St Luke 2:11 & 12
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
The joys of Christmas are always wrapped in a bundle of mystery. It is a gift continually giving renewal and hope in a quintessential manner. No matter how old we are, Christmas always makes us feel like children. This feeling goes deeper than our memories of childhood and breathes a fresh renewal of hopefulness and joy. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the world was hoping and praying for God to act to save humanity from the abyss of poverty, depravity and betrayal by its leaders. Yet, even when Christ did break into the world, it was not as the world expected or wanted.
Generally, our perception or point of view of the Christmas story is shaped for us through the lens of old traditions. It has become a magical story filled with wonder and love; angels fill the sky, kings come to Bethlehem bearing gifts, and shepherds stand in amazement as the Baby Jesus smiles at them. It was this story my parents read to me, and I have read the same story to my children. Many times in the past, I have told you this sweet story is filled with contradictions, adult situations and danger. But, how we understand the Christmas story in an adult way, and how we can come to better understand the deeper meanings of Christmas, depends on accepting varying points of view and understanding differences in the variables or parameters of our own individual Christmas stories. This understanding will provide an opportunity for us a to look through a lens which will broaden the effects this story should have on us as Christians. In other words, Christmas is big enough to hold together all of our individual stories and traditions. The Christmas table can accept sorrel, ginger beer, jug, colored greens, joloff rice and chin chin and a good Jamaican rum cake.
In sociological research the term changing the variable is often used to explain how one can move from assumptions to a different conclusion when the information or the assumptions change. A simplistic explanation is if one can change one of the assumptions in any given scenario then the outcome can be remarkably different. It is Zara being excited to share, “60 minutes makes an hour!”, and Adia responding, “But sixty pennies do not make a dollar”. So, the Christmas story is built around God doing the unexpected. God through Jesus changed the variables in cultural and religious scenarios thus providing a different outcome; A young teen age Jewish peasant girl became the God bearer; an old unknown carpenter became the God/child father. Discarded male souls became the news bearers directed by angelic voices. Christianity at its very heart is a bold statement which declares God is God and all will be whatever He/She declares.
There are only a few important characters in our Christmas Story; The three traveling Kings are among them. These three travelers who followed a star across the sky, may have been considered kings because of their wealth, but they were most definitely men who were driven by a quest for knowledge and enlightenment. They studied the sky for changes in the formation of stars and planets or for new stars where only darkness may have been before. Perhaps these men were learned astronomers and were simply studying a new star and how this particular star traveled through the night sky. Additionally, perhaps these men had invested many years of study seeking the expression of a promise made by God hundreds of years before. And, they had prayed and hoped this promise would become tangible within their lifetime; when they had the health and strength to embrace its fulfillment. They came together bounded by time, history and knowledge and followed the star for a long time.
Humanity links power with wealth and rank. Eventually the star led them into the very heart of one of the most powerful places at that time and they stopped at a palace of a king, the very seat of human power. But the star kept moving. That is the change in the variable that I speak of, my friends. For sometimes when we stop based upon our own assumptions of might, right wealth and power, God keeps moving. When these three learned men realized the star had moved on, they left the comforts of the palace and continued to follow the star to the actual location of Jesus’ birth. They had to go chasing to catch up with the star. While they are playing catch up, the angels were singing to the shepherds in the bush. They almost missed it because of false assumptions. They took their eyes off of the star and went seeking for human wisdom, and almost lost all their life time of hopes and dreams.
What did they think when they realized the true nature of their star and the true nature of the baby on which their star shone? Were they disappointed? Were they confused? Or were they filled with hope, as the sheep herders were, as the town’s people were? As we should be?
You see, my friends, humanity tends to stop when our variables or parameters are met. Following the dogma of a religion can hobble the most conscientious church goer. Human relationships fail when we think we have learned all we can from one another. A government falls when it chooses to believe there is nothing left to be done. So, it begins to close its doors and become inward looking. Churches] die when they close their doors to those most in need. When we believe there is nothing else to expect, to motivate us, to challenge us, we will fall into despair and into decay and chant the mantra “ we’ve got to learn to live with what we can’t rise above”. But, when we chose to rise above, and when we do rise above, like the learned astronomers, we become Wise Men. Our eyes will be opened to all the love God offers and all God wants for us.
It is faith, my friends, which keeps us moving forward while we look for something more, something bigger something deeper.
Love came down on Christmas day, my friends, to capture the human heart. It is a love which cannot be resisted yet enfolds us. It is a love which cannot be captured but captivates us. It cannot be owned but can be shared. It’s a mystery like the moving star you may follow but never lead, because ultimately, it leads us to Christ Jesus. It is that love which we shine forth in us making Christ visible in each other. God’s love changed the trajectory of the world forever -That’s the Christmas story!
(Mathew. 4:19-20). "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men”. At once they left their nets…" With his brother Peter, Andrew immediately left his fishing nets to catch souls for the Kingdom.
St. Andrew was the first Apostle to follow Jesus. Andrew was the brother of Peter, known as the Prince of the Apostles, on whom Jesus would build his Church. But, it was Andrew who first notice Jesus, who was the first to follow Him as Jesus walked through Galilee, was the first disciple to be baptized by John the Baptist, and it was Andrew who was the first to introduce Peter to Jesus after nagging his brother and insisting Jesus was the Messiah.
