The first of Jesus' miracles takes place in a familiar setting. The celebration of a wedding, the coming together of families and friends to surround the bride and groom with love and support. Jesus is there, with his mother and disciples, to share the joy and folly of life.
Weddings were different back then. Ceremonies took place at the groom’s house, and not in a church. While most weddings today often drag into the night, it was common for an event like this to last a week or more.
In ancient times, when hospitality was a mark of social pride, the host supplied everything. Especially at a wedding, one made sure there was plenty of food and drink for everyone to get their fill.
Now, I can’t recall how much booze we supplied for Halloween party, but the empty bottles and cans that I cleaned up the next day filled at least two recycling bins! On top of what we supplied, most of our guest brought their own and more to share.
At this wedding, the host either calculated wrong, or the guest enjoyed themselves a little too much. By the third day there was no more wine left. Jesus’ mom notices this social faux pas. And incorporates her son to help. While Jesus is hesitant, he does what his mom asks of him.
It’s here, between water and wine, Jesus preforms his first public miracle, revealing who he truly is. This is all it took for his disciples to believe. Not healing a sick person or bringing someone back from the dead. They believed because Jesus made more wine to keep the party going.
watch the message here
According to John there were six purification pots - each held 20-30 gallons of water. If my math is correct that’s roughly 150 gallons of wine! At five bottles of wine per gallon Jesus made roughly 750 bottles or 62.5 cases of wine. And not just any wine, but the best wine!
With a quick Google search, I learned Sine Qua Non was voted the best premium wine for 2021. It’s a California Syrah that sells for $450 a bottle. Call me cheap but I’d have to be drunk to crack open my wallet to make such a frivolous purchase. And you can bet I’d never offer it to someone who has already emptied my liquor cabinet. They wouldn’t appreciate its quality muchless the cost.
Yet, this is exactly what Jesus does. He makes the best wine. And gives it to us, even when we aren’t in a place to appreciate it. Jesus knows our joy is priceless to God and doesn’t hold back. But he also knows what this miracle will cost him later. Yet, he’s willing to pay the price for us.
It’s no coincidence that this epiphany moment happens at a wedding. Throughout the bible, marriage is a metaphor used to describe the union of God and humankind. A wedding, of course, is a public symbol of that union.
In Christ, God has made a union with all of us. And this union is cause for celebration. So, why wouldn’t Jesus want to keep the party going? He knows God loves to celebrate us so much so that God came in flesh and blood to keep that party going for you and me.
While only John mentions the wedding in Cana, all four gospels give countless examples of Jesus celebrating with people - people sharing meals, people getting healed, people being liberated from the demons in their lives.
Jesus carried that spirit of celebration wherever he went proclaiming God’s mercy, grace, and love. As he did, lives were transformed, relationships were restored, and communities healed. Talk about miracles! He turned the bitter water of sadness and sin into the finest wine of joy and redemption. And he’s called us to follow him.
The Incarnation didn’t happen so God could drag us off to a heaven. It happened so God could bring the very best of heaven to us. And through Jesus we can enjoy all the abundance that God has to offer. Through him, we can celebrate others without the fear of running out. Even when it looks like the end of the party we can count on Christ to keep it going.
And for this reason, according to Robert Hotchkins, “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”
Is that how you would describe being a follower of Christ? Do you see faith as fun? Or is it a chore? Or a burden you have to carry?
The way I see it, our God doesn’t want our worship to be too holy to be happy in. Or too solemn to be celebrated. God wants us to embrace life and enjoy the fullness and abundance of it.
A great way for us to honor and worship our God is to be a community that celebrates one another - with laughter, food, and drink. I can’t think of a better way to launch Anamesa then by following Jesus’ lead by perform the miracles that keep God’s party going.
Given the grim times we are facing, this might seem like a tall order. You might be asking yourself, “What can I do? I’m no miracle worker.”
For years my brother-in-law criticized my choice to leave the riches of advertising for the poverty of ministry. The last time he said something to me, I told him, “You know, Brendan, I can turn water into wine.”
At the time it was a snarky comment said just to mess with him. But now I have come to realize there is some truth to that statement. Because of Jesus, I possess the power to turn something as basic as water into something miraculous. And so do you.
You may have noticed there’s an invitation in this passage. Mary, sensitive to the needs of the gathering, invites Jesus to intercede. And he does. There are dire needs in our world right now.
The sickness of poverty, injustice, and inequality have done more damage to the human spirit than Covid or cancer combined. Jesus is inviting us to intercede. Jesus is calling us to be the miracle that brings abundance and life to the party. This is something we can all do, together. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to show up.
Think about those in the story who showed up. The one’s who helped Jesus at the wedding didn’t do it because they had faith. That came later. They didn’t do it to win favor in God’s eyes or to impress their boss. They just showed up and did what was asked of them.
Jesus told them to “Fill the jars with water.” And they do it.
Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” And they do it.
Just as Jesus was obedient to his mother, these servants were obedient to Jesus. As a result, they became a part of his miracle. You see, the key to following Jesus is simply doing the will of God like he did. Whenever we do what Jesus asks of us, miracles happen.
