December 31, 2017
First Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Canon Donna Joy
The Isaiah passage this morning offers a positive message in the midst of devastating circumstances. The language and images used in this passage can be helpful as we search for hope in the midst of this current time and discover our role within that message of hope.
The exiles have returned to a homeland that is fraught with devastating challenges and in the midst of all this the prophet announces God’s promise of deliverance from these terrible circumstances, as he says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God…” Why will the prophet and the people of Israel rejoice? They will rejoice because a time will come when things will be set right. As I mentioned on Christmas Eve, this message brings to mind Julian of Norwich’s hopeful message, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” As Christians, in the midst of the very real and troubling global, local, and personal challenges, we may also rejoice because this promise has been fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, and we live toward the additional promise that he will come again. We rejoice at Christmas not primarily because of gifts or family or friends… the majority of the world’s population do not have gifts, or family, or friends. We rejoice at Christmas because we, “greatly rejoice in the Lord” who has come on earth as a human being to reveal to us God’s grace and truth.
Our gospel reading this morning is a profound affirmation of the joy that comes with this birth. Two people of deep faith seem to know and trust that Israel has finally received the gift of this birth, and somehow, with this birth all shall be well… Simeon even goes so far as to say that with this fulfillment of God’s promise he can die a fulfilled and satisfied man. The political environment would continue to be deeply distressing, but somehow, with this birth, all shall be well.
We rejoice in a God who is One who both encompasses the entire universe, AND at the same time has become linked to us in our humanity – our frailty – our weakness. Yes, indeed, we live in troubling times and nothing should ever be said to minimize this reality. And yet, we also may rejoice because of the promise that all will be well, all in the fullness of time.
The prophet goes on to say that God has, “…clothed me with the garments of salvation.” Clothing, the way a person dresses, can say a lot about that person. Some people like to wear brand names which tell the world that they support a particular designer… or the Winnipeg Jets… or the Winnipeg Blue Bombers… You get my point. I saw someone the other day wearing a t-shirt which said, “So many books. So little time.” This tells me that the person wearing the shirt loves to read. One t shirt I have seen advertised, do not own, but might wish to, says, “Never underestimate an old woman with a theology degree.” But I digress.
This Christmas season we celebrate a God who has become clothed in the flesh of Jesus. I say, “Top that one, Calvin Klein!” In this passage from Isaiah, God’s people are decked in the festive garments of a wedding, which speak of celebration and new life. It brings to mind the baptismal gown, which speaks of how we are not only filled with the new life of Christ and initiated into his family through the Sacrament of Baptism, but also how we are called to be clothed in Christ by how we live. We have received the gift of God’s own Son, and are called to respond to that gift by carrying on the torch. With this birth a light has come into the world, and that light continues to shine into the world through each of us. As disciples of Jesus, our goal is to make Him visible to each other and the world in which we live. How we wear Jesus through the quality of our lives – ideally – will be more visible than the clothes we choose to wear.
So it is with this in mind that I share something from Jim Wallis that I came across this past week. Jim Wallis is the editor of Sojourner’s Magazine, and author of such books as God’s Politics. His book ‘Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street’ is one that we studied here at St. Peter’s a few years ago. Jim Wallis has also served as spiritual advisor to Barack Obama.
What I came across this past week was an article which offers a reflection on the shocks, dangers, worries, anger, and vulnerability so many people this past year have suffered in the U.S., the country in which he lives. And here he suggests that because of all this, 2018 looks uncertain, and things could get worse before getting better, which is an indication that some New Year’s resolutions are in order. Despite the fact that our liturgical New Year has already past, I think we still often tend to review things in a particular way with the dawning of a new calendar year as well. And, despite the fact that we live across the border, north of Jim Wallis’ home country, it goes without saying that we too live with the reality of political, economic, ecological, personal crises, and we need to be intentional about how we choose to clothe ourselves with Christ as we – in our own particular ways – carry the light of Christ into those darkened places.
So, I share with you this list of resolutions which have the potential to assist us in wearing the garment of Christ. Although I have followed Jim Wallis’ list quite closely, I have made certain adjustments to fit our own particular context.
- To start each day with a “yes!” to my faith – and to my personal and public morality.
A place to begin, each and every day, is to start by saying yes to God’s love, yes to my commitment to Jesus Christ, yes to my discipleship, which means that Jesus has overcome all other powers that threaten peace and harmony in the church and in the world. As Jesus’ disciples we are called to say yes to engaged citizenship, civil discourse, service to what is faithful and right, and courageous resistance to what is wrong (at home, at church, and in the world). Also, in particular, at St. Peter’s, as we continue to move into our collaborative ministry model, it is essential that each and every one of us begin each day by saying yes to our commitment as Jesus’ disciples, as we share worship for the purpose of learning how to become church.
- To have the courage to say “no!” when that is required, wherever it is required.
