Second Sunday After Christmas
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 65:1-6
The Righteousness of God’s Judgment
65 I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that did not call on my name.
2 I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
3 a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
4 who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5 who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
6 See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
Sermon: “Arise and Shine? Yeah, but…”
Happy Christmas, beloveds! It is still the season of Christmas. This season stretches on until Epiphany when the Magi are said to have arrived to see the babe in the manger and bestowed gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh upon him. And according to the ancient carol, which by the way, was written in the form of a children’s book in the 1780’s and was set to music by Frederic Austin in 1909; today is the 11th day of Christmas! You all know the song: On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree. So, being that today is the 11th day, our true love is understood to be gifting us: “11 pipers piping” and tomorrow on Epiphany we are supposed to receive “12 drummers drumming.” When I think of that carol, I think of the chaos that would most certainly being going on in the household of the one receiving ALL of those gifts! People banging on drums and playing music. People jumping and leaping around and dancing. Meanwhile, cows are being milked out back while swans are having a swim in a pond…or perhaps a bathtub…Geese are laying eggs amidst a heap of golden rings and all the different species of birds are squawking at each other as they strut in and out of the house. The amount of bird poo alone would cause me to ask, “do you happen to have a gift receipt for that?” There are myths floating around the internet that say that each gift mentioned in this carol is supposed to symbolize some facet of our Christian faith. The myth gets tied up in one of those amazing “chainmail” forwards that land in our inboxes from time to time. There is nothing factual about this, hence it being called a “myth”; but I wonder…doesn’t this imagined chaos sometime reflect our own lives? Not just our lives as Christians, but any persons’ life? Endless schedules, bills piling up, kids throwing tantrums, the 3rd school concert or game in the same week, people bickering, doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping, houses to be cleaned, laundry to be done…the list is endless and many times everything piles up in the same day. Can anyone relate?
For me, I have to navigate my days and weeks with checklists. Not only does that help me to stay organized but it also allows me a sense of accomplishment when I get to check something off the list. Makes me happy to do that…but all to often, that happiness is short-lived and fleeting. Life happens and delivers a heap of new things that take priority over my well-planned list of “to-do’s.” I get to the point where I am “just” able to smile and reflect on what I’ve accomplished and then the phone rings or a text comes in and my spinning plates fall and crash to the ground. Life just keeps coming. Life just happens. Our best-laid plans matter not when a boulder arises that needs to be pulled up and over a hill. Here’s a clip from a film that shows a guy that is able to check off a major feat from his list…and “life happens” and takes away his moment to celebrate.
Indy just can’t catch a break! Even after that clip in the movie, the bad guy steals the golden idol from him and as he runs away towards his “getaway plane” the indigenous people are chasing him with bows and arrows and blow guns. He gets to the plane and it takes off and the pilots pet snake is in Indy’s seat and it crawls up from the floor into his lap. And if any of you have ever watched any of the Indiana Jones movies, the one thing that Indy hates more than anything is: snakes! Indy goes right back to having to deal with his “boulder”…and not just the one that chases him out of the ancient ruins. Life happens…yet again.
It’s hard to be “shiny” in the face of life happening sometimes. We long for peace, comfort and contentedness and yet sometimes those seem to be the hardest spaces to step into and stay there for very long. But the prophetic words we heard from the book of Isaiah today calls us to “Arise! Shine!” Not so easy some days, right. It wasn’t so easy for those living in Isaiah’s time either. They were just living with and through a different set of circumstances than we are today.
The scripture from today is from what we understand to be written in what scholars consider to be “Third Isaiah.” Modern scholarship divides Isaiah into three separate sections: 1st Isaiah, which is understood to be “Jerusalem’s Isaiah” was written between 742-689 BCE while 2nd and 3rd Isaiah is thought to be written by those that were of the Isianic school and worked to preserve and promote the prophecies of 1st Isaiah as they spoke to new and more complex situations. This “Third Isaiah” was written after 537 BCE when the people had returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. They expected a glorious return and restoration but instead found themselves frustrated and living in a land facing innumerable hardships. There was a major conflict that had arisen between the remnant of people that had stayed in Jerusalem and those returning. The land was in war-torn ruins and living conditions were life-taking instead of life-giving. The people were NOW divided among themselves instead of by an outside enemy. Perhaps the circumstances of these divisions are not too far removed from what our country is currently existing as.
