Monthly Archives: January 2017

“God’s Blessings”

A Sermon for 29 Jan. 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Before us today stand God’s blessings. Words so beloved that we might have them cross-stitched on a pillow or hanging on a placard on a wall in our home. I’m not sure I have any original insights to share about these blessings from God. But I do have a few stories. So listen for the word of God.

I once met a waitress when I was at a pub for a reading group. The woman was quite attractive and I noted how she flittered about joking flirtatiously with the male patrons. Halfway through our meal she noticed our books and let us know she was an avid reader. It was a heavy theological text so we were hesitant to tell her about it; but she was insistent. The content of the book had to do with the experience of so many who struggle with mainline Christianity. I told her about it while my colleagues at the table rolled their eyes giving off this “Jule, just stop talking” vibe! Before we knew it, the woman leapt into her story about being raised Christian but not really being a part of it any longer. She said she still let’s her parents take her daughter to Sunday School sometimes. Reading between the lines this beautiful, young, unmarried mother made it clear that she is met with disapproval in her small town. Though she may need them most, her church lets her know her actions are beyond their welcome. . . . “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus once said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).

Last weekend while I was at my final intensive for Spiritual Direction training in Hendersonville, North Carolina; we heard from a man who is part Cherokee. I noted a sadness about him – a depth of pain he had known, partly from the details of his own journey. Partly from the history of the Cherokees, which his father and grandfather made sure he knew. We were at Kanuga Conference Center in the mountains of North Carolina where Cherokee Indians once roamed free. Our speaker returned often to the Removal of 1830 – an act passed by congress and signed into United States law by President Andrew Jackson. . . . Maybe it was the best policy for a burgeoning nation. Maybe there was no other way for differing groups of natives and settlers to get along with one another. Maybe we choose fear over love and allowed a strong, proud people to lose so very much. . . . According to the gospel of Matthew, on a hill one day, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).

Over twenty-five years ago when I moved from a small town in Wisconsin where everyone had enough, I started seeing things I’d never seen before – sights that continue to this day. One sign reads: “Homeless and hungry. Please help.” Another states: “Veteran: will work for food.” The worst are when you can see the wounds – the man with half a leg who’s out there near the Old Hickory Boulevard Kroger almost every Sunday morning. We don’t really know their stories – whether the signs are true or not. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. What strikes me every time is the posture: hung heads, minimal eye contact – which most of us drivers never mind. Have you ever stopped to wonder what’s going on inside? I mean standing there in frigid temperatures and the hottest days of summer too. Waddling along up the line of traffic begging for someone to give a handout. I imagine there’s gotta be some deep desperation inside. Most of us have too much pride to beg like that day in day out. Most of us do what we can to avoid being at the mercy of others. Imagine the humiliation carried as he sits, as she waits, as the young vet waddles along hoping someone will have compassion. . . . A man who would carry the humiliation of us all as he shouldered the cross once said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5).

Have you seen signs – often in neighborhoods – but ones we need all over the city that read: “Drive as if every child you see on the street is your own.” Change drive to live as if every child you see on the street is your own and it pretty much summaries the good news of right-relationship we come to know in Christ. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said, “for they will be filled” (Mt. 5:6).

You don’t get to see the church Clerk’s Questionnaire completed each year for the General Assembly on behalf of the ministry you undertake. It starts off easy: name of the congregation, address where it gathers for worship. Moving on to things like number of active members – 85 for HPC at the end of 2016 – and average worship attendance – holding strong at the end of 2016 with an average of 53; question 44 finally asks this: “How many different individuals (nonmembers) do you estimate that your congregation served or ministered this year through its various ministries (events, programs, outreach, and visitors)?” Anyone want to take a guess? . . . If you assist with the Food Pantry, or help with outreach to Tulip Grove Elementary School, or wait each week for someone to come for financial assistance through HPC’s Good Samaritan ministry; then you may not be shocked to hear that in 2016 this small-but-mighty congregation of 85 active members ministered to the needs of 195 people – 195 strangers really whose lives you impacted for good through your generous welcome, your faithful gifts, and your deep compassion for the least of these. We don’t get to hear often enough about the difference made when folks needed just a little something to get them through to the end of the month, or somewhere to rest when the pressures of their lives are too much, or a circle of love to welcome them no matter the challenges they are facing. 195 lives impacted for good! You made that happen. You didn’t have to. But “blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says on that mountain. “For the merciful will receive mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

Pure in heart? A woman I know, who possess an incredibly beautiful spirit, wants to become an ordained priest. It’s not impossible in her tradition. She’s about my age with a supportive husband. Together they already are leading a different kind of ministry in a building someone has allowed them to use rent-free. They’ve created a community where people about their age or younger gather together for dinner once a week. Wine is served. Conversation is had. Folks who once were without any sort of connecting, caring community are finding it there. The woman I know wants to be ordained in order to be able to fully serve this widening community, and others like it, with the sacraments of faith: baptism into the way of Christ. Eucharist around the Table of the Lord. . . . “They will see God,” Jesus says of those who open their hearts in sincerity and honesty and pure devoted-love (Mt. 5:8).