So what is Jesus asking you to do? The answer is pretty clear and straightforward. He said love, share, give, serve, listen, pray. This is how we are to celebrate God’s kingdom here on earth.
It’s here, in this space between us and them, Jesus tells us to make love our priority. In the space between you and me, Jesus tells us to be so generous that no child, or neighbor or family is without. It’s in that space between heaven and earth, Jesus tells us to welcome all people no matter who they are; forgive all people no matter what they’ve done; and care for all people, just as has God has done all these things for you and me.
Show up and do what Jesus asks of you. This is how you become the miracle that reveals God’s incarnate glory to the world.
This is how we, the body of Christ, celebrate the goodness of God’s heavenly feast, today.
When we do what Jesus asks of us, water becomes the finest wine. The mundane becomes miraculous. The everyday becomes extraordinary. And the party continues, now until the end of time.
If that’s not a reason to celebrate, well…then I don’t know what is.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Cox, Jason. Come and Dine. episcopalchurch.org on January 17, 2016 (accessed on January 12, 2022).
Richter, Amy. The First Sign. episcopalchurch.org on January 20, 2019 (accessed on January 12, 2022).
While looking for The Divine in the spaces of the world, here’s a great story from Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote:
“Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated with one another, with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.
But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom."Folks," he said, "I know you have had a rough day and you are frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here is what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight, just leave them with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I will open the window and throw your troubles in the water."
It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who had been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?
Oh, he was serious.
At the next stop, just as promised, the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.
We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it is extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.
But what if you are the light? What if you are the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?. That’s what this bus driver taught me, that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy influencer. He was a bus driver, one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.
When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name.
No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated, one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river."~~
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Be it marriage or basketball teams or professional associations, human beings have an innate need to belong. We are constantly looking for places where we fit in and can share relationships with other likeminded people.
When I was a teenager, I was part of a surfing community and a music scene. After college it was advertising groups and religious communities I identified with.
The world is full of different social groups, civic organizations, political affiliations, even street gangs who will welcome us with open arms. Such groups offer us a place where we can let other people know who we are.
They help us cultivate relationships where we can learn new things to help us evolve as better human beings. As good as it can be, there are also some downsides.
Rejection from such groups can impact the way a person defines their self-worth. The fear of not being welcomed or belonging to a part of something can drive a person to compromise one’s values and virtues just so he or she can fit in.
As such, our need to belong leads us to question who we are and what we’re worth in the world. And it often causes us to look for answers in all the wrong places.
But here's the way I see it. It’s not your religious beliefs, political ideologies, career choice, or financial status that define you or give you value as a human being. It’s what God has done for you that makes you worthy.
God’s people have found themselves in place where they don’t belong. Exiled to a foreign country, they have lost their home, their identity, and all the things that they thought gave them self-worth.
More heartbreaking than that, they fear they’ve lost God’s providence, as if God has abandoned or forgotten them. Yet through the prophet Isaiah, God gives these people words of hope and promise.
Words that let them know just who they are, and to whom they belong.
(Read Isaiah 43 here)
Now, God’s people have been dragged off to Babylon, which according to the previous chapter in Isaiah, is based largely on their arrogance and disobedience. They sit there fearing extinction, afraid of what is to come.
They are bloodied, bruised, beaten and beleaguered. Their only possessions are guilt, shame, and the fears they brought with them. They have lost sight of their faith and the promises that it was built upon. Yet to them God declares, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
These are not just words of comfort and assurance to God’s people. They are also words of welcome and belonging given to us all.
This should be good news to anyone who has ever felt abandoned by God because of something you did or didn’t do. Maybe you’re sitting there right now believing you’re not good enough for God’s mercy. Or worthy enough to be in God’s good graces. If you have ever felt this way, then look carefully at what God is saying to you in these words.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
It shouldn’t be a shock to hear me say the world is a dark and troubled place, and that we often find ourselves easily distracted or pulled away from what we are called to do. But scripture gives us the assurance that no matter how far we stray, we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love. God takes away our fear, our worries, guilt, and shame, by redeeming us back to where we belong...in God’s heart.
According to ancient Hebrew, to redeem is to be in a relationship with someone. God redeems these exiled people because of a covenant that was made with their ancestors. Since covenants cannot be broken, God remains in a relationship with the exiles, no matter what.
The Bible tells us that in Christ, God has made a covenant with the rest of us – drawing us into the same loving relationship. Because of what God has done, we belong to God. We are God’s people, God’s family, God’s community. And because of what Christ has done for us, we too are called home to reclaim our true worth.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
May these words penetrate your heart and understanding. God wants to be in a relationship with you. God knows who you are, and what you’ve done. And still names you and claims you…precious, honored, and loved.
Some of you might be old enough to remember the TV show Cheers, a sitcom about an intimate community inside a Boston bar. It was a place, like the theme song pointed out, “where everybody knows your name.” Whenever this one particular character would come in, the entire bar would shout his name, “Norm!”
