Sunday, January 01, 2012

my sermon from this morning: luke 2

Good Morning! Happy New Year! Today is a big day in the church. Besides being the first day of the new year, it is also the Second Sunday of Christmas AND Holy Name Day. Christmas, you might now, goes on for 12 days before Epiphany and we're only on Day 8 so I hope you'll rush home from here and eat some more pie or whatever your decadent food of choice might be. Because really, the feast and joy of the Incarnation is so big and so wonderful, that an ongoing party is in order. I now feel guilty for already taking my tree down.

A few of you were here last Sunday, Christmas Day,
when we looked at verses 1 through 7 of Luke chapter 2.  
This week we're in verses 8 through 21. 
Turn there with me. 
If we were to look carefully back through chapters one and two of Luke, 
which, don't worry, 
we won't really do, we would notice a pattern. 
Luke describes three announcements 
(and, if we were to jump over to Matthew we would see a fourth). 
In the first, Zechariah is visited by an Angel, 
told by the angel not to be afraid, 
and given the news of an impending miracle. 
He and his wife, who are both very old, 
will have a son. 
The name of the child is given--John--
and his purpose and mission is declared. 
Zechariah is given a chance to respond,
 which he does badly--
he asks for a sign--
and is struck dumb. 
In the same chapter  
Mary is visited by an Angel, 
admonished not to be afraid 
and told of an impending miracle,
 that she, 
though very young and unmarried, and having never known a man,
 will have a son. 
She is given the name of the child  
and his purpose and mission. 
She is given a chance to respond, 
which she does properly, 
by not asking for a sign but by asking for clarifying information, 
"how will this be?'. 

Now in chapter two, we have a third announcement. 
Shepherds are visited by an Angel, 
told not to be afraid, 
and given the news of a miracle. 
Shepherds, whom, you know, 
are such a fitting recipient of this particular news, 
what with David having been a shepherd before he was a king, 
what with us being likened all the time to sheep 
who go astray
and need to be brought back to safety and home,
 what with the person we're all here to think about this morning 
being called The Good Shepherd.
Luke tells us, 
these shepherds were in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night. 
They live out there, 
in the field, taking care of the sheep. 
They are as uncomfortable as Mary and Joseph
have probably been on their whole long journey. 
They are some of the most marginal of society. 
These are probably paid steward, these shepherds, 
paid to live with the animals and keep them safe. 
They had to be with the sheep all the time. 
They were probably pretty isolated.
They wouldn't be able to drop everything
and go to feasts and holy days at the temple. 
They wouldn't have had networks of family and friends
they could be with in town. 
But they had to be near by Jerusalem, 
because many many of their sheep were destined for the temple 
where the sacrificing went on every day, morning and evening. 
There they are, out in the field, keeping their sheep safe. 
The Angel appears to them
but instead of telling them about something that is going to happen, 
he tells them what has happened Right Now, Today. 
Not an impending miracle,
 a miracle that is this moment alive and well.
 And he doesn't give the name of this miracle, 
he gives three titles and a sign--
A Savior who is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign--a baby.
but the sign is itself the miracle.
 This is Good News for all people. 
And then,
before the shepherds have a chance to respond to the announcement, 
as in the previous two times, 
the angel is joined by a "heavenly host". 
The angels of heaven are there, in the darkness,
singing and singing and singing. 
Then the shepherds respond. 
They pack everything up and go looking for the sign the angel has given. 
Do they take their sheep? 
For what Shepherd, looking for a lost sheep, 
does he not leave the 99 in the field 
and go looking for the one, 
and when he has found it, 
gather it up and bring it home and call to all his neighbors, 
'rejoice for me, for that which was lost has been found!' 
They go, 
they get up and go and its the middle of the night so who knows, 
maybe they wake some people up and ask around, 
or maybe they wander around looking for the only people who are up 
and those people happen to be Mary and Joseph.

Now, new babies do sort of belong to everyone, don't they? 
There's something about a baby that calls out to the center of everyone--
hardened steely eyed make up masked skinny jean clad
teenage girls in Target,
 weary laboring middle aged men at Shepherd's Bowl, 
little children, 
grandmotherly types who wish they were holding a grand baby--
a baby is for everyone. 
But usually a baby is not for everyone right after its born 
right in the middle of the night 
in some cruddy feeding trough. 
But this is a new sign that will be for all the people. 
This new holy family is not Mary and Joseph and a Baby.
This new holy family is Mary, Joseph, a baby, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, 
a crowd of marginalized shepherds, 
Simeon, Anna,
some wise men, 
Peter, James, John, Mary and Martha, Paul, Stephen, Titus--
it will take me a while to name all those in the new holy family. 
We are in this new holy family. 
This baby is the first born of creation. 
If you are found in him and know him and love him, 
then he is your brother 
and everyone else who believes in him 
and is found in him is your brother or sister. 
You may be isolated, 
on the margin, 
not in a very comfortable or good space, 
not surrounded by human family you are close to or who love you, 
so this good news is for you today. 
I was always sort of worried about  Mary, 
invaded by all these shepherds in the middle of the night, 
but to be visited by family, 
who know who your baby is and are prepared to love him? 
That kind of visitor is welcome. 

