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“Shining in the Dark”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 5:13-16
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

 

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.


 

 

We continue following the drama through which Jeremiah and the people of Israel lived.  Indeed they were taken into exile by Babylon.  They were taken from the only home they’d known, a place where they governed themselves and bought and sold land…to a place they’d never known.  None of the former comforts or routines were present.  They were dropped in a sea of different, with no more than the despised prophet’s words to hold onto – that they would again buy and sell in their own land…

But how would that help them now?  What did that mean for them in their present situation?  Do they just hunker down and hold out until that moment?  What were they to do?

And God speaks to Jeremiah who again speaks to his people saying, “Build houses and live in them.  Plant vineyards and eat of them.  Find wives for your sons.  Increase and do not decrease.”

 

God knows that when we are traumatized and discouraged, when we’ve lost everything and been stripped of the familiar, we each respond somewhat differently.  But very commonly, we shut down.  We want revenge.  We want to make our oppressors pay.  We stop living, and we start ruminating on how we’ve been wronged.

So many of us have fallen into these patterns, with far less trauma.  When a wrong is done to us, it is natural to feel ourselves the victim…because we are!  It is natural to focus on the wrongdoing, if for no other reason than to make sense of the wrongful act.  It is natural to want revenge – because we are craving justice.  We too yearn, with all creation, for justice to roll down like the mighty waters.

 

How many times have we gotten stuck – unable to move forward in our lives?

 

The people of Israel are very much at risk of this very same thing.  And God is concerned that they do NOT stop living.  God wants them to keep living.

Now this is hard because HOW LONG will they be exiled away from their homes?  Will it be for 6 months or a year?  Will it be several years or decades or a century?

They cannot see what lies ahead in order to make an informed decision about how they go about their day to day lives.  The answers to these very significant questions would lead them to live very different sorts of lives.  And without that clarity and foresight, they are even more apt to simply stop living, and remain stuck in a kind of holding pattern.

 

God does not want this for them.  God knows the time will be long.  So God sends Jeremiah to speak to them yet again – to instruct them to go on living.  They are to invest in the place where they find themselves.  They are to make the absolute best of it – building up homes for themselves and gardens.  They are to keep living – keep giving their sons & daughters in marriage – keep having children and grandchildren.  God wants them to prosper.  And they cannot prosper if they stop living.

 

Are they in the place God promised to them?

No.

Are they in positions of honor and power and self-governance?

No.

Is there more for them?

Yes.

Is it for now?

No.

 

God explains through Jeremiah that the welfare of their exiled land will be their welfare, it’s prosperity will be their prosperity.

For now, their well-being is tied up with that of Babylon.  And they are not only to keep living, doing their thing, but to also invest in their community, making a contribution to society and praying for the land of their captivity.

Praying for Babylon.

 

Over and over and over again, when we have been wronged, God instructs us to pray.  Time and time and time again, when injustice occurs, God instructs us to pray.  And not just for some, but for all.  And not just for our friends, but for our enemies.

God instructs us to pray.

 

Could it be that this is how we get unstuck?

Could it be that this is how we heal?

Cold it be that this is how we continue to hear God’s voice and follow God’s lead,

Even in captivity?

Even in a foreign land?

Even when our lives know no comfort?

Even when we cannot see a brighter day ahead?

 

The people of Israel – just marched from their home to a foreign land, perhaps never to see their own houses and vineyards again – are to pray for their oppressors.  They are to pray for this foreign land.

It is counter-intuitive.

 

They are to invest in the land, knowing that the welfare of this foreign land will also be their welfare…

It is counter-intuitive.

 

And this is where God’s light shines most brightly. 

In the darkest night of our circumstances, God’s love permeates and floods all the cracks and crannies of our lives and the lives around us when we pray and obey. 

You see, the people of Israel were always called to be a light to the nations.  And here God has them squarely inside another nation.  And here, they can very much be a light.  IF they will continue to live…  IF they will bless their captors and not curse them…  IF they will trust and obey, even when they are bitter and scared.

 

Just like the people of Israel, God has called you and I children and friends.  God has called us light of the world and bread of God.  We are called to be salt, seasoning the earth with God’s light and love.