In 2006, the book The Faith Club was released. After 9/11, three New York mothers came together to write a children’s book about each of their faith traditions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The Faith Club captures the fascinating, honest, conversations of Ranya, Suzanne, and Priscilla as three strangers come together regularly to discuss the core principles of their faith and the key struggles they experience with their own and each other’s’ religions. . . . Maybe it’s just a baby step, but “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

I know a professor at a local church college. She’s there as a woman at an institution that sees women as inferior – unable to attain the same levels of authority in the church as men. It’s hard work, but she’s trying to show a generation of that particular shade of Christianity that there’s a different way to understand the world: one where our contributions are appreciated no matter our bodily form. I’ve listened in horror more than once to stories that show that she’s suspect if not from the administration, then from the students themselves. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” says our Lord, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:10).

Just a few stories for us to consider this week as we think about some of Christianity’s favorite words. God’s blessings . . . Whether they console or challenge, may they remain with us every day.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN 2017  (All rights reserved.)


Come and Change

A sermon for 15 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of John 1:29-42. Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel text assigned to the second Sunday after Epiphany all three years of the lectionary cycle. Listen.

“The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


There’s a word in the English language. It starts with the same letter as Christ. It starts with the same letter as another word prominent in this reading from the first chapter of the gospel of John, which actually brings it all about. The word I have in mind names a process most of us admit that we don’t at all like. Though it’s strange really, that we would have such disdain for this word and for the process. Because even in our own bodies, it takes place daily – naturally without any effort on our part; and mostly without much notice. History has shown that organisms that resist the process named by the word do not last. We label them extinct and include them in museums not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the warning we need to learn from them. Resist the process at your own risk. Deny the word starting with the same letter as Christ at your own peril. Fight against it – when it’s upon you for your own benefit and the benefit of others – and you’ll find yourself in the next extinct exhibit. Can you guess the word I’m talking about? The word that’s almost so taboo among too many churches that it’s up there with topics like sex and politics and money – all the hot button topics very few want covered in Sunday sermons.

The word is: Change. Change. Why do so many of us dislike it?

The gospel of John has an interesting way of introducing Jesus. It starts with its very high view of his divinity: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Unlike the other three gospels, John launches then into John the Baptist’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. Instead of the real-time view of it taking place, John the Baptist just speaks out loud, not really to anyone, but just as he sees Jesus in passing one day. It’s as if the gospel of John means to say from the start that the testimony about this incarnate Word is even more important to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, than is the actual event taking place for that Word in flesh. . . . The text we heard this morning is crucial for the church – so much so that, like I already said, every year after Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, the lectionary gospel reading turns to the gospel of John for one week prior to delving into Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C.

It’s about change. The whole story of those who would heed the call to come is the unfolding adventure of their lives. As John points others to Jesus as the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world, Andrew and another curious disciple of John begin following Jesus. Their lives never again will be the same. . . . If we were to see this on the big movie screen, we’d see John hanging out with a few folks around him. Jesus might have been just strolling by on his way home from a carpentry job ready to relax for the night, when John raises his voice to say: “Look! The lamb of God!” . . . It’s enough for Andrew and another one to take off after him. Was it a crowded village street, Andrew and the other ducking behind carts and doors as they tailed Jesus that afternoon? Or were they bold enough to just start walking right behind him. Step after step until Jesus, aware of their presence, over his shoulder turns to ask: “What are you looking for?” . . . It might it have been as simple as: “why in the world are you shadowing me?” Or maybe from the start Jesus was confronting these seekers with the much deeper question of what really it is in you that longs to be fulfilled? What is it for which you seek? . . . There’s no satisfactory answer about why they wanted to know his address. Though it’s of interest that, according to the text, they want to know where he is staying. I’m pretty sure it’s foreshadowing that though this enfleshed Word of God has a place to stay that night, he’s soon to set out on a journey that will lead to not one of the faithful ever staying in one spot again. According to the text, they will remain with him that day (1:39), as will the Spirit of God with us according to the resurrected Christ’s promise. But staying – settling into one secure little spot, metaphorically and literally, never again to change, will NOT be an option for a faithful follower of Christ. . . . Come and see he says to those who want to lay eyes upon where he stays. . . . It’s an invitation to a journey. A road Christ calls them to walk, which will be filled with twists and turns and changes all along the way.

