Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Follow the Magi

Image of a stylized silhouette of people and camels on a horizon lit by stars and sunrise

2020 has come to an end, and most of us are grateful. The problem with this is that we expect 2021 to be different right now, at the year’s beginning. We want to blame 2020 for all the challenges, suffering, and sorrow it has left in its wake as if 2020 were an entity in and of itself, a hateful one at that. The problem is, of course, that the date or time in the history of the cosmos is not a causal factor in events. In fact, the pandemic started in 2019, hence COVID-19. The inherent racism and white supremacy that lead to the murder of George Floyd and others predates 2020. The deaths of celebrities such as Sean Connery, Chadwick Boseman, Kelly Preston and Eddie Van Halen (to name a few), didn’t happen because it was the year 2020. Yes, it has been a difficult year on a global scale, one of the hardest in modern history. However, the year ending doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate improvement of circumstances.

The grief we carry will not dissipate when the ball drops at midnight and the year changes to 2021. The vaccines that are being distributed now won’t mean that we can be out and about in the world for several months to come. Racism and white supremacy won’t magically end because we turn to a new page on the calendar. The challenges that began in 2019 and intensified through 2020 will continue in 2021. Our job is to figure out how to hold onto hope, how to heal, how to endure the heaviness of grief and loss, how to help our neighbors who may not be fairing as well as we are in this pandemic… there is no shortage of work to be done.

I think of the magi on their way to Bethlehem and how hard that journey must have been. Some speculate that their travels took more than two years. What kept them going on that long and arduous path that finally got the to the Christ-child? What hopes kept their feet trudging on day after day? And, after encountering Christ, how did they find the strength to return home by yet another road? There are lessons from these magi that might help us embrace the year ahead.

First, the magi packed for the journey and included gifts for the Child they were going to visit. We can do this. We can closely examine our lives for the gifts we can bring on the journey into 2021. Yes, it’s right to name survival as a gift. And then look around for others. Perhaps we have reconnected with family or friends and strengthened relationships. Perhaps we’ve re-evaluated how we spend our time. Maybe we’ve been more intentional about sharing our resources. Maybe we’ve gotten involved in advocating for justice? Whatever gifts you’ve uncovered or rediscovered in 2020, pack them for the journey into 2021; they will be needed.

Next, the magi were committed to the journey, not knowing what they would encounter. This seems like a good idea as we stand on the brink of a New Year. We are hopeful that 2021 will mean an end to pandemic conditions. At the same time, we have no idea if this will happen. Many of us are hopeful that a new Administration in the White House will bring positive changes and address the injustices magnified by the current Administration. We don’t know if this will happen, either. The journey ahead may be just as challenging as the path that brought us here. Or it may be full of blessings and joys and easier days. Either way, we must commit to the journey and to all who travel with us that we are in it no matter what unfolds.

This brings me to another point: the magi did not travel alone, and neither should we. We know that there will be more losses, more stress, more sadness in the days to come. Most of us are at or have exceeded the amount of stress we can handle on our own. We need to share the journey with those who are traveling a similar road, and we need to make sure we are able to help those who stumble along the way. Exhaustion and grief and injustice make the journey especially hard. We will do better if we share our resources and help one another along the way.

We also do not make this journey for no purpose. The magi went to Bethlehem to honor the new born King. We, as Christians, live our lives to honor God in much the same way. In spite of all the awfulness that 2020 leaves in its wake, there have been moments of beauty, wonder, and awe as well. Babies have been born. Discoveries have been made. Generosity has been witnessed. God is present in this world, waiting for us to notice, and respond accordingly. The magi offered their gifts to the Baby. We can offer our gifts to those who travel with us and, similarly, honor God.

No, the year ahead won’t magically be better than the year that is ending. However, if we share the journey, share the burdens and the joys, we will make it through together. Let’s continue to share the tears of grief and loss. Let’s also continue to share the moments of beauty, wonder, and joy just as readily. The only way we will honor God on this journey is to honor ourselves and those trudging through the challenges every day. We’ve got this. Together. Happy New Year.

RCL – Year B – Epiphany (observed), January 3, 2021

Photo: CC0image by Anthony

Categories
Story

The Considerations of Chloe the Camel

Image of Rachael Keefe with two small camels in the foreground, a Christmas tree in the background, and a star in the upper right.

