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Archive for December, 2010

Disappointment Sunday

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11.

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him,

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied,

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see:

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’…

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

The Word of the Lord.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing and acceptable to you. O God, as we begin to enter a new year, open our hearts and eyes to your creating and sustaining work around us. Loving God, as we count down the the seconds may we open our tightly clenched fists of anger and frustration to hands that can heal and forgive. Thank you God, for the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who live and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Though today is officially called Christmas Sunday, another not so good holiday also falls on this day. Now, before I reveal what this holiday is, I’m pretty sure that most, if not all of us have participated in it at some point in our life. It is a result of waiting. Of anticipation. Of hopes and expectations. Of idealizations. That’s right, I’m talking about Disappointment Day. The day after Christmas. The day we realize that we did not get what we wanted. All those gifts under the tree did not really satisfy us. The buzz of Christmas has worn off and now we’re experiencing a kind of Christmas hangover.

Things did not go as we expected. It is here I believe that we learn something about God’s providence. It is as these points in our lives where we see God being in control. The reason we experience disappointment is because we have this idea that somehow we are the ones in control. We are the ones who know what is best for our lives, as well as what is the best for others lives. And disappointment happens when we learn that we are not in control. And instead of leaning into the holy mystery of God’s providence and opening our eyes to the larger picture of God’s creating work, we would rather mope around in our own disappointment.

I’m sure each of you has had experiences when you’ve been profoundly disappointed by someone or something you had been waiting for and looking forward to with anticipation.

There is a certain sacredness to disappointment that we glance over in our lives. It is no doubt that we will experience disappointment in our lives, that things will not go the way we wanted, or the way we thought they should. And the sacredness of this moment is that we realize our own vulnerability. Disappointment shakes us up. It awakens us. It breaks us out of our routine. Our habits. And this awakening allows us to have the grace to see our lives in a new way. To evaluate where we have come and where we are going as well as see where God has been moving and where God is leading.

Now some of you might be feeling uncomfortable talking about disappointment during a season that usually surrounded by joy and celebration. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is also a great time to talk about some of the disappointments people had about the messiah and how this impacts and changes our perspective on some of our own disappointments.

Everyone had expectations about the messiah, the anointed one. The Jews had experienced messiahs before. There was the Messiah of Cyrus, King of Persia who released the Hebrews from Babylonian exile. There was Simon who was a political leader during the early instability of roman rule, who his followers called messiah. And so everyone had these messianic expectations. Everyone thought they new what the messiah would be like and what he would do. It was obvious that the messiah would gain political power and overthrow the Roman rule. It was obvious that the messiah would be powerful, mighty, strong, a warrior leading the cause of the Jewish people.

Now Jesus. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and was the son of Joseph. And a look at his family tree reveals many disappointments. It includes stories that are sometimes a little uncomfortable. Stories that maybe should have included a parental rating of at least PG 13.

Let’s read his genealogy in Matthew 1.1-16.

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the Son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob (now Jacob we know was the one who tricked his father to receive a blessing), and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar (now this addition of Tamar would alert most Jewish readers to the difficult story of her and Judah’s relationship, she was his daughter-in-law), And Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon, the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab (who was a foreigner, a prostitute, and by Levitical law should have been put to death, but she was the one who aided the Israelites in their conquer of Jericho), and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth (and Ruth was another foreigner, a Moabite) and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah (ouch, Bathsheba is not even mentioned, and the name of Uriah brings back the failure of David), and Solomon was the king who seemed to give voice when samuel warned the israelites of having a king. Solomon developed a huge army, had many wives and concubines, he taxed the citizens, and he even enslaved some….Israelite history is a little rough.

Here we see in Jesus’ lineage, a raw and honest perspective. Jesus did not come from the Perfect family. Many of these people were disappointments, some broke the laws found in the Torah, but what is fascinating is that it is through these people that God creates salvation. It is through these humans, and their mess ups that God redeems God’s people.

Jesus was not what people expected. As the Jewish people were living under Roman rule, they waited in anticipation for a Messiah. A messiah that would return the nation to the glory and prosperity of King David and Solomon. Before the nations split into Israel and Judah. Before the two kingdoms were conquered and the people exiled. Before they were held captive in their own land, first by the greeks and then the romans.

