Year A, 2nd Sunday after Christmas
Merry Christmas and Happy Epiphany. It is great to be back at Grace and St. Peter’s after my semester up at Grace Church in Hartford. Thank you, Bob, for giving me the opportunity to preach this morning. It does feels like I’m just passing through. Next Saturday, I head out to California for a couple weeks for the winter intensive at school.
A major theme in this week’s lessons is journeys. We start off the season of Christmas with Mary and Joseph making a journey to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. We have the shepherds making a journey from their fields to pay homage. We end off Christmas and enter Epiphany with the wise men making a journey from the somewhere in the east, most likely the area around Iran, Iraq, or maybe Saudi Arabia. Then there is the journey of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt - refugees, fleeing political violence in their homeland brought by Herod.
Of course, all of this can be viewed as simple reflections of the journey of the Word becoming flesh, of Jesus coming to live among the created. If we had a whole semester or two, instead of just a 45-minute sermon (Just joking), we could begin to explore incarnational theology a little more deeply.
Yet here we are, thinking about how these journeys relate to our own journeys. There are a few things worth observing. First, none of these journeys were easy. When Mary and Joseph show up in Bethlehem, they can’t find accommodations suitable for a pregnant woman. The wise men weren’t exactly sure where to go, so they headed to Jerusalem and asked for directions. We don’t have a lot of details about the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus into Egypt, but one only has to look at the modern-day news to see how perilous the flights of refugees are.
We also don’t know how long any of these journeys were. For example, if the wise men set out from Tehran, walking eight miles a day at normal walking speed, it would have taken them about two months to make it. By the same calculation, it would have taken around three weeks for the Holy Family to make it to Egypt.
This brings me to a second point about journeys. They change us. One of my favorite poems, “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot, has this wonderful passage,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I wonder, what was it like for the shepherds when they returned to their fields. How did they talk about it? What did they say to their families when they got home? I can only imagine the discussions. “How was work today, honey?”... “It was unlike any other day at work. We saw a bunch of angels that told us that the Messiah had been born, and so we went to see him in a stable in Bethlehem, and there he was, a baby in a manger”…. “Oh, okay dear, maybe you should, um, get some rest?”
Or, the wise men when they got home. “How was your trip honey?” … “It was really interesting. We stopped in Jerusalem, because we figured the new king would be born there, but we were told he was to be born in Bethlehem, so we went there instead. Then, I had this strange dream about not stopping to see Herod again on the way back, so we took a different route. It made the trip home a bit more difficult”…. “That’s nice dear. What are your plans for next week?”
Journeys can be difficult to talk about. Think about your personal journeys. How have they changed you? How have you spoken about them to others? So, instead of trying to find words to describe our journeys, we may want to look for other ways to express the changes these journeys bring about. Howard Thurman has a wonderful poem exploring this called, “The Work of Christmas:”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
How does this relate to the lost, broken, and hungry in our lives, in the lives of people in Hamden, in the lives of refugees at our borders? At Dinner for a Dollar, Chapel on the Green, and Columbus House, we feed the hungry, make some music, and maybe even bring a little healing to the broken. Yet I wonder what else we can be doing to find the lost, rebuild the nation, or bring peace.
We walk with others in their difficult journeys, but I wonder how we are doing on our own journeys. I invite each one of us to spend some time reflecting on our own journeys. Where have we come from? How have we changed? Where are we going from here? How are we going to live out Thurman’s words? I know my journey over the past few years has brought big changes that I’m still trying to make sense of. I invite each one of us to think about our journey, not only individually, but as a community, as the people of Grace and St. Peter’s. Where have we come from? How have we changed? Where are we going from here? I hope it continues to be in the direction pointed to in Howard Thurman’s poem.
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of all people: Grant that we may join with the shepherds and the wise men in sharing the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.