There’s something good and sacred about belonging to a place where people know you and call you by name. As Janelle Hiroshige notes, “Knowing someone’s name implies a relationship. It opens the door for acts of care and kindness. When you hear that someone is in trouble, and you know their name, you might be inclined to act.”
I find great comfort in knowing God cares enough to know me. It tells me that I am worthy of being loved. And it empowers me to face my fears knowing all of Heaven will act on my behalf.
Because God has claimed me and named me, I have a constant sense of hope in my heart, knowing wherever I go, or whatever challenge I face, God is there with me, leading me through water and fire that try to overwhelm me in the space between.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
As we enter another year - with COVID present - it’s easy to feel defeated and to doubt God’s presence. You might be experiencing a sense of abandonment from God as you are exiled in your own home, afraid to go outside or to be around others.
Just as God spoke those words then, God also speaks to us today. Yet we cannot forget or overlook the truth that God doesn’t promise the people that they will avoid hardship or difficult times. But God does promise to be present always.
This tells me that no matter what you’re dealing with God’s words remain true. Whenever you face a difficult challenge in life remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. I have redeemed you.”
When political and social unrest overwhelms our country remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. I have called you by name.”
When diseases like COVID, poverty and injustice plague our communities, remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. You are mine.”
We are God’s children. We do not belong to this world. We belong to the one who formed and made everything in it…including you and me. Our sense of belonging comes not from the acceptance of our peers or our social status in our communities. It comes from the One who names us and claims us and never lets us go.
What makes us worthy is not our gender, skin color, education, or nationality. Our worth is based solely on God’s gracious love for each one of us. In the same way, God doesn’t care about who you marry, or what you’ve achieved, any more than how much money you make or the size of our congregations. God only cares to be in a relationship with you and me.
This truth was made evident when God came to be with us, in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ – our Emmanuel, God-with-us. In Christ God has redeemed us; named us and claimed us. All of us. Through Christ, God has gathered us from the north and south, east and west – transcending our differences and transforming our biases with divine love.
We are called to walk with Christ, as a visible presence of that love; welcoming all and giving everyone a place to belong.
As the church, the sacred body of Christ, we must resist exclusion and division because of skin color, sexual orientation, or political or theological differences. We are all God’s children. Each and every one of us has been named Precious. Honored. Loved.
The God who names us and claims us, is the God who blesses us and sends us out into Anamesa, where there are still lost and broken people searching and crying out in need.
We belong to God’s family, and as such we are called to care for one another as if we are caring for God.
Therefore, let us go out into the world as bearers of God’s light and love; sowing seeds of peace where there is division. Bringing hope where there is only hopelessness. And causing joy to spring forth wherever sadness is found.
Let us go into that sacred space between faith and doubt, living into our name as God’s beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to Christ himself – so that everyone we meet can know their worth in God’s eyes.
And find their place of belonging...at home in God’s heart.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Hiroshige, Janelle. By Name. episcopalchurch.org, January 3, 2022 (accessed on January 7, 2022).
If I had to sum up who or what God is in one word, that would be simple. God is love. If I had only one word to explain who Jesus is, what his life means or what his message is all about, that too would be easy. Jesus is love. Defining my faith should be no different. Love.
So why then do so many followers of Jesus or worshipers of this God struggle to love? Especially one another?
As we enter the new year, we do so knowing that today is a gift given to each and every one of us. And the only real thing we are called to do, be it worship or work, is to love. That is the single thread that weaves us all together. Love binds us to God. Love joins us to Jesus. Love is how life is defined.
If you dare to love, you dare to reject and refuse anything that is not grounded in love. If you dare to believe that God loves you (no matter what) and from love God has made you and claimed you as one of God's own, then you can dare to believe that you are born as one of God's beloved. Just like Jesus. Just like me. Because you are a beloved child of God, your life is meaningful. It has purpose. And that purpose is to give love meaning.
We are born into this physical space to define love. We have been given only a short to do so. For some it's just a day, or twenty or forty or eighty years. The length of time doesn’t matter. A baby who is born and dies in his mothers arms, expresses love in both the joy of his life and the pain in his death. Today, we will live while others will die. How then will you live? How then will you die?
We are the beloved children of God, made from love for love. Our job is to define that truth by loving one another so to help our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and enemies, our friends and co-workers that they too belong in this belovedness.
When we love, we do not fight, or kill, or harm one another - we aid, heal, and support each other. When we love, we are able to reconcile our differences, to break down the walls that divide us, to better understand the differences between us are things that help us grow closer together, to love better, and to care more deeply.
"Before all distinctions, the separations, and the walls built on foundations of fear, there was a unity in the mind and heart of God.Out of that unity, you are sent into this world for a little while to claim that you and every other human being belongs to the same God of Love who lives from eternity to eternity."
God's love is the great unifier. Jesus' love invites us to unite, to live together in love, in the space of time we are given. We are only here for a little while, so how we define our love will really be the only thing we can leave behind when we are gone. Love wildly, freely, passionately, intensely, and very generously until there is no room left in this world for anything else.
