Sunday, January 25, 2015

3 Epiphany

January 25, 2015

Mark 1.14-20

+ I now I’ve shared this with you before—many several times. But years ago—back in my carefree late teens and early 20s—I became a bit disillusioned with the Church—capital C. I sort of floated away from church for several years.  I questioned many things. And I became a bit of an agnostic. Actually, I’m still a bit of an agnostic. On some things.  I think we all are to some extent, if we are honest with ourselves.

An agnostic is essentially anyone who “doesn’t know.” And in this sense, we don’t know about God and the greater mysteries. Let’s face it—we don’t know. We can hope. We can have faith. But, ultimately, as long as we are on this side of the veil, we don’t know for certain.

Nor should we.  Because we don’t know, our faith becomes more vital to us. And that’s a good thing.

Last Wednesday, one of those people who helped the agnostic twenty-something old Jamie come back to the Church and have a deeper faith in Christ, died. Marcus Borg was—and still is—a very important theologian.  Of course, I could relate to him to some extent. He was raised Lutheran in North Dakota.  So was I.

And his Lutheran upbringing was important to him. He wrote often about Lutheran theology (though not always positively about Lutheran theology). He attended Concordia College in Moorhead. He later became Episcopalian. His wife is an Episcopal priest.  His theology, although liberal, was very non-abrasive.

Many of us so-called liberals often found agnosticism and heady theology about the validity of the “historical” Jesus, although intellectually stimulating, a bit lacking in an applicable way. A lot of liberal theology did not do a very good job of comforting one when one was diagnosed with cancer, for example, or mourning the death of a loved one.  In those moments, I hate to say, it really didn’t is Jesus actually said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” or if it was something his followers attributed to him.  Borg knew that. And what Borg did for people like me was he brought back a faith-centered Jesus for us, without us having to sacrifice our intellectual mindset on things.

For me, when I first read his book, Meeting Jesus again For the First Time—a truly
radical book in many ways—I was blown away.  This was the book I needed at that time in my life.

Especially his writing on the so-called “pre Easter” and “post-Easter” Jesus.  It was a book that essentially gave me back Jesus, at a time when I needed Jesus. And yet I still could be a “liberal” Christian.

I essentially could talk about Jesus and pray to Jesus and believe in Jesus, no matter how “true” or “factual” much facts were from the Historical Jesus theologians.  There are many people—several who are here at St. Stephen’s this morning—who are Christian to this day because of Marcus Borg.  There are people here today who love Jesus and for whom Jesus is a reality in their lives because of Marcus Borg.  And for that, I am grateful.

Diana Butler Bass, another important theologian in the Church today, wrote on her Facebook page this past week, that she was “hoping fr an experience of the post-Easter Borg.  I like that.

What Borg’s books did for me anyway was helped turn me around theologically and spiritually.

And in today’s Gospel we find Jesus essentially doing the same thing.  And he does it with one little word.

“Repent.”

I think in our contemporary Christian society, we have found this word hijacked by some of the fundamentalist-minded people in our churches.  Repent is often seen as a shaming word. We seem to hear it only in the context of “repenting” of our sins.   Certainly that’s a correct usage of the word.  When we turn from our sins—from all the wrongdoings we’ve done in life—we are repenting. 

But I think it’s a good thing to examine the word a bit closer and see it in a context all of its own.   The Greek word we find in this Gospel is μετανοειτε, which means to change our mind.  But the word Jesus probably used was probably based on the Hebrew word, Shubh, which another great theologian who also influened me, Reginald Fuller, translates as “to turn around 180 degrees, to reorient one’s whole attitude toward Yahweh in the face of the God’s coming kingdom.”

When we approach this word with this definition, all  of a sudden it takes on a whole new meaning and attitude. What is Jesus telling us to do?  Jesus is telling us we must turn round and face this mystery that is God.   We must adjust our thinking away from all the worldly things we find ourselves swallowed up within and focus our vision on God.   Or, rather, we should adjust our thinking, our vision of the world, within the context of God.

However you want to look at it, is about seeing anew.  It is about changing the way we think and see and do things.  As you can imagine, this kind of command isn’t a popular one.  We don’t like change of this sort.  We are a complacent lot for the most part.  We enjoy our predicable, daily lives.

I certainly am the most guilty of this.  I find a certain comfort in my daily schedule.  It’s not very exciting.  But it is comfortable.  And it’s easy.  In those complacent moments, I don’t find myself thinking too deeply about God…or anything else for that matter.

