Matthew 2:13-23

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c]17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

As many of you know, I’m in the process of training for another marathon next October in 2020.  I have been diagnosed with arthritis in right big toe, so I’m having to train differently.  I am running 4 days a week and cross training at the YMCA the other 3 days.  Part of that is working on the indoor cycle and elliptical…which, I hate.  So, I’ve been watching different Netflix series.  Right now, I’m on season 3 of the Crown.  Which has been fun and it’s caught my imagination.  

So, we just celebrated Christmas, and the idea that a new king has been born is a part of the Christmas message.  What gets missed in the Christmas message though is that this is not a typical king and the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ birth in a manger and the wise men and shepherds coming.  No, this story has more twists in Jesus’ early life.

You see, as we’ve been saying throughout Advent, God entrusted God’s self to us in Jesus.  The Trinity, the 3 in 1 God flows into humanity through Jesus.  It is a beautiful story, but rather than coming as a conquering king or in splendor and glory, Jesus shows up as a little baby born to first time teenaged parents in the middle of political and social upheaval.  God comes to us, not in regal authority, but in true humility, which has more power than any conquering army.  

After the birth in the manger in a dirty stall, our passage on this 1st Sunday after Christmas Day details Jesus’ first few days after the Shepherds and wise men visit.  

King Herod, who was the ruler under roman authority, was a ruthless politician.  He had wide latitude and the Roman army to back him up.  He committed many atrocities to keep his hold on power.  He was rather thin skinned and narcissistic I’d imagine…and furious that the wise men had visited Jesus and did not tell him where to find Jesus as they were told.  So, he ordered all of the boys under 2 years old in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.

Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel to flee Bethlehem before this happens…but to make haste and do it that very night.  So, he got up, got Mary and Jesus and fled to the relative safety of Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution and to save the life of his son, and probably his and Mary’s.

Friends, this story is so important to us as we close 2019.  This has been a year of many ups and downs for all of us I’d imagine, but it is also a year where we have seen one of the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world.  Through wars, famine, and political upheaval, there are now an estimated 60 million + refugees.  

As followers of Jesus, we should recognize that Jesus was a refugee and if we are called to identity the image of God in each person, and to identify with all of humanity, and especially those on the margins through Jesus, then when we see a refugee, we are looking at Jesus through our shared humanity.  

My wife, Debbie, and I have encountered refugees in Finneytown as they come to live here…I can tell you that when we have been with them, we have felt a touch of the divine through their stories, which are filled with deliverance as well as suffering.  

According the UN, the definition of a refugee is as follows:  

refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

I would say that definition certainly fits with Jesus in our story this morning.  Jesus knows what it’s like to have to flee a country as a child, to know that his life is in danger.  And his earthly father knew that he had to do whatever it took to get him to safety.

I’m also reminded of a refugee that I met in Brussels, Belgium a few years ago.  He shared what it was like to have his boat overturn in the Mediterranean and to swim to the relative safety of a rock with his family and to watch 23 other humans drown who weren’t so lucky.

This amazing story of Jesus as a refugee was one wrought in peril, in danger.  It could have gone bad as many refugee stories do.  Even when Jesus and his family return to Israel, they don’t go back to Bethlehem.  It’s too close to Jerusalem, and even  though Herod had died, his sons and others still may not take kindly to Jesus.  So, Joseph is instructed to go to Nazareth, which had recently become somewhat of a more independent region.  This also fulfills a prophetic word about the Messiah coming out of Nazareth…as well as add to the narrative that God comes out of nowhere, and out of those in poverty.  Nazareth was not of any importance in that day.  

This Jesus, this king, flesh of our flesh, and divine and out of the very heart of God, came to us as a baby, entrusting Godself to us, relying on our hospitality and showing us the way of welcome and hospitality out of vulnerability to the world around us.  

Friends, we may have gone through a lot this past year.  And, as we face 2020, we will have some struggles to face personally, as a congregation, community, city, country, and world.  Yet, even as we use the symbol of a baby as the new year 2020, we approach it with eager expectation.  We don’t know what will happen, or where hope will appear, but we can have faith and commitment to a God who promises to be with us  

When I became a dad, I looked at my kids with all sorts of amazement and wonder, I did not know what life with them would bring, how they’d turn out, but I knew I was committed to them.

