Sermon January 3, 2021

We all agree that we enjoy adhering to the Church’s liturgical calendar.  However, I am always amazed at this time of the year, when I realize that little over a week ago, we all thought adoringly of that precious baby, warmly wrapped and lying in the manger, under the watchful care of His mother, Mary, and Joseph. 

In today’s lectionary, somehow, that precocious infant has climbed out of the manger and gone off on a road trip with Mommy and Daddy, AND, has somehow become 12 years old, and made an independent decision to hang out in the Temple at Jerusalem – without conferring with His parents.   All parents know exactly how Mary and Joseph MUST have felt upon discovering their Child’s absence.   And we can relate to the mixture of grateful thanksgiving, and parental exasperation with which this blessed couple greeted their beloved child. 

I imagine that Jesus’ rather flippant “Why were you looking for ME??  I’m where I‘m supposed to be” must have pained His folks.  But the Creator God, present in the Incarnate Christ, understands the worried parents’ troubled minds and hearts, and we are assured that the Child returns home with His parents, and behaves as they expected.  And our Savior makes good use of His time, and “increases in wisdom,…and in favour with God and humanity.   

I pray that in this increasingly difficult time, with so much sickness, pain, loss, sorrow, and deprivation, we, too, may choose, as did our Lord, to grow in wisdom, and learn all that God desires to teach us, that we begin to understand that unless we open our eyes to the conditions afflicting those around us, we cannot hope to be safe, to be comfortable, to be healthy; nor can we assure for our children and ourselves the peace for which we long, and for which we so frequently pray.  No peace comes out of ignorance of the needs of our sisters and brothers.  There is no true well-being for any of us to be derived from the depravation and suffering of others.  Actually, there NEVER has been.  But many delude themselves that they have no responsibility for all that our God creates.  Unfortunately, that has always been a familiar response, despite God’s many and varied warnings through Scripture, Prophecy, and the Incarnation.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that our God says to us, “I will lead them back, and let them walk in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.”  SEE!  Our God promises to ENABLE us to BE, and to live as God teaches!   Christ assures us of God’s AMAZING love, in that when we turn to our Lord for help, we are met, BY GOD, with God’s love and provision for us.  We CAN be that which will enable us to live in complete confidence of God’s love, understanding, and care for us.

We have lamented now, for many months, being unable to meet together in the beloved fellowship of our parish family.  With the Psalmist, OUR souls have “desire and longing for the courts of the Lord!”  We long for the beloved fellowship, we yearn to sing the music that has healed our hearts for decades.  A few months ago, around Easter, when our hearts ached for our familiar liturgy, music, and for one another, I began to think of the fellowship shared by our Lord Christ and His ‘homies,’ the Disciples.  Whether, as so often, in the Synagogue, the Temple in Jerusalem, or in the surrounding countryside, wherever they found themselves, they engaged in a constant process of worship and love for Our Lord, and for one another, much as we dearly love to do when we are able to gather, wherever THAT may be.  And I began, then, to imagine what grief, sorrow, and pain was that time for our Disciples.  Not just the horrifying Crucifixion, the amazing, joyous resurrection, but also the Accension, and it’s aftermath.  Jesus’ followers worshiped with Him openly, but as those numbers grew, the attention of the government increased.  And so those early Christians began to find it necessary to hide their worship, to meet where they hoped NOT to be detected.  In private homes, in caves, and even in catacombs, isolated places set aside for human burial.   The joy and delight they had celebrated in Jesus’ presence had to become a secret practice, and ultimately, for many, the cost of their faith was their lives here on Earth.

As much as we miss our familiar, inspiring and comforting worship and fellowship, I think it would benefit us to look at the result of THEIR faith commitment, to see whether there is a blessing for us in the example of these early Christians. On an immediate basis, they became, of necessity, EXTREMELY creative in their choices of places to meet.  I doubt they encounted masks, or social distancing, but they, too were removed from their comfort zones.  In our lexicon of saints, which we celebrate on All Saints, All Souls, and specific saints’ days, we have a GLORIOUS heritage of courage and faith, left us by those early Christians.  So enamored of Christ, and so concerned for all creation were they, that many gave up the lives they had led to seek God’s children wherever they might find them.  To assure them of the Good News of God’s Gospel of Love.  We do, indeed have a ‘goodly,’ and rich heritage from those of God’s worshipers who have gone before us.  Perhaps we are called, NOW to emulate such faith and courage, so that those who follow us may find their faith still and forever on that firm foundation of God’s amazing Love!

In the past months, I expect that you have heard, as have I, from so very many people, that “Change is constant.”  Thus far I have been able to stifle the impulse to say, “Thank you, Capt. Obvious, for that observation.     I do hope, and intend, to keep that response to myself, because I believe it just may be that our Lord calls US to embrace the very change we instinctively resist, and against which we struggle.  After all, while change solely for the sake of change is often a less than well thought-out waste of time and energy, we need to recognize that change may well be a vehicle of growth and improvement.  Change may lead us into relationships that enrich our lives.  If we can learn to evaluate change for it’s possible benefit to humanity, to hope that change may implement justice, without which, we cannot hope for peace, to search for what God is doing, no matter the inconvenience of change, to remember that our God is NEVER wrong, that though we may not know WHAT our God is doing, we assuredly DO know that it is RIGHT, and that GOOD comes from all that God intends and brings into being.  If we can approach even PRESENT times of trouble and suffering with the grace that our God WILL bestow, if we but ask, might it not be that WE, like those early followers of JESUS, could take what has been given us through God’s grace and the faith of our predecessors to strengthen that faith we CHERISH.  We might remind ourselves of Tevye, in “Fiddler on the Roof, when he says, “God expects us to be joyful, even when our hearts lie beating on the floor.”   Folks, in human history there have ALWAYS been times of hardship and trouble, through which our God ALWAYS triumphs.

MAYBE, if can learn to tolerate, and perhaps even embrace these difficult times of change, we, too, might “grow in wisdom” as did that clever baby Jesus, and live, as Paul says, in the hope to which God calls us!       THANKS BE TO GOD!

Susan Smith-Allen 

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