Christmas I, Holy Wisdom Sunday Assembly
January 1, 2023
Dear Friends in Christ, grace mercy and peace in this new year,
According to today’s Gospel, the party is over! The shepherds are
back in the field keeping watch over their sheep by day and night. The
magi are heading home via the dream-directed detour around Jerusalem.
The cattle are lowing in peace without all the pa-rupa-pump-pum
hubbub. Herod is angry the sages from the East didn’t follow his orders
to report back to his headquarters about the baby born to overthrow him.
And Joseph, who learned to listen carefully to the words of angels, fled
to Egypt with Mary & Jesus because he’d been told Herod was on a
search and destroy mission.
On this first Sunday after Christmas, Matthew’s gospel tells of the
slaughter of all children two years old and younger in Bethlehem and in
all that region in search of Jesus. It crashes our holy season of peace on
earth and good will to all. It smashes our serenity like the Second
Sunday in Advent Candle falling off the wreath with the glass follower
shattering, scattering shards of glass. For the parents of all those
murdered children, their lives must have been shattered by that horrific
act of Herod. The holy family were refugees and the people in the region
of Bethlehem were devastated. I think it’s important to see the
correlation between this story of Jesus and family fleeing to Egypt from
the land of the promise, and Moses and the people of Israel fleeing from
Egypt to the promised land! In both cases murderous, frightened tyrants
were in control. And children were slaughtered because of those bullies’
fear of being overthrown. The stories of Jesus’ family’s exile to Egypt
and the exodus from Egypt are connected through the promise of God to
bring new life and restoration to God’s people.
I want to go back to the Second Sunday of Advent. After the
candle crash, Charles and Susanna swept the shards of glass and put the
candle near the wall. Then, following Patti’s inspiring homily, we
processed to the baptismal font where baby boy John was baptized. I
love baptisms. It’s a time when we declare the goodness of God. It’s a
time when we see the goodness of God in the baby, loving parents,
caring godparents, and supportive family and community. There is
nothing magical about baptisms. God’s promise to be with us, care for
us, guide us through God’s loving and caring Spirit in our life and faith
is made real through community. That’s what we promised to do for
John. That’s how it works. John is going to learn what it means to be a
follower of Christ by seeing us: seeing what we do, hearing what we say.
Christ is with us and in us. And John, being awakened from a short
winter’s nap in his godmother’s arms, was splashed with water, anointed
with oil, and given the candle, temporarily held by his godfather, to
remind him of Christ’s light always glowing in him. Then, on that
Sunday morning, we all proceeded back here to the assembly room.
As I resettled in my chair, I glanced up and saw there were again
two candles burning brightly on the Advent wreath. It was a miracle! I
know it was probably Diane, Margaret, or Marge who put the candle
back in place with a new follower and relit it. But for me it was a
wonderful symbol of restoration.
We sense that same kind of movement in our gospel stories: from
the holy night filled with angelic choirs, joyful shepherds, and awestruck
sages, to the night of terror and escape, and then to a return to Nazareth,
a place of nurture for Jesus. Our lives are about that movement, our faith
is dynamic, changing, crashing to the floor, renewed, and then restored.
Theologian Walter Bruggeman, in his remarkable book on the psalms,
wrote that all of the 150 psalms can each be categorized in one of three
ways…psalms of ‘orientation’ (all is well with the world; things
couldn’t be zippier). An example of that sort of psalm is Psalm 21 – God
will help the faithful, and smite the wicked…just as it should be. Then
comes Psalm 22, a psalm of ‘disorientation’ – ‘My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me.’ Then Psalm 23, a psalm of ‘reorientation’ – ‘ye
though I walk through the valley of death, thou art with me.’ This
scriptural framework speaks so powerfully to life: orientation,
disorientation, and reorientation.
This dynamic nature of faith and life can be unsettling, offkiltering. On a good day, I’d like to keep it together, no matter what
happens. But when life becomes disorienting, I yearn to be able to
smoothly handle all that would throw life out of balance.
Appropriately, this year is the year of ‘balance’ for our Holy
Wisdom communities. With maybe a few extraordinarily blessed people
who will experience life exactly the way most Christmas letters sound,
achieving balance in their lives will be a cake walk! But for the rest of
us, we’ll need to lean pretty heavily on God’s love & grace in Jesus
Christ made present through the Spirit, as well as the care & wisdom of
our community to experience a steadiness, a balance of life and faith.
I’ll close with a prayer Sue and I have attached to our refrigerator
door. It’s a prayer printed on the card in honor of the sister’s monastic
professions from the September 26, 2021 celebration. This prayer of St.
Benedict, seems to me, is a perfect prayer for balance in our lives for
this new year:
‘Gracious and holy God, give us wisdom to perceive you,
Diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you,
Eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate on you,
And a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of
Jesus Christ our Savior……………Amen.