"Remember you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours."
You were born for this.
Nouwen, Henri. You Are The Beloved. (Convergent: 2017)
I couldn’t say it any better. So here’s a thought provoking message from the past. Written some years ago by a great mind who left this world long before we could even fathom the space we’re in today.
But as we welcome this new year, let us remember it’s really a new beginning. Like every day, it’s a gift given to us to grow and move forward in this space between life and death.
A name like no other. God-with-you. God in your midst. God in the space between you and me. God in the space between here and there. God in the space between past and present. Today, I invite you to welcome God in to the space of this New Year. Enter that space knowing it was a gift given to you. Today is a gift. Tomorrow will be one too, just like yesterday was. There is nothing you can do to claim this space as your own. Because God is there with you.
Now, let’s enter that space and make it holy by living into something new!
...holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony...
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, a holy act that inaugurates a movement on the part of God to make new the very nature of faithful human beings. With that newness comes a new set of clothes so to speak.
In this passage Paul presents a vivid portrait of what it looks like to live as someone clothed entirely in Christ. It’s a picture both of us as individuals, as well as what it means to be a part of a community where Christ is all and in all.
Many of us unwrapped some new clothes yesterday.New pants and shirts, and perhaps some new styles to try. I got a couple of gifts like that - including this sweater. This is not my typical style I would choose for myself, but I love it. It’s warm, comfortable, and I think it looks good on me. But if I wore this around the neighborhood, would anyone even notice it was a new look for me?
A material change doesn’t really leave a lasting impression. But Paul isn’t telling us to put on a new sweater or slacks. Instead he’s reminding us to make an inward change, to put on Christ’s heart and wear his love out in the world. Paul uses this metaphor of wearing new clothes as marking our new life in Christ.One that sets out a way of life that avoids vices and upholds virtues.
I don’t have a clue what kind of sweaters Jesus got as gifts, but the Bible gives us plenty of views into his inward appearance that certainly got people’s attention. Looking at this list of virtues, it's impossible not to see Jesus as the one modeling them. But he isn’t just walking the runway for us to admire this new style. He’s out there, wearing his best, so we will mimic and mirror him. Jesus wears God’s righteousness to set an example on how we, his followers, should follow him.
Think about all the stories where Jesus hears the cries of the people and has compassion on them. He meets them in their pain and suffering, healing the sick and lame, and casting out the demons. He feeds the hungry, gives sight to the blind, and even raises the dead. If we want to live into Christ, to wear his heart, then we must make his way of compassion our way.
Just as Jesus showed kindness to everyone – especially to the ones who were being unjustly treated – so too must we be kind. The same is true about wearing his humility and patience, because once we get to know Jesus, our old ways no longer fit anymore. If we are going to be Christ followers, then we must not only walk in his footsteps but we must do so by wearing his sandals and carrying his staff.
watch the message here, just be kind and know there are some technical glitches.
Paul instructed the new church in Colossi to be intentionally focused on living virtuously, to set one’s mind on the way of Christ and not the way of the world.
When I see this list, I can’t help but wonder “am I capable of living up to these virtuous characteristics?” Where would I even begin?
As I thought about this question, that old cliché “What Would Jesus Do?” kept popping up in my head. It might not be fashionable anymore to wear those WWJD bracelets, but the message is still relevant for us today just as it was when Paul wrote this letter. It’s like he’s saying “Just look at what Jesus has done for you, and go and do that for others.”
Because Jesus has shown you compassion, you ought to be compassionate. If Jesus has forgiven you for what you have done (or left undone) then go and be liberal with your forgiveness. Go and be the blessing that Jesus is to you.
Just as he bears our burdens, we must also bear the burdens of those who are struggling. If someone you know is in need, do what Jesus did and help them. Don’t leave a person hanging or stranded because God through Christ has not left you stranded.
There’s a common practice in Alaska where you pick up a hitchhiker when you see one. No matter what. As dangerous as that might be, in a vast wilderness like Alaska, it’s possible you might be the only person who drives past them. The locals there do this because they know that there could come a day when they are that person who needs help.
If you ask me, this is what Jesus meant when he said love God and love your neighbor. For you never know when you might need a helping hand or forgiveness. Some call this Karma. But I call it being Christ like.
We might not be the best dressed, so to speak, but when we live in imitation of Christ, when we wear his clothes out into the world…we too become a part of God’s blessing to others like he was.
This works in every aspect of life. Do you want to live in a peaceful world? Then go and be the peace of Christ in the world. If you want a harmonious relationship with your co-workers then be the one who initiates harmony. Like Gandhi taught, go and be the change you want to see happen in your life, and in your community.
Imagine if we all loved like Christ loved us. No one would go to bed hungry. Children could live and go to school free from the fear of getting bullied or shot by a classmate. Or think about this - if every follower of Jesus Christ actually did what he did COVID could be eliminated because people would put the health and safety of the community above their own personal complaints.
Refusing to get vaccinated because of some political posture is the antithesis of clothing yourself in Christ like love. Right dress is not a matter of individual piety or political preference. It’s a matter of how we relate to one another in Christ. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are all relational virtues that mark how we think and behave toward one another in the community.
