I hope you all had a great Christmas!! In the church year, we are in the season of Christmas until this coming Sunday the 6th of January, when we celebrate Epiphany. This is the Sunday, we talk about the traditional story of the three kings coming from the East following the star. In recent years, biblical scholarship has begun asking us to relook at the details of this particular story. As interesting as it is to look at these details, what has stayed the same and is often overlooked in this story is the concept of Going into the Unknown. Going into the Unknown is a scary thing. I think many of us remember our first jobs, where we didn't know all the ropes; didn't know very many people; didn't know the routine; or maybe didn't even know if we liked what we did for our job. It can be scary, having a new routine or a new normal. However, jobs are something that we eventually learn to grow into and we eventually become comfortable with. I would argue that Going into the Unknown in terms of faith is very hard.
In our story today, we have many sets of people going into the Unknown. We have Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus going into the unknown of Egypt. We also have the three kings/magi following a star to find the boy who would be the Jewish Messiah. I think Going into the Unknown, based on the call of God can at both times be comforting and very challenging. It is comforting because, we know God is with us and will support us as we journey. However, at the same time it is very challenging because we don't know where the end of this unknown time will come. It is also scary because we don't known exactly what God has in store for us and what we will have to do. The thing we see in scripture today is that when we trust God in the midst of this unknown time and space, is that God delivers us. It might take some time, there probably will be difficulty, but in the end God honors God promise and delivers us.
As we look into this new year, where do you think God is calling you to go into? Where is the great unknown for you? Is it a new job? Is it working on a broken relationship? It is rethinking how you look at yourself? Is it finding help for an addiction? Whatever it is, know that God walks with you during this time and God honors God's promises!
Our text today talks about Jesus' birth from a totally different angle than the Christmas text we hear from the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew's text, we hang out with Jesus' adoptive dad Joseph. We hear about how Joseph felt when he learned that his finance was pregnant as well as his plans to divorce her quietly. Then the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph and tells him about the baby that Mary is carrying, who is God's son. The angel goes on to say "...and they will call him Immanual-which means, 'God with us.' "
Believe it or not the Greek, the language of the new Testament, is not as helpful to us here as it might seem. For you see the prophesy, written in Hebrew, that takes place in Isaiah 7 talks about a baby coming who will be named Immanuel which means "God is with us". The "is" is very important to the audience of the Gospel of Matthew. During the time of Matthew's Gospel, the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed (God's earthly home); thousands of people have been killed; and several hundred had been crucified by the Romans. Times were not good for our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Jesus' birth reminded them that even though God's earthly home had be destroyed, God had not abandoned them. In fact, God had come down with skin on to let people know how much God cares about us, and how much God honors God promise to walk with us.
So how about you today? Is there something going on in your life, where you feel the absence of God? Do you feel abandoned? Hopeless? Christmas and Advent remind us that the promise of God is still valid today. God has promised to walk beside you; to support you; and care for you. This is the reason we get so excited for Christmas, because it reminds us that we can lean on God in the good times and the bad times. Isn't that the best news you have year all year?
As I was working on the text for this week, I was stuck with how Professor Juliana Classes talked about our text for today. She said this "For people today who all too often find themselves in a state of chaos and despair, this powerful depiction of the (suffering) servant in Isaiah 42 may speak in the following ways: First, in the midst of those times when chaos is rampant, when we are weighed down by the forces that seek to destroy life as we know it, we need to accept the fact that we often are no more than “bruised reeds” and “dimly burning wicks.” As the songwriter and theologian Leonard Cohen says so beautifully in his song, “Anthem”: “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, but that is where the light gets in.” That is where the light comes in. God’s grace and power works exactly there where we are broken, where we are most fragile --"
What struck me from her statement was this image of a cracked clay pot and how the crack wasn't an imperfection but was where God's grace and power are at work. I know for myself, I can get caught up in doing things "perfectly" that I forgot what the purpose behind what I am doing is. Or I don't feel that if something is not done "perfectly" that God can't use what I am doing. However, it is in the imperfect that God's love and power are at work? Where is that for you today in your life? Where are those cracks showing through in your life? What does it look like knowing that God is in the cracks, using God's power and grace to be with you in this brokenness?
These last two weeks, you may have noticed that we haven't had your typical Advent texts. In Advent we are getting ready for Jesus' birth, so I think it is easy to fall into the trap of only looking at Gospel lessons. As we have been exploring the whole Bible using the Narrative Lectionary, we see that there has been a pattern developing since Genesis about the character of God. God is about using every day/normal people and placing them into extraordinary circumstances to make a difference in people's lives.
This is what is happening in our text for today. If you haven't had a chance to read the book of Esther yet, I would recommend it to you. It is a short book and it is quite an interesting story. At the time of this writing, the people of Israel had been exiled into Babylon. They are no longer rulers of their own land but in fact have been captured and forced to live their lives outside of their homeland and to embrace customs that were not of their own. Esther before she becomes apart of the King's haram, is an orphan. It was just prior to this happening that her cousin Mordecai, found her and was helping her out. Nobody in the Haram outside of Esther's inner circle even knows she is Jewish. If they did, this would effect her negatively in the Persian Royal Court.
At this point in the story, Esther is forced to act so that she can make a difference. The king had just drafted a law which could condemn all of the Jews to death. In order to talk to the king about what he was doing Esther, would have to take a life or death chance, because a person could only talk to the King if he wished it. Otherwise the person would be executed for trying to talk to the king.
Spoiler Alert, her chance pays off. She helps the King draft a law where the Jews can defend themselves from their enemies and her people are saved. Esther made a difference. Advent is about Christ coming into the world to make a difference in our lives and to show us how we can make a difference in other people's lives. So what about you? Where is God asking you to make a difference in somebody else's lives. How can you this Advent season, help somebody see the hope that we get from our Savior? Maybe it is volunteering at the food shelf. Maybe it is donating to the sock it campaign here at church for the kids at Greenfield. Advent reminds us that God made a difference for us and our lives and that we are called to do the same.
Pastor Paul. I hope you find these reflections insightful and help you in your faith journey!