Chapter 1

Sometimes, being the youngest and smallest camel in the herd stinks! I want to run and run and run all the time! The grownup camels tell me that camels aren’t made for running; we are made for hard work and long journeys. Sometimes we carry things and sometimes we carry people. And we seldom run. If there was a fire in the stable, we might run. Otherwise, we lope along at a steady pace. Sure, we can drink like 50 gallons of water in about three minutes, and we can go for days and days without drinking again. This doesn’t make up for having to lope instead of run, though.

Hi, my name is Chloe and I want to make a case for why camels should run more. First, we can be really fast, like 40 miles per hour for shorter distances and about 25 miles an hour for longer ones. And, you know, it’s fun to run and run and run. The best part is that when you run you get to places quicker than if you don’t. And when you get to places more quickly, you don’t miss important stuff.

You see, there’s a group of people getting ready to go on a long journey. They want to follow a giant star that appeared in the sky just a few nights ago. They say that there is an important king that is going to be born under that star. I’m going to get to go with them because my parents help transport the important people. They can carry hundreds of pounds of stuff and, of course, the people themselves. I can’t carry that much, yet. I will someday, I’m sure. For now, I will probably travel with the workers, who will make sure there is food on the journey and help with the laundry and setting up camp while the group travels. It’ll be an adventure and that part will be fun. My parents have told me that there will be no running on the journey – absolutely none. I don’t think this is fair. If it’s such a long way and there’s going to be a baby born, shouldn’t we run to get there and not miss it?

The rest of the story is available here.

Licensing Information: “The Considerations of Chloe the Camel” is a story written by Rachael Keefe ©2020. It is licensed for non-commercial re-use without modification and with attribution. This means that you can use this text in its entirety in your own services, as long as you do not alter it and do provide a clear in-text citation denoting authorship of the story. You can read about the terms of this license here. Suggested format for in-text citation: 
“The Considerations of Chloe the Camel” by Rachael Keefe https://beachtheology.com ©2020. Used with permission. Full-text available at https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/Optionally: Please comment to tell us where you are using the story – i.e. what church service. It’s not required, but we’d love to know how far the story goes this year. 

Here’s the video version for you to enjoy and share. Information about how to download for use in your services is in the video description

Merry Christmas!

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

No Room For Love… Maybe Soon?

On Christmas Day an old hotel burned to the ground in Minneapolis, MN. It was a building with a lengthy history and it was the residence of those on shelter waiting lists. The hotel had not been well-maintained and wasn’t a particularly safe place to live. Yet, it was what was available to those who would have been homeless otherwise. Then the fire. Two-hundred and forty people spent Christmas day on city buses, one hundred of which were children. (By the end of the day, temporary shelter had been found for all of them.)

I am sure this is not a unique story. I am sure other disasters struck other places where the displaced live. It’s all too frequent an occurrence for those who already have so little. They are placed in situations where many of us would not go for any reason. Substandard housing with roaches, rats, faulty electricity, and inadequate heat. Maybe these hotels and shelters are better than what people trying to enter this country on our southern border experience. Maybe these harsh surroundings are better than refugee camps or ICE detention centers offer.

To my knowledge no one died in the fire on Christmas Day. That’s a miracle in itself. And because it was Christmas, the outpouring of people bringing needed items – diapers, mittens, blankets, and more – was something to see. Yet, knowing there were children on buses with no homes and their meager Christmas burned away in a fire, made it hard for me to go back to my warm house with its full refrigerator and empty guest rooms.

We make a lot of our preparations for Christmas in both secular and spiritual ways. Many are moved to acts of generosity during the holiday season. However, we tend to participate in the packing up of Christmas on December 26th as if the story ends with a babe in a manger. We did our part, we bought gifts and we made the spiritual journey to Bethlehem (or not). Now we put it all away and ask what’s next.

The story doesn’t end at the manger, though. The innkeeper’s statement of “no room” echoed around Bethlehem and down through the centuries. Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two. Whether it happened or not matters less than the fact that Herod wanted it done so he could protect his position of power and wealth by ensuring that no king would rise up from the people and challenge his ways of keeping everyone under control. As a result, scripture tells us that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt for a time. What would have happened if the Holy Family was met with the kind of fear and hatred that happens at many of our borders today? Why do we keep insisting that there is no room for Love?