This of course brings up probably our biggest point.  For the most part, we don’t think.   We don’t have rational, concentrated thoughts about our faith or the world.  We are usually thinking about what is right before us right now.  We are thinking about what we are going to do next, what we are going to eat or drink for lunch or supper.  We think about what our children are doing or not doing or about what our spouses are doing or not doing, or about the work at hand.   We are thinking about what needs to be thought about at that moment.

In that crush of thoughts, thoughts of God don’t come up so easily.  What Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, when he tells us to repent, is, essentially, this:

He is telling us to mindful.  Be mindful of God.  Be mindful of the good news.  Be aware.  

As some of you know, I have had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism since my early 20s.  For me, Zen is more than just a religion. It is a philosophy—it is a perception, a way of seeing things.

A very popular image in Zen Buddhism is that of a fish.  A fish is seen as something that never sleeps. It is always awake.  As such is held up as symbol of a truly enlightened person. It is a symbol of the goal of what one does in Zen. Like a fish, one should always be awake and aware.  

What we find here is a very simple lesson in how to live fully and completely.   Essentially, this is what Jesus is telling us as well.  

Repent.  

Wake up.  

Turn around and see.

God is here.  

Jesus is saying to us, Stop living foggy, complacent lives. Repent.  He is saying, Quit being drones, mindlessly going about your duties.  

Wake up and think.

Open your eyes and see.  

God has come among you.

God is here, speaking to you words of joy and gladness.

He is saying, Listen. Hear what God is saying.

Look. See God walking in your midst.

And when we see God, when we hear God speaking to us through Jesus, we find that we too want to do what those disciples in our Gospel reading for today did.

We want to follow after him.  We want to be followers of Jesus.  Being followers of Jesus means that we are awake and we see.

People like Marcus Borg have helped us to wake up and see, even if we are a bit agnostic about it all.  

So let us truly follow Jesus in our lives.  We don’t need to do it in a flamboyant fashion.  We can truly follow Jesus by striving to be spiritually awake.  We can follow Jesus by allowing ourselves to spiritually see.  And when we hear and see, when we become, in a sense, fish—awake, aware, not sleeping spiritually—it is then that we can become truly effective fishers.





Sunday, January 18, 2015

2 Epiphany

January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3.1-20; John 1.43-51


+ When I taught theology at the University of Mary, one of the topics we often discussed was vocation. Vocation as opposed to avocation. Vocation is a good thing to discuss. A vocation is something we are called to do. The root word of vocation is “voce” meaning “voice. It is a calling. It is we are called to do. Our deepest desire. An avocation is the job we do which is in addition to our vocation.

Sometimes, luckily, a person’s job happens to be their vocation. Like the priesthood. Or being organist. Or a teacher.  Or an artist.

I often ask people: what is your vocation? Not “what do you do?” Rather, what is your calling? What were you meant to do and be?

Sadly, most vocations do not actually involve an actual “voce” or voice. We do not get the opportunity that Samuel has in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures.  Though, we often get to respond in the same way.

“Here I am. Do with me what you must.”

In today’s Gospel, we also find a calling—a vocation, again with an actual “voce.” We find Philip saying to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” And we find Jesus telling Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than these.”

For most of us, who are not mystics, we have still seen our share of miracles in our lives—at least if we kept our minds and hearts and eyes open.  No doubt, there have been many miracles.  No doubt, there have been saints—true, living saints—that you have met—and still continue to meet—and walked beside.   And although you probably have not seen heaven literally opened or angels literally “ascending and descending,” you’ve probably, once or twice, seen the veil between this world and heaven lifted.  And you probably have seen angels ascending and descending in the guise of fellow travelers along the way.

Like Nathaniel, who would have a series of low points in his own life (legend says he would die a particularly horrible martyr’s death of being flayed alive, forced to walk, skinless in the desert, before being beheaded), through it all, he kept looking.  And in looking, he saw.

This is what it means to be a disciple—a follower of Jesus.  Despite the setbacks, the illnesses, despite the people who are out to trip you up, there are also the rewards—the high points that are better than any other high points.

Our lives as Christians is probably our greatest vocation.  Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus—being a minister of Christ  And being a disciple is a difficult thing at times.  No one, when we became Christians, promised us sparkling, light-filled moments and rose gardens every step of the way.  Actually, when we became Christians, we became Christians—all of us—in the shadow of the Cross.  When we were baptized, we were marked with the Cross.

