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Sermon - December 30, 2012
On Christmas Eve, we heard the familiar story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke. The manger, the star, and the shepherds. It is the story we all know and enjoy hearing. I think that if Luke were telling that story today, he would tell the story on the big screen. Big, bold, and full of imagination. Tonight
we hear a different perspective of that story from the Gospel of John. A beautiful story of Jesus - the Word. He simply states “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,...” The beginning of John’s gospel is poetic. It engages us.
Both are warm and comforting - beautifully describing this Christmas season. Describing this season of hope, joy, and peace. Yet somehow, with the events over the last few weeks, I cannot help but think is that feeling missing? It just seemed dimmer, as if some light had left the world. I think we can agree
that many families certainly felt this. Maybe even some of us.
This made me wonder about those parts of the story of the Nativity that often get overlooked. What about the inhospitable nature of the inn keeper? Surely he could have offered something more than just the manger. After all, the blessed Mary was in labor, and all he had to offer was the barn? What was it about them that made him seemingly unable or unwilling to help? Was it because they were poor? Did they look like immigrants or foreigners? Was he afraid to do more?
Next week we will hear from the Gospel of Matthew how Herod learns from the wise men about the birth of a King. This reading ends with a warning to the wise men not to return to Herod and they leave for their own country by another road. If we continue this reading of Matthew’s Gospel, we hear that Herod
learns that he was tricked by the wise men, he sends soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the young children - out of fear that one of these would replace him as King - to become the King of the Jews. He kills children out of fear. Fear can be powerful emotion.
As we look at these two parts of the story, they certainly do not sound like Christmas. Even now we see stories that certainly do not sound like Christmas. Stories that have the emotion of fear as a part of them. Millions of children suffering from and dying of AIDS, war in Syria, hunger. What about the daily
coverage of the fiscal cliff and fears of what might or might not happen if we go over? What about our own fears? Don’t we also act out of fear? Now I know that fear can be a good thing. It can help ensure that we are being safe, or take the steps to be safe. What happens though when we do not act because we are afraid?
My thoughts of this made me wonder, how often does fear stop us from acting? How often does it stop us from helping someone? Is it because they look different? Too poor or too dirty? Do we become afraid or uncertain to help a friend with a problem, because it might take time or some personal involvement?
How many times do we see the use the fear of a group or event to advance one’s beliefs? Do we vote out of fear that something might be taken away from us? We see fear used to deny protections afforded by the law to others. Fear is used to prevent or limit programs that help others - just in the event that somebody not eligible might unfairly benefit.
This is a world in which darkness exists. My feeling of Christmas was being diminished.
As I worked on this a last week. Something caught my attention. It was a glimmer of light. I came across a story of a challenge. The challenge was set by Ann Curry, of NBC News. She said she felt helpless at what to do for those victims in Newtown. One of the blessings of social media is the ability to communicate to thousands in a matter of seconds. She tweeted a challenge, “Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for each precious life lost. An act of kindness big or small.” She ends her tweet, “Are you in?”
What followed were thousands of acts of kindness that people had done and shared. Each person committing to doing 26 random acts of kindness for strangers. A tweet from someone at an airport who had just received with a note and a $5 bill. The note said, “I’m doing 26 random acts of kindness in honor of the 26 victims of the Newton, CT shooting. Enjoy a cup of coffee or snack while you wait for your flight.”
Another, “Got out of my car in the rain and gave my umbrella away to a woman standing inside the door of the supermarket waiting to go out. She had a baby in a carrier and looked like she was dreading the rainy trek to her car.”
Acts of kindness like, buying someone’s coffee, paying extra money in parking meters for others, leaving gift cards for groceries in shopping carts, buying medicine for an elderly couple whose credit card was being declined, a 7-year old taking the allowance she has saved to buy 26 hams for a local food bank. Clearing snow off and from around cars in the neighborhood after getting a foot
of snow. Leaving a note of encouragement for a coworker. The list went on and on. It continues still. Many of these simple acts being left with a note stating that the act was done in memory of one of the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with their name and age. These were stories
and examples of acts of kindness coming everywhere from around the country and around the world.
It was overwhelming at what people were doing for someone else - for complete strangers. Often not even knowing who would be the one to benefit from their kindness. Just a note and maybe a challenge to pay it forward. A challenge to keep the kindness going on and on and on. People were not afraid of helping a stranger. People not afraid of taking the chance of getting involved.