None of us particularly like the story we call “the slaughter of the innocents.” Many preachers will choose other passages or other activities for this Sunday in Christmastide. We don’t want to think about all the ways in which we continue to slaughter innocence. Why else would it be okay to have homeless families living in substandard conditions? Why else would it be okay to separate children from their families at the border? Why else would it be okay to have an entirely inadequate foster care system? Why else would it be okay to have hungry children anywhere in the world? At least Herod was honest with himself and his people. He was a man who loved power and wealth; he didn’t care about the poor people around him. If they were not serving him, they could be sacrificed.

This is the world Jesus was born into. This is the world we live in. Jesus sought to change humanity’s willingness to slaughter innocence when those in power demanded it. Today, I can’t help but ask where the Body of Christ is now. Friends, we need to work harder to bring Divine Love into the world. Herod may not have succeeded in killing all those children in ancient Israel. Yet, we are still killing them. We sacrifice them daily to those who rule through fear, hatred, violence, and oppression.

Jesus came to show us another way. May we seek the way of Love in 2020. May we put an end to the slaughter of innocents and innocence that continues to this day. May we find a way to see God in every human face and respond to all with the loving-kindness Jesus so clearly demonstrated.

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Christmas – December 29, 2019
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Photo: CC0image by Szabolcs Molnar

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Jesus is Where?

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I have a lot of sympathy for Mary and Joseph when they lost track of Jesus. He simply wasn’t where they thought he was. They had to retrace their steps, searching everywhere, anxiety growing with each passing minute. When they finally found him in the Temple, they were incredulous. Jesus was matter-of-fact. How could they not know he would be in the Temple speaking Truth? Where else did they think he would be? Apparently, they thought he be just about anywhere else. I often have the same problem; Jesus is often in the last place I look.

Actually, Jesus is often in the place I am most reluctant to go. I’d rather go to the familiar, easy places than go to those deep, difficult places of truth. Like Mary and Joseph, I’d be moving through life in the usual way only to suddenly discover that I had no idea where Jesus is. I thought that I was going where he was leading only to find out that I wandered off track. Getting back on track isn’t ever as easy as retracing my steps. It’s all about sorting through whatever is overwhelming me in the moment and grasping hope again.

Here on the edge of a new year, with Christmas 75% off on store shelves, are we asking ourselves where Jesus is? He didn’t remain an infant in the manger, easy to find under a bright, shining star. If we knelt at the manger last week, do we know where Jesus is this week? Are we even interested in finding him? I’m not sure we are.

Church has a way of holding onto the past much more tightly than holding onto Jesus. We go along telling ourselves that we are following Jesus or that Jesus is with us without bothering to look around. It’s possible that Jesus isn’t where we think he is. Jesus is not in our fully lit Advent wreaths, in the fading greens, or in any of the remnants of the season. Jesus isn’t likely living in the boxes of Christmas pageant costumes or the booklets of carols stacked in the corner. If we are looking around our church buildings, then we aren’t likely to find Jesus. Jesus is where Truth is.

These days Jesus is at the border with refugees seeking hope and safety and being ignored or attacked. Jesus is in the homeless encampments with people huddled together for warmth while most people turn their heads in dismissal. Jesus is with those who are lost, lonely, and forgotten while most people continue on their way without thinking of those who live on the edges of society. Jesus is with those we deem as “other,” waiting for us to show up. Today’s Temple, today’s house where God lives, is not any church building. It’s the places where people meet and seek to lessen the pain another carries. No church tradition has more value than human beings who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.

We are between celebrating the birth of Jesus and the coming of the magi. It’s easy to criticize Mary and Joseph for losing track of their son. This isn’t a story about negligent parenting, though. This is a story meant to remind us that losing track of Jesus is nothing to be embarrassed about. Losing track of Jesus and continuing on pretending that we have not is a problem. Pausing to look around and figure out where Truth is being lived or spoken or cried out, this is what the journey is about. Going wherever Jesus is, this is what church is called to do. And when we get there, we are to embody the Love that breaks into the deepest, lightless night and changes everything.

Have you seen Jesus lately?

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday after Christmas – December 30, 2018
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

Photo: CC0 image by Public Domain Pictures

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Song of Praise

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If your house is anything like mine, there are remnants of Christmas everywhere. There’s the tree with a string of lights not quite working. There’s a box of wrapping paper and cardboard waiting to go out to the recycle bin. There’s a not-so-tidy stack of decorations that never made it to the tree. The new gifts sitting out because they haven’t found a place yet. Oh, and the kitchen, well, it’s the kitchen after a flurry of baking and candy making… It’s obvious that something happened here, it’s just not clear what that something was.