There was nothing left of their once prosperous kingdom. All they had were their histories and their expectations. They believed that a Messiah would come and save them. Save them from their captives. This messiah would be a warrior, driving out the occupying nations and restore the name of Israel.

But Jesus reveals that he is a different kind of a Messiah. At the beginning of his ministry he reveals himself when he reads Isaiah 61. Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth, and in the temple reads the following:

“The spirit of God is on me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from God.”

He then concludes saying the most radical thing. He tells them that this passage was being fulfilled that very day. He was the messiah, the anointed one.

And how do the people respond. They become angry and they chase him out of the temple and try to kill him.

Jesus lets them know that he is the messiah who would bring liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. He would be a messiah for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts, the marginalized, the single parents, the illegal immigrants, and criminals.

Jesus was not what people expected. They were disappointed and angry. They didn’t want some teacher who surrounded himself with sinners. They didn’t want a weak leader who would allow himself to be arrested, tortured, and crucified without even defending himself. They wanted a warrior. But we, having known the story of Christ, know that Jesus was the Messiah. But these people had false expectations. They were confused on who the Messiah would be. And they missed the transformative work that the Messiah did.

Jesus was a disappointment to some.

And we sit here today in our disappointments. Not only the disappointments from yesterday. But our disappointments from our year. Our life. I’m sure many of us are sitting reflecting. Thinking that this is not where I expected myself to be. Things have not turned out the way I desired them to be. God did not do what I wanted God to do.

And it hurts.

Sometimes we need to mourn our expectations. Not all expectations are bad. Or false or lacking. Things just don’t turn out the way we thought they would. And in our disappointments we may experience anger, fear or confusion as we find ourselves not knowing what to do next. Or how to proceed, to move forward.

Anger, fear and confusion. I’m sure that most of the disciples felt this as they saw their Messiah get beaten and killed. Wasn’t he the one. The one to save Israel? The one to restore our glory? Was he the one, or should we have waited for another.

And we sit in our disappointment. Our frustrations. Our confusion. Asking God, “What’s up? What is going on here? I thought I knew where you were leading, I thought I got it”

But we learn that despite our disappointments, despite our anger, our fear, our confusion, our hatred, our sadness, our mourning, our frustrations, God’s will is done. Even if we are the one’s who are disappointments to others, if we are the one’s who frustrate, confuse and anger others, just like Jesus’ genealogy, God will use us for God’s healing and reconciling work in the world.

Disappointment is natural. It happens. We have all these high expectations and things just don’t follow through.

Jumping back to messianic expectations. There was nothing wrong with Jesus the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled what was required of him. He taught a radical and life freeing message. He showed what it means to be completely dependent on God and on others. Where the problem came from was others false expectations. The pharisees and teachers were so focused on their own expectations and desires that they missed the Messiah. They missed how he was healing people. How he liberated people. How he brought good news to the poor and oppressed.

It might be easy for us to point out their short comings. Their hardness of heart. The points where they just didn’t get what Jesus was doing. It’s easy for us to point the blame, but can we really blame them? How often do we focus on our own expectations and miss what God is doing around us? The pharisees were just being really careful, and Jesus was rocking their world. He did things that were unorthodox, and sometimes even seemingly heretical or sinful. He healed on the Sabbath, and hung out with the least. He talked to Samaritans, even taking water from a women there. The pharisees were many times justified in their concerns. God had given them the law. And the law for them was an act of Grace, and here, this man seems to be going against it. Like the pharisees sometimes we are justified in our expectations and disappointments. And Jesus also recognized their confusion, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” How many times is this a prayer for us? How many times do we know not what we are doing?

The flipside of advent is that not only are we celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but we also get a glimpse of the waiting for the Second coming. And how many of us know what to expect? Or do we harbor some false expectations? When Jesus returns, will we recognize him?

The Jews two thousand years ago had false expectations thinking the messiah would return in power and military might. The early Christians expected that Jesus would return in their life. What kind of Messiah are we expecting?

