Marvel movies depicting the end of the world.  In this movie, the villain, Thanos, had grabbed all six of these powerful stones that enabled him to destroy half of the universe and 1/2 of its population.  But, the Avenger superheros find a way to reverse time and restore the universe and its population…including many of the Avengers who had vanished.  

Now, that was a movie, and as good it was, it’s still fantasy.  Yet, and we have said this before, we live in “apocalyptic” times.  That doesn’t mean the end of the world, but it does mean the end of some things so that new things can emerge.  It also means that things are being revealed that were hidden, or not recognized before.

Friends, as we read the gospel story, can we not see that this was not only true 2,000 years, but so true today!  

Jesus makes a statement, that the temple, this grand building in Jerusalem that was built by King Solomon, was one of the most amazing structures in antiquity, and made a huge impression on the disciples.  Again, remember last week, when we said that we often go after things that are shiny, appealing, or speak somehow to a sense of oversized grandeur that make us feel important for reasons other than what we were created for?  The disciples kept on falling into the same patterns, going after surface things, wanting to be great, wanting to be a part of the system that kept them from realizing their full humanity.  

Jesus literally goes after them with a blunt statement meant to cause them some dissonance, to make them thing, to shake them out of their comfort.

You see this temple that you are so impressed with?  See how powerful it looks?  How permanent?  Well, nothing is permanent, these stones, large stones, will all fall down, this building will be destroyed…and, so will all of your notions that have been created to give you some sense of control, when in reality, those notions control you and keep you from becoming the person that you have always wanted to be.

Its interesting though, the disciples stick with Jesus.  They know his words and actions carry meaning.  It often happens that when Jesus makes these statements in public, there’s a sidebar conversation with the disciples where he explains further.  After three of the disciples ask in private the meaning of his words, Jesus goes on to say that there will always wars, rumors of wars, human conspiracies, and all sorts of disasters, but something deeper is going on.

Friends, look around!  We see this today, everything is being exposed.  We see our political structures exposed…both sides, all sides.  There are some good people in government, yes, but we have a system that is collapsing from lack of trust, greed, and a lust for power…and everyone blaming others rather than working towards the common good.  The church universal is being exposed as it became complacent and sold out to being an entertainment center, a walled fortress, or a sales pitch.  We have become a society based on business, on transactions, of living above our places, or locations, and zipping around like ants marching towards a slow death,  rather than a community of people, in a location, living in place, being transformed and transformational, and growing into life, the abundant life that Jesus came to show and to reveal to us…and give to us freely without condition!  

The same thing is true in our personal lives.  We go through the throes of life holding on to things, notions, bias, image, and relationships.  They all have to be brought into the light, because often we try to hide behind them and present an image to the world that is so much work.  

God wants us to give us life, real life.  God wants us to live freely and in love with ourselves, others, and to be experiencing God’s movement, God’s love, in every aspect of our lives.  

But, giving birth to life requires pain.  Jesus compares apocalyptic times in our life as “birth pains”.  I have not given birth, but as I’ve shared before, I’ve watched it happen…and I did experience pain when Debbie punched me while giving birth to Brennan.  Birth is hard, we don’t want to leave the comfort of the umbilical cord, the womb, and enter into this crazy, painful, sad, joyful, wonderful world.  Yet, we can’t stay in the womb, that will eventually kill us and kill the mother…we have to leave, we have to grow, we have to trust, and risk.  We really do not have a choice, yet, we also do have a choice to how we live and respond.

Friends, apocalyptic times are all around us, we can accuse, scream, take sides, put others down, live in despair, or we can make a stand, lean into them, grow and learn, and become.  Our world, and our own personal worlds, will end and are dying, but it’s not the end of the world, or our own worlds…no, it’s actually the beginning, a new birth.  

May we live into the possibilities as we embrace the changes in and around us.