The Church is called the Body of Christ for a reason. We are a part of him. His heart is our heart. His hands are our hands. As his body we are the visible presence of his glory here in Ananmesa. Together, in this sacred space, we bear the responsibility to wear his love like we wear our own skin.
Perhaps this is what it means to have his word dwell in us. To have the love of Christ be who we are on the inside and out, so that we can live in perfect harmony with ourselves and one another.
Jesus calls us out into that space between us and them, and to fill it with God’s glory. Thus Paul writes, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Do everything in the name of Jesus. More than mere instructions, Paul is inviting us to take inventory of the things we do on a daily basis and then ask ourselves, would this be a blessing on someone’s life? If you don’t know how to answer that, then look to Jesus, who by living out God’s righteousness, sets the example for us to mirror.
When we chose the name Anamesa, we did so because it reminds us that God comes to meet us in all those spaces that are in between us. We want to build a community space of faith that knows in its heart that God is with us and among us. And knowing that God is among us, we set our intentions to act accordingly.
We want to be a community that believes when we show compassion to someone, we are showing it to Christ. When we are kind to someone, we are being kind to Christ. When we are able to be humble, meek, and patient, bearing one another’s burdens, we are doing also to him. Just as God has blessed the world through Christ Jesus, so too has God blessed us so that we, like Jesus, would become a blessing upon the world.
Therefore, go out into the world and “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful.”
Let your heart sing and rejoice, knowing all that you do, you do in Christ name, bringing glory to God whose one size fits all kind of love wears well on anyone who chooses to put it on.
The first comes from Luke 2:1-7.
If you grew up in the church, then this story is a familiar one. It is our claim to fame. The infamous birth story of Jesus that marks the end of our Advent wait.
The story continues out in the fields with a heavenly announcement made to some lowly shepherds – an angelic proclamation of God’s promise has finally been fulfilled! The Messiah has come, bringing good news to the poor and weak. God has heard the cries and has sent a savior. A new king has been born. One who will reign with justice and bring peace on earth.
Of course, if you read the rest of Luke’s gospel, you’ll see that not everyone sees this as good news. Unlikely political and religious alliances will be formed to stop this child from living into his destiny. There’s more to the Christmas story than just a baby sleeping in a manger. Wrapped inside that swaddling cloth is an enigma sent to disrupt the world as we know it. For that, Mary’s child will die.
Our second reading comes from Luke 23:44-49; 24:1-5
Jesus’ death was a shock to his followers. A massive disruption to their cause to say the least. We are lucky enough to know Christ’s death is not the end of the story. But they don’t know that God is still at work. They don’t realize that Christmas and Easter are one in the same groundbreaking and earth-shattering action of God who has come to us, to redeem and restore us. Two events, yet one gift.
Like life and death, you can’t accept one without facing the reality of the other. I know, this isn’t the usual nativity story we are used to hearing this time of year. The kind we interrupt with carols and children dressed up like animals forgetting their lines. But under the glitter and sparkly productions, it’s easy to forget that Christmas makes Easter possible.
We gather together, in this space of Anamesa, not just to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Or to recall his death. We gather to remember his resurrection. The culmination of God’s great gift given to the world.
As a father, I like to wonder what God was feeling seeing this helpless and vulnerable newborn baby? Did God cry, like I did when I met my three kids for the first time? When my first child was born, I really lost it. Not because I was scared or nervous, I was. I stood there weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, because for the first time in my life I really felt, and truly understood, unconditional love. So I can imagine God shed some wonderful tears of joy meeting this baby. In fact, I like to think God cries tears of joy when each one of us is born.
But as I stood there in that hospital room, life all of a sudden got very real. Given the fact we didn’t know the gender of our baby until she was born, the immense joy I was feeling all of a sudden was disrupted by the realization that she’s going to date! Then this fear that something bad could happen to this precious life overwhelmed me. When they finally handed me the baby, I held onto her and never wanted to let her go.
Again, I imagine God, who knows what the world is capable of, embraces us with a love that is so fierce and intense that it’s impossible to let us go. It’s safe to assume that God’s tears of joy are also mingled tears of sorrow – knowing what this small and fragile child will eventually endure to be the gift he was called to be. A gift that is greater than life itself.
In order for the world to be reclaimed and redeem and restored, this child must die. Christmas makes Easter not only possible, but also inevitable.
While the first Christmas present was placed in a manger, our Easter present was placed in a grave. Only when we go to open that gift, we don’t find socks and sweaters. We don’t even find a baby or a body of any kind. Instead, we only find an empty tomb.
That is the real gift of Christ, who emptied himself on the cross as a wonderful act of unconditional love making it possible for us to be redeemed, restored and renewed in our full fellowship with God. So, you see, the whole story of the Incarnation is not so much that God came to be with us, but that in Christ, we can be with God – always and forever. Just as Christmas makes Easter inevitable. Easter makes Christmas meaningful. Two separate presents, but one gift.
