Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon “From Exile to Emmanuel” January 9, 2011
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.‘ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’ Matthew 2:13-23
SLIDE: From Exile to Emmanuel
Paralyzing fear, that’s the kind he was feeling. The stuff of nightmares. That dream he had, when he thought about it now, still had a soft glow around it, but the reality he was now living was merely desperate, nothing soft and glowing about it. He was a marked man, no doubt of that, and that was sickening. But his family being marked for death? That’s what consumed him.
He was prepared not to take the dream seriously, but now he had no choice. How did he get here? Is this really happening? On the run from soldiers across hostile terrain. At the mercy of those who might offer shelter, or just as easily turn them in. That powerful interests wanted him dead made him want to laugh at the absurdity of it all; wanted to laugh, so he wouldn’t cry. The fear wrenched a deep sob from his throat.
The biggest threat to his family’s safety was in the cry of their hungry child. This, pure, sweet, vulnerable baby. Trying to move silently and swiftly was not easy, all the while seeking sustenance, skirting patrols, comforting his wife; but always trying to keep the fear at bay.
How could he go on? Only by the knowledge of certain destruction if he didn’t. He dare not let his mind perceive the horror his young bride must be experiencing. So he kept pushing them on ahead, though their exhaustion grew by the hour. Each step took on a purpose, the purpose being hope of shelter or refuge, even for a little while.
That was the thing, he had no certainty, only hope of respite, the terror never receding. Forward he pushed, his only certainty coming from that dark, fitful dream, a dream in which God offered the opportunity to flee from danger. His only hope now was to trust God’s mercy. God had yet to fail him, though he had never faced such high stakes before.
He could feel his heart plunge ever deeper into God’s embrace. His fervent faith now guided him. Faith in the one who called him forward.
How real is the Christmas story to you? I know we carry around Luke’s chapter two version in our heads where angels on high are never far from us. The flight of Joseph and Mary reminds us of the chilling side of Christmas--the mundane, not the miraculous. Here we are, little more than two weeks after Christmas and angels are replaced by anxiety. The shining star is gone and shivering stress is up close and personal. Fear becomes flight with only faith as a fall-back. Welcome back down to earth.
As much as we dress up the Christmas story in warm, pretty colors, there is a family on the run, a baby being rushed across dangerous terrain in a deadly game of survival. How many of us have been in that position? Certainly not most of us.
Those of you who were able to participate in the Thanksgiving and Christmas community dinners this year, may have crossed paths with just such families. We do a pretty good job in this society of keeping the poor, the oppressed, the hopeless out of our sight.
It is acceptable, however, to ‘rally ‘round’ during the holiday season and give generously. And that’s a good thing. However, it is after the theater lights have dimmed, beyond the sea of Christmas presents that the reality of Emmanuel, God with us, comes back down to earth.
SLIDE: Emmanuel = ‘God with us’
You see, the cornerstone of our faith is that the God we worship in Jesus Christ does not abandon the human condition, but enters into it. God, in the form of this little baby, has become a refugee, in full connection with all who are poor in material goods, or who possess a certain poverty of spirit.
But why? What on earth makes this so? Well, it is beyond merely earth, it is simply--and profoundly--love. Not the sentimental fuzziness of emotion that causes us to do things we may later regret, not that love. Christ offers a love so real, we sometimes reject it. Abiding, unconditional, real love, tough love in a way, because we often have a tough time letting it in.
Father John Kavanaugh writes about a remarkable friend of his who died too soon of cancer. This woman was a nun and a doctor. Her love and compassion for even the most humble in life is what set her apart. Her untimely death was disturbing to those who knew her. Her name was Sister Ann, and Kavanaugh writes of how when she was working intensive care, one of her patients was a 5 inch premature baby named Tamika:
I quote: “The girl had been left in the hospital, fated to die, unable to thrive...She smiled once, cupped in Sister Anne’s hands, after weeks of being held, caressed and gazed upon. Then she died.” He goes on to say: “after we buried Tamika with the help of a generous funeral director, I protested to the sister that it all felt so meaningless and bleak. What on earth did Tamika ever have?