We know it intellectually, even if we resist it emotionally. The Christian life is all about change – leaving behind the vices that bind us as we daily grow in the virtues of Christ. Finding increased in us things like love and patience and wisdom and mercy. Can you even remember now what you were like before you started to follow? Who was in your life then and what was typical of how you spent your time? For many of us our lives have been shaped from the start by the call of Christ. By our commitment to being his disciple through childhood in the church, our teen years, young adult and even until now. For others of us, there was a moment. Something brought us onto the journey – whether a wife that told you you were coming because the kids were going to be raised in the church. Or a first service here or elsewhere that really resonated within when you were looking for some direction in your life. Maybe it was a mission project with a population that mattered greatly to you that perked your curiosity around the kind of folks that would care about such a thing too. . . . Can we recall where we started and how incredibly far we have come? We have changed. Every last one of us. We have become witnesses to the way of Christ by the way we live our lives. Our pursuits have changed. Our priorities have shifted. The way we spend our time has become patterned after the things that matter to God. The very nature of who we are, if we’re really following after Jesus, begins to change as we grow with him in God’s Spirit.

I’m sure I’ve shared a hymn with you included in the latest publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God. The song is entitled “The Summons.” And unlikely many hymns, the second phrase of all five stanzas of the song come back to the same words. They are: “and never be the same.” It’s a little annoying when you sing it and perhaps necessary in order to keep the rhyme with the end of each first phrase that goes: “if I but call your name.” Imagine what would happen in you with a regular singing of such a hymn. Here’s how the first two phrases of each stanza goes: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? . . . Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? . . . Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? . . . Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” Then, in the fifth stanza, the singer finally addresses the One calling in the other four stanzas. “Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.” (Glory to God, Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013. Text John L. Bell and Graham Maule © 1987 WGRG; “Will You Come and Follow Me: The Summons,” #726). . . . May it be so.

In the name of the life giving-Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Needed by the Kingdom

A Sermon for 8 January 2017 – Baptism of the Lord

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-9. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.   Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia; Eustace stands out. He’s the sniveling cousin of Lucy, Edward, Peter, and lil Susan too. In case you’re unfamiliar with Narnia, you need to know that the four siblings Lucy, Edward, Peter, and Susan live in parallel worlds. In the real world, they’re bored, commonplace kids. But in Narnia, they are royalty. They’re the queens and kings the kingdom frequently needs. Without their valor and courage, their trust and love; the kingdom is held captive by the evil forces of the snow witch; or in the case of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by a mysterious, demonic mist that takes captive those who encounter it. Cousin Eustace doesn’t believe. Not one bit. He hates having Lucy and Edward in his home in the real world and finds all their talk about this mystical Narnia place, in which they are something other than a total pain to him, absolutely rubbish!

It would happen, of course, that one day, Eustace falls into Narnia right behind Edward and Lucy. Despite the sights all around him – including a talking, sword-wielding mouse – he still doesn’t buy into the notion of a Narnia kingdom where their help desperately is needed. . . . Over the course of events, Eustace becomes a flying, fire-breathing dragon. And as the dragon, Eustace takes on the unique qualities needed to combat the devilish mist. Of course royal Lucy and Edward are needed too. But without fire-breathing, dive-bombing, scaly-skinned Eustace; the mist which holds its prisoners captive cannot be defeated.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday seems a good day to remember Narnia. For today we are confronted, not only with Jesus’ baptism, but also with our own. It’s been a while since we’ve had the joy, in Baptism, of pronouncing a new child as God’s very own. And when last have you experienced the excitement of watching an adult bow to embrace the reality of Christ’s royal mark? Every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, we all are reminded of who we are and to whom we belong. The purpose of all our lives is re-affirmed again as we, the church, rise refreshed for life in the world. That’s why we do baptism the way we do as Christians of the Reformed Theological Tradition. Baptisms are public, with vows taken both by the individual (or as in the case of infant baptism, for an individual) AND by the congregation. We believe baptism is a sign and seal of what the Sovereign God already has done in Christ. Though we might live in the real world where too often we feel like boring, commonplace Lucy and Edward; the truth of it is for us that we too are royalty – children of the most high God who are needed in the kingdom.