The gift is Christ, who calls us to walk with him into the sacred and holy space between the crib and the cross. When we walk with Christ, we are walking with God. When we walk with God there will always be peace around us, joy within us, and love and hope illuminating the way. Thanks to Christ, the darkness of the world is overpowered.
Thus, we light the Christ candle last, to reminds us of the true light that God brought into this world. A light to guide our way out of the shadows of evil that are all around us. A light to illuminate through us to help others navigate their way back to God’s steadfast and unconditional love. The closer we walk with Jesus in this light, the more we become like him.
While this gives us reason to celebrate tonight, it is not good news to everyone. The more we mirror Christ and reflect his light, the more of a threat we become to the world, whose only weapon is death. Christmas is our reminder that in the incarnate Christ, God interrupts the world. And God continues to move and disrupt through the Easter resurrection so that death is no longer a threat. It has lost its sting.
Just as God moves … so shall we…together in the space between. And so I send you out into the world tonight, illuminating the way of Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, the light of the world, given to us. God’s greatest disruption. God’s greatest gift.
The One we can open every day and still be surprised by what we find. Everything. And nothing. Two presents but one great gift.
There used to be a time when waiting was fun because it caused something in us to grow with excitement with each given day. But somewhere along the way that sense of anticipation was replaced with the thrill of instant gratification.
We don’t like to wait anymore. Businesses like Amazon and Netflix and DoorDash make a lot of money to give us what we want when we want it. If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s forced us to slow down and wait. We wait for our test results. Wait for vaccines or boosters. Wait for orders that are waiting for the supply chain to get back up and running. In a lot of ways, COVID has helped me take the time to appreciate what I have, and what I’m waiting for.
As we enter our fourth and final week of Advent, our time of waiting for the Christ child is coming to a close. We’ve marked our time by lighting a different candle each week to remind us of what we are waiting for – the light of hope, love, and joy. Today, we light the candle of peace to remind us of God’s peace that comes to us in the Christ child.
Bathed in the glowing light of Advent, may we always remember the words of Eugene Peterson who wrote, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. The longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”
A perfect segue to our reading for today from Luke 1:39-55.
I remember the day I learned that I was going to be a father. To be honest, that’s all I really remember. It was in the day. You'll have to ask Kathleen to fill in the rest of the details. However, I can remember the pregnancy. Ten long, painful months of nausea, aches and pains, emotional instability, and constant irritability! And that was just me! Again, you have to ask Kathleen what she went through.
While I have plenty of experience in sympathetic pregnancy, I still don’t have a clue about what women go through to bring a life into the world. Having witnessed it three times now, I can say, with great confidence, that peace doesn’t aptly describe the process.
There’s no peace when you’re nauseous every morning. Or when your body is constantly shifting and reshaping. There’s no peace when you can’t sleep because your body temperature is running amuck, and your hormones are out of whack. And there’s nothing peaceful about having a little human inside you kicking with the power of a professional MMA fighter.
Pregnancy brings hope, and love and joy into your life. But peace? Well, that’s debatable.
So why then do we get a very pregnant Mary on the Sunday we light the peace candle? It’s hard for me to imagine she’s feeling free from worry or enjoying a relaxed and tranquil state of mind. Her pregnancy was controversial to say the least.
To this day, people struggle to make sense of this mystery. A virgin birth seems just as likely as the Stork in “Dumbo” who struggles to deliver a baby elephant to his mother …on a moving train, …in the rain, …while drunk.
Advent gives us time to wait. A time for us to look beyond the science and mystery of the Incarnation…and to tune our ear to a song that sings of God’s perfect shalom that grows and swells inside this insignificant and favored child.
Before we speak of Mary, let’s take a quick look at the Hebrew word Shalom, which is often translated as peace. This is no ordinary, run of the mill feeling, or a wish for happiness. It’s the kind of peace that the Apostle Paul perfectly penned as one that "surpasses all understanding."
The simplest way to describe shalom is as “possessing complete wholeness in every part of your being.” It’s like a state of fullness and perfection that causes you to overflow with joy from the inside out. Biblically speaking this joy that shalom brings comes from reconciling with God - from making peace with God’s unconditional love. And that’s where Jesus comes in. He is our hope for this kind of salvation.
When we wait for the Christ child, we are waiting for the one who brings us back to God to be made well and complete – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and of course spiritually. Through Christ we have complete shalom. When we place our heart in his, we can enter Anamesa, that the space between,
with the wholeness of God’s perfect peace overflowing upon the world.
We all need God’s perfect peace, including a very pregnant Mary. She is a poor underage girl, who is unintentionally pregnant. On top of that she lives in a time of great poverty, in a land that has been occupied by foreign invaders. As as child, and especially as a female, she had no rights. No say so over her body. Or even who she would wed.
It’s safe to say, all was not right in her world. Now she is going to have a baby. How blessed is she?
Yet, despite all her circumstances, God found favor in her; choosing her to become Theotokos, or “God bearer.”