In addition to our personal, day to day lives, this includes the public arena, the political sphere, the media (social media) and culture, in schools, in workplaces, and even in the church: when we see, read, and hear of things that are minimizing the quality of life for others and/or the environment, we need to find ways to speak up. It will mean sometimes saying no to fellow Christians, and possibly even to members of our own families, when they defend and support ideas and actions that are antithetical to the gospel as we understand it. We need to continue to engage in conversations at St. Peter’s and beyond about our gospel values, and hold each other accountable to those values.
- To not wait to say “no,” or wait to stand in opposition to wrong and potentially dangerous ideas and actions, until I see how others respond.
One of my least favourite things is to sit in a meeting with someone who waits to see what the popular opinion is before he/she speaks up. Let’s be courageous enough to stand in opposition to such things even if it means that our popularity is at risk.
- As Karl Barth suggests: to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other as we carry out our day to day lives.
We must remember that we are called to hold public and personal decisions and events accountable to what our Scriptures teach and demand of us. As we are reminded through our Baptismal Covenant, the Bible calls us to see Christ in all persons; love our neighbour; strive for justice and peace among all people – respect the dignity of every human being; safeguard the integrity of God’s creation – respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth. We, ourselves, are called to live according to these expectations, and anytime we see decisions made that compromise these values – political and personal - we need to stand firm in the teachings of our faith.
- To respond to the biggest challenges of 2018 (personal and otherwise) by acting on my faith, rather than reacting from my emotions.
To respond to despair with action, instead of cynicism; to combat hatred with the deeper love of God made manifest in Jesus; and to act in hope in a world where hopelessness seems to prevail. Again: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” All in the fullness of time… We need to believe this and let that light become a spark of light and hope for others.
- To see crisis as both danger and opportunity.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” In the world, our communities, the church, and our personal lives we need to prayerfully allow the crises with which we are confronted to shed light on the opportunities arising from them. I heard an inspiring interview on CBC with Rick Hansen who became a paraplegic in 1972 at the age of 15. He said that at the time he was unable to imagine a fulfilling life beyond that accident. But since then he has devoted his life to help create a world without barriers for people with disabilities. The message I got from this interview was that this accident became an opportunity for him to live a life that is blessed beyond anything for which he may have hoped or imagined. Yes, this accident was a terrible tragedy; not something for which any one of us would ask. But Rick Hansen turned his big accident into an opportunity to raise funds and awareness to help make the world a more inclusive place.
- To see evil and injustice as a call to go deeper.
Deeper – that is - into the teachings, disciplines, and practices of our faith. Deeper into our relationships with both allies and friends. (It is amazing what can happen when we deepen relationships with those with whom we disagree. We may discover that they have wisdom from which we – ourselves – may grow.) Deeper into our relationships with those who are most vulnerable and targeted by injustice.
- To spend even more time with our families.
Our children and grandchildren need to know what is going on in the world, and how we and they can respond to it. I think I’ve mentioned before the story of a grandmother who takes her grandson once every week to Superstore, where they select some large package of fresh produce. She facilitates the process through which the child purchases the produce. Then, together, they take it to St. Matthew’s Maryland, where the child is able to recognize the reality of hunger, as well as the need for each of us to faithfully respond. It is important to challenge policies that make hunger possible, as well as respond to those who live with the pain of such reality. A great resource to this end is the book: The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care and Contribute.
- To pray for particular people who will be playing critical roles in the outcomes of political decisions, in this country and throughout the world.
We need to pray, unceasingly, for the courage of the press – including media reporters, broadcasters, columnists, editors, producers, and owners – that they might search earnestly and endlessly for the truth, and have the courage to print and tell it. We need to pray for politicians, once they are in office, and for ourselves whenever we are called to elect them.
- To work and pray to grow in my trust of God, friends, and community.
In the midst of political and personal challenges, we need to trust in faith, hope, and love – to believe the greatest of these is love – and to be ready every day to act, by faith, in hope, upon what we believe.
As Baptized disciples of Christ, we are intimately linked to Jesus, and in adhering to these 10 resolutions for 2018 we are clothing ourselves in him so that others may see him through us. These resolutions can be identified – in the words of Isaiah - as our robe of righteousness.
The final word from Isaiah that I wish to highlight this morning is Spring: “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
When the seed is sown and the spring rains come, the plant springs up into life. This is a wonderful analogy of God’s people; that is, each and every one of us. When the seed of God’s Word is sown, God causes the seed to break forth into new life. The Christian springs up in terms of praise, thanksgiving, and a new life of consecrated service to God, humanity, and the environment.
I pray, for each of us, along with Jesus’ followers everywhere, and all who follow a God of love and life, that 2018 may be a year of following these resolutions so that there may be peace in the world, peace in our communities, peace in the church, and peace in our homes.