That was not a quaint, sweet little sentiment.  It meant we were baptized into following Jesus wherever he led us in his life and ours—the good times and the bad.  And as a result, we have faced our lives as followers of Jesus Christ squarely and honestly.

This is no cult we belong to, that promises us that if we do this and that we will be freed from pain and suffering.  As followers of Jesus, we know that, Yes, bad things are going to happen to us.  There will be illness, there will be setbacks, there will be broken relationships and conflicts with others, there will be loss and there will be death.  And we know that there will be many, many people out there who want to trip us up and who want us to fail.

Following Jesus means being able, in those dark moments, to look and to see.  When surrounded by darkness, we can see light.  When stuck in the mire and muck of this life, we can still look up and see those angels descending and ascending on the Son, the One we have chosen to follow.

As I look back over these past many, many years, I realize they have been the most productive and fruitful years of my life.  More than anything, as I look back over these last years, I find God weaving in and out of my life.  As I look back, I find God, speaking to me, much as God spoke to Samuel in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures.

God, whether I was listening or not, was calling me again and again by name.  God is calling each of us by our name.  God is calling to us again and again.  And what is our answer?  Our answer is a simple one.  It simply involves, getting up, looking and seeing, and saying to God,

“Here I am.”

Here I am.

And when do that, we will find that, like Samuel, God is with us.  And—in that glorious moment—we will know: God will not allow one of our words to fall useless to the ground.


Friday, January 16, 2015

The Requiem Eucharist for Rick Holbrook

The Requiem Mass for
Rick Holbrook

(Aug. 9, 1940-Jan. 7, 2015)


Jan. 16, 2015


+ I am going to brutally honest with you this morning. I don’t want to be here. None of us want to be here. I hate the fact that I have to be here this morning, saying goodbye to Rick Holbrook.  And I can say, in all honesty, I’m angry.

I am angry at an illness like ALS. I am angry and frustrated over the fact that there is an illness like this. And I am very angry that ALS is what took Rick. I can be angry. I can say I don’t want to be here.  I know many of you are angry. And I know Rick was angry about this disease.

But, as Rick showed in his life, and we should all learn from his lesson, we can’t let our anger get the better of us. Anger did not get the better of Rick.  

And as frustrated as I am over his disease, as sad as I am this morning about the fact that Rick is not here with us, I am able to take consolation, as we all are.  Our consolations might seem few and far between in this moment.  But they are there.  We find consolation in the fact that Rick did not have to suffer more than he did. There were much harder days ahead. Rick knew that. Sandy knew that. We all knew that. And Rick was spared those harder days.

We also find consolation today in our faith—a faith that Rick certainly held close to him, even in these last months.  For Rick, his faith was strong.  He was committed. His faith, in many ways, was like him. He didn’t make a big deal about it. But quietly, strongly, firmly, it was there.  

As Sandy and I discussed this service, we went through our scripture options which the Book of Common prayer suggests to us.  And none of them seemed right, as least our Gospel readings didn’t seem right for this particular occasion.

Finally, after all of our discussion of Rick’s deep passion or birding, I thought of the Gospel we actually heard this morning from Deacon Charlotte.  It’s a great Gospel reading. It is Jesus the Poet as his poetic best (he sounds almost like Walt Whitman):

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” 


Rick definitely understood this scripture.  He saw it lived out in his own life. He saw those birds, who were fed, who were provided by their loving God.  And, ultimately, we can say, that Rick was provided for. He was taken care of. And all of us here, this morning, know that his value to all of us was truly great.

Rick was a strong, independent person, to say the least. We saw it in his life. And he was saw it in his death.  We can be angry about his death today. We can say, it was unfair.  Because it was.

But what we can’t say this morning is that the ALS was somehow victorious in all of this. Because it wasn’t. It didn’t win out. The fact that Rick is beyond all of that—beyond the disease, beyond the suffering, beyond the steady, consistent loss of that disease—that is the true sign of victory. ALS was not victorious.

Who is victorious? Christ was and is victorious. And Rick, in Christ, bolstered by his faith in Christ, is victorious as well.  In this moment, and Rick has no losses. But only gain. Glorious, wonderful gain.