But she was not the only whom God favored in this Advent story. Luke gives us two women. Two cousins in fact. One is too young to have babies, and the other too old. And in both...no man was necessary for this to happen. Here are two people who by all accounts were counted worthless by society and yet have their wombs honored and blessed by God’s presence. It shouldn't surprise us the scripture breaks into song.
Their sons will usher in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that the prophets all predicted would be one of peace not war. And not just the kind of peace that favors one person or one country over another. But God’s perfect shalom. Protruding from her belly is the good news, the glad tidings of joy. God is coming. Peace will be restored and reign forever more. And Mary can’t help but rejoice!
Mary sings not just because there’s new life in her. She sings because God is giving new life to the world. She sings because she has been redeemed and made right with God. Her song is the song of Christ, the royal savior the prophets promised; the one who hears our cries, bears our infirmities and brings everlasting life.
In singing of God’s mercy and strength, Mary’s song becomes the anthem of hope for the poor and downtrodden. It is a ballad of God’s love made manifest for those whose hearts are broken or scared by abuse and anger.
Mary’s song is the song of Christ. A song of victory. A song of revolution. A song of radical inclusion and grace-filled forgiveness. It is a song of praise and worship that exalts the reign of God for every ear to hear and every mouth to sing.
Her song is our song too. Just as God did with Mary, God does through us. We all possess the seed of the Holy Spirit in us, because we are all called to carry God’s love into the world.
You see, the incarnation wasn’t a one time event. While Christmas comes once a year, Christ comes every day.
Through us, God’s ultimate and perfected love burst into the world in the many the ways we love and care for one another. Especially those who are unable to love and care for themselves. In us, God triumphantly breaks through the birth canal, takes his first breath and begins to turn the world upside down until there is no more war, poverty, or sin.
Like the prayer of St. Francis who sang, “Lord, make a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.” God is calling us to give birth to Christ here in Anamesa, in that space between life and death. Discovering the greater mystery of Christ in himself and others, Francis realized that what began in Mary, continued to grow through him just as it continues through you and me.
Mary’s blessing from God is our blessing too. Her call is our call. Her baby is our baby. Her song, is our song. But who among us will join in this holy choir?
Who among us will answer the call to be God’s mother?
Who will carry the peace of Christ, God’s perfect shalom, in their womb?
Will it be you?
As we enter the space between today and tomorrow, God is moving and growing and wiggling and kicking within us. No more can a belly contain a baby forever, neither can we hold back Christ’s redemptive joy that is growing in us. God’s shalom is meant to be shared. How blessed are we to have been favored by God to be bearers of this good news?
As you leave here today, may you do so carrying the light of hope, love, joy and peace with you into Anamesa. In every space you go, may Christ spring from your belly, like a song sung from your hearts. Meister Eckhart taught us, “We are all called to be God's mother, because God needs to be born every day.”
Just as God did the impossible in the wombs of these two unlikely women, so too is God able to make complete and total peace possible through us.
With the light of Christ shining through us, fear and darkness leave us; our hope and love collide with joy; and peace fills the Earth.
As we move closer and closer towards the Christmas birth, let us gather together - singing and dancing - like a teenager whom God has honored and blessed.
or the King is here! “O Come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!" Amen, Amen
I’ll admit the last two years have made it hard to find that feeling. I’m sure a lot of us can identify with Charlie Brown, especially around this time of year. Despite Christmas being a joyful time around the world, it also causes a lot of people to feel more joyless than ever. The best they can do is hide away and avoid others until the holidays are over.
When Charlie Brown can’t shake that despondent feeling, his friend Lucy suggests that he directs the neighborhood Christmas play in the hope to get him into the spirit. Things only go south from there. No one listens to Charlie or follows his direction. And when he buys a scrappy, tiny Christmas tree for the centerpiece of the play, everyone, including his beloved dog Snoopy, ridicule and laugh at him for his choice.
Just as poor Charlie hits rock bottom, the spotlight finds Linus again who gives a wonderful speech about the true meaning of Christmas. What I love about this scene is that Linus quotes the gospel of Luke. It is the hearing of the word of God that inspires the children to decorate the tree as a Christmas gift to Charlie Brown, which of course allows our hopeless hero to find his joy again.
The closer we get to Christmas, the easier it is to feel like Charlie Brown. The little joy we can muster is often overshadowed by the stress and pressure to be happy. Or worse, everything is going well in your life and then something unexpected happens that robs you of your joy. We have been given God’s Word to help us through such challenging times.
Read: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything.” It’s painfully obvious Paul that never had to scramble to find last minute gifts. Or begged God to reorder the postal service so they arrive on time! You don’t have to be skeptic to think Paul is hopelessly naïve or overly optimistic. Who in their right mind can rejoice all the time? Especially given the times we are in today?
As far as we know, Paul never suffered through a global pandemic, or was ever evicted from his home, or lost a child to a fentanyl overdose. But we do know that this particular letter was written from a jail cell, where Paul had no idea if he was going to live or die.
Despite his circumstances, Paul still found a way to ‘rejoice.’ He could do this because he knew what God could do and what God is always doing – bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, and yes, joy to the joyless. That’s what these Advent candles are here to remind us of as we wait for the One whom God sends to set it all in motion.