It would be really helpful if we did a better job as the church in remembering and marking the passage of our baptism dates. Do you know yours? Do you light a candle on that day or get out a keepsake bulletin? I urge you to. And parents and grandparents: if you don’t yet, begin this tradition with your children. Because on the day when you were baptized – whether you were a baby so you can’t remember it now or maybe dunked as a teenager in this or another tradition – our baptisms are a very BIG deal! . . . So many want to focus on baptism as an assurance of God’s gift of salvation. But honestly that’s not the purpose of baptism in the Reformed Theological Tradition. For us, baptism is not a form of dispensing God’s grace to us – nor is our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. Rather each act is a reminder to us of what God already has done – the crucifixion and resurrection are over. We are set free for abundant life now! Let the ritual – let the act of feeling water on your head and tasting bread and juice in your mouth – let these rituals remind you of who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live each day in the world.

Consider Isaiah. It may seem a bit odd to read this Old Testament Servant Song as the focus of Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Because, who really is the servant? Historically some have said the prophet was writing while the Israelites were in exile. Cyrus was the exalted servant (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 220). After all, he was the great Persian king who would defeat Babylon and pave the way for the people to return to Jerusalem. Others think Isaiah is speaking of Israel itself. Thus the whole community is God’s servant, chosen to protect the weak and gently cup their hands around any dimly burning wick so even the littlest light will not be snuffed out (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 218). Much like Matthew’s author does, many Christian commentators have read Jesus into the Old Testament to insist that Isaiah’s servant refers to our Christ. As the Messiah, he is considered the fulfillment of such prophecy. Indeed we know Jesus to be one upon whom the spirit of the LORD rests – the one whom God called Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). The one who would not faint nor be crushed until justice is established on the earth (Is. 42:4). . . . All options are viable in thinking about who this servant is in whom, according to Isaiah 42, God’s soul delights. . . . And so too are you. As the church upon whom God’s Spirit has been poured out, we can hear the first of Isaiah’s Servant Song as a gift to us. Blessed words spoken by God to us: “Here you are; my servants, whom I uphold, my covenant children, in whom my soul delights” (Is. 42:1). I love the way the version of the bible called The Message lays out these marching orders from God. Listen: ‘I’ve bathed you with my Spirit, my life. You are to set everything right among nations. No need to call attention to what you do with loud speeches or gaudy parades. You won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt; you shall not disregard the small and insignificant. But steadily – firmly – you shall set things right. . . . Open blind eyes – if not literally then figuratively – release prisoners from dungeons, empty the dark prisons in which too many are caught’ (Is. 42:7).

Can you see how the words of Isaiah are words that give form to our baptismal vows? We are the royal servants that the kingdom needs. Our valor and courage, our trust and love are the unique qualities needed to combat the forces that still seek to take captive whoever they can. . . . I know sometimes it’s hard to remember. I know sometimes life in the real world can push us down until with Narnia’s Eustace we don’t believe. But remember, children of the covenant, remember household of God: we are the royal servants the kingdom so desperately needs.

As we prepare to reaffirm our baptisms, remember who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live in the world each day.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All right reserved.)

The Disruption of Christmas

A Sermon for 1 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:13-23. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now after they (the wise men) 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.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and 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.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, 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. 17Then 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.” 19When 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.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But 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. 23There 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.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


This text leaves me wondering if Joseph and Mary had any clue about how disruptive the birth of Jesus was going to be. What parents-to-be ever do? If you’ve had children – or maybe just had a few grandchildren stay at your house over the holidays – then you might know how such sweet little ones can absolutely turn your world upside-down, inside-out, and backwards all at the very same time! Little ones come into our lives as such vulnerable gifts. When first they are born, they can’t do anything – you remember, don’t you? They cannot do one little thing for themselves. But they sure can cry. They sure can let out plenty of nasty stuff from the other end too. And they sure can make their presence known – especially when one of their mysterious needs is not being met! I remember when first my sister brought my nephew here for a visit. He was crawling around by then and nothing could be left in its regular spot. He reached for it all. And had a little schedule all his own to which us grown people just had to adjust. And he came with so much stuff! Blankets and bottles and sit-up chairs and special beds. Not that it’s not totally worth it, but man do little ones entirely disrupt life! Again, if you just had one or two of your precious grandchildren or other special little ones in your life – if you just had a few of them around for the holiday week, you might find your house still completely out of order and yourself totally exhausted! But, of course, it’s absolutely worth it!