Let us not forget that, just as we reminded in this morning’s gospel story, that God weeps with us and looks out for us.  May we have the listening ear, wisdom, and obedience of Joseph to follow God’s voice, even if it takes us places we may not want to go…but, as we go, be reminded that we are not alone and that God will make a way for us in 2020 and beyond, and to stay committed to one another, to practice radical hospitality, and to do the hard and glorious work of being a community of faith as we reach out to our communities in faith.  

Into The 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, 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, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

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.

I simply love the Christmas Eve worship services!  I have been the pastor at Fleming Road UCC for 2 years now in January.  We have so many traditions in this church that have been fantastic, even as we create new experiments and others ways to grow in our faith.

I also love many traditions of Christmas.  Whether it’s Christmas cookies, Christmas dinner at my mom’s house, Christmas trees, all of it, I mostly enjoy!

A tradition that we had growing up in our house was also the visit of Santa Clause.  It was usually my great uncle dressed up, but as kids, we loved it when he would come over, knock on the big window in our living room from the porch and walk in.  My dad would also read the narrative of the birth of Jesus that we just read in this service.  What was different though in my dad’s reading, is that he would only read from the King James version of the bible, so it was filled with “thee’s and thou’s”…which I always thought was odd because he didn’t talk like that normally!

How do we come up with some of the traditions of Christmas or even the date that we celebrate Christmas?

Many of us know that 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.

The winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky.

The symbolism is great.  Throughout history, people and culture have known “dark times”.  Times when things are in upheaval.  Many would say that we are currently living in a time of great change and upheaval.  Politics, families, relationships, and even the church are facing schisms, divisions, scandals, and seem to be failing all around us.  We see it, we experience it.  

We know that suicide, drug use, violence, homelessness, and so many other things are on the rise, while the church seems to have lost its way.  

So many times the church has practiced program after program in order to be relevant or preached a message that is easy and overlooks the hard and dark aspects of life.  We proclaim growth but not with the hard lessons and dissonance that must occur in our lives in order to have growth.  

We talk about joy, but without hardship.  We forget that the word passion literally means to struggle and that the passion of Christ is the suffering of Christ and that we are called to live into that passion with Christ.  

We truly live in a time where we cannot see what is going to happen next.  It is a struggle and many would say that these are dark times personally and in the larger world around us.  

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

Our ancient German and Celtic ancestors understood that darkness forces us to search even in our blindness or lack of light.  Darkness also forces us to rest as we can’t work without light.  It also forces to wait until the morning comes.  

So, our early Christian fathers and mothers decided to put Christmas on this day of the longest darkness.  

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”!  Every Sunday of Advent and even tonight, what did we sing?  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.  Emmanuel comes, came, and continues to come to 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.  For the first 1200 years of the church, Christmas was not as big as Easter.  800 or so years ago, St. Francis began to change that by announcing that the miracle of Jesus, of God becoming flesh, was the turning point in all of history!  God, incarnate!  In the flesh, being born, living, loving, suffering, losing his life, and rising from the dead. 

Into the night, a small light, or as my friend, Dr. Alexander Shaia says, a “radiance”, 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”!  

In so many ways, this is the most exciting time and age for the church and of humanity!  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 darkness 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.   


Matthew 11:2-11

Messengers from John the Baptist

When John heard in prison what the Messiah[a] was doing, he sent word by his[b] disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers[c] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus Praises John the Baptist

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone[d] dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?[e] Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Wait.  It’s an interesting word.  It literally means “to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens” and/or is a word “used to indicate that one is eagerly impatient to do something or for something to happen.”

During this season of the year, Advent, we are said to be waiting for something to happen, waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, or promised one that will bring deliverance from whatever we are held in bondage to…and will bring peace and hope to the world, right?  

So, we wait for something to happen, or to come.  Often, we don’t like to wait.  Especially in lines, which is another thing we do a lot of at Christmas.  We go to stores, shops and wait in line.  We drive somewhere and wait in traffic.  We often look at waiting with frustration, anxiety, impatience.

Our passage in Matthew this morning has something to say about waiting.  John the Baptist has been waiting for the Messiah.  As we discussed last week, his voice cried out in the wilderness, outside the city, outside the established norms of institutional religion, calling people towards a change of heart and mind, repentance, in order to be able to be cleansed and recognize the Son of God when he came.  John was a prophet living before Jesus comes on to the scene fully, but recognizes Jesus early on as that Messiah.

