Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
As most of you probably know our daughter Sarah got engaged just before Christmas. So a lot of our time and thoughts through this Christmas season have been concentrated on preparing for a wedding.
I have to admit that one of the most pleasant opportunities I have as a Priest/Pastor is to travel alongside people as they prepare for and then participate in The Celebration of a Marriage.
Now, I haven't had as many opportunities to walk that path as I have to walk alongside people who are preparing to farewell a loved one at the end of their loved one's life.
Funerals have outnumbered weddings since I have been here at Church Church. But that hasn't been a bad thing or a sad thing for me. Both journeys have their blessings. Both have opportunities to celebrate other people and their impact on our lives.
It is interesting to me, that I have four couples who have approached me and asked if I would be willing to celebrate their marriages here at Christ Church through the coming year. I am not sure how many of those will come to pass but I am filled with hope and anticipation of the new life and commitments these potential marriages point towards.
As I talk with couples about their weddings I find that those who come to me and ask me to walk alongside them in preparing for Marriage have lots of questions. Because this is not something many people have done before they find themselves in a "foreign" feeling place. They find that as they go through the process there are many times of uncertainty.
One of the interesting things for me is that people who have decided to get married find themselves walking into a place where they compare their "life experience" with their hopes and dreams. I find that one of the first questions I ask couples is "why do you want to get married?" Another, which usually follows that first one very closely is "why do you want a Christian or religious wedding?"
I want to establish in my mind and to try to help them to understand what they are committing to when they come to Christ Church for a wedding. In the world, we live in, marriage doesn't have a great track record. Many younger people are choosing to live together without the traditional Wedding as a formal recognition of their relationship.
A couple of generations ago this practice was widely frowned upon. There was a public price to pay when people didn't take the step to formally and legally recognize their living arrangements. These days people may frown when they hear that couples are not getting married but there certainly isn't a public outcry.
As we walk through the steps of marriage preparation couples have the opportunity to talk to someone about their goals and expectations. They get to verbalize and hear each other talk about what they know and what they hope for. They also take some time to consider what they have experienced or seen in marriages around them.
One thing that becomes obvious as they interact is that they begin to evaluate their hopes and expectations of each other. Many times they discover things that they either did not know or only had a vague inkling of about the other person. It is often only when they sit down and talk to one another in this kind of setting that they learn very important things about each other.
Now, I have to say at this point that it is only after the wedding and a few months into the marriage that some things are revealed, some things are tested and some things are confirmed. There is no substitute for the experience of being married.
As we enter this new year I believe, that many of us, are feeling some of the same feelings and anxieties that couples feel when they come to prepare for marriage. Some of us are feeling very tentative about what this year might bring. We are coming to this moment and we are comparing our life experiences with our hopes, dreams, and expectations. We are learning more about what this year might hold for us and we are to decide if we are willing to commit ourselves to the upcoming year.
I would also like to suggest that we, as Christian believers, as followers of Christ, should be approaching this year with a slightly different expectation than our fellow travelers on this journey. There is plenty of reason to be feeling unsure and anxious about the coming year. The year we have just been through certainly challenged some of what we thought were certainties for us. We are a little less optimistic and hopeful than we were a year ago.
I am sure that we would like to stand with Isaiah in the proclamation he makes in the Old Testament reading this morning.
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you."
But I would suggest that we are still a little hesitant, we are hoping and we are expectant. We are just not sure yet that we can proclaim those verses with certainty yet.
Wouldn't we all like to be able to stand alongside Paul and proclaim as he does in the reading from Ephesians 3:7-12
"Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him."
I am sure there is a part of each and every one of us that would like to have that kind of impact with our lives and our witness. For many of us, we just have never had that experience and we are not sure where we would start or how we could start.
I am so glad for the couples who come to me and talk about marriage and want to get involved in planning their weddings here at Christ Church. Many of them have not experienced healthy marriages. Many of them have very good reasons for not committing themselves and their partners to what they may consider an antiquated institution. But they come anyway and they commit themselves to their hopes, dreams, and expectations.
They remind me of the wise men in the Gospel this morning. They begin a journey with a very vague understanding of what they are doing and what they expect to find. They come to the people they expect should be able to guide them and ask directions only to find that those people have to dig into their ancient records to find the directions they are seeking. They are not living lives of expectation and anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. Then they experience the so-called leader of these people asking them questions about how they knew that the child would be born.
They follow in anticipation, they continue to follow, even when those who should have known better than them know nothing, and they go on to complete their journey and discover the reality of their hopes, dreams, and what they are anticipating.
As we enter this coming year are we going to be led by our hopes, our dreams, and our anticipation or are we going to let our experience of life up to this point dictate what kind of life we will live.
I am so glad for the couples who come to me and ask me to walk with them along the path of preparation for marriage. Because every time I walk that path I am reminded of what the true hope, the true dream, and what great expectation we can have of marriage.
It also reminds me of the hopes, dreams, and expectations we have in the Gospel of Christ to give us new life.
I truly hope that this morning and in the coming days of this new year we will all experience the joy of Christ's coming into our lives, and into our hearts in a new and refreshingly powerful way.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
So, how did you do with reading the Collect for last Sunday through this past week? You will remember I suggested at the end of my message last week that I wanted to encourage us all to read the Collect as an affirmation that the Lord is at work in our lives all through the week.
Moving from that question let us take some time to consider what the Lord might be wanting to engage with us over this week. I have to admit to you that the idea of spending time reading, and considering or contemplating, the Scriptures in a regular way was something that I have struggled with, in the business of my life.
