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“Keep Alert. The Expectant Shall See.”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


 

So much surrounding Jesus’ birth is extra-ordinary.

A virgin birth.

An unwed mother still engaged, though her child is not his own.

A girl, the chosen one, from the no-good, backwater town of Nazareth.

Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, pregnant with John, after a lifetime of barrenness.

Elizabeth’s husband Zephaniah made mute until his firstborn and only child John is born.

Angel visitations – to Mary, to Zephaniah, and to Joseph in a dream.

The first-ever world census, it says.

A star directly over the barn, where Jesus is born.

The wise men who study the stars and travel from other kingdoms to pay homage to Jesus.

The glorious host of angels alerting the shepherds to the Christ-child.

A holy child wrapped in mere bands of cloth – not a blanket – and lying in a feed trough.

 

Here the long-awaited Messiah is born and who comes but the foreigners,

The social outsiders – shepherds who spent more time with animals than with other people.

 

It says Mary pondered all these things in her heart.

And as she should!  Because WHO could have foreseen this bizarre series of events?

Who would have guessed those whom God would call to witness this great act of God – the outsiders, the unclean, the foreigners…ALL people God’s chosen were taught to keep their distance from.

 

But WHO is ready?

Is it the people of Israel?

 

Certainly it is not the people of Bethlehem who have relegated this very expectant mother to the animal barn.

 

No.  Foreigners are among the first to see.

And among their own people, it is not all the well-dressed,

The put together,

The wealthy,

The well-connected, no.

Shepherds.  The smelly shepherds.  Those whose work keeps them on the fringes.  Those who are not clean or presentable.

These are among the first to hear and see.

 

And WHY did they see?

Could it be because they were open and available?

Could it be because their socially isolating work required that they be open and ready, listening and waiting, on guard for the sheep – alert to any change or danger?  Could it be because they were among the few lying on their backs under the open stars?

 

 

For those who are paying attention, there is so much to witness, so much to see and hear, extraordinary happenings!

There is so much to ponder in one’s heart.

 

But those who witness,

Who hear and see,

They are the expectant.

The expectant are witness to this extraordinary in-breaking of Mystery into our world, the Son of God, born a tiny babe to a virgin, wrapped in scraps of cloth, and lying in a feed trough.

Those who hear and see are the expectant, the alert, the watching and listening and waiting ones.

 

 

How vigilant are you to protect and preserve moments of waiting,

Moments of listening,

Moments of openness and expectancy,

In your day by seemingly-ordinary-day life?

 

This tiny babe, is still breaking into our lives, in extra-ordinary ways.

The watching ones.  The waiting ones.  The seeking ones.

The expectant ones SEE.  Halleluia!

 

Our Lord is here.

Do we see?

“I Once Was Blind, But Now I See”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 100
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into God’s presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to the Lord, bless God’s name.

For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 


 

In this season, we are reminded to give thanks.

Giving thanks is something we know we should do.  On some level, we all know we are blessed, but in the day to day, we find it exceedingly difficult to stay in a grateful place.

Some days, things seem to fall into place; the road rises to meet us!  Other days we find ourselves face to face with injustice, with short-sighted and inconsiderate behavior, with quandaries in which we feel forced to choose between the lessor of two evils…

And even when our situations aren’t so dire or discouraging, we’re often just in a funky mood because we had to drive behind someone slowly on the highway, or wait long in line, or make extra trips to the store because what we wanted wasn’t in stock…

From the simple things to the deeply complex, we find ourselves mired in negative thought patterns.

 

So if you will, I’m gonna give you several minutes to briefly jot down all the things that are bugging you today – big and small things.  Nobody needs to see your list, unless you want them too; this is just an exercise we’re doing for ourselves.

So if you will right now, actually take the next three minutes, and jot down all the things that have got you down or angry or worried.

It is exceedingly difficult to stay in position of gratitude, but gratitude it turns out is one of the markers of resilience.  Gratitude actually has the power to drive out depression and fear.  It turns out that anger, fear, and depression, to name a few, cannot thrive in an atmosphere of gratitude.