“...The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This was Christmas.
Fear and darkness will exist in our world. We cannot hide from it. We cannot ignore it. Remember the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary, and the beginning of the angel’s message being proclaimed to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid;” Christ has been born. The presence of God is among us. This led me reread those last few verses in the Christmas Eve gospel, “they made known what had been
told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Merry Christmas. This is a joyous season, but it is also a season for reflection and action. Like the blessed Mary, treasure the words, ponder on them in your heart, Reflect on your lives and on what this season means for each of you and what it means for world. Then like the shepherds go out to
glorify and praise God and live that meaning and share it with others.
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Today is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. It is obvious why. Reverend Susan opened up the Mass with the appointed collect of the day...O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people...
The Psalm continues, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want
Finally, in the Gospel we hear Jesus say, I am the good shepherd. One of the many famous “I Am” statements found in John’s gospel.
A Shepherd. A reference that we see used through many books of the bible. One of the oldest occupations and one that the people could relate. A shepherd would spend so much time with their flock, that they could often tell one from another. Unusual markings, the way they walked, their voice, and many other characteristics. Like wise, the flock would know their shepherd. His or her voice or call was distinct enough that the sheep would know with whom to go. In fact, sheep would often recognize the face of their shepherd. The shepherd was charged with protecting the flock from predators and leading them to food, water, safety, and bringing the lost back into the fold.
Jesus speaks about the hired hand who is not the shepherd, the hired hand that does not care for the sheep, who sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away. When we walk into church, we bring everything in our lives through those doors. Things in our lives that are not easy to share or those parts of ourselves that we hide. We bring our faults, struggles, failures, worries and hurts of the world. The wolves in our lives. As we feel defenseless and unsure, these wolves snatch our peace and scatter our lives. We feel lost. We seek out understanding and answers. Searching for ways to fix those hurts that we have and those pains that we see in the world. We easily hear and may even say ourselves, where is God? Where is God to protect? Where is my shepherd? Perhaps it is in that question. Where is God? Where is the good shepherd? As if we are suppose to be looking around for Him, searching for Him. We often forget - we do not find God, God finds us. It is not the sheep that searches for their shepherd. Jesus as the good shepherd seeks us out to find us when we are lost.
God knows each one of us. He knows our laughter, the way we talk, the things about ourselves that no one knows. When we are lost, He knows. He knows because the flock, the community, is just not the same. Something is missing. How do we know he is searching for us? It is because we hear his call, his distinct voice. Just as sheep recognizes the voice of their shepherd, we recognize Jesus’ call to us. That call sometimes comes quietly in our hearts, so quiet that we just have to stop what we are doing and listen. Other times the call comes loudly and literally smacks us on the head. A call that confronts us head-on. Sometimes we are too busy that call comes and goes unnoticed.
We are all children of God and that Jesus lives in each one of us. Since Jesus lives in each one of us, who do we shepherd? Our children, family, friends, those who seek public office, others that lead us? What about the stranger, the homeless, the sick, and those that are outcast or need help? Does the shepherd in us stir? Do we hear the cry of others being lost? Doesn’t that voice with in us call out to them? Do we let our distinct voice out so that they may hear it? That they may be found? What about those that have the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help. Do we call to them? Do we shepherd them as well?
We are called to be like Christ. We all serve as shepherds in the world and community around us. We heard in John’s first letter, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Not just talk about it, but to do something. To advocate, to protect, to revive, to lead, to share. To be living examples of Christ in our world. Powerful actions are not always large, sweeping, and news worthy. Sometimes the most powerful actions are small and unnoticed. The simple act of opening a door for someone. Saying thank you. Sharing the gifts we have with others. Gifts of love, time, companionship, a meal, a shoulder, our experience, a conversation, a smile, compassion, patience, and countless other gifts. When we share our gifts, we see God. We see God when those gifts are used for one another. Gifts that when shared are multiplied many times over and returned to us.
Yes, there is a great deal of struggle and pain in this world, but I do not think God asks any one of us to fix it all alone. God asks that we just help. To shepherd in the ways in which we are able
We see the wolves in the world. Do we run?
The Good Shepherd is risen indeed. The Good Shepherd is alive in each one of us.
Close your eyes. He calls to us. Do you hear it? How do we respond?