Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sermon for Year B Christmas 2

Insignificant Places

Our Sunday scripture readings do not follow a linear route.
We made it to the birth of the Christ child on Christmas Eve
Last Sunday we were still at the beginning as well—
with John’s beautiful gospel…
In the beginning was the WORD…

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany—
Herod will be sending out the wise men to search for the baby.
The baby Jesus is back in the manger
And the magi arrive, following a star.

So where are we this Sunday?
We are still in the festive Season of Christmas,
at least according to the church year calendar,
We hear joy and praise expressed in Jeremiah,
We hear great happiness in the psalm
And in Paul’s tender words to his friends in Ephesus
We hear of God’s grace and greatness.

But the gospel reading today is a bit scary.
The wise men have left.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream.
This angel skips the formality of saying the usual, ‘Fear not.”
This angel goes immediately to the action:
Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee…

Joseph does not argue nor delay.
Joseph gets up, gathers Jesus and Mary and leaves immediately.

They are fleeing from Herod.
Herod who would kill a baby without a blink.
Herod who HAS killed babies without a blink.
Herod who seeks to destroy this baby Jesus.

First the holy family travels to Egypt for safety
Then another angel appears and directs them to Israel.
But rather than go to Judea,
Joseph takes his wife and his baby, to the district of Galilee,
to the town of Nazareth.

Our gospel reading today is bot joyful but wise.
Joseph shows great wisdom.
First of all he listens.
He listens to the angels.
Joseph acts quickly.
Joseph makes wise decisions.
Especially the decision to return to Nazareth.

Nazareth, according to Luke’s gospel, was the home of Mary and Joseph
At the time of the Annunciation,
At the time the angel came to Mary
and told her she would be the mother of this baby.

From there they set out to Bethlehem to register as was required—
and it was there that the Christ child arrived in this world.

But Bethlehem was not a safe place.
So ultimately Joseph returns his family to Nazareth.

The interesting thing about Nazareth is there is not one mention
of this village in the Old Testament.
That is not surprising
Because in truth, Nazareth was quite insignificant,
Quite unspectacular.

Nazareth is a small village located on the side of a hill
about 15 miles from the Sea of Galilee
about 20 miles from the Mediterranean

In Jesus’ day it was a very small, secluded village
not on any main highways
although it was near Sepphoris, an important city—
and a city that Jesus probably knew well.

But Nazareth was pretty much in the middle of no where.

In John’s gospel (John 1:45),
when Philip speaks to Nathanael about Jesus being from Nazatreth Nathanael replies,
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nathanael cannot believe that the Son of God
could come from a place as insignificant
As the village of Nazareth.

When I was in high school and looking towards college,
I decided the place for me was New York University.
I wanted to go to school someplace important—
and in those days, you didn’t get more important
than New York City!
I grew up in Raleigh,
The capital city.
But it wasn’t capital enough for me.
Somehow I felt that if I could go to college in New York City,
My life would become so much better,
so much more significant.

So I told my mom I wanted to go to NYU.
And she looked at me and said,
We can’t afford NYU.
North Carolina has great colleges.
Find your second choice.

The Olivia Raney Library in downtown Raleigh,
Had a whole section in those days devoted to college catalogs.
I spent a whole Saturday afternoon perusing those catalogs
And found my second choice.
Only this time,
I didn’t go directly to my mother,
I went to the college counselor at Broughton High School.

Here’s where I want to go to college.
I had “borrowed” the catalog from the library.
I laid it on her desk.
Black Mountain College.
In Black Mountain, NC.
(In 1967 I think that Black Mountain,NC
might have given Nazareth a run for its money
in the “insignificant” category!)

Why did I pick Black Mountain College?
Certainly not for its name recognition—at least not at the time.
I fell in love with the college because the catalog
told me of the artists, the poets, and the musicians
that composed its faculty.
If I couldn’t have New York City, I could still have ultimately cool!

The college counselor looked at the catalog
(stamped—“Olivia Raney Library—REFERENCE—
Not for circulation”)
and said,
“Jeannie, this college no longer exists.
It closed. “
I found out that Black Mountain College
had indeed closed ten years earlier
in 1957.

Well, I had to go on to choice number 3—
the University of NC at Chapel Hill.
And no self-respecting Carolina alumni would dare call that insignificant.

But I tell you this story because I think not all of us
would choose as Joseph did.
We don’t use our wisdom to discern and choose.
We use our egos or our desires for things that will not serve us best.

But Joseph listened and made wise choices.
Joseph thought of his family above anything and everything else.

Perhaps it was because he truly realized that this baby
was someone far from insignificant.
Or perhaps he was just a good father
Perhaps he was a father
who loved his family more than he loved himself,
a man who did not need to be important himself,
or live at an impressive street address—
but a man who only cared that his family had a safe home.

If we use our own wisdom,
that is probably not far off
from what most people in the world want today—
a safe home.

We need to listen to Matthew’s gospel
and learn from Joseph.
How are we being called
to make safe homes
a reality for the people in our community,
in our city, in the world?
How are we being called
to reach out to those who are homeless,
those who are without safety, those who spend their lives in fear?

Habitat for Humanity.
Room in the Inn.
Swannanoa Women’s Correctional Center.
Episcopal Relief and Development.
Guardian Ad Litem.

Those are only a few of the places one could start.
The longing for a safe home is immense and global.
God has given us ears to hear and eyes to see--
just as he did with Joseph.

Perhaps the angel is standing at our door saying:
“Get up.
Flee from those who seek to kill the dreams of God.
Get up and get out into the world
and make a difference.
Don’t just say you are a Christian—
actually live like one.

Perhaps if we listen,
we, too, might fulfill
what has been spoken by the Lord through the prophets.

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