It’s just not clear what that something was. For many people, the day after Christmas is the day to put everything away, tidy things up for the new year. In the stores all the Christmas goods are on the clearance shelves and Valentine’s Day products have taken the prime spots. It’s hard to keep up when retail jumps from one holiday to the next without stopping in between. Church is different, though, isn’t it.

The Advent wreath is fully lit as the paraments change to white. Concerts and carols fill the week. How do we keep going with Christmas while the world moves on? How do we linger at the manger, under the star long enough to find some meaning in the annual remembrance of Jesus’ birth?

Isaiah, the Psalmist, Simeon, Paul all provide a clue to meaning making. They all point toward praise. Praising God in the midst of the chaos and the ordinary opens us to the truth of what happened under that star so long ago. Too many people say that they cannot praise God while refugees wander without a home, while people freeze to death for lack of shelter, while children remain hungry, while hatred runs free in our streets, and on down the list of social ills. Perhaps this is part of the reason for everything feeling overwhelming or out of control; we have forgotten how to sing God’s praises every day.

No matter what is happening in the world, God is still God. God created the world. God so loves the world. God became flesh and lived among us. God reveals the way of Love. If the world is overwhelmed with hatred and poverty and fear, it is not God’s doing. God is still God in the midst of the mess we have created. God was God on that first Christmas when Jesus took his first breath. God was God on that first Good Friday when Jesus took his last breath. God was God on that first Easter morning when Christ emerged from death. God is God, even now, when we live in fear, when we struggle for health and wholeness, when Pharaoh and Babylon are on the rise again, when we forget that nothing can extinguish Love. God is still God. God waits for us to recognize God’s presence here and now. God is waiting for us to sing praises to God even when we don’t feel like it.

There is plenty to sing about, really. God loves humanity collectively and individually, even when we don’t seek out God’s ways, even when our sin has lasting effects. Praising God for the goodness of creation should come naturally to our lips. Praising God for God’s amazing love for humanity should be as natural as breathing. We have forgotten to step back and look beyond our own lives, beyond this moment in time, beyond the remnants of this Christmas. We have forgotten to listen to the stories of those who have gone before us. We have forgotten to come before God in awe and gratitude for the gift of life and Love. Perhaps we have forgotten how truly loved we are. If we remember, we can change the world. If we remember, we will become known for our songs of praise.
Spend some time in these days of Christmastide under the light of the star that still shines, surrounded by the remnants of the day, and remember. Remember the days of old that enable the prophets and poets to sing praises to God. Remember the beauty and wonder of creation. Remember those who have shared faith with you. But most importantly, remember that Christmas is all about Love breaking into the world in a whole new way so that we will not forget that we are God’s beloved. That’s what happened in that stable so long ago. That’s what happened just a few days ago.

May we all become songs of praise to the One whose Love continues to reach for us, even now.

If you’re looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Photo: CC0 image by anja