I have friends who talked to me in the past about developing a Rule of Life - a pattern of daily prayers and Scripture reading, which I set for myself. This was something of a foreign concept to me until I went to Seminary and then I joined the Diocese of Ohio.
When I was in Seminary I committed to reading the Morning Prayer Service every morning, once I was Ordained. Morning Prayer was how each day began at Trinity School for Ministry. All the students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to attend.
I found myself coming to understand how that discipline set the tone for the rest of the day. In fact, some days, it was attending Morning Prayer that helped create the focus I needed to get through my classes and be prepared to write the necessary papers I had to complete.
So, once I came to Christ Church, I found a way to follow the service on-line. So, each morning I pull up the service on my phone and committed some time to reading the Morning Prayer Service.
So, I had the part in place. Then my spiritual and devotional life took a big step forward when the Bishop invited one of the Brothers of The Society of Saint John the Evangelist to come and speak at Winter Convocation.
He spoke about developing an actual Rule of Life for ourselves. I wondered how I might go about that.
After Winter Convocation I heard about the Brothers of the SSJE the Daily Meditation, they send out, to my routine.
Then after some more time, I progressed a little further and I looked up the Sermon, from which the Meditation came, and I began reading that as well.
Some days when I come to the Morning Prayer Service, I have to be honest here and say that some mornings, when I am feeling particularly anxious or rushed about what I have coming up in my day, I manage to only reading the Psalm or Psalms, The Old Testament, The Epistle, and the Gospel. Other days I read the whole service, and I stop and bring my concerns and joys before the Lord, at that point of the service where I am invited to do that.
Recently I also added a short Daily Devotional from Alistair Begg called Truth for Life. Alister is a Pastor at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls. I occasionally listen to him on the radio when I am driving. He has a wonderful Scottish accent which reminds me of my grandfather.
As I look back now I realize that all of this has been foundational in what I look at as my Rule of Life.
Now, I certainly don't want to sound as though I am boasting. However, I want to encourage us all that none of us comes fully formed. We all can seek a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord.
That is why words like journey, traveling, and engaging, resonate powerfully with me. I certainly know that my life and relationship with the Lord has to be cultivated. I cannot achieve the things, which I perceive as God's will for me, without having some resource other than myself.
This Advent Season we have talked, perhaps we have experienced, a lot about the opportunities we have to give a little more time to our prayers and our study of the Lord's written word for us.
At the Healing Service on Wednesday I quoted several Scriptures about quietness and rest. I don't have time to read them this morning, but I will list them here and I will be happy to send them to you if you request them. Isaiah 30: 15, Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 37:7 I hope I encouraged those who watched the service to a deeper understanding of the need for quietness and rest in our lives. That rather than bemoaning our inability to get out and do all those things that we want to be doing that we might actually take the opportunity to make positive use of the time we have.
The Collect this morning says it so well:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There is an expectation that we will have a daily visitation with the Lord. Are we making space in our day for that to happen? Making the space in our day, allowing for quietness and rest, by setting aside some time for the Lord to visit and speak into our lives.
Now, don't fret this does not mean that we will sit and watch the world go by.
We heard in the Old Testament reading for this morning that it was after David had established the Kingdom that he found himself in a time of rest. In fact, the scripture says: " the Lord had given him rest." David speaks to Nathan and wants to do something to honor the Lord.
Nathan initially seems to give David the go-ahead to do what he wants. But then the Lord speaks to Nathan and directs David to a different task.
"Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever."
It was in a time of quietness and rest that the Lord spoke. In the Epistle this morning from Romans, Paul shares an incredible piece of information. I hope you didn't miss it.
"Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 16:25-27
Not only has the mystery been revealed, but we can explore and engage with what has been disclosed for ourselves. But we have to take the time, we have to set time aside.
The Gospel this morning is a wonderful example of what we are talking about. I don't know how many times I have read this Gospel from Luke. Time and again I have read it in my personal devotions and in the public reading of the Scriptures. Many times in the past I have read and heard Mary's response to the Angel. First in amazement and then in quiet, restful, acceptance. " Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”"
My emotional responses to Mary's words have been "all over the map." At times I have been in awe of her ability to say yes. At other times I have been amazed that she could have such faith at such a young age. Then, there have been times when I have also been incredulous because I find so difficult to comprehend that kind of simple obedience.
I have to admit I had one of those serendipitous moments as I read and prepared for this message this morning. You know the kind of event I spoke about last week or the week before. Where suddenly something will just stand up and stand out from the printed word and I will comprehend something in a totally new way.
All of my understanding of this passage changed, hopefully forever, this year as I read the phrase: " The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." I am going to step out on a limb here this morning and suggest that the way Mary found favor with God was because of her relationship with God. Mary knew the Lord, Mary was in relationship with the Lord.
I am going to suggest that Mary took the time - she took her opportunities for quiet and rest - to seek to walk with the Lord.
So, in this season of Advent, the time of waiting and watching, this time of Love, Hope, Peace and Joy, how are you doing with creating times of quiet and rest so that the Lord may speak into your life. How are you doing with developing your personal relationship with the Lord?
I hope you might find encouragement to consider developing your own Rule of Life. Prayer, the reading of Scripture, and conversation with the Lord. In your own way, in your own time, and with your personal desire to know the Lord.
Perhaps a place to start would be the prayer from the Holy Eucharist Rite II:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.