Now, John finds himself in prison because of his prophetic words that rubbed King Herod, the Jewish ruler a the time under Roman occupation.  John had been going full steam, now he had to slow down…alone with his thoughts, dispirited by imprisonment, he questions whether Jesus is the Messiah that John’s been waiting for…Jesus doesn’t exactly fit the image that John had.  

Sometimes, when we wait for something or someone, we may become disillusioned during the waiting.  The waiting may be over, but we still may not understand what is before us.  It may not give us the desired outcome, or what we had anticipated.  

At that point, we can give up and look for something else, or we can begin to ask the deeper questions of what exactly are we looking for?  Is there something else going on?  But, the important thing is to ask, sincerely and honestly.

John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus if he’s the one.  Jesus sends them back with this simple statement.  Yes.  He is.  He then gives evidence that more than simply proclaiming or preaching a message of deliverance, to look at Jesus’ actions.  The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed and restored to community, the deaf hear, the dead rise from the grave, and the poor are told the good news that they too are to be fully included and loved by God.  

Jesus goes on to say, in effect that those who can see Jesus and his actions of radically inclusive love and grace and not stumble on theology, politics, or maintaining the status quo, can experience joy, true spiritual growth.  

Jesus states that John was great, that he came and gave a message that wasn’t driven by popular opinion, by winning arguments, or giving out eloquent speech that made folks feel good.  People came to him because he was a prophet, a messenger, a herald even greater than Elijah telling of a new day that was upon them and that the Messiah was coming.  

The translation in verse 10 is that God was sending a messenger before our face…this was no syrupy feel good message, this was a message of repentance, get ready, the wait is almost over, the promised one will come and things will change.  We cannot hide, it’s literally in our face.  Therefore, get rid of the old way of thinking and prepare your hearts and minds for new ways of thinking and acting.  It was a hard message, but it was effective.  

Jesus says if the listeners in that passage, and us today, have ears to hear and are willing to accept this message, then the wait is over, we can begin to live lives even now filled with love, acceptance, and growth.

John the Baptist

In the verses following after this passage, Jesus says that this generation doesn’t know what it wants…that it’s like children yelling at each other in the marketplaces, complaining about everything.  John comes along with a message of repentance with a simple lifestyle, not eating or drinking…Jesus comes along eating and drinking with a message of grace, acceptance, and God’s inclusiveness…people say John must have been demon possessed and Jesus was greedy, likes to drink, and is friends with tax collectors and sinners.  

Yet, more than words said by prophets and preachers, wisdom is born out of waiting and receiving with patience the actions of a prophet and of a Messiah.  

So, waiting is good, it produces character and gives us perspective.  Yet, as we approach Advent, the coming of Jesus, what are we waiting for?  What are our expectations?  Can we wait with intention and with humility with one another?  Can we queue up towards Christmas?  Friends, may it be so and may we repent, may we have a change of heart and mind…and may we laugh and dance with a God who loves us, who accepts us, and who includes us in communion with Godself and others.  


Matthew 3:1-12

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[a]This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

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

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume 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. 10 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.

11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Are you even impatient for something?  As a kid, I can remember the tough waiting for Christmas…and, I have to admit, it wasn’t waiting for Jesus to appear, but more so the toys under the tree.  Which, I know, is supposed to symbolize the gift of Jesus to humanity…but, not much in my thought patterns at age 6 or 7.  

But, even today, I can get impatient.  I want to move things, to get them done yesterday.  I also want things to get done with others.  I love it when projects move forward and there is buy-in from others and a sense of unity, collaboration, and teamwork.  

Yet, I’ve come to realize over the years, that takes time and patience to move forward.  Which is a good thing.  And, waiting can produce character and other benefits.  

Now, waiting doesn’t mean not finishing or moving something along.  There are markers, goals, and lists that can be checked off in moving towards the development of an idea or project.

Our passage in Matthew finds John, the cousin of Jesus, waiting for the appearance of the Messiah, of the Son of Man.  John was looking forward to the day that Jesus would make his presence known as the promised one.  Really, before John was even on the scene, doing his thing of proclaiming Kingdom come and baptizing, the whole of Israel was hoping for the Messiah, their savior to come on to the scene and what the Messiah would do.