Categories
Bidding Prayer

Bidding Prayer for Christmas Eve

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On this holy night when we remember Jesus’ birth, let us pray for all the children of the earth, and those who parent them.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who claims us all as beloved children, as we remember the birth of Jesus, we pray for all the children of the world – those near to us and those far away. We pray for parents who do their best to raise their children without the resources they need. We pray for those who have no children of their own and still reach out to children in need of love. Grant us the imagination and the courage to create a world in which all children have food, shelter, and care. Let us make room at the manger for all who come seeking Love.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember Mary and Joseph, and their long journey to Bethlehem, let us pray for all those who are far from home, for those in need of a home, and those who are lost.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who so loves the world, may the light we celebrate tonight, enlighten us always. May we see you in the face of the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the homeless, and the lost. As we think of the crowded in of Bethlehem and those words of “no room,” stir within us. Gift us with your vision of a world in which there is room for all, and no one is turned away. May our journey to this night, have meaning beyond this moment.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the angels who spread your Good News of peace on earth for all, let us pray for all those who worship tonight.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who yearns for peace on earth, we lift our voices with countless others in praise to you this night. We celebrate the ways in which you continue to break into the world and reveal your holy ways to us. Shape us into the church that is needed today so that we may truly embody you. May everyone who calls on your name, speak words of peace and work for justice until the day when all live in Love.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the shepherds who responded to the angel’s call, let us pray for all people who respond to your call by working to bring the light of justice the world.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God of grace and mercy, we see brokenness and suffering all around us. As we celebrate your amazing love, may we see with your eyes and work with your hands. It is not enough for us to witness suffering and oppression. What would the story be like if something prevented others from noticing the birth in the stable so long ago? We have done so much in this world that interferes with your love for the whole of humanity. So for those who have the courage to cry out for justice, we give you thanks, and ask that you would guide our feet to your holy way.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the magi who journeyed far to bring gifts to the new born king, let us give thanks for gifts we have been given, even as we seek to share them with others.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who loves us beyond our ability to imagine, we give you thanks for the gifts you have given to us – those we know and those that are yet unknown. While we are tempted to think that these blessings are for us alone, we know that we are meant to share your abundance. As we remember this familiar story of your birth and all who came to the manger, may we be transformed by power of your light – your hope, peace, joy, and love – that we might go home by another road, a road that is widened by generosity and welcome of all whom we meet.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

Photo: CC0 image by falco

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Christmas Brings Risks

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We aren’t particularly good at Christmas in the church. We have dressed it up with pageants, carols, and candlelight. We preach peace and possibilities and encourage people to linger for a moment at the manger and renew their acquaintance with the new born Christ. That’s all well and good, but we seldom hear a word about how dangerous a place that manger can be.

It should be clear enough from the moment Gabriel uttered, “Fear not.” In spite of these words everyone was afraid. Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all responded appropriately to the frightful messengers who came bearing glad tidings. Even Herod was afraid of what was to come and he didn’t need a holy messenger. We leave out the fearful parts when we tell the story. And we do ourselves a great injustice.

The Christian story isn’t meant to be comfortable and fill us with sweet,  nostalgic feelings, not even the birth story or what follows after it. God’s love for humanity is powerful, messy, and life-altering. Yes, God came in human form to be one of us, to take on the fullness of humanity, and to show us that the worst in us is not outside the reaches of holy redemption. However, if we make it to Bethlehem to greet the sacred mystery that was born in the night, we risk being touched by that very same mystery. And when that happens, our eyes are opened to what we might have been able to shut out before meeting the Christ-child.

Matthew speaks of Rachel weeping for her children with the echoes filling the streets as Herod ordered the slaughter of all the children under age two. These sounds, joined with an angel’s warning, drive Joseph and his new family to safety in Egypt. One innocent life was spared, but Rachel’s weeping filled the streets and continues on to this day. Have you heard her crying for the unarmed Black men shot by police with no justice to be seen? Have you heard her crying for the millions of Syrians displaced and seeking refuge? How about for the Water Protectors whose pleas for the land go unheard? How about for the transwomen assaulted and murdered just because they are who they are? For the undocumented people who live with the threat of deportation? For the Muslim people who live in fear because they call God by another name? For the young women lured into sex trafficking? For veterans who wander the streets without home or hope? For the countless who are hungry, homeless, dismissed, victimized, and forgotten?

If you’ve knelt at the manger and been touched by the mystery there, then you can’t help but hear Rachel weeping and see innocents being slaughtered everywhere. Someone offered Jesus and his family sanctuary long ago. Who will offer sanctuary for today’s innocents? Who will step up and respond to those who weep along with Rachel for their lost children? Who will carry the good news of Bethlehem to those who so desperately need it?

Do you see the risk now? It’s not enough to just talk about making room in our lives once more for the Christ-child. It’s not enough to just sing carols and exchange gifts with our loved ones. Christmas is about changing the world. It’s about protecting the innocent among us. It’s about traveling a different road once you’ve encountered the mystery. It’s about living loud enough to bring love and justice into the world.

If we take the claim to be the body of Christ seriously, then we must embrace the entirety of our faith history. The church, the body of Christ, knows what it is to be a refugee and dependent on others for sanctuary. The church knows what it is to be innocent and under threat of death. The church knows what it is to be beaten and killed just for being who you are. We know these things and so much more because Jesus lived them. We also know what it means to bring healing and hope because Jesus did.