See, that Gospel reading is right on. Do not worry about this life, and all that this life can throw at you. Even if it is illness, and loss, and death. Don’t worry. Because we are provided for. We are cared for. We are loved—and loved deeply. Because, to our God, we are valuable.

That is the lesson we take away from today. That is the lesson Rick is teaching us , even now, in this sad moment.

One of the thing I loved about being an Episcopalian, is our great liturgy. The words of our worship services really do a great job of getting right to heart of the matter.  And this funeral service is no exception to that rule.

At the end of this service, we will hear those wonderful words of defiance in the face of death.   

All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

Now those words might seem archaic to some people. We’ve heard those words so many times probably that they don’t mean anything anymore.  But, if you listen closely, they are words of defiance.  They are words of victory.  They are words that say, for us, we are cared for, and provided for and loved, just as Rick was.  Those words speak to us and tell us that, even in the face of all this, we can, like Rick, carry ourselves with integrity, bolstered by our faith.

Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear Rick say, I will not let those things win. I will not let ALS win. I will not let even death win.

“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.”

Even you, death, will not win out over me.  Even in the face of these awful things, I will face you with strength and a sense of victory.  And, because I have faith, because I am loved and I have loved, you will not defeat me.

Today, all that Rick Holbrook was to us—that man of quiet strength and integrity—all of that is not lost.  It is not gone.  Death has not swallowed that up.  Rather all of that is alive and dwells with us who will miss him. And it dwells in Light inaccessible. Rick dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well.

See, Rick is still showing us the way forward.  He is showing us by his very life and faith, and even his death, how to face these hardships life throws at us.  He is even showing us how to meet these days ahead—these days in which we now must struggle with a life in which Rick is not here with us physically any more.  He is showing  us to face it all with our heads held high, bolstered by our faith and our  integrity.  He is showing us that, in the midst of all of these hardships, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.

So, today, yes we are sad. Yes, we are in pain over this loss. Yes, we ache deeply in our hearts and in our souls. But we are also thankful today.  We are thankful for this man whom God has been gracious to let us know.  We are grateful for all he has given us in our own lives.

See, even we too, today, are defiant. We too are loved, and taken care of. We too know that we are of great value and, like the birds of the air, we will be cared for.  There is no need to worry. Nothing this life throws at us will defeat us.

But rather, with all this sadness, with all this pain, we can still, like Rick, hold ourselves in strength,  Yes, even now, even here at that grave, here in the face of sadness and loss, we sing victoriously:

Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia! 





Sunday, January 11, 2015

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord

January 11, 2015

Genesis 1.1-5; Mark 1.4-1


+ So, I don’t know about you, but, doesn’t it seem like Christmas is already a long time ago? Of course, for us, as Christians, the Christmas season just ended. But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day seem like a long time ago.  We now are in this very long, very cold month of January. I have always said, I think January is my very least favorite month of the year.  But, we find ways to go on.

For me, it’s the liturgical calendar. Our regular cycle of feasts and fasts and saints days help me get through this cold, bleak time. And right now, for us, we’re in this season of Epiphany.  This past Tuesday was the actual Feast of the Epiphany.

Epiphany is a beautiful feast, though I think it’s a bit anti-climactic, following Christmas.  My dear friend, Fr. John-Julian, an Episcopal priest and a member of the Order of Julian of Norwich in Wisconsin, wrote wonderfully about Epiphany.  He starts out by reminding us that this word, Epiphany, comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means, “manifestation” or “showing forth”.  He then goes on to explain that the Epiphany commemorates four manifestations of Christ in his life:

1) The adoration of Shepherds at the manger in Bethlehem, which we commemorated essentially on Christmas Eve

2) The Visit of the Magi or the Three Kings, which is very much the traditional understanding of what Epiphany is.

3) Jesus baptism by John the Baptists in the River Jordan, which we commemorate this morning.

And 4) Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find what Fr. John-Julian and many other Christian thinkers call a Theophany.  Theophany means “A manifestation of God”, but today we see it in a very profound way.  We actually find the very Trinity—Father, Son and holy Spirit—being revealed—the Father, in the voice that proclaims, “You are…my Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” the Son in the flesh of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the dove that descends upon Jesus. It is an incredible event—in the lives of those first followers and in our lives as Christians as well.  

Here the standard is set.  In this moment, it has all come together.  In this moment, it is all very clear how this process is happening.  Here the breakthrough has happened. For us it’s important because we too are still experiencing the benefits of that event.  From now on, this is essentially what was spoken to each of us at our own baptisms:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

For most of us, we have no doubt taken for granted our baptisms, much as we have taken for granted water itself.

