Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
(with thanks to Rev. Jim Tenford)
Matthew 1:18-23 (CEB)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
Anthem – Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending
Over this last year, I’ve missed journeying with you (in person) through the story of Jesus. While online worship kept us together, there was something missing as we marked Christmas, Easter and everything in between. And so, as today is the “end” of the Christian Year, and next week we start the journey through the Christian year again beginning with Advent, it makes sense to rediscover all that God is doing through these familiar stories and observances.
There’s no season in the Christian year that gets more attention that Christmas, even though it could be argued that Easter is more important. After all, we’ve been born, but coming back after dying is something else entirely. With Christmas though, we know how easily it is to let the story disappear under all the consumerism and expectations wrapped up in it. It’s too bad – because it’s a beautiful story:
A young family without place or privilege gives birth to the salvation of the world, the embodiment of God’s love and wisdom, the one who we still aspire to follow today.
It’s a story that can give us hope because out of terrible circumstance, holiness is found. Bethlehem was not important. It was a forgotten backwoods town, but God’s grace can be found anywhere. And while we celebrate Jesus’ birth on the 25th of December, we don’t really know what day it happened. Thankfully we have a one in 365 chance that we’re correct – but still – it’s not the point – the lesson of Christmas is this: God’s love can be found anywhere, any time. Smaller observances fill in the time between Christmas and what comes next: Epiphany (the visit of the Wise Ones), Jesus’ Baptism and teachings and Transfiguration…until
Mark 15:16-18, 22-24; 16:1-4 (CEB)
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. 18 They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!” 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. 23 They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it. 24 They crucified him. They divided up his clothes, drawing lots for them to determine who would take what.
16:1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. 3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.
Lent follows Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday, and it is one of those seasons that can slip under the radar. It’s a bit like the preparation time of Advent – as we anticipate Easter. Maybe we’d pay more attention to the season if we kicked it off the way they do in areas of central and south America – with a giant Mardi Gras celebration before we start our 40 days of repentance and reflection.
Ultimately, Lent is a time of inward introspection. While few in the world today face death for following Christ, this is a path that still involves things that we might rather avoid – opening ourselves up to transformation. What fears are we confronting when facing our world? What risks do we endure? Lent reminds us that there is a cost to following the way of Jesus, something is going to have to be left on that cross to die. Maybe it will be our egos that tempt us to put ourselves above our neighbours. Maybe we will need to leave behind our addiction to fear or grudges or even our comfort. We risk and sacrifice in order to follow.
At the very centre of Christianity is Easter. The gospels are full of references hinting and foreshadowing the events of Holy Week and Easter. In our liturgy, we celebrate Baptism which symbolizes Easter – dying to the old, and rising to the new, embracing our mortality with hope.
And Easter morning? There’s plenty of debate, and even more sermons written about what really happened. We can’t make rational or logical sense, but with faith, we believe that in our end is our beginning, trusting in the God of life whose love for us knows no bounds. This death and rebirth is our story – the story we’re called to live out. A story we call the Way Of Christ. A story where we allow what was to die away to make room for what God promises could be. We are Easter people as we seek rebirth into something new and holy, for we can all be gifts from God to the world…for 50 days later
Acts 2:1-4, 14/16, 17-21 (CEB)
1 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared… this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.
18 Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
With Pentecost, God declares it’s now up to us, and sends us out into the world. Maybe that’s why the season that follows Pentecost is also called ‘ordinary time.’ In the ordinary moments of our lives we are called to see visions of possibility, and dream dreams of a hope-filled future. We are called to see God in the inbetween – not just the high holy days, but in the so too in the quiet moments of our lives. This all culminates in today – the reign of Christ – the confession that the story of Jesus is one that still holds meaning for us today.
If you’re still awake – you’re likely thinking – so what!
Well, if you found it interesting, then maybe you’d be willing to serve on the Worship committee! (Shameless plug aside) We read these same stories each year because while the stories remain the same, we don’t. We may hear the parable of the lost sheep one year as we’re experiencing safety in the flock, comfortable with our relative position, and the very next year find ourselves outside the flock, ostracized and lost. You may be struck one Christmas as to how desperate you are for hope, in an ever anxious time, or maybe it’s the Sunday we speak of joy, and wanting to rekindle some of that youthful lightness of being.
We read these same stories year to year because they are kaleidoscopic – looking through them reveals a new and different picture each time we do. We change moment to moment, struggle by struggle, and so it makes sense that each time we hear again these stories, they change. New insights are gained in the familiar, as we discover what God is doing in and through these stories.
For as we journey through the year together, we hear again how God makes a way out of no way, how Jesus the Christ inhabits our humanity with hope, and how the very Spirit of God empowers each and all to share their gifts with the world.
Next week, we begin again with Advent, and so may we with expectant hope await God’s in-breaking in our lives.