December 2023

SERMON: Let's Make it a Good One

Some people are called to be sailors, some tillers of the soil, some artists, some are called to be good friends. I believe that all of us are called to be peacemakers. We need to be the best at whatever we are called to do. We must listen to the wind, and look to the sky to find the star that inspired the Magi.

Here’s how the letter home might read: “Dear Mom: Christmas is over. So sorry you were snowed in for three days at the Chicago airport and couldn’t make it. After going to fourteen Walmart stores, we found a Princess Elsa doll, and we added her to the giant stack of presents under the tree, hoping never again to hear the tune of ‘Let It Go.” The children were overly tired and Johnny punched Jill in the eye. Cousin Jim showed up in a Duck Dynasty outfit, but left his rifle in the truck. Uncle Joe got drunk and said rude things at the dinner table. Rover ate the fruit cake and threw up on the carpet. I’m just too tired to clean up all the mess. Merry Christmas, Mom. Love, Susie Q.”

Somewhere in the midst of all of this Jesus was born. God became flesh in most unlikely place, and the spirit was in the wind and shining in a star, calling people to take giant leaps of faith to come and worship the child.

Although we are on the cusp of a New Year, the Christmas story is not yet complete, and this coming Saturday we will celebrate Epiphany commemorating the visit of the Wise Ones to the manger. What they saw in the sky compelled them to travel hundreds of miles, determined to pay a visit to the ruler of Judea, the powerful Herod the Great. For the Magi, what appeared to be a cosmic irregularity signaled something divine. The star signaled a divine expectation. Could it be that these curious travelers would encounter something that would change the whole world? Could this give them the meaning and purpose they had been longing for?

The star captured their curiosity so much so that they were willing to risk visiting a ruler with a violent reputation. They had the courage to ask Herod, “Where is this king of the Jews?” This question put Herod on edge, because he believed that he was the King of the Jews. The mere presence of the Magi set Herod on edge. He wished they would just leave. However, when Herod consulted with religious experts, they informed him that the Messiah would be born in the little town of Bethlehem, and so the Magi traveled to Bethlehem to greet the child and his family. Herod dispatched the Magi to Bethlehem with the order that they return and tell him what they saw and heard.

The Holy Family opened their home to this group of outsiders. The Magi had traveled from the east, and they were an unlikely group of people in search of something…. in search of someone. They seemed to have influence, because they had stopped at Herod’s palace to inquire where they might locate the King of the Jews. These outsiders looked to the stars for direction, meaning and purpose. They experienced awe and wonder as they looked to the sky.

Meanwhile Herod was making a political move. He depended on the Magi to follow through with his request to give him the location of the manger. Would the Magi turn out to be political allies of Herod? Did they know of his violent and ego maniacal tendencies?

The Magi were aware that they were outsiders and did not have Herod’s trust. After Herod gave the Magi a general description of where to find the baby, they looked to the star for further guidance. The star hovered above a household. Was this the house? Was this the child? Upon seeing Jesus, the Magi bowed down and worshiped him, and then they opened their treasures and presented him with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As time passes, Herod realizes that the Magi did not return to Jerusalem to betray Jesus. Herod is furious and orders the senseless slaughter of children.

These Magi were not religious insiders. They were not church people. They had no political power in Judea. They were outsiders, and yet while the religious elite did not seem to understand what God was doing, the Magi followed the star. It was these star-gazing wanderers who came to worship Jesus. They offered gifts to the child. They made a commitment to a peaceful vision of the future.

So what would propel us to follow a star and to take some leaps of faith in 2024? What would challenge us to turn off the TV, get up off the couch and  listen to the spirit in the wind? How could we daydream a different life and make it come true?

Some people are called to be sailors, some tillers of the soil, some artists, some are called to be good friends. I believe that all of us are called to be peacemakers. We need to be the best at whatever we are called to do. We must listen to the wind, and look to the sky to find the star that inspired the Magi. As Lauren Bacall once mused: “Here is a test to find out if your mission in life is complete. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

The Feast of Epiphany proclaims God’s revelation in unexpected places and among unexpected people. The true light enlightens everyone: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics—as well as the followers of Jesus. We find the light everywhere. The light is shining on us now.

And so…where is God in all of this? The Magi dropped everything they were doing and followed a star. The animals looked lovingly. The shepherds left their sheep to come to the manger. They got it. Jesus was the Good News. God was calling them to a new beginning, something very much out of the ordinary. Hail the Incarnate Deity. Listen to the voice of God in your life. Drop everything and follow your calling.

In the year 2024…
May your debts be forgiven,Your wounds healed,
Your apologies accepted,
Your generosity expanded,
Your love educated,
Your desires clarified,
Your uniqueness unleashed,
Your untold stories heard,
Your insight heightened, i
Your load lightened,
Your wildness rejuvenated,
Your leaks plugged,
Your courage stoked,
Your fears dissolved,
Your imagination fed,
Your creativity uncorked,
And may you dare to take giant leaps of faith.

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Hide yourself in God, so when a man wants to find you he will have to go there first.


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