Hundreds of years before, in the book of Isaiah, this was said:

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

This passage goes on to say that this Messiah would have good news for the poor, the oppressed, and would give release to those held in bondage, in captivity.

John comes along and begins his ministry.  John practiced what he preaches.  He wasn’t afraid.  He wore clothes made of camel hair, which was unusual and probably not a fashionable thing to wear, for any period of history.  He also ate locusts.  That sounds kind of gross, but in Levitical law, that was an accepted thing to eat, they were plentiful apparently and high in protein and nutrients…yet, still, not something that was common.

It’s as if John was making a statement, I will live a simple life in order to make my message heard and simple as possible:  Repent, have a change of heart and mind from the way you’ve always thought and lived.  Be baptized to symbolize that the old way of living is dead, be raised into new life in the way that God intended…living simply in love with others, serving all, especially those on the margins.  John also did his ministry outside of the temple, outside of institutional norms and processes.

And, the people came in droves to hear him and be baptized.  It’s as if they knew that they needed change.  Yes, they had hopes for a Messiah, they knew that John was pointing them towards someone to come…yet, they were also ready for a change.  A change that would include everyone, that would be personal yet connectional to community. 

Even the Pharisees and Sadducees came to hear John and to even be baptized.  John has some harsh words for them, calling them a brood of vipers.  Which, in that context meant that they were like serpents, feeling the flame of fire and trying to get away from it.  As I’ve said before, God’s love extends to all, even those on top of a religious and political system that oppresses folks and isn’t good for them.  

Now, God does call those systems into question…and God does separate the wheat from the chaff as the author goes on to say.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the wicked folks will burn and the righteous folks live.  It means that actions done out of selfishness, need for control, anxiety…actions born of out of sin, out of missing the mark that God intends, will pass away, be consumed, forgotten.  But, righteous actions, actions done out of loving others, honoring one another, listening and not being condescending, but lifting others up.  Actions of inclusion and genuine friendship, those will produce good fruit and multiply and lead to real life.  

The religious leaders of that time felt like they had a birthright to live as they chose because of their identity as Children of Abraham, as descendents…and that God promised to bless Abraham’s descendents.  But, John is saying that’s not the case because they’ve forgotten the most important thing…it’s not about what you inherit, it’s what you do with the giver of the inheritance, how well you love.  

God’s wrath, or God’s desire for things to be in right relationship can bring an ax to cut down an unhealthy tree, in order for something new to grow.  And, yes, there will always be something new, and good, and bearing fruit to grow.

Friends, hear this clearly, John is reminding us that Jesus is coming, that this Jesus will show us how to love and will love us no matter what.  This Jesus is worth the wait, and while we are waiting, it’s a good thing to prepare by confessing our vulnerabilities and the ways that we have missed the mark of God’s loving intentions…and to prepare our hearts and minds to be receptive to God’s voice through Jesus in our lives.  

Something in us may need to die in order for us to hear God’s voice.  That also applies to us as a community.  God’s voice is rising up in us, what do we need to clear out of the way to hear what God is saying to us?  We cannot rest in our identity as a particular church or even as Christians, we have to ask ourselves what does it mean to receive Jesus into lives personally, and into our collective lives together as a church.  

As we do that, may we be reminded that this Jesus gives us courage and voice to ask the hard questions, first with ourselves, then with each other.  This Jesus, in his life and even now, because we are his body, reminds us that we are bound together in him and that he is speaking deeply in and through us through the power of God’s Spirit, God is present with us!  And, that Jesus is always worth waiting for…and life abundant in Jesus can be had, even in the waiting…may we slow down, hear the voice of God through Jesus, and in the process, find our own voice in a world of so much noise.  


Matthew 24:36-44

The Necessity for Watchfulness

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, [a] but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day[b] your Lord is coming. 43 But under- stand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

What does it mean to be on watch? How are we aware of things going on inside and outside of us? Do we pay attention? How does awareness cause growth? Grati- tude? Even with the hard things?

This has been simply an amazing week. I needed a week like this. I’m not sure what your week has been like, but my hope and prayer that as you come into this time, that you are able to be thankful…and that you are wide awake to the possibilities that surround you.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is from Matthew. Jesus is preparing his disciples, his followers, and those that are listening to him, that the time is coming, and maybe even already upon us, that the Son of Man, would be present with them.