Are we expecting a Messiah dressed in fancy clothes waiting to give us anything we ask for? A higher paycheck, a bigger house, fame?

Are we expecting a Messiah who is middle-class sharing our family values, call for tax cuts, and reductions in welfare?

What we are given, is seen in the gospels. In Matthew we see the Messiah as a teacher showing a way that is radical, who enables the poor, who liberates. In John we see the Messiah as the eternal Word, light, God made flesh.

And as we wait in anticipation for the Messiah to come again, we are reminded by Paul to look for the incarnation in each other. We should look for the incarnation in the poor, needy, the outcasts, the immigrants, the republicans, the democrats, those who are strange or weird or different than us, and those who we think are completely wrong.

And yes, these people will disappoint us. It is inevitable because we have the habit of building expectations for each other.

So when we experience disappointment let it be an opportunity for us. Let it be an opportunity to broaden our expectations. To awaken ourselves. To let us see the world in a new way. To see where God is moving. When we experience disappointment it should lead us to faith. Faith that God is at work. That God might be doing something new in our lives. The pharisees trusted their expectations more than God. They thought they had it figured out. And as we know through the gospels, God did something new. God blew out from their expectations. And through this new thing, God brought redemption and hope. Reconciliation and healing.

In our disappointments, let us see this as an opportunity to give up our control and trust in God’s providence. That God’s will is ultimately done. Let us find hope in our disappointments because in our let downs God might be doing something new in our lives. Something refreshing. Something to stir us up and call us back to the love and grace of God. Something that awakens us to the incarnation, the image of God, in those around us. Let us experience the inbreaking of God in our lives. And let us remind ourselves that when we hear the word disappointment, that instead of becoming discouraged we turn and look for what God is doing around us.

So Happy Disappointment Day and as we begin the great returning (of christmas gifts), the tearing down of decorations and as the buzz of Christmas wears off, let us turn to each other in our disappointments. Let us release our false expectations and open our eyes to how God is already at work around us. Possibly doing something new.

May you embrace your disappointments this season as you realize that things have not turned out the way you expected. May you release you false expectations, opening your hearts and yours eyes to the movements of God around you. May you look with hope that God is doing something new in your life and trust in the Love, Grace, and Mercy of God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God forever. Amen

 

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Luke 1.46-56

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

 

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing and acceptable to you. Give us, O God, such love and wonder that with shepherds and magi, and pilgrims unknown, we may come to adore the holy child, the promised King; and with our gifts worship him, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tonight is the night. After four weeks of waiting. This is it. It’s funny how the Christian New Year begins in a season of waiting. The first day of the Christian year begins in advent, a season of waiting. It doesn’t begin with some huge event. No fireworks. No countdown. But waiting. Waiting with anticipation. We have gone through the Sundays of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. And we wait.

These sundays point our attention, they give us glimpses of what we are waiting for. And what are we waiting for. Gifts? Food? Parties? Those things are great…but What we are truly waiting for is the incarnation. The Word of God, the Son of God, made flesh. The Son becomes Human. This is the sacrifice of God that the Father sends his Son to dwell on earth, to live as a human. To experience everything about being a human, even death, and by becoming human Christ shows us what it means to be truly human, what it means to truly live.

And who is the one chosen for this task, but a young Palestinian Jewish woman. Mary. The one who bears Christ.

When she learns that she will give birth to a son, the Son, her response is worship. She begins saying in the magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” However, I’m sure that most mothers at the advent of their children’s birth say something similar. This intense joy of giving life is common to us all. We all celebrate the gift of new life.

What is different for Mary is that this child is special. Not special because he would be her son, as all mothers would claim, but he is special because he is the Son. The Son of God. Now in the middle of her song of praise, Mary’s words shift. She begins to talk about what God has done and also what God will do.

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

In this phrase we are given a glimpse of the Gospel. We see in Mary’s song an image of equality. Of the proud, powerful, being brought down and the lowly and the hungry being raised. Depending where one is in her or his life, this imagery can be seen as either judgment or salvation. In fact this imagery is present in the prophetic visions of the messiah.

In Luke 3 John the Baptist fulfills his role in the ministry of Jesus. He is the one who prepares the way. He begins by going into all the country preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is written that he fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah, which reads:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation’”.

