Eternal One, far too often we are blinded in this world by the darkness rather than the light. We believe far too readily that things will always be the same, that they cannot be transformed. Let your light shine in us and through us, that we might reveal your glory to the world. Amen.
We Americans have a love-hate relationship with our bodies.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to cast blame as much as it is to just be honest about our current situation. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and the like to make our physical bodies match the image in our minds of what is beautiful. Our bodies age, and so our eyes don’t quite focus like they used to, or our hair isn’t quite as there as it once was. We tire out more quickly, or our memory starts slipping, or things we used to do easily when we were younger now give us trouble. Never mind the issues we have around food and weight that begin way too early in life. Our relationship with our bodies is complicated.
Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus, who had been teaching the people near the lake of Gennesaret, simply climbed into his boat, and then asked him to push out a bit into the water. After working all night with nothing to show for it, Peter had been washing his nets, pulling out the seaweed, branches, and other debris. The gathering of people kept pushing up against Jesus to hear his words more clearly, and amidst the jostling, he kept getting closer and closer to the water’s edge. The boat was the best available option. I hope this slightly amused Peter rather than annoyed him that this teacher, this rabbi, would have the chutzpah to climb into his boat without asking.
At some point after his baptism in the Jordan and after he had begun calling people to follow him, Jesus, his mom and his disciples attended a wedding. We aren’t told who the bride and groom were—John doesn’t include the bit about when the save the date card came out, or if there was a bridal shower—we just know there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus and Mary and his disciples got an invite and showed up.
Once again our society has gotten it almost entirely wrong. Christmas trees have been out on the floors of BJ’s since early October for those who can’t wait to put out their decorations. This includes some in my own extended family who expressed dismay back in early November when they learned that we don’t get our tree until the last weekend before Christmas. A local radio station has been playing holiday tunes 24-7 since November 1. I can not even begin to imagine the number of times “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or, God help us, “Santa Baby,” has played until now.
The most mysterious character in the annual Christmas pageant is the innkeeper, or rather “innkeepers” if the director has a flourish for the dramatic. You may remember that in the Charlie Brown Christmas, a girl was very excited to be cast as the innkeeper’s wife. Most often the kids starring in these roles get decked out in robes, and they most determinedly—even, dare I say it, heartlessly—shake their heads while mouthing the words “no.” Then they point to some other place where the uncomfortably pregnant Mary and her distraught husband Joseph must go since the last rooms had been taken by the smart travelers who booked ahead on TripAdvisor.
This character of course comes from pure speculation since Luke simply writes, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” We don’t really know if an innkeeper or two stood there in front of their establishments pointing up the road to another hotel, or if they had pity and took them around back to the stable for other travelers’ animals so at least they could have a place to lie down after their journey. We just know that Bethlehem’s inns were jammed with people likely because of this worldwide registration by the Emperor, the guy who wanted to know how many people he ruled over so he could stroke his ego a bit more.
Moana just wanted to go out into the wider ocean, something she had felt drawn to since her youngest days when she toddled along the beach near her village in the Polynesian Islands. The ocean called to her. But her father, the leader of her tribe, forbid it due to his own backstory of fear and loss out on the sea. Moana, the title character in the Disney film, spends the first act of the movie trying to get it right, trying to make her parents happy and proud of her as she learns the customs and traditions she will uphold when she becomes the chief after her father. But while she longs for their blessing, she cannot become who they fully want her to be because of that pull toward the ocean and toward her true calling.
“On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, He was splashing… enjoying the jungle’s great joys… When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.”
If you’ve ever read the classic story Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, you know what’s going on. But for the uninitiated, let me summarize. Good ol’ Horton, while enjoying the cool of that pool, sees a speck of dust floating by from which he is certain emerged that small noise. Using his noggin, Horton surmises there must be a person on that speck needing help. So he adeptly plucks that speck out of the air, placing it gently among the soft petals of a flowering clover. For, he declares with some bravado and grace, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
As we begin this new church year and the season of Advent, I have a confession to make: I’ve never preached on this gospel.
While you may not think this is a big deal—this reading from Luke’s gospel only comes up every three years, I’ve only been in ministry 14 years, so mathematically that’s not much of chance at all. But if my ministry lasts 30 years or so, that means I’m nearing the halfway mark and so the question begging to be asked is what am I avoiding.
Mark describes Jesus as packing up for a journey, when a man walks up to him. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks. Jesus questions his use of good, trying to push on what the man meant by it. “Only God can truly be considered good,” he tells the man before getting down to the answer of his question. Jesus picks out six of the ten commandments, the ones dealing with a person’s interactions with other human beings—don’t steal or murder or defraud. You can almost see the man begin to smile. “Well,” he says, delighted, “I’ve taken care to obey them even from my youth.” That’s when Jesus looks on this man who has come looking for the affirmation that he has figured it all out, that he has taken care of everything and is now riding high until the end of his life, and has compassion on him. Mark writes that Jesus loved him.