But we will only do this if each of us keeps living, if we keep praying, if we make the most of our wilderness-land, if we bless and don’t curse, if we invest in the places we are – even while hoping and longing and praying for the places we hope to be.

 

So will we pray?

Will we seek the welfare of the land in which we find ourselves?

Will we make the most of our days?

Will we keep living – building and planting and marrying?

 

Our God is with us, and our God is speaking still.

May we not lose hope amid the darkness.

But may we listen all the more,

Letting God’s light shine even more brightly in the darkness.

 

You are dear.

“The Smallest Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 65:17-25
John 20:1-18

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

 

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


 

This is a wild story.  It’s the kind of story that makes one wonder if the teller of the tale has gotten any sleep, whether or not they’re delirious, whether they’re high, or just how connected they are to reality.  That is why the presence of these other believers at the scene is so critical.  What Mary Magdalene experiences is astonishing.  It is inconceivable.

She goes from the worst kind of grief; …to anger and sadness that Jesus’ body appears to have been removed; …to surprise, disbelief, relief, and joy to find the Teacher speaking with her.  And this is the kind of radical joy that changes everything.  It’s the kind of surprise that reminds you you do not know everything but that there is infinitely more to life than you can perceive.  It’s the kind of wonderment that squarely reminds you that God is God and you are not.

Can you imagine?

 

How many of you have been in mourning?

How many of you are there now?

How many of you have witnessed atrocity?

How many of you have listened to stories that make your heart feel like it will burst?

Who among you has witnessed the deep darkness in human hearts, both in yours and in others’?

 

For everyone who has despaired.

For everyone who has felt fear and isolation.

For everyone who has witnessed loss of life.

For everyone who has seen fear lay waste to what was vibrant.

For everyone who has watched as the innocent suffer.

For everyone who have listened as evil and sin claim the day…

 

This resurrection is for you.

For you.

 

For there is infinitely more to life than we could ever perceive.

And the smallest light will pierce the blackest night.

 

There is more to life, and there is more to death, than we can conceive.

But if we trust the Maker of the stars

…the Author of the love that glimmers in eyes of our beloved ones

…the Creator of the Sun that energizes us by day and soothes us reflecting off the moon at night.

If we trust the Maker of earthworm who breaks down matter to make earth and till the soil

If we trust the One who made the ground that filters our water making it pure again

…the One who makes the land bring forth good food to nourish and sustain…

THIS One makes good things out of the dust.

THIS One summons life after death.

THIS One is ever remaking the world that we destroy.

THIS One is ever reaching out to hearts who have turned away.

THIS One is ever inviting hearts to repay evil with good.

This One is ever working ALL things for good.

 

This One

 

While in Israel, we got to speak with many different people, some famous, some simple and unknown.  One of these folks was an unassuming, quiet gentleman named Yuval Roth.  A Jewish man living in Israel, he lost his brother one day in ’93 when a group of extremists picked him to give him a ride, while posing as Orthodox Jews.  Yuval would never see his brother again.

And after such tragedy and loss, one can imagine a multitude of ways his story could have gone.  But at some point, he was compelled to help his Palestinian neighbor reach medical treatment in Israel.  And this started a movement.  He continued assisting Palestinians in crossing the borders to access life-saving medical treatment.  And others began joining him such that now it consists of thousands of Israeli volunteers who, just last year, provided over 10,000 rides to over 20,000 Palestinian patients, most of them children.

He received a text from one of the Palestinian men he helped.  It read, “You saved me two times.  The first time from cancer.  The second time from extreme hate.”

 

 

Our God is the author of new beginnings, over and over and over again.

Jesus Christ modeled for us a forgiveness beyond anything we’d ever witnessed.

And our God, in Jesus Christ, has shown us just how far God’s love extends.

It is inconceivable, uncontainable….

 

Our God is not just out for the good and the righteous.  Our God came for the lost and those in deepest darkness.

 

So when you are tempted to believe there is no hope

-that evil has destroyed all you love

-that injustice has stolen your future and your joy

-that these dry, dry bones can no longer live…

REMEMBER, that the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness.

