Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Can I stay here with you?” 12/25/11
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. Isaiah 9:2-7
Can I stay here with you?
In the very recent past, two American teachers were invited by the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics from the Bible in a Russian orphanage where there were over 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned or abused.
It was nearing Christmas and so they told the story of Joseph and Mary and Jesus and the Angels and the Shepherds and the Wise Men and the Star of Bethlehem. They told it to the assembled children and their care-takers. Of course, this was the first time any of them had heard the story that is so familiar to us.
Everyone, child and adult, sat in amazement as they listened. After the story was finished the children were given simple materials so that each of them could make his or her own nativity scene. They used small pieces of cardboard to make a manger. Yellow napkins were shredded to make the straw. Flannel became swaddling cloth and a baby Jesus was cut from felt.
As the children were busy making their nativity scenes, one of the teachers walked among them to see if they needed any help.
There was a 6 year-old boy named Misha who sat at one table. He had finished his nativity scene and he sat there proudly looking at it. In looking at the little boy's manger, the teacher was startled to see that there were not one but two babies in the manger. Calling for the translator, she asked Misha why there were two babies. Misha crossed his arms in front of him and began to repeat the Christmas story.
The teacher was surprised that such a young child who had only heard the story once re-told it with such great care and detail--until he came to the part where Mary put the baby in the manger.
Misha said, "And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that I could use for a gift.
I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me; "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." So I got into the manger and then Jesus looked at me and he told me that I could stay with him for always."
In a single telling of the Christmas story, Misha unerringly found the reason why Jesus was born and he claimed him as his own; the orphan yearning for a home found one in the crude cradle that we sometimes take for granted. A home for always.
Now that is the promise of Christmas, the promise we claim today and celebrate with our beloved traditions. The promise that wherever we are this Christmas Day, that we are home in the loving embrace of Jesus Christ.
In Misha’s story we are reminded of the truth of Christmas, a truth much greater than any of the traditions it inspires. The truth of Christmas--that people who walk in darkness have received a great light.
The words from the Isaiah scripture this morning are almost 3000 years old. Every age has it’s darkness, including ours. I believe the darkness of our age is found in the knowledge of how fragile life on earth really is. We know so much, in such detail, yet we struggle mightily with how to handle this knowledge. Would we be more optimistic if we weren’t part of the information age? Maybe.
The age of Isaiah was pretty bleak as well.
We don’t know exactly who Isaiah was, but we gather he was holding on by a thread. We call him a prophet and by that we mean he was a fierce critic of the powers that be at the time, King Ahaz by name. As a king, Ahaz was pretty incompetent. He repeatedly put the kingdom of Judah in jeopardy by making the wrong political alliances. His worst sin was that he tried to appease the marauding Assyrians instead of opposing them.
You might ask, what was life like for an Israelite prophet in 738 B.C? Isaiah’s job description as prophet was to speak out against the darkness, offer a word of hope to the people when things looked bleakest.
Keep a fire burning, literally. Keep the darkness at bay. Stand watch outside the temple, make sure the burning embers do not go out. Bad as the darkness was, the cold was even worse. As bad as the cold was, the oppression was unbearable--it was not a pleasant time to be alive.
We hear weary longing when Isaiah mentions
“...the yoke of the people’s burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors.”
Yet there is a ray of hope in this darkness. A moment where “...boots of tramping warriors and bloody garments will become mere fuel for the fire of justice.
This text is an expression of joy in the midst of utter despair and doom. As far as Isaiah could tell, his world of darkness was turning to the light. You see, an heir to the throne occupied by Ahaz had been born. Scholars believe this heir to have been Hezzekiah who would indeed become king and would make better decisions on behalf of his nation. The birth of an heir to the throne was always an occasion of great hope.
After Isaiah’s words, I suspect that every new King born in the Israelite succession was looked at with hope and wonder. Every time an heir, a child-king was born, the known world was watching to see if this would be the one who would dispel the darkness. There will always be a longing for a child to bring the dawn of a new day.
Prince of Peace
Three hundred years ago, Frederich Handel took this word of joy spoken by Isaiah and applied it to the birth of Jesus in the Messiah oratorio: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Six year-old Misha would add Constant Companion. Handel, this great composer was himself depressed and in debt when he wrote this piece in 1742, centuries after Isaiah spoke. Yet, like for Misha, Handel in his despair found that some part of the Christmas story was still able to reach him.
Which leads us to this morning’s question, “What ray of light in the darkness does Jesus offer you? Some of you may be able to say, and some of you may not.
Henri Nouwen, the famed Catholic writer, tells a story I find myself telling about every third Christmas season.
It is a story about a rabbi in the synagogue exploring the moment when darkness ends and daylight begins. The teacher posed the question, “When does the darkness end and the daylight begin?”
One student suggested that the night watch would end when there was enough light to distinguish between a sheep and a dog. The rabbi did not find this convincing enough.
Another student offered that darkness ended when you could distinguish between a fig tree and a grape vine, but that did not satisfy the rabbi either.
Finally, one student provided an answer that everyone found to be true. The dawn begins when you can look into the face of a human being and have enough light to recognize them as your brother or your sister; until then, it is still night.
When was the last time you were able to look across the great conflicts and controversies that divide people in our day? Family divisions, religious divisions, social and political divides? When were you last able to leap across one of those chasms?
The truth of Christmas is that it was a child that changed everything and now this child would like to change you.