And the Shepherds go and tell everyone what they've seen, 
and Mary gathers all the things she has seen 
and "ponders them in her heart". 
All these things bear thinking about,
they invite deeper thought and consideration, 
they are worth sitting down at your kitchen table for a few minutes of quiet 
and not cluttering up all your internal emotional and intellectual space 
with another to-do list 
or a re-visitation of how someone has hurt you 
or what on earth to do about your difficult and wayward child 
but instead sitting and reading these familiar lines over 
and thinking about the strangeness of humility, 
the counter-intuitiveness of humility--
that God, who has everything 
and knows everything 
and sees everything 
and can do all his holy will,
 that all his holy will would include coming down to us.

God, since the beginning, has always been coming down. 
We look up at the night sky and think about how we can go up, 
brick by brick of good work and intellectual acumen, 
building little towers to the sky, 
making names for ourselves, 
showing ourselves to ourselves to be worthy of God by our care for others, 
our being on top of our careers, 
or whatever it is that we think will get us into the good graces of whatever cosmic thing there is out there.
 We build a tower and rejoice in the strength of our own arm. 
And God, in response to our pride and self sufficiency,
 when he could just speak a word and blow it all to smithereens, 
instead he comes down. 
He comes down into the garden in the cool of the day
to talk to Adam and Eve. 
He comes down the ladder to show Jacob himself. 
He comes down in a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. 
He comes down and settles on the mountain and speaks with Moses--
for 40 days and 40 nights  he speaks with Moses. 
He gives instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant--
a rectangular box overlaid with gold with angel wings on top--
and says it is his throne, his footstool, 
that he will sit on it and be present with his people.
And then the temple is built and while everyone is singing
and playing all their instruments 
he comes down and fills the whole temple with his glory.
He comes down into the furnace of fire
and walks back and forth with his servants in exile. 
He comes down to live in Mary and be born
and live his first few days in a barn
to be with a world that isn't looking for him,
doesn't know or care who he is--
so busy we are with building and building and building and building
a tower of corruption up to heaven.

I've left over talking about the name of this baby, 
the titles given by the angel, the description of this person, 
the name God gives to Moses on the mountain. 
The Lord who is steadfast love and mercy.
The Lord who gives mercy to a thousand generations.
It is an ancient name, born in the heart of the Old Testament.
Given to the one who brought the people of God
into the safety and security of the promised land.
Given to babies over centuries.
And finally, given by God himself,
to this new sign,
this fountainhead of redemption.
His name is a holy name, 
there is no other name under heaven by which men—
you and me—
might be saved. 
The name is itself the miraculous purpose and mission of God. 
The name given is Jesus
and it means Yahweh Saves. 
The Lord Saves. 
The Lord, the promised one, the Christ, is the who Saves.

The idea of a savior is lately worn out and tired. 
It is out of fashion to say that who God is in himself is a savior. 
 And the church likes to keep up with the times. 
And so we adjust things to cater to a culture
that would rather attend to its own salvation itself.
Like an everlasting toddler--
I do it myself, 
we say, adding another brick of shoddy inadequate work
to our tower of self made salvation.
I spent a couple hours of my week off watching youtube clips
of technology announcements. 
I watched the Kindle Fire announcement a few times,
and then the little demo where they scroll through all the stuff 
and you discover that you can read books but 
Also be on facebook and everything else we all love. 
Its such a cool little device.
 And then Matt bought me an awesome phone
and so I watched a lot of clips about that. 
But really,
we all know the Good News of Great Joy which shall be for All the People 
was Steve Jobs standing there in his jeans and black turtleneck, 
 talking about the iphone and ipad and icloud. 
Technology saves, for a few minutes. 
Food saves, for an evening. 
A grudge can save you from having to forgive. 
Not coping with the complexities of this life can save you from reality. 
Failure can save you from responsibility. 
Responsibility can save you from failure.
 Anything can save you,
for a few minutes for a day or maybe even a while. 
But its not very long
before you have to cast about for a new savior
to keep together your crumbling wall. 
The Lord Saves. 
From before time, 
from before sin, 
from before all things, 
the name of the Lord was Salvation. 
And in the work of his saving he came down here. 
And in the saving of you he will go into the depths, 
the blackness of your heart. 
Do you think the manger wasn't that great? 
It was cleaner and more lovely than your heart. 
Do you think the night around the shepherds was black? 
It was not so black as the sin you guard and keep so jealously against the light of Jesus' saving name. 
Do you think you are too low? 
That God would have to go too far down? 
He has already left the 99,
 standing in the field, 
rejoicing with the host of the heavenly angels, 
and has gone out to find you. 
He will seek and seek until he finds you.
This is good news for you.
How will you respond?
You don't need to ask for a sign. 
The sign has already been given. 
You can ask for clarifying information but all that you need is in here.
Better to throw yourself in with the shepherds.
Get up and go worship with the one who came down to be with you, 
the one who saves.

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