Jesus rose from the dead and is alive in you and in me.

God is still working miracles – making goodness from evil, calling life out of death.

And you, dear ones, are shining in the light and love of the Lord.

 

 

Shine on!

Remain steadfast in hope.

Believe.

For this is the GOD we serve!!

“BeLoved”

Isaiah 43:1-7
Acts 8:14-17

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.


 

In college I had the joy of studying the Bible and learning about God through various Christian perspectives.  And one of the most impactful teachings I remember from that time was to read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were to you and me.  Why?  Because we too are now God’s chosen people.  As believers, we have been adopted into the family of God.

This made Isaiah 43 one of my favorite passages.  Favorite because it tells of God’s utter love for and commitment to us.  God claims us:  “You are mine.”  And God speaks tenderly to us, “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I loved these verses.  They helped me understand God in a more personal way.  You see, in my final years of high school, my home church had hired a youth director who we all adored.  She was funny and spunky and fun.  The Bible was alive for her, and she was opening it up to us, for the first time in our lives.  She used to always say, “Christianity is not a religion.  It’s a relationship.”  Of all the things she taught us, this was most profound.  For the first time, we were beginning to realize that the juicy goodness of faith was lived out in relationship with God.  And the way we best got to know God was by studying the Bible and growing in fellowship with one another.

And so this life-giving new path was opening to me.  So then when I learned in college that we could read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were written to us, so much more of the Bible opened up to me.  It meant that the Bible was overflowing with God’s words of love and promise.  And I was coming to adore this God who was everything needed, respected, trusted and yearned for.

Listen to these verses from Isaiah again, and whenever you hear Israel or Jacob, instead hear your own name.

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
hen you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;

 

This is utterly beautiful.  This is the commitment we may seek from one another our whole lives.  This is the commitment shown us by our Beautiful Lord.

 

But what I didn’t delve into at the time were the words about God exchanging others for my life.

After college and while in seminary at Union, I became friends with an Egyptian family.  The husband was also a seminary student, and our families became good friends.  They explained that the Bible is hard to read for them because it makes such negative mention of Egypt, time after time.  And yet these Egyptian friends of mine were also believers, and their families had been for many generations.

I had never before thought about those countries and people who are labeled negatively in these stories.  And here, right in the middle of one of my favorite passages, is a section about God exchanging others for us, for God’s chosen people.

And this was hard to digest.

 

First we have the trouble of being God’s chosen.  If some are chosen, does that mean others are not?  And why?  Other parts of scripture made it clear that God’s heart is for the whole world and that God came so that ALL might know God’s saving love.  And yet, there is this element of choosing.  What does it mean?

On the one hand, I love this idea of choosing.  Choice means that God’s involvement in our lives is voluntary.  It shows us that GOD WANTS US.  And that is part of what’s so beautiful about these words of God, shared through the prophet Isaiah.

At the same time, choice seems to imply that others are not chosen.  And these verses about exchanging whole other people groups for the chosen ones, seems to support that idea.

I was torn.

 

And yet, in the very chapter just preceding this one, Isaiah writes of the Lord,

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

A light to the nations.  God called the nation of Israel, took it by the hand, and kept it IN ORDER TO give them as a covenant to the people, a LIGHT to the nations.

So again, there is this idea that God chose the people SO THAT they might shed God’s light on the nations, everyone!

 

To this people who has been taught for so many years to avoid other nations, these hints throughout the prophets that Israel would be a gift FOR the nations come as a great surprise.  The people had internalized this notion that God’s choosing them somehow meant they were better than others.  But here, we see that God’s choosing them is part of God’s whole plan to save everyone.  God was keeping them, taking them by the hand, that they themselves might be the fulfillment of God’s promise, God’s covenant, to all creation.

The chosen people were the means by which God’s light would come!  Through them, a tiny baby would be born, of a virgin, in a backyard stable barn.  And through him, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, spilling out beyond the boundaries of the people of Israel and spreading to people far and wide.

We are here today because of how God spoke through and came through the people of Israel.  Through them, Jesus came into this world, and we have come to believe!

