A sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas and the first Sunday of 2021 at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid
The fact is that God was born into a world where danger still existed, where mayhem and murder were still the purview of kings, where exile and refuge and return were part of too many lives; where the promises of God to be with God’s people did not circumvent history, but redeemed it.
Joseph’s dreams drove him across the wilderness, dangerous then and haunted now. They persuaded him to leave the country he knew behind, because it was about to become unrecognizable, mangled by Herod’s rage. When God called him home, Joseph considered where to go. He was still afraid of the family that Herod left behind. The disposition of one tyrant did not undo his terrors. Joseph went north, out of the way. He did not return the same way.
Still, Joseph trusted that God would be with him, and his growing family, wherever and however they found their way home.
When Jeremiah reassured the people that they would return to Jerusalem, it was to a city whose Temple had been razed by invaders, whose altars were unrecognizable, whose homes were destroyed and who would have to start over as a people under occupation, to rebuild their devotions and their dwelling places. They would return with weeping, said the prophet, but with the consolations of God around their shoulders. Even though they would not return to what they had left behind, God would guide them into a new future, a new Temple, a new covenant.
We are in no such dire straits as we face a new year, filled with uncertainty and somewhat bewildered at what we have lost in the preceding months: the people we have missed, the final goodbyes unsaid, the Eucharists uncelebrated. The ground beneath our feet has shifted, and we know that we still face a long road home; but we are not as uprooted as Joseph and his holy family, nor exiled like Jeremiah and his nation. We have seen how the innocent still suffer from the violence of the proud and the angry; we still have much we need to work out about that.
In recent months, we turned 2020 into a scapegoat, piled on our woes: a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, health worries, the inability of our election magically to make everyone finally agree; even murder hornets. But the year has turned, and has a new name, and we are still some way from the solid ground of familiarity, of home.
We are not without hope, any more than Joseph was, led by a dream through the desert, or Jeremiah, drawn from the well of depression and oppression to preach the peace of God to come, that passes understanding.
It’s going to take patience, to find our new beginnings this year. It’s going to take perseverance, to complete our journey through the wilderness. There may be detours that are indicated to keep us safe along the way, different ways of doing things or being in the world together. But we have, in God and with God, everything that we need for our journey.
We have, in the knowledge of the love of God, the awareness of the image of God in every person ensouled by the Spirit, to keep us from bitterness and hatred, and to protect us in the paths of righteousness, and of repentance, and of forgiveness.
We have in the example of Jesus, and of his devoted parents, the call to sacrifice that will keep us from encroaching on the safety of our neighbours with the selfishness of our desires; that will keep us patient, and apart, until it is safe to come together; that will remind us of the value of the lives of others.
We have, in the Wisdom of God that guided the Magi, the ingenuity of scientists and the compassion of caregivers who distribute the curiosity and love of humanity distilled into vaccines and packed into care plans.
However, and whenever, we find our way home, God is not only there waiting for us. God is with us in the journey. God is with us in the wilderness. God is with us in the grief and the weeping. God is with us in the consolation and the moments of levity. God is with us in the confusion and in the insight. Even the Christmas season draws itself out beyond our patience for it, all to remind us of the promises of Emmanuel: God is with us. Jesus, a saviour, is born.
As the apostle Paul might have written just for such a time as this,
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe.Ephesians 1:15-19
The featured image is from The Flight into Egypt: A night piece, by Rembrandt van Rijn, which was donated to donated to Wikimedia Commons and the public domain as part of a project by the National Gallery of Art