Which is why we’ve got to wonder if Joseph and Mary had one inkling of an idea of how disruptive the birth of little Jesus was going to be! Look at how their lives change – especially according to the gospel of Matthew’s details regarding the story. For something like the first four years of his life, keeping him alive meant incredible disruption. From Bethlehem to Egypt they have to move. Flee, actually. This little one is a perceived threat to the whole kingdom. Herod goes nuts – as was a routine Herodian response. He absolutely losses it when this little one is born, and the wise ones from the East fail to return to smoke-out where the precious darling is being kept. In a dream, Joseph is warned and doesn’t waste one minute, moving himself and Mary and the baby all the way cross-country to a foreign land. It’s kinda unbelievable because Joseph knew the land of Egypt was the land of enslavement. There his people had been treated terribly way back when. Of course, others had fled there over the years too. Some escaped exile in Babylon by returning to Egypt. Joseph had to trust that it was going to be ok. They had to hope that one day they’d also be able to return home. . . . It might have been nice, though, to remain in Egypt his whole childhood long. You know, get him started in the right pre-school, then kindergarten through twelfth at least in the same school system so he’d grow with his childhood friends. And Joseph and Mary would be known in the PTO to have the support of the other parents too. But another dream comes; and just about the time they’ve settled in as a family: disruption once again. Back to Judea they head. Until Joseph realizes Herod’s son now rules and is known as being more brutal than his father before him. They don’t want to chance it and another dream confirms it. So instead of heading back to the place of the child’s birth; they make the trek to Nazareth, way far north in the district of Galilee. They must have surmised that nothing big ever had come from there – certainly the family would be safe. . . . The gospel of Matthew tells it as if Joseph and Mary had never before been to Nazareth and just randomly chose the sleepy little town to set up shop. The gospel of Luke locates them there from the start – with relatives to be built-in family support. However it might have been, it could not have been easy moving around that much the first few years of the child’s life. Re-establishing themselves all along the way. Trying to protect this little bundle of joy God had given. Wanting to be able to feed and clothe him well. Teach him all he needed to know for the special work instore for his life. It couldn’t have been easy to have given over control of their own life plans for another way to be made. Indeed, this little one born to them in Bethlehem was a disruption from the start!

For most of us, these past few weeks have been a disruption from the regular routines of life. We spend the whole season of Advent preparing – if not our hearts, at least our homes and refrigerators and rituals of the season. For many of us Christmas disrupts our diets and our bank accounts and our sleep patterns. Hopefully we’ve had a little time out from our typical daily tasks and have been able to relax a bit with family and friends. Work can wait until the celebrations are over and everything gets back to normal. . . . But I wonder: how will his birth disrupt the days that lie ahead? Wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if we let all the preparations for his birth disrupt our Decembers, then leave us heading into a new calendar year tucking the little one tightly into a box along with the shepherds and wise men and animals of our favorite nativity scenes? It really would be terrible if we rolled right back into tomorrow without anything at all in our lives being much different. If we let the celebrations of a birth disrupt us more than the actual child. . . . He wasn’t meant to be relegated to holiday moments. He was meant to truly open us to the re-birth of God in us. He’s meant to disrupt the way we’d like things to be, in exchange for the wild adventure that Christ’s Way gives to us.

It starts with our baptisms, which we’ll be remembering next week when we gather for Baptism of the Lord Sunday. From the moment our lives are given over in the sign and seal of that sacrament, we no longer belong to ourselves. We are engrafted into a new family – children of the covenant, members now of the household of God. Disruption, disruption, disruption! We promise to work against evil and all its powers in this world. To take on the ways of Christ – which are summarized best in willingly living the path of self-giving love. We’re ambassadors, after baptism, for the very ways of God. Here to live peace. And joy. And hope. Which means not just in our thoughts, but in the actions of our lives too. We are to model the actions of that disruptive little baby! Posing a threat to those who want to live by force and fear and corruption. We’ll go wherever we must, according to the disruptive Spirit of that child, to protect the goodness that is to emanate from us out into this world. We set up shop among strangers, turning those we’d never otherwise encounter into family because that’s the way of the disruptive baby born in Bethlehem. We’ll learn new ways and adjust to what’s around us now so that the Spirit of God within us has an opportunity to be seen by all. That’s how disruptive Christmas is to be for us – leaving us, alongside Joseph and Mary, to give up our own life plans in order to nurture in us the one of Love. Disrupting, disrupting, disrupting the regular ways of this world for the ways of God instead. . . . And you know what? Whether we realize it when first it begins, it’s likely we’re going to find it’s worth it. Like the disruptive little baby himself, absolutely worth it! . . . Welcome to life disrupted, brothers and sisters of the covenant. Get ready to experience the bundle of joy God gives!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


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