 

Perhaps this is what helped my Egyptian friends.  Perhaps they could hear God’s love for them and their nation, amidst all the negative press their nation gets in the Bible.  Perhaps they too had learned to read God’s words to the Israelites, as also being God’s words to them.  Perhaps their identities as Children of God had become the main identity with which they read God’s Word.

 

 

There is much in the Bible to digest.  There are mysteries that may remain mysteries our whole life long.  There is Mystery and there always will be, as long as we are seeking the one true God, the One whom we cannot ever fully know or understand.  And so our relationship with God will never be one of full knowing.  This God who we serve is far above and beyond all our understanding.  If we think we fully know God, then we must question whether we know GOD at all.  Our God is above all.  Our God is beyond our understanding.  God’s ways are not our ways.

And so we walk by faith.  We place our trust in the One who is above all and in all and through all.  We decide that this One who loves us with a never-stopping, never-giving-up love is worthy of all our praise.  We choose back this One who has claimed us in the waters of baptism and chosen us as God’s own.  We bind our lives to the One who came that we might have life and have it to the full!

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” says the Lord.

This is the One whom I have placed my trust.  With Timothy, I proclaim,

“I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”

 

With our faith and our doubts,

With our fears and our hopes,

In understanding and in awe,

In mystery and in knowing,

We come

Before the One who knows us

And chooses us

And loves us

Just as we are.

 

You are precious in God’s sight.  Honored.  And beloved.

 

Believe it.

And be loved.

“Make Us Wise”

Isaiah 60:1-6
Romans 1:20
Matthew 2:1-12

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and 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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Romans 1:20

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 


 

In this story, we learn of a great power scare.  The ruler Herod feels threatened by this prophecy about a promised ruler coming to shepherd the people.  As many around him, he thinks this ruler will be a challenge to his Kingdom.  He does not know that Christ is the King of all the world and not another political challenger for the nation of Israel.

And so, feigning interest and reverence, he asks the council of the wise men from the East – to gather information about where he might find the child.  And covering all his bases, he asks that the wise men check back in with him, after they’ve found the child, “that I may also go and pay him homage,” he says.  But the wise men, who are apparently wise both in name and in character, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they return to their homes by another road.

In a birth story with so many twists and turns, Christ comes to live among us, born as a little baby, just like us.  And God is moving heaven and earth that we might this heavenly love letter, this little child, our Savior.

 

I am struck by the wise men.  We are told they are from the East.  Beyond that, we can only speculate who they might have been.  But what we know for sure is that they are not Israelites.  They are not the chosen people of Israel, and yet they are in tune with the greatest revelation of God!  And how did they hear?  How did they know?  How did they see?

They saw in the stars.  They were students of the stars.  They watched creation.  They knew something spectacular was happening, and they were not going to miss it.  And so these star gazers from the East find themselves prostrate before a tiny baby, King of the World.

 

I love how God’s heart for humanity is not bound by race or family, religion or creed.  When God shows up, God makes it known in the stars, for any and all to see.  After all, the whole point of choosing a people at all was they would themselves become a beacon, a city on a hill, a light for the nations.  This gift is for the whole world!

God’s heart has always been for all people.  It has just taken us a long time to believe it.

In fact, it’s still something we struggle to believe today.

It’s far too easy to revert to thinking God loves some and not others.

It’s far too tempting to think our blessings are for ourselves alone.

But in fact, we are blessed – in order to be a blessing!

We are called for a purpose, and not simply for privilege.

 

I am glad these men from the East are known today as “wise men” for indeed they were wise men.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that everyone is without excuse when they sin – because, he reasons, God has made Godself known through everything created.  ALL AROUND US, God is visible.  In every created thing, God’s fingerprints can be seen.  God can be known simply by paying attention to the created world.

And here we see the wise men, studying what God has made, following where it leads them, and coming face to face with God-made-flesh.

 

Friends, we are not called by God in order to feel safe and good and privileged.  We are called because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good!  We are called because so many need to know that God is good.  So many need to know that God is for them.  So many need to know that they are loved by the King of Heaven and Earth, just as they are.  So many need to know that their lives matter.

You and I are called to be light.