We can talk about the horrors of 2016 in terms of personal losses, terrorist bombings, natural disasters, celebrity deaths, and Aleppo burning. However, if we want 2017 to be different, it is up to us to embody that difference. If we are truly the body of Christ as we claim to be, then if one person is a refugee, then all are refugees. If one person is victimized, all are victimized. If one is homeless, all are homeless. If one is lost, all are lost. On the other hand, we can also embody hope, healing, peace, love, and justice.

The power and mystery that changed the world so long ago lies within the body of Christ today. Let’s make 2017 the year we embrace the risks of Christmas and truly be the church the world so desperately needs.

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Christmas – January 1, 2017
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Story

Sally the Super Star: A Story for Christmas

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO ATTEND THE 5:00 PM SERVICE AT LIVING TABLE, THIS IS THE STORY I’LL BE READING. IF YOU WANT TO SHARE THE JOY OF HEARING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH THE KIDS, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO CONTINUE READING.

sally

Sally the Super Star

This story was written for use with small percussion instruments to be used as follows:
When the word “star” is said, bells jingle; “light” shakers shake; “brighter” clackers clack; “great” drums drum; and “super” thunder-stick thunders. And when “angel” is read, everyone is invited to say “oooo” and when “God” is read, everyone says “ahhhhh”

A very long time ago, in a far off place, a star was born. She was filled with a bright, glittering light. Her name was Sally. When God saw how simple and pretty she was, God gave her a special place in the night time sky. As Sally grew older, she didn’t think her place was so special.

“I want to shine brighter! I want to do something great! I want to be a super star!” Sally would say to anyone who asked and many who did not. She was not content with her place in the night sky. She was one star among many above a city filled with people who almost never looked up.

Sally thought her brother, Stanley, had the best job. He had a spot in the Big Dipper. You know that one star that’s sometimes hard to find, but you just know it’s there. Stanley was proud of his place in the constellation even if he wasn’t as bright as some of the other stars.

As the years went by, Sally was filled with longing. Sometimes her light wasn’t as bright as it could have been because she felt sad because she was an ordinary star, not a super star.

One day an angel of God was passing by and noticed Sally’s dim light. “Hey, what’s wrong with you little star?” the angel asked Sally.

Sally answered with a very sad voice, “I want to shine brighter. I want to do something great. I want to be a super star. And I’m not. I’m just a regular old star, hanging over a city full of people who never look up to see me.” All her old enthusiasm was gone. Sally had become a sad little star.

“Cheer up, little star! Pretty soon you will have a job to do,” said the joyful angel.

“How do you know?” said grumpy Sally, not really believing the angel knew what he was talking about.

“I am the angel Gabriel,” he said with pride, “and I have just come from a special mission God gave just to me.”

“Yeah? So what?” Sally wasn’t having any of Gabriel’s joy. “I’m Sally, just a dull old star. God put me right in this place. I don’t think a mission from God is all that special.”

“Oh, but it is! Just you wait and see. In about nine months you are going to be one busy little star. You really are! You’ll be brighter! You’ll be great! You’ll be super!” Gabriel sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

“How do you know?” asked Sally, her curiosity winning out over her grumpiness.

“Well, I said I was returning from a special mission that God gave me.” Gabriel looked at Sally, and Sally nodded as Gabriel continued, “I just got a girl named Mary to agree to bring God’s child into the world.” Gabriel said this as though he thought Sally would understand. She did not.

“What has this got to do with me?” Sally asked, a little irritated.

“Surely, you’ve heard about this child.” Sally shook her head. She didn’t pay much attention to the humans who never took time to look up and see her hanging out, lighting up the night sky. “Unbelievable!” Gabriel was amazed that Sally didn’t know what was going on right under her shiny little nose.

“This child has been talked about, promised even, for generations. He’ll be known as Emanuel because he’ll actually be ‘God with us,’ but his name will be Jesus which means ‘God is salvation’.”

“I still don’t know what that has to do with me!” Sally practically shouted. If she had feet she would have stomped them in frustration.

“Oh, Sally,” Gabriel said with a smile. “Sally, you were made for this. God put you in the sky for this. You have always said that you want to shine brighter, do something great, and be a super star. This will be your chance. So you better start gathering up all your light because in a few months you are really going to need it.”

Sally just stared at Gabriel. She still did not understand.

“Sally, you sweet little star. Don’t you see? People are going to need to be able to find this child. He’s going to be born in the city right below you. You do know that you shine right above Bethlehem, a city with quite a history, don’t you?” Gabriel watched and waited for Sally to grasp what he was trying to tell her.