“Well,” Sister Ann said, “she had the power to evoke love from me.”
By the time this saintly sister finally died, she had been stripped of her lively mind and her loving actions. Her remaining gift was her power to evoke love from her friends, the same thing she shared with Tamika.
SLIDE: Love is at the heart of the universe
People, hear me and hear me good. This ability to evoke God’s love from others dwells within you and within me. This is the reality we call Emmanuel, God with us. And where we mostly miss the mark is our inability to own that divine and holy part of us.
Even within wicked King Herod, that power to evoke God’s love existed. He would not embrace it. He chose a violent and evil trajectory for his life.
The God we worship still enters the world and suffers with us. Christ’s love is not a promise of ‘pie in the sky when you die by and by;’ not by any measure. God’s love in Christ is real and it is now. And that understanding changes everything, doesn’t it?
For there is no pain that we might undergo that God does not also undergo. There is no fear that we might feel that God does not also feel. There is no confusion that we suffer that God does not also suffer. Because God chose to live with us, and because God meets us as refugees from all kinds of fears, because of that, we have grace. Will we embrace it?
Sometimes that grace allows us to move mountains, and sometimes that grace enables us to just get by to another day.
My wife and I lost a dear friend a couple days after Christmas, Bob Carrithers. Some of you got to meet him when he and his wife came and worshiped here. This man was well-loved. His claim to fame in his later life has been that they kicked him out of Hospice and he lived another 5 years. All of us have been very grateful for that. In speaking with his wife, Edythe--that lady with the raspberry colored hair--she told me what it was like at the very end. Bob was not communicative over the last couple days. So she just sat next to him and sang hymns.
As I may have told you, Edythe used to edit my sermons when I was in seminary and in my first year of preaching. But what I didn’t tell you was that Edythe would question me as to why we sang certain hymns, often because they were bad theology, lyrics that didn’t make sense to our modern minds.
But in singing hymns to Bob she could see they were reaching him, getting to him when nothing else could. She said she was singing a song she learned right here at this church, and Bob turned to her and smiled, something he hadn’t been able to do for a couple days. It was a moment of joy. If you’ve ever wondered why we do what we do here as the church, please think of that story.
Because God shares in our pain, then we can share in God’s joy.
In seminary, my big fat Greek final exam was to translate this passage from the Greek into English.
SLIDE: "As the Lord has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Lord’s commandments and abide in God’s love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." John 15:9-11
In athletics we hear that without pain, there is no gain. Well, one chooses to enter the athletic arena. But by default, we all share the human arena. And we all sit next to a pool of tears, don’t we? Life without the loss would not make the joy so joyous.
This pool of tears we all sit next to is deeper for some than for others.
What do you suppose the world would be like were we to recognize and acknowledge that pool of tears that our neighbor is sitting next to? Before we begin our inventory of attacking and judging others, especially those closest to us, what if we were to stop and imagine some of the pain they carry? Have you ever had someone just come at you with no sensitivity to what you may be dealing with? Distressing.
SLIDE: From Exile to Emmanuel
Last Sunday, as we took our tour of technological advances over the last thousand years, I couldn’t help but think that the solution to what ails the world is decidedly low-tech. Can I go so far as to call it love tech?
Back in the late 60s, Jackie DeShannon wrote that wonderful lyric, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” The irony in that song is that there is plenty of love just walking around inside you and me. It’s just not being passed around enough.
So when does the Christmas Story become real for you? Depending on which source you consult, last Thursday or today, is the Day of Epiphany. After today, we won’t be able to claim with much credibility that we are still in the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas have really run out. That partridge has managed to untangle itself from the branches and fly away. Those Eight Maids’ hands are all raw and chapped from the cow’s udders they are milking. I could go on.
Will the Christmas Story even continue beyond today? It is you who will have to answer that one.
Like the wise men, God called Joseph to ‘go home by another way,’ all the way to Egypt, for God’s sake. We’re not really sure how long this exile in Egypt lasted for Joseph and Mary and Jesus. But most importantly, how long will your exile last?