During Jesus’ day, there was much anxiety. Israel was an occupied land by the Roman Empire. They were on edge from the whims of the most powerful force in the world at the time. What’s more, the Roman Empire had enriched and empowered narcissistic rulers in Israel. Things were on edge. Yet, within that, persons were sensing that things were changing. Their hope was for the Son of Man, the messiah to return soon and be a political ruler that would make things right.

What Jesus was saying is so much more. The Greek phrase in this passage for the visita- tion or coming of the Son of Man, is Parousia. It translates as the coming of the King, but it also translates as the Presence of God. This is a theme throughout scripture, that the Kingdom of God is coming and we’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the King- dom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are phrases that tell us that God’s Presence is with us, or coming to us.

Now, Jesus wasn’t a political ruler…no, Jesus wasn’t interested in simply seeking power or going back to some nostalgic era that probably wasn’t as good as people thought. Jesus certainly spoke into power and politics, but he also was about something much more,

much deeper…Jesus was about bringing all of humanity together. Not making everyone the same, actually celebrating our human diversity, while also bringing unity and a deep sense of communal love and connection. Jesus was about a movement of restoration connecting all things and people together in loving, healing, bonds…making people whole…

Jesus, in his humanity, showed us how to love and how to work towards reconciliation and inclusion in his life. After his death and resurrection, Jesus continues on to represent all of humanity. Our passage this morning notes God’s Trinitarian nature. In the first verse it talks about the Father knowing the time that the son of Man will be with us, that phrase denotes relationship between the father, and the son, and bears witness to that rela- tional dynamic of three creating, redeeming, and sustaining through relationship and that Relationship’s flow in and through our lives.

If there’s one thing these past few seasons in our culture have shown us, anything can happen. We cannot produce the outcomes we think we want, nor can we predict the fu- ture. And, we can never really be certain of anything, which God never guarantees, but we can live in relational fidelity with one another, which is what God calls us to be awakened to.

We are called to be awake, to live watchful lives. That means a lot of things to a lot of people, but, at it’s core, it means to strive to be aware of what’s going on inside of you and around you and to pay attention to the potential growth that we can live into as we ask deep questions. As a Jesus follower, I believe that it is also to cultivate a sense that God is coming to us and that God has come to us…that the Kingdom of God is here and we celebrate Advent, the coming of God’s physical presence through Jesus and God’s commitment to us throughout history in Jesus’ representation of humanity.

I love celebrating baptisms. When we baptized 4 children here this past year, it was an amazing time of unity and celebration for our church! The baptism could be a great symbolic reminder of coming together, our unity.

There can be moments in our lives, whether through life events in our families or neighborhoods, or even national conversations that remind us of the divisiveness and walls between us…but, we have also have moments like that baptism that remind us that we are called to be together.

Jesus was baptized also. As we’ve said before, Jesus’ baptism was for all of humanity as Jesus represents all of humanity. When Jesus saw folks being baptized in the Jordan, seeing them symbolically wash away their old lives and live into a new reality of God’s Presence shaping and transforming them, he jumped into the waters with us, had his cousin baptize him in effect saying that his baptism will cover the entire world.

This morning, may we be reminded again of our participation in Jesus’ baptism. As we arise out of the waters, symbolizing our old lives being shed and being awakened to the deeper reality of God’s Presence, of God’s Kingdom in our midst, may we remember that our baptism connects us to all of humanity and even our humanity…we are connected to each other, and to the world through Jesus’ actions on our behalf and the relational flow from our 3 in 1 God.

May we also stay awake to the realities of this world, that we do face dark times in this world, we do experience anxiety and grief…yet, we are not alone…we can overcome that which divides us and move towards real friendship with God and each other. Yes, it is hard work, living in God’s Kingdom presence following the model of Jesus as we work out the practices of reconciliation and inclusion….growing in our maturity.

As we close this morning, there is a great quote from a Hispanic theologian, Miguel Diaz, “As beloved triune community, God ‘dances’ to birth human communities torn by suffering, hatred, and division.”

Friends, keep your eyes and ears open, stay awake, watch, even as the night comes..and dance and be thankful in God’s Presence that has come, is coming, and is here now.