Sally started to shine a little brighter. She was going to do something great. She was going to get her chance to be a super star. “Are you telling me that I’m going to be the one who leads the way to this baby that the world has been waiting for?”

“Yes, Sally, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. In a few months Mary and Joseph will travel to Bethlehem for the census. They’ll get there just in time for Jesus to be born. And then you will light up the sky so others can come and visit this child who will be light for the world.” Gabriel was pleased to see that Sally finally understood. Her job was going to be way more important than Stanely’s spot in the Big Dipper!

Over the next nine months, Sally gathered up all her light and concentrated on glowing brighter and brighter as the months went by. As her light grew brighter, she grew larger. By the time Jesus was born, Sally was the brightest and biggest star in the sky. And she stayed that way for a very long time.

sally2.jpg

On the night Jesus was born, Sally watched as a whole bunch of angels startled shepherds who were caring for their sheep through the night. The angels told the shepherds to go and see the baby Jesus who was with his parents right below where Sally lit up the sky. Sally was thrilled when all the shepherds looked up and saw her shining so brightly. They followed her light to the very spot where Jesus lay in a manger.

All through that night and for many nights, people came to visit Jesus and leave him gifts. People came from far off, following Sally’s light. A group of magi (really smart and wise people) came and brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And Sally lit the way for them.

After a time, Sally noticed that she wasn’t shining quite as bright and she wasn’t  quite as big as she had been when Jesus was born. That was okay with Sally. She played her part. She really did shine brighter, she did something great, and for a little while she was a super star.

Somehow, that didn’t seem so important anymore. Sally realized that Jesus would outshine her. The light that baby would bring to the world was far more powerful than her starlight. Jesus would show the world how great God’s love really is.

“That’s okay,” Sally thought to herself. “As long as people remember why I lit up the sky, that’s what’s important. As long as they remember that Jesus is the Light the world really needs and they share that Light with each other, that’s all that matters.”

The Angel Gabriel happened to be nearby and overheard Sally. He said with pride, “Sally, my little star, you really are a super star! Maybe those little people down there will take a cue from you and do what they need to do to show the way to God’s Light and Love because the world needs more superstars!”

Sally laughed and said, “Oh, there’s lots of Light in the world. People just have to want to shine brighter, do something great, and be a superstar to light up their little places in the world.”

Sally and Gabriel smiled at each other and started searching through the nights for all those who will shine brighter, do something great, and be a superstar as they light up the world with God’s love.

RCL – Year A – Christmas Day – December 25, 2016

Proper I
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus  2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Proper II
Isaiah 62:6-12
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20

Proper III
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
John 1:1-14

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Christmas, Epiphany, and a Whole New Road

epiphanyThis week is the second Sunday in Christmastide and the Sunday before Epiphany. I’ve been reading both sets of texts and will be preaching on Matthew’s account of the coming of the magi. These magi traveled from foreign lands to solve the mystery of a star. They likely knew nothing of the God of the Jews and there is no mention of their conversion. What the scriptures point out is that they returned home by another route. It’s this needing to travel differently after kneeling before the baby born in Bethlehem that has long captured my imagination.

This year, though, I didn’t need to imagine much. This Advent felt very different. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was much more aware of the community around me as I made my way to Bethlehem. Gone were my solitary self-evaluations and inward commitments to change. What filled my ears and my heart were the cries of pain and demands for justice that echo through the world around me. These were my guides to the manger this year.

What will you do for Jamar Clark and the countless others like him? What will you do for Syrian women, men, and children desperate enough to escape that they risk their lives? What will you do for the homeless and hungry people you walk by? What will you do for those the world chooses not to see? What will you do for those who are legally oppressed? What will you do?

No matter how I tried to escape these questions, I could not. On Christmas Eve, I found myself in a candlelit sanctuary searching for hope, peace, joy, and love as much as the faces that looked back at me. And sometime shortly before mid-night as the quiet words of “Silent Night” gave way to the bright rejoicing of “Joy to the World,” it hit me – hard.

