Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Innocents: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas

This Christmas Season has been a bit of a whirlwind, the way things have fallen: last Sunday we were still in Advent and then we marked, in rapid succession, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Feast of Stephen on Wednesday night. Next Sunday we’ll celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany—the arrival of those wise guys from the east. And Matthew will tell us (as James Taylor also sings about) that they went “home by another way.” 

While we’d usually rather not think about why exactly that was, we just heard the reason why they have to do that: because Herod is a cruel dictator, hardly the first or the last in the Middle East (or in the world)—as we all know. And he’ll do anything to hold on to his power. Whatever it takes. 
The Gospel reading (Matthew 2:13-18) that we just heard was actually appointed for December 28—this past Friday—a day known in the Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Usually we don’t hear these words read aloud in church during the Twelve Days of Christmas since there are plenty of other possibilities to choose from for the First Sunday after Christmas. And usually that suits me just fine—it’s quite frankly a rather difficult and disturbing reading that it’s usually easier to just avoid in that week between Christmas and New Year’s. Normally I like to choose the option of hearing John’s Prologue today, which gives us a chance to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. We’ll get there as well, but (like those magi) we’ll get there by another way, because it just didn’t seem right to let it pass by without some mention of the Holy Innocents.

Now let me just say, before I go any further, that I am not going to talk any more about the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut today. It’s not that it’s over, because it is definitely not; grief takes a very long time. It is not that our prayers for the people who live there should cease as the news crews move on to whatever tragedy strikes next. We spent some time with my family in Pennsylvania this past week and to get there we travel on Route 84, right through Connecticut and right past exit 10 for Newtown and Sandy Hook. Over the highway there is a sheet hanging with the words, “pray for Newtown.” Indeed we must and we will. Our attention span in the Church has to be longer than that of our twenty-four hour news cycle. But for now, at least, I feel that I’ve said all that I need to say about that pastorally and theologically; all that, quite frankly, I can bear to say. It’s been pretty intense.

What I do want to do, however, is to hold up this gospel reading about Herod’s rage as a lens for us to explore the familiar Christmas story at a deeper level, in light of what we have experienced this Advent as God’s people. It seems we are in a rather “thin” place where we can hear this gospel text with ears that truly hear. And yes, I do think there is “good news” here, but we will have to dig deep to find it.

Most historians agree that this probably didn’t happen. The far more likely scenario is that nobody really noticed when Jesus was born, at least nobody important: perhaps a few unnamed shepherds and maybe some rather odd visitors from the east. The birth narratives that Luke and Matthew give us came much later; they were constructed decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus to “fill in the blanks.” In fact, the earliest of the four gospels (Mark) doesn’t even have a birth narrative. The point is this: at the actual time of Jesus’ birth, the government probably wasn’t too worried about the government being on the shoulders of a nobody from a small town on the outskirts of the empire. No one expected the “king of kings” to be found in a manger. It was only much later—after he was all grown up—that he started making the powers-that-be nervous.

So if it didn’t happen, this rage of King Herod, then we might assume it isn’t true. But we would be wrong. Because here is the thing: stories can be true even if they didn’t happen. A story can be true and not historical. In fact that is what great literature does over and over again: we go to see a play or we listen to a song or we read a poem because it conveys a deep truth and invites us to ponder our own reality in deeper ways. In the Interfaith Bible study I lead with Christians and Jews over at St. Clare House, perhaps the most important thing that Jews have to offer us Christians is about how midrash works. Sometimes to get at the truth you need to tell a story, and then sometimes even another story about the story. Something does not need to have happened for it to convey truth and meaning. Jonah does not have to have literally lived in the belly of a whale, for example, for that story to convey a deep theological truth about inclusion and the breadth and depth of God’s love for all people, even Ninivites. Jews just seem more practiced at embracing this reality, in my experience, than many Christians are; but we are getting better.

So in this case, Matthew’s Gospel (the most Jewish of the four gospels, by the way) wants us to know that Jesus is a kind of “second Moses.” And every Jew knows the central story of the faith is the Passover story—the journey from slavery to freedom as told in the Book of Exodus. Part of that story is about how old Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go. Part of that story is about how the male babies in Egypt were killed, but Moses was saved when he was placed in a little ark (that’s the precise Hebrew word, the same word used in the flood narrative.)  Moses is put in a little ark (a basket) and placed safely where Pharaoh’s daughter goes to bathe…and well, you know the rest of the story.

So in this midrash we