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I have a friend who has battled with depression most of her life. Yet in her darkest moments, she somehow always found a way to rejoice. She told me, “We all have a choice to feel joy or not. God is our guide, not fate or some circumstance.”
Paul gave up all that he had to follow Christ because he knew that in Christ, God has given the world hope. Through Christ, God has given the world eternal love. Therefore, Paul can rejoice with Christ because God is reordering the human heart from the inside out. As my friend pointed out, “Paul does not say he is happy.” I think many of us get confused believing that because we follow Jesus we are to be happy at all times.
In our overly materialistic world, joy and rejoicing are often synonymous with happiness and celebration – which probably explains why so many of us get anxious this time of year. But here’s the thing. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Like my friend reminded me, “Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As long as we have God’s Spirit in us, we always have joy. But it doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy.”
The world wants us to believe that our pursuit of happiness will lead to joy. Coca-Cola has spent billions to make their product synonymous with happiness. After all, “Have a coke and smile” used to be their tagline. But here’s the thing. Happiness is conditional. As long as I have a coke I’m happy. But that feeling goes away once the bottle is empty.
Pursuing happiness often proves to be a fruitless endeavor; Drugs, work, exercise, material wealth, and even religion…merely offer temporary happiness at best. Only God can offer endless, eternal joy. Like hope and love, God’s joy is not conditional. It’s a gift given freely to anyone who wants it.
While accepting this gift doesn’t stop the depression in my friend, it does allow her to find reasons to rejoice. Like Paul, she knows what God is capable of doing, because she has seen what God has done through the Christ child. In Christ and through Christ and with Christ, the Spirit of God gives her hope, love and joy.
The same is true for us today.
When Christ is in us, we too will always have a reason to rejoice. For our joy is not based on ‘if’ God loves us...but ‘because’ God loves us. And Jesus Christ is the proof of how far God is willing to go to do this. When we welcome Christ into our hearts, we ignite God’s promise hope and steadfast love within us – illuminating a deep sense of joy that can never be stolen or taken away.
Which takes us to another one of my favorite Christmas movies from my childhood.
Based on the story by Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, is about a tiny-hearted curmudgeon who lives in a cave above the land of Whoville. From his craggy hole, the Grinch looks down on the cheery Whos with disgust. This sentiment only gets worse during the Christmas season. Fed up with their merriment, the Grinch decides to dress up like Santa Claus and steal their Christmas joy.
Yet, after his mission is complete, the Grinch is surprised to see that robbing The Whos of all their material goods didn’t change a thing. The people still had joy in their hearts. They still had hope and love that kept them rejoicing because nothing of real value was taken away.
In witnessing their joy, the Grinch has a literal change of heart. Not only is it transformed but it triples in size! He discovers, joy is not found in material things. Instead, it comes from within a heart that God has reordered from the inside out.
Henri Nouwen writes, “I realize that the only way for us to stay well in the midst of the mini world is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being.”
We often forget that the Christ child has already come. It is already here, within us all. Like The Whos realize, that Christ light in us can never be taken away or snuffed out. Once we discover the joy of Christ within us, we can’t help but truly rejoice in the Lord always.
And so here’s what I want you to leave with today - especially if you are feeling like Charlie Brown or the Grinch. To all of us who are struggling to find joy in your life right now, listen carefully to these words that were part of a friend’s Facebook post this week.
He wrote, “While you and I search our hearts for some joyous feeling despite illness and death all around us, the Savior's birth offers tangible evidence that sorrow and sadness will not have the final word! As sure as Christ was born, God will lead His people to eternal joy.”
This is not a quote from a classic movie, but it is part of a timeless story. A story of God Incarnate who breaks through the darkness to shine light who comes into our harden hearts to us to redeem us and restore us, and who bring us home rejoicing.
The reason we can rejoice when life gets us down happens because God never lets us down. Instead God lifts us up and empowers us to move into that space between today and tomorrow - to fearlessly share our hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, and joy to the joyless. Let us go into Anamesa so that the world can see the Christ child in us and through us. And together with Christ may they join us and rejoice.
Based on an original sermon Joy: Whenever We Need It (December 16, 2018)
Bliss, Don - Facebook post on Thursday, December 9, 2021
Nouwen, Henri J. M. You are the Beloved. (Convergent, 2017).
God’s steadfast love does not change. It is today for us what it has always been throughout all of time. God did not come to be with us to condemn us or cause us to perish. In Christ, God came to be with us, to love us where we are.
“How shall we return to be with our Lord” then? A good place to start might be by letting go of those things you believe are keeping you away from being loved by God. Every day is a good time to take inventory of what you need and don’t need to be in a right relationship with our Lord. What then are you holding on to? Where in your life is your back turned towards rather than away from God?
Advent is a time of active waiting, a time to be with our Lord. As we move through the various spaces and places of Anamesa, we work together to uphold the love of God in all that we do. When our hands are full of God’s love, we don’t have the room to carry those burdens.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”