The remnant in Jerusalem was on the margins of power and they were super small in number. They were NOT a majority. There is a great possibility that they were exclusionary in their practices and their understanding of God worship. To be sure, there was not a great effort being made towards radical inclusion. AND these people were all a hot mess! They were perverting justice, there was no peace. There was battling and bloodshed, desolation and destruction all happening between them. This can all be read and heard in the 58th and 59th chapters that precede today’s scripture lesson. We can’t fully understand the depth and breadth of the chasm between the desperation and struggle to the inbreaking of the salvation and rejoicing…without sitting in the space of that muck first. Life and our humanness brings the muck and the mess and then God breaks in…and arises and shines like a “Thunderbolt of glory” in the 60th chapter and makes an abrupt shift in the text from gloom and doom to light and glory. This shift is nothing short of surprising and inspires and encourages our awe and reverence. Why? Because of God’s response to the people’s shenanigans, self-pity and despair. God comes. God irrupts and pours himself out over all the peoples. God arises and shines forth in glory! God is there. God is here. God is present. AND…God’s presence with us is unconditional. That is the good news friends. God is always a God whose glory is saving and wills to save us. We may not understand the how and why this works in our own lives but make no mistake about it. Our God, who is wholly separate and wholly other from us, came down to us in the form of that baby in Bethlehem…to become human in his son, Jesus Christ. That is our Epiphany…our moment of realization. Just like the Magi discovered for themselves when they arrived in that stinky, lowly stable. God took on our humanity so that he would know our suffering, he would know our limitations, our feelings, our desires. Our happy’s and our sad’s. Our trials and our tribulations. It wasn’t enough that God would just “know” though. God knew and learned much of “who we were as humans” from afar during the time with Noah and the great flood. It IS that God loved us SO much that he wanted to be with us and to experience those things for himself…and to give the ultimate sacrifice for each of us. God experienced things that moved him to the point of tears. Jesus wept. Life happening not only moves us to tears…but it moves God to tears. Again…all of this is a part of our Epiphany. Our realization. Our “seeing.”
<Change to picture of people pulling each other up the mountain> God is a God that walks with us through our storms. Through every one of our high’s and lows. God celebrates with us, weeps with us…sits with us in our darkest pits and valleys and steadies our footing as we climb our mountains. We, like those in Isaiah’s time, are called to respond to this great glory of God. In our time, as Christians, we are called to respond to the salvation manifested to us in and through the lived example of Jesus Christ. The glorious inbreaking of God who is forever living and dwelling with us. The inbreaking was not in an attempt be “made right” with God, but instead, it calls us to respond with thanksgiving for the one who came and comes to reveal life and salvation in the midst of community. In our community. In our world…to all the nations. An Epiphany bringing the realization of the presence of God and his glory that is so great that it expands outward towards the whole of the cosmos which is infinite in our understanding. The temple can’t contain it. Israel can’t contain it. Our nation can’t contain it (even though we like to think God is only on “our” side) and our world can’t contain it. We have to stop thinking and living like there is a “them” and an “us” like the people did in Isaiah’s time. There is just a “people.” And that people is all of humanity. And our world is in desperate need of that Epiphany now more than ever before.
<Change to picture of Arise and Shine> In the face of this Epiphany we are called to Arise and Shine as people of God. To be the light in the darkness to all the people and all the nations…even though our life happenings sometimes make the darkness a cloak so thick that it seemingly snuffs out all the traces of light. God’s glory can be seen and experienced through each of us as we go through our daily and weekly task lists. God’s glory can be seen as we navigate our chaos. We have a radical responsibility toward all those that have been excluded from our traditional dogmas and doctrines. God’s glory is no longer a far-off heavenly realm…or experienced as a pillar of fire, a rainbow or a burning bush. God’s glory is here. How will you choose to respond?
Maria Mankin composes a “Living Psalm” based on Psalm 72 that is befitting for this time of Epiphany:
“On the 12th day of Christmas the true bringer of Love says to us:
Put down those packages, lay aside the petty squabbles and brightly wrapped baubles.
The holiday tables are empty, but the feast of Christ’s compassion has been prepared for you.
The Prince of Peace has come. Surrender your receipts and quiet those petty rebukes so you may rise up to greet the babe, his radiance reflected wherever suffering is born.
Our savior has arrived while we were distracted by the distant star, nursing our new year regrets when we should bend a knee to the Hope it brings.
On the 12th day of Christmas, Christ says to me, and to you, come and adore me –
the outcast, the shivering refugee, the outraged and the brutalized – all those deprived of Joy.
For there will be Peace on earth but only when we deliver it by our own hand, again and again, in the face
of endless need…
agents of the bringer of Love.”