Did you catch it. Again the image of mountains being made low and the valleys being filled. This is a radical message and it’s good news. This is gospel.

The gospel of luke begins with this expectation of equality, that through Christ, in Christ, we are made equal. “And all people will see God’s salvation.”

The incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is the inauguration of God’s Kingdom on Earth. God breaking into our world and redeeming us and all creation. Broken. Flawed. Imperfect. This is something to celebrate. This is why Mary’s spirit rejoices. The best part of it is we are also called to participate in this restoration. We are called to carry on this incarnation. Through the Holy Spirit we are taken up into the relationship of the Father and the Son and through this we are made agents of God’s reconciling work in this world. We are the one’s to create equality among all people. We are the one’s who “fill the valley’s” and “bring down the mountains”. We are the one’s who bring healing to a hurting world. We are the one’s who bring glimpses of the kingdom of God to those whose senses have been calloused by the difficulties of this world.

Now as followers of Christ we are compelled to participate in Christ’s peacemaking work in the world because of the incarnation and inauguration of the Word. If we are not called to hope, love, joy, and peace, then the incarnation, the inauguration of the kingdom means nothing. However, we know that this is not true, and because we, like Mary, rejoice in the coming of Christ we also are called to a certain responsibility. The Kingdom is here, but not fully, and we play an important role in it.

The incarnation can be scary for us though, because sometimes we can be the mountains that need to be brought low. Sometimes we are the one’s who are missing the kingdom. Sometimes we are the one’s who are caught up in the ruckus and busyness of life. Sometimes we are the one’s who forget to truly love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our neighbors as God loves us. Sometimes we are caught up in the competition of life trying to prove our worth by how much stuff we have.

This way of living, this mountain living, is the lifestyle that creates those valleys that others must suffer through. But thankfully the incarnation of Christ saves us from living that way. Christ saves us from our individualism, our materialism, our obsession with always having to be right, or better than someone else. Thankfully the incarnation saves us and gives us new eyes to see all of humanity in the image of God. To see Palestinians, immigrants, Iranians, North Koreans, those from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and those currently working for equality within the US as beloved children of God.

On the other hand, sometimes we are the valleys that need to be filled.

Often we are stuck in the middle of a cacophony of messages that tell us things that are not true about ourselves: that tell us we are not loved, that tell us we are a disappointment, that tell us we’re not good enough. Sometimes we are the valleys because we try to live in a society that is oppressive for us. We try and compete in an economic system that is impossible for us. We think that  in order to feel valuable, to feel important, to feel loved, to feel accepted; we must have a new this, a new that, new clothing, a new car, a bigger house and so on.

The incarnation is salvation for us, because Christ show’s us that we don’t receive our value by what we do, or what we have, or how much we make, but that we receive our value, our importance, our life because of whose we are, because we are children of God. You don’t have to worry about competing in this world because God is fond of you. And God not only loves you, but God likes you. You have been chosen as God’s beloved. You are God’s beloved.

So whether we feel like a valley or a mountain in our life, know that that on this night, we celebrate the incarnation of the Son, Salvation is Created for all. The mountains are brought low, and the valleys filled as we learn to see each other with the equity that God sees us. We are being saved from our mountains and our valleys. Because we are saved, because of the incarnation we have been made agents of God’s healing and reconciling work in the world. We are the glimpses of God’s coming Kingdom. We are the ones who through and with the Holy Spirit work to liberate others from their mountains and valleys.

Finally through our imitation of Christ our Lord and Savior, the Word made flesh, we have seen what it means to be truly human. To truly be God’s beloved. And what it means to be fully human is to be completely dependent on the Triune God and on our neighbors.

And so this Christmas, as we celebrate with friends and family, let us pray that we experience the incarnation of God. That the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, may truly be transformative for us, allowing us to participate in and see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. May you experience the saving work of Christ’s incarnation as your mountains are brought down and your valleys filled. And may you truly see yourself and others as God’s beloved. And finally may this season orient and transform your lives so that you reflect hope, love, joy and peace to world around you.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirt. One God forever. Amen.

 

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