The Psalmist writes:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and 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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Indeed thick darkness covers this world.  We create such darkness in our world.  But in God’s great mercy and steadfast love, God has come.  God comes into our cycles of death and darkness, breaking in with unquenchable light.

And this light has broken upon us, piercing our darkness, in the unthreatening brightness of a little baby, laid in a manger.

And in this light, we shine.

Not because we are the light ourselves, but because our Light has come!  Christ has come!

And we who are witnesses to God’s in-breaking Light,

We are called to arise.

We are called to shine.

In the presence of God-with-us, we radiate the love and light of our Lord,

When we are present to,

Alert to,

Waiting and watching,

Witnessing God’s present in-breaking into our day to day lives,

We reflect God’s life-giving light.   

And scripture tells us

“Kings and nations will come to the brightness of our dawn.”

 

So friends, keep alert.

Our God is visible in EVERYTHING God has made.

And our God is here.

 

May we too be wise children of God.

May we SEE and be radiant!

So that many more may know

the boundless,

Life-changing

Love of God.

 

 

 

“The In-Breaking of God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 1:5-20, 24-25
Luke 1:39-45
Luke 1:57-79

Luke 1:5-20, 24-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.  Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

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.”

Luke 1:57-79

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


 

Luke’s portrayal of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the words she spoke by the Holy Spirit are rare.  Of all the names mentioned in the Bible, only between 5.5 – 8% are thought to have been female, and of those, only half have their words recorded.

This means that at most, less than 5% of individuals spoken of in the Bible are women whose words are remembered.  This is significant, because it makes these words of Mary, very special.

 

What possessed Luke to include these details in his story?  Of all the Gospel writers, Luke alone includes these details of the story.  Luke alone gives us insight into Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s journey and Mary’s journey alongside them.   And as if recording Mary’s words was not enough to make his readers sit up and listen with surprise, Zechariah, the only male in this section of story, is made mute because of his unbelief when the angel told him that his aging and barren wife would bear a son.

So we have the entire first chapter of Luke unfolding very unusual dialogue.  First we have Zechariah being met by an angel, and then we have Mary met by an angel.  Zechariah disbelieves and so is made mute.  Mary believes and is filled with words by the Holy Spirit.  And so the very first long string of spoken word is that of Mary.  Mary’s words.  Mary’s song.  And it is not until John is born and Zechariah names him according to the angel’s instruction that Zechariah’s tongue is freed and he too begins to speak by the Holy Spirit.  Zechariah’s prophecy.

 

Luke opens his entire gospel story with the words of a woman and a muted man.

 

THIS is not going to be your usual story.

THIS is the kind of story where everything is topsy turvy.

THIS is the kind of story where God’s Kingdom crashes into our reality, making things right.

 

Those who are too high and lifted up shall be made low.

Those who are too low and wrongfully despised are lifted up.

Those who are hungry shall be filled.

The meek and virgin bears God’s child.

The barren woman bears a son.

 

God is flipping the world as we know it on its head.  God is making wrong things right.  God gives the young, unmarried, virgin, pregnant girl a voice.  God takes voice from one in power when he does not believe.

 

And so, in every possible way, this story starts out gripping, unusual, radical, and unbelievable.  The reader in Luke’s day KNOWS that this is not your ordinary story.  The reader is Luke’s day is jarred out of the lull of the ordinary and into the extraordinary, in-breaking of God.

The virgin is pregnant.

The barren will bear a son.

The man of the house is mute.

A girl is filled with the Holy Spirit.

GOD is breaking in.  

 

And Luke sees this extraordinary breaking with the-way-that-things-are-done,

these curious coincidences,

these miracles,

and he lays before us each remarkable nugget

so that we too might see

take note,

sit up,

and be amazed!

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

These words of Zechariah and those of Mary speak to the dawning of a new age.  The old rules will not apply.  The old script is out the window.  It is NOT same-ole, same-ole.  GOD is doing something new.  GOD is breaking in.  GOD is keeping God’s promise to the people of Israel and the whole world.

“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.” Isaiah writes,
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

 

Christ is coming, and for those who see it, nothing will be the same. 

 

Our Lord comes.

It springs forth,

Shining a light on all who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…

 

Do you perceive it?