Back in September, at the Widening the Welcome I heard the sentence, “If one of us is disabled, then the body of Christ is disabled.” On Christmas Eve it struck me that if one of us is a murdered Black child, then the Body of Christ is also. If one of us is a Syrian refugee, then the body of Christ is a refugee. This applied to all those questions that pursued me through Advent. I also recognized the downside which said that if one of us is an oppressor, the body of Christ is an oppressor. This may not seem like a big deal as I write it all out, but it really was a very powerfully revelation, a personal epiphany.

The power in it is that I can no longer choose to let things go by. I cannot condone the body of Christ being an oppressor. I can’t sit back and shake my head when someone fails to see racism for the horrific sin that it is. It means that I have no choice but to advocate for justice and support those who demand justice for themselves and their loved ones. The way we treat one another matters, not just on a personal level but on a global level. I know this isn’t news, but hear it again. And take a lesson from the magi.

Once we have encountered the Word Become Flesh living among us, we cannot keep traveling the same well-worn route. We have no choice but to go home by another road. The voice of Herod is still quite loud. Herod would kill the fragile child who brings hope into the world. Herod would blame the victims of every crime and justify violence and oppression as being good for the people. Herod is a fear-mongering liar.

Did you spend time kneeling before the Babe in Bethlehem? Do you now see that Christ is in every fragile, frail, finite human being? How can you remain quiet while POC die? While refugees suffer? While any human being remains hidden under the veils of legalized oppression? Is it not time we stop justifying our power and position and act as Christ did? Is it not time we make the body of Christ a body that does not reach out a hand to oppress but only to bring justice and love?

My own epiphany at the manger, an epiphany that was years in the making, tells me that the identity of one is truly the identity of all who claim the name of Christ. I cannot return to my former path. I will seek the wisdom of God who led the magi home by another road and risk the discomfort and misplaced footing that occur when one walks a new path.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Christmas or Epiphany Sunday -January 3, 2016
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:[1-9], 10-18
Epiphany readings:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

In Search Of…

No this is not about the old show hosted by Leonard Nemoy (yes, I am that old). It is in fact about something both much older and brand new.  What follows was originally blogged at RevGalBlogPals. Since this is a very busy week, I’m sharing it here, too. Merry Christmas!

12381206_10153444109824164_663857255_oAlas, the liturgical year continues to unfold. It takes no notice of tired preachers with desires for long winter’s naps. So here we are with this week’s texts trying to look up from the manger long enough to figure out what to say on the Sunday after.

I’m never quite sure what to do with the Samuel text because it feels out of place in the Christmas season. Yes, Samuel was special and has a role to play in the story and maybe some of you are preaching Samuel’s story this week. However, I can’t escape the pull of the gospel story.

When I was younger, I put all the blame on Mary and Joseph. How could they possibly lose track of their beloved son? In the years since, I realize just how easy it is for children to get lost in crowds, especially crowds of familiar faces. This year I find myself having great sympathy with Jesus’ parents. Where did he go? He was just with us and now we can’t find him anywhere.

Sometime between the carols and candles of Thursday night and worship Sunday morning, many of us will have lost track of Jesus. Our words will echo the words of Mary and Joseph. He was just here. We knelt in front of that manger and sang our praises. Where did he go? It will be hard not to lose sight of Jesus in the crowds rushing to post-Christmas sales and packing away decorations. After all, the rest of the world moves on just as quickly, if not more so, as the liturgical year.

Of course, when Mary and Joseph find Jesus he is in the Temple doing exactly what one might expect the future Messiah to be doing. Where did you think I’d be? Why would I not be in my Father’s house doing the work of the One who sent me? Seriously, Mom!

People have spent so much time and energy looking for Jesus over the centuries. He shows up periodically here and there and people take notice. The  text is a road map for finding Jesus. I want to paint these words on the wall of the sanctuary to remind folks how to embody Christ. What if we all treated one another with kindness and love, wisdom and grace, honoring Christ with all our words and deeds? It wouldn’t be so easy for Jesus to get lost in the crowds then…

So, what’s on your mind and in your heart for this first Sunday after Christmas? Do you feel like you’ve lost Jesus or are you right there in the Temple with him doing the work of God? Maybe you are on the front steps with me, knowing that Jesus is waiting but feeling a little worn out and not quite ready to keep going on this chaotic, beautiful, painful, wonderful pilgrimage? Whatever you are up to for this week’s preaching, may the Spirit guide you with energizing wisdom and surround you with joy of serving our God.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday after Christmas – December 27, 2015
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

Photo Credit Erika Sanborne.