So it would seem that giving thanks is the chicken soup for a tired soul.

 

As my son Caleb was growing up, he struggled to say thank you.  In his early years he often forgot, and if I reminded him, he would get upset and the gift-giver would become uncomfortable.  No one wants a forced thank you!  We want folks to mean what they say.  Otherwise the words feel hollow.

But waiting till we feel thankful is also a danger because gratitude at its root is a spiritual discipline.  Discipline is something few of us want.  I know I certainly don’t.  But there are disciplines that strengthen and ground us.

We discipline ourselves to eat regular meals

So that our bodies will be well and able to support us.

We discipline ourselves to get good sleep

    So that we have energy and a good state of mind and body for the coming day.

We discipline ourselves to not speak words in anger

  So that we don’t burn bridges and create divides between us and the people in our   lives.

 

Gratitude in its best form is also a discipline, a spiritual discipline.

Gratitude becomes lifegiving to us, when we do it whether or not we feel anything.  In fact, it is most powerful when we discipline ourselves to give thanks in the midst of trial and adversity.

 

Our own Phylliss Moret tells the story of supervising other supervisors.  They would come to her complaining about so & so, offering a litany of shortcomings.  And after listening for a bit, she would say, “Well if they are that bad, then why are they still here?  Should we let them go?”  And at this, the disgruntled supervisors would quickly say, “But, we need them because…..”  For all the frustration, there was also so much good, and when it came down to it, the good often outweighed the bad.  The complaints were only part of the picture.  Usually there was a host of good that the supervisors were failing to articulate.

The same is true of our lives.  Talk to any one of us on a given day, and we can give you a litany of the many things wrong; of the challenges; of our worries, concerns, and fears.  But in this same moment, we are standing on a wealth of immeasurable blessing that we are taking for granted.

 

A friend of mine illustrated this so well in a facebook post.  She posted a list on notebook paper equating her complaints with their converse, blessings-in-disguise.

11'25'18 Grateful List

This is why gratitude as a spiritual discipline is so very important.  It is precisely because we become blind to the blessings and gifts in our lives.  We need the routine task of giving thanks in order to wake us up to the immensity of blessing in our lives!

 

So at this moment, I want to give you another 3 minutes to consider your complaints one by one and to write down the blessings that lie just under each complaint.  And if you finish while there’s still time, just go hog wild & start a list of the things in your life you are grateful for.

I have asked you to do this exercise not to shame your for your unhappy feelings and thoughts.  Those feelings and thoughts are legitimate.  They are important.  Our negative feelings are there to teach and guide us.  We feel what we feel, and then we process them in light of our values to decide how we will respond to them.  But in and of themselves, feelings are neither good nor bad.  They may be uncomfortable.  They may be deeply upsetting.  But when befriended, they can give us insight into ourselves.  They are one of the many fabulous tools God has given us to navigate our mysterious selves and this mysterious world.

So please don’t take away any shame.

Rather, I hope you will take away a greater awareness of how you’re feeling – the happy, the sad, and the ugly – and of the many blessings in your life.

Life is not one thing.  It is a mix of events – both beautiful and tragic; of feelings – both highs and lows; of growth – both painful and invigorating.

 

Following Christ in this life does not mean we will be always blissful and that nothing bad will ever happen to us.  But Christ teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances.  For in all things, there is much to give thanks for.  And when we do, we unlock new perspective and strength.

 

As we leave the season of Thanksgiving and approach Advent, I invite you to begin your own spiritual discipline of giving thanks.  Do it however you like:  keep a gratitude journal, keep adding to a list, speak the things you’re grateful for at mealtimes, share three things you’re grateful for with a spouse or a friend each day…  But whatever you choose, stick to it.  See it through.  Persevere.

 

And let us see what God can do

in and through hearts

that are AWAKE to the profound gifts and blessings of God in our lives.

 

French novelist Marcel Proust writes, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

 

May God grant us the ability to see as God sees,

with new eyes. 

And who knows,

we may find our whole world transformed.

 Thanks be to God!