Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Choose Life

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

        So many of our Christmas traditions come from Matthew’s birth narrative.  Was Luke’s angel on top of your Christmas tree, or was Matthew’s star?  Our gift giving imitates the gifts brought to the Christ Child.  And oh, so many traditions their roots in Matthew’s story, but have spun out in ever widening interpretations until they have a life of their own.  When we watched a version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol this season, I was struck by how beautifully it summarizes the message I’ve been working on for this morning.   The world is filled with all kinds of darkness and sorrow.  Each of us have choices to make a hundred thousand times during our lives.  We can choose to live in the dark, or worse add to the fear and sorrow, or we can bring light.   Sometimes the choice is even starker as the Deuteronimist writes, and Dickens’ ghosts demonstrate, the choice is sometimes between life and death.  In Deuteronomy we read,
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.[1] 
        Darkness, death and adversity, are the result of choices.  Never before has the image of darkness covering the earth been as vivid as this year.  We have read about and seen footage of terrorist acts this year in Pakistan, Maiduguri, Copenhagen, Benghazi, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait, Nigeria, Chad, Paris, and Cameroon just to name a few.  We hear unthinkable stories about kidnapped girls and boy soldiers.  We have seen mass shootings in our country in New Orleans, Charleston, Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, Lafayette, Harris County, Texas, Waco, Philadelphia, Detroit, Bridgeport, Roseburg, San Bernadino, and the list continues with more mass shootings than days in the year—351 shootings before the first of December.   As much as we try to deny it, death is part of the cycle of life, but violent death is a sign on the madness that feeds on dark ideology.  It comes from the decisions of individuals. 
But the scriptures tell us that the darkness does not have the last word.  Isaiah asserts, “The glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”  In the darkness of events and our questions, I’m reminded of the lights on our Christmas trees—tiny little lights dispelling the darkness.  Individuals make bad choices.  Individuals can make good choices that dispel darkness.

I am sure that our compassion and generosity reflect the goodness and the love of the God who creates and sustains life.  God’s love is like the electricity that powers the tiny lights on our Christmas tree.  Without the flow of electricity, the little lights, even though they have the potential, will not produce light that dispels the darkness.  The light of God is available to us, but Isaiah tells us that we have to arise, get up, and shine! 
        In the Christmas season, rising to the occasion and shining seems easier than usual.  On Christmas Eve we designated out offering to save lives through Imagine No Malaria.  We had an opportunity to choose life for people we will never meet.  It wasn’t as easy for the wise men in the Christmas story to choose life.  They risked their own lives by not betraying the location of the baby that they worshiped with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.  They heeded a nebulous warning in a dream, and returned to their country by another road.  
       The psalmist prays,
Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.[2]
The psalmist prays that the king will arise and shine and choose life for the poor and the oppressed so that God’s blessings will flow in response.  He prays that the king will “deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”  He prays that the king will have “pity on the weak and the needy, and save the lives of the needy,” redeeming their lives from oppression and violence, because the blood of the poor and needy are “precious in God’s sight.”  The psalmist believes that God will give the king justice and righteousness so that it will flow with power to the poor and needy.  God will also give you and me justice and righteousness so that it will flow with power to the poor and needy.
        What would it be like to see that same kind of outpouring of compassion and love to those who are displaced because of violence, who are orphaned because of AIDs, who die daily because of preventable diseases caused by poverty?  How can we choose life for them?  It’s hard because there are risks involved.  There are political sides, ideologies, faith differences, cultural difference, economic factors, and sometimes corruption to contend with.  It’s dark out there.  It’s time to pack away the twinkling lights of Christmas, and allow the light of Christ to fill our minds, our hearts, and our lives so that we can be the light that shines in the darkness.  We can choose life, not just for ourselves, but for all of those whom God holds precious. 
         The message of Dickens’ Christmas Carol is to keep Christmas all year, to choose life for ourselves and others all year.  Some of you may know Howard Thurman’s poem with the same message. 
When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
−Howard Thurman 
God says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.”

[1] Deuteronomy 30:11-20, NRSV.
[2] Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, NRSV.

Christmas is a story about a star that shined in the night sky, that led the world to a refugee family in a manger, in an obscure town in the Middle East. It was a dark night but there shown a bright light, and those who saw it and followed it, witnessed God's answer to all the strife in the world today. Follow and embrace the Light and it will lead to Peace on Earth, Good will to all Creation
But for light to be effective it must glow in the dark...
The darker the night, the brighter our light must be!
Light dispels darkness!
So shine...
Glow in the dark of this atmosphere of vitriol, racism and Islamophobia
Glow in the dark of the tinderbox of eminent war
Glow in the dark of rancorous politics
Glow in the dark of hate filled religious rhetoric
Glow in the dark in your home
Glow when darkness comes on your job
Glow all around your neighborhood
Get a "glow in the dark" reputation
Glow in the presence of perfect strangers

The light is not confined to Bethlehem, for shepherds who watched by night...the lights of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas carry the same message of hope...blessed are the light bearers and Peace makers.
We are the 'glow in the dark' lights of the world!
Shine, my Beloveds Shine...

-Bishop Yvette Flunder


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