Yes, I know: I preach a lot about baptism.  And I don’t just mean that I preach a lot about how much I like doing baptisms.  I preach often about how important each of our baptisms are to us because they are important.  In a sense what happened at Jesus’ baptism happened at our baptisms as well.  At each of our baptisms, a theophany happened.  And when we realize that, we also realize that Baptism is THE defining moment in our lives as Christians.

Whether we remember the event or not, it was the moment when our lives changed.  It was the moment we became new. It was, truly, our second birth.

I am so happy that we do something as simple as commemorate our baptisms here at St. Stephen’s. I ask on a regular basis for you to search out the dates of your baptisms.  And we remember those dates in our prayers here in the Eucharist each Sunday.  I like to encourage people to find out the date of their baptism. Of course, as you know, I always look for a reason to celebrate, but baptism anniversaries are truly great opportunities to celebrate. Why shouldn’t we celebrate the theophanies of our lives, those manifestations of God in our own lives?  

There was a bond formed with God in our Baptism.  In our current Prayer Book this bond is probably best defined.  After the Baptism, when the priest traces a cross on the newly baptized person’s forehead, she or he says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” This is essential to our belief of what happens at baptism.  

In baptism, we are all marked as Christ’s own.  For ever.  It is a bond that can never be broken. We can try to break it as we please. We can struggle under that bond.  We can squirm and resist it.  We can try to escape it.  But the simple fact is this: we can’t.  For ever is for ever. No matter how much we may turn our backs on Christ, Christ never turns his back on us.  No matter how much we try to turn away from Christ, to deny Christ, to pick Christ apart and make Christ something other than who he is, Christ never turns his back on us.  Christ never denies us.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we always belong to Christ.  It is shows us that Christ will never deny us or turn away from us.  It shows us that, no matter what we might do, we will always be Christ’s.  Always.  For ever.

In this way, Baptism is truly the great equalizer.  In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are.  We all emerged from those waters on the same ground—as equals.  And, as equals, we are not expected to just sit around, hugging ourselves and basking in the glow of the confidence that we are Christ’s own possession.  As equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and treat each others as equals. And we remind ourselves of this fact in others ways.

This coming Thursday night, we will be having the Vigil service for Rick Holbrook. In that service, there of course will be a time for people to get up and speak about Rick. But before any of that, we, as the church, will receive his ashes. And we will cover the urn with his ashes with a white pall—a white cloth. And the ashes will be sprinkled with holy water.

Everyone who is buried from St. Stephen’s has a pall placed either on their urn or coffin. The pall is a beautiful remembrance of our baptism. And, in that moment when the pall is placed, it does not matter how ornate, how expensive, how poor or simple the coffin or urn are.  The pall, as a symbol of baptism, is the great equalizer. No one is better or less under that pall. We are all equal and all precious and deeply loved by our God.

And that is also the case with our baptism.  In the same waters all of us, rich or poor, physically perfect or imperfect, were washed. All of us came out of those waters reminded that we are all loved and cherished by our God.  

For us at St. Stephen’s, Baptism is not some quaint dedication ceremony.  It is the event that still provokes us and compels us to go out into the world and make a difference in it.  Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as a special people above everyone else.  It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world.

So, in those waters of baptism, something incredible happened for us.  We went into those waters one person, and emerged from those waters as something else completely.  It was an incredible moment in our lives, just as it was in the life of Jesus, who led the way and showed us that Baptism was an incredible outpouring of God’s love and light into our lives.

So, with this knowledge of how important it is, let us each take the time to meditate and think about our own baptisms and the implications this incredible event had and still has in our lives.  

When you enter this church, and when you leave it, pay attention to the baptismal font in the narthex and the blessed water in it.  Touch that water, bless yourselves with it, and when you do, remember you do so as a reminder of that wonderful event in your life which marked you forever as Christ’s very own.  And let that water be a reminder to you that you are called to go now from this church and from this Eucharist we have shared in, to love. To love, full and completely.  To realize that we are equally loved by God—no matter who we are or what we are.

And as we go from here, let us listen for those words—those beautiful, lulling words—that are spoken to each of us, with love and acceptance:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Sunday, January 4, 2015

2 Christmas

January 4, 2015


+ 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.