Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Divine Interention

Christmas 2 + B   4 January 2015   The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
                   All Saints' Parish, Hampton South Carolina
Jeremiah 31:7-14                                                                                        Psalm 84       
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a                                                                      Matthew 2:1-12                                               
Jewish lady named Mrs. Rosenberg many years ago was stranded late one night at a fashionable resort - one that did not admit Jews. The desk clerk looked down at his book and said, "Sorry, no room. The hotel is full."       
The Jewish lady said, "But your sign says that you have vacancies."       
 The desk clerk stammered and then said curtly, "You know that we do not admit Jews. Now if you will try the other side of town..."       
Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened noticeable and said, "I'll have you know I converted to your religion."    
 The desk clerk said, "Oh, yeah, let me give you a little test. How was Jesus born?"       
Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem."       
"Very good," replied the hotel clerk. "Tell me more."       
Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born in a manger."       
"That's right," said the hotel clerk. "And why was he born in a manger?"       
Mrs. Rosenberg said loudly, "Because a jerk like you in the hotel wouldn't give a Jewish lady a room for the night!"  
Welcome to the Year of Grace, the year of God's favor where Jesus always makes all things new.  Scripture says through the prophet Isaiah: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43)   Christmass is a proclamation of the grace, the love and the perseverance of a God who never gives up on his creation.  It is joy to the world.  It is love came down at Christmass. Maybe you've seen that billboard campaign that was released a few years ago called God Speaks. All across the county, solid black billboards along the highways had large white words on them, quotes supposedly signed by God with no other pictures or logos or even fine print saying who had put up the billboards.  They said things like, “Need Directions?” and “What part of Thou Shalt Not Didn’t You Understand?” and “Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage". One of the billboards read: “Don’t make me come down there! - God”  Sounds ominous. In our everyday lives we don't think things are so bad that we can't handle them, not most things. But we don't see how desperate our situation is if we do not see why the big guy, why God had to show up to fix them.  But the "Big Guy" didn't show up as a big guy but in a big way, a totally disarming way, a totally unexpected way.  God came to put God's life, God's love, God's healing of our fundamental need of God into our hearts and lives.  What we exalt in at Easter began with the Incarnation, the "enfleshing" of God in the womb of a simple Jewish maiden.  I have called it for the sake of this sermon: A Divine Intervention.

We just prayed: "Oh, God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature".  What is that dignity?  It is the original state of oneness with God that human sin and rebellion destroyed.  It is God now "with us", in us and through us.  That did not come easily and continues to be our need every moment of each waking hour of life.  The day you were baptized you entered into the Kairos of God, not the chronos of man, but the Kairos, that is God's timelessness and our Episcopal Kalendars reflect that.  We have set apart or "holy days"  that commemorate God's mighty acts and God's work in the lives of individuals, individuals like me and you!  And we just celebrated one of the two most holy of those days in the celebration of the Holy Nativity that we name Christmas. I want to address the why and what of Christmas today.
In the gospel today, we have an example of a paranoid pragmatist: Herod the Great. Herod wasn't a Anobody@.  He stands in biblical Jewish secular history as a Aworld-builder.@  He is the one responsible for building the second temple of Jerusalem, which some call AHerod=s temple.@ He was a loyal supporter of the Jewish kings preceding him although he was not of Jewish blood.
He was a consummate politician backing one Roman general against another and when the one he supported won, he was appointed by the Roman senate as King over Judea. He was not a Jew but an Edomite.
Although Herod had great leadership skills, he was extremely disliked by the Jews. His attitude toward the Maccabean dynasty, to which he was related by marriage, along with his insolence and cruelty, angered them all the more. He even had his brother-in-law and several of his wives and sons executed. He forced heavy taxes and brutally repressed any rebellions. But it was by his policy of Hellenistic culture that he greatly wounded the Jews. The construction of a race-course, a theater, and an amphitheater in Jerusalem, his wide support of the emperor cult in the East, and the construction of pagan temples in foreign cities at his own expense could not be forgive. Even though he restored and reconstructed the Temple of Jerusalem and continually pleaded the cause of the Jews of the Diaspora to the emperor, it was for his own gains.
There are still Herod=s among us.  People who crave power, position and wealth above all things. But even in his splendor, Herod was an incredibly insecure man, being married ten! It is also he who ordered the slaughter of all of the male children two years of age and younger.  That is why we observe the feast of the Holy Innocents. 
How strange it is that those whom we think "have it all," are the most fearful of losing it!  Even you and me live in our weakness but wouldn't dare admit it.  We have our Herods and still blessedly, we have our Wise Men who are still seeking the One we celebrate, God's Son born for us!  God has come and deliverance is near.
But we must not think that the "Herods" are the reason God staged a Divine Intervention. No, no, it's much bigger than that or "them." 
The things the world uses as tools are more like the title of Richard Foster's book of a few years ago: Money, Sex and Power,  It is these things that shape our world and seek to shape us into its mold.  It is these things that drive our culture, our daily lives, our politics, the nations and us.  Into this world and this humanity God came. God staged a Divine Intervention.
We have in our day added all of those children who have suffered death in their innocent early years or the womb to this day. Even in God=s rescue of the Human Race, death is present.
Have you noticed how evil doesn't like to give up power?  The world is at war, racism shows it's ugly head on the evening news in the streets of our major population areas. 
Death is still present in our daily lives. Although we may think of ourselves as "enlightened human beings" not like people "back then" or people "over there", still there is an evening news and most of it is bad news. 
If human beings did not so desperately need God to come into their hearts, I think the news channels would have to close up shop!  That is why He came.  That is how he fixes us from the inside out by coming and coming and coming again to save us as His name Jesus, the Holy Name which means "savior".
Christmas is God's answer to human despair and hopelessness for we are powerless over ourselves to fix ourselves! So now we look forward to the Epiphany, the manifestation of what God has done through Christ and in us.  That is why Paul can write to the Church at Ephesus: " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." 
The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah chapter 61: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,  to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."St Augustine of Hippo called the book of Isaiah the "fifth gospel".  Christmas is the proclamation of the good news.  Not that God has "come down here", uh oh, but God is here, thank God!  God has not finished His work in us or His work in this world but salvation, redemption and adoption have been finished.  What He began in Bethlehem was accomplished on Good Friday for He was born to die that we might live.

So today, we begin again. We are possessed by and with the Good News that God has come to us again. As in our first reading we respond with something like : " the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. God will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. God will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD."  Good news God's People.  Good news!

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