Like the Wise Men at Jesus’ birth, Andrew was eagerly awaiting something new, something important, something life-changing. He was filled with curiosity as he walked behind Jesus, and after a while, Jesus insisted Andrew come to where He was staying and to learn more.
It is the curiosity, the eager anticipation, the belief there is something bigger, more important for us to know and understand which is imbedded in Andrew’s attitude. It is a hopeful expectation of the coming Christ. It is an attitude we, as Christians, must emulate during our Advent Season. During this season, we are invited to celebrate the coming of a holy child and are compelled to prepare ourselves for Christ’s triumphant return.
St. Andrew teaches us what it looks like to wait with certainty of a hope based in the promises of God!
Let us welcome the coming of our Lord. Let Him into our lives in new ways. Let our curiosity and faith lead us to something bigger, more important, more humanistic and more life-changing in ways that not only bring hope to our individual selves but to our community.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed”.
Today is our Harvest Festival Thanksgiving service. It is a day long in coming and I thank all whose initiative this has been. It is part of my 10th anniversary celebrations of being the Rector of St Elizabeth's. I have much to give thanks for as your priest and friend. For the past ten years, I have had the privilege to be nurtured and strengthened in my faith journey with you by you and for you. I have received so much blessings that I am deeply committed to this Harvest celebrations.
My wife and I came to this parish seeking fresh starts in terms of ministry and home and family life. You not only provided a spiritual home, and eternal friendships but through the miraculous works of God St Elizabeth’s gave us not just one but three children. They are central to the Sunday School program as they are growing to understand the joys of giving Thanks to God. I am sure if given the opportunity many of us can stand and give testimony of the numerous ways in which God has blessed you.
In the readings, we celebrate a theme of Thanksgiving, but my focus is upon the concept of harvest. It is not just about giving thanks but recognizing that there was a tremendous amount of sacrifice, work, patience and care that were invested in order for a harvest to occur. The gospel story shares the parable of the sower and quite often we invest a lot of time and energy focusing upon the seed and the soil. Year after year we would listen to sermons preached about who or what was good or bad soil. Some would even focus upon thorns and rocks or even how much was produced. What is often times overlooked is the fact that it is really about the sower. It is his seeds and his soil and his work and his harvest. In other words, for Jesus it was really a conversation about God as the giver and the ultimate receiver. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." Ps 24:1
This was a bold declaration by Jesus to a people who were struggling to pay triple taxes to Caesar, Pilate and the Temple. The community was made to believe that the world belongs to the powerful and the powerless were without any voice, value or valor. The parable about the sower was not a cute sermon for church going folks but a bold revolutionary declaration to a world that was convinced there was no place for God. The sower represents for Jesus, an understanding that there is no place where God is not present. This is God’s world!
We seem to be living in apocalyptic times as we face untold challenges in the physical and social world. Many are convinced that the world is coming to an end. Fires in the west, snow in the east. Shootings in churches and synagogues. The crack epidemic is now been overrun by the opioid epidemic. Our children are still walking the streets in fear, our women folk are working in fear. Blatant racism title as Nationalism is seeking to silence The Black Lives Matter movement. Many would proclaim with some cynicism that things are not getting better.
Yes, I believe this is an ending but one for which we have praying. I recently read in a Lutheran article a quote from American author and social activist Adrienne Maree Brown “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” God is sowing seeds of equality and equity with justice for all not just for a privileged few. Yes, we are witnessing a world of racism and inequality struggling to stifle the good seeds that the sower is planting and it is our duty to ensure we are working on the right side of God. We do this by participating with a God who is sowing good seeds.
My friends, harvest reminds us that there is no room for cynicism or hopelessness because it seems nothing may be occurring. Anyone who has planted would know that even though there is not much visible action occurring yet when it burst forth there is much joy and wonder. We dwell in a world where we believe we must be central to whatever may be occurring. We feel left out when things happen without us. The call of our faith is to act and leave the rest to God the sower. He sows within the call to pray, to love, to forgive, and to give generously. We are called to respond in an act of faith in order to bring forth the fruits of His work within us. How many times have we murmured that we have been praying and it seems as if God is not listening to us? Yet many years later you proclaim that God was working His purpose out. We are called to pray unceasingly, love deeply, forgive quickly, give generously and live faithfully.
Christianity at its heart is really about three basic things. God made us, Jesus saves us, and Jesus says follow him. Do not look left or right to see what others may have received or what they may be doing. Keep your eyes on the sower otherwise you may end up in the sewer. The Prophet Joel understood that Israel as nation may be doomed but Israel as a faith community can be saved by the grace of God. Sometimes in life we may find ourselves in situations that seems greater than ourselves and we can become overwhelmed but for Joel, God can turn things around in a mighty way, so we can move from being overwhelmed into riding tidal waves of hope and renewal.
Harvest celebrations at St Elizabeth's provides us with an opportunity to declare we are keeping our eyes on the sower. My friends, God is constantly sowing new seeds of fresh starts, new beginnings, renewed hope and peace. God is constantly birthing some new idea, and bold ideal. God is constantly bringing new people and new initiatives to his fields so that nothing can stop his joy for sowing. It is from Him all good things come and it’s to Him we will give our praises of Thanksgiving now and forever more.