+ I know. I’ve been doing this a lot lately. But be patient. Bear with me. We’re going back in time one again. It’s not that long of a trip, though. We’re only going back twenty years.
We’re going back to Sunday, January 8, 1995. Most of us can remember 1995. It doesn’t seem all that long ago.
One of the top movies were Dumb and Dumber, I remember the music I was listening to at that time included a lot of R.E.M and Weezer, and Beck and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. MTV still played music videos.
But on that Sunday, I had a very important thing happen to me. On that Sunday, I attended my first Episcopal church service. I was 25 years year old. My second book of poems, The Loneliness of Blizzards, was about to published. But certainly, I was searching for…something.
Well, on that Sunday, I found it. And I found it. Right here. At St. Stephen’s. The first Episcopal church service I ever attended was right here at St. Stephen’s.
On that very cold, January morning, I remember where I parked. I parked on the west street. Back then, we did not have the narthex and entry way we have now. Back then, there was a door on the west side of the church which was the main entrance.
I was a little chicken about attending new churches so I asked my mother to attend with me. And we got here early. There was no body here except for one person. James was here that morning.
And I remembered very clearly that, after years of searching, years of trying out many other things, I had finally found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church. I loved the Eucharist. I loved that it was a woman priest who was celebrating—Sandi Holmberg was the Rector at that time. I loved the Book of Common Prayer. I loved the whole thing. And I was hooked.
The weirdest thing of course is that the 25 year old Jamie who came to this church that morning in 1995 would never, ever, in a million years, believe that he would one day be the Priest here at St. Stephen’s. And probably nobody else who encountered that grungy 25 year old in his plaid flannel that morning would’ve thought so either. But here it is, and here I am, and here we all are.
It has been a long and incredible journey since that morning in 1995. Not an easy journey by any sense of the word. I think it’s appropriate, as I ponder my own weird journey, that we encounter another strange journey.
In our Gospel reading this morning, there is a journey to the holy Family. Certainly, the story of the magi, searching for God in this child, is a lot more dramatic than mine—more dramatic than anything that could happen to any of us. Things like that don’t happen in our lives. Most of us would not give up everything to follow a star in the sky. Most of us could not be who Joseph is this morning. Already he has to deal with his fiancée becoming pregnant, dreams of divine beings who tell him what to do, a child (which is not his) being born under incredible circumstances.
And now, this. Kings bowing down to tis child. Obviously, the child is special. Imagine how exotic and strange this must’ve seemed to a man like Joseph who lived his entire lives in Palestine.
But the story means nothing to us if we don’t make it our own, to some extent. It becomes real for us when we realize that we too are the Magi to some extent. They did what they did, they went where they blindly, to some extent. They went into their future together uncertain of what was going to happen.
But somehow, in the midst of this blindness, in the midst of this uncertainty, they were being sustained. They knew, somehow, that it would all work out. They knew beyond a doubt that something awaited them at the end of their journey. That is what we can take away with us from this story.
Certainly, as we head into the great unknown of this new year of 2015, we find ourselves feeling somewhat like the Magi no doubt did as they made their way toward that star. I can tell you, back in 1995, I too felt I was heading into my very uncertain future. But I too was following a star back then. I didn’t know why or how I was going to do it. But I just knew that I had to make that journey. But we know that as we go forward, like the Magi, we are led by God.
God is calling us forward, calling us into our future, calling us to venture into the unknown. We are also being called to do so with absolute trust in God’s mercy. In this story, we find examples abounding.
Joseph is an example to us of that wholehearted trust in God’s mercy. He has heeded the voice of the angel and does what was commanded of him, no matter how frightening and uncertain these moves must have been. He has done what God lead him to do and by doing so he saves this child—this child he knows isn’t his, this child who has come to him in such mysterious and amazing circumstances.
Mary too is a wonderful example. She seems, at first glance, to be kind of a peripheral character in the story. No more poetry is coming from her mouth as it did when she sang the Magnificat to God when the angel announced to her that she would be bearing this child Jesus. There are no words at all from her either in this story. But what we do find is that she is living out, by her very life, the “yes” she made to that angel when it was announced to her that she would bear this Child that she now holds close to her.
Mary is an example to us that, occasionally, when forces beyond our understanding begin to work, all we must do at times is simply and quietly heed God’s command. There are times for poetry and there are times when poetry just isn’t needed. When the Child was formed in her womb, how could she not sing out with beautiful poetry? Now, with kings and wise men and angels bowing at the feet of her child, she simply sits in quietness and awe—holding Jesus close to her.
We too should do the same as we enter into this long winter season. There will be more bitter cold, more snow, more icy streets and roads before us before the thaw comes to us. In our own lives, in this time in which everything seems to uncertain and up-in-the-air, we can go forward either in fear or in quiet confidence, like Mary. We can do so, holding the God who comes to us in Jesus close to us, against our beating, anxious hearts.
Like her, we have choices. We can go into that future, kicking and screaming, our heels dug in. Or we can go quietly and with dignity, holding our greatest hope and joy to us as we are led forward by a star that might, at times, seem vague.
Back in 1995, I no idea what the future would hold for me. I didn’t know then that in ten years I would be a priest, that in 20 years I would be the priest of this congregation. But I knew there was star shining ahead for me. And here I am.
The same is true of all of us. The future lies ahead of us. We know that is not an easy future. It is not a future without pain and hardships and much more work to do, more miles to cover. There are long days and equally long nights lying before us. But that same future contains, also, joy and fulfillment and loved ones. That future contains laughter and moments of exquisite beauty. That future contains love, in whatever ways it may come to us. That future that contains the rest of this long, cold winter, also contains the spring thaw and a glorious summer.
So, like the Magi, let us get up and follow that star, wherever it may lead, even into an uncertain future. Like Joseph, let us heed the calling to also go wherever God leads. Like Mary, let us be led into that future with quiet dignity. Let us go, with that star shining brightly ahead of us. With God leading us, the future is more glorious than we, in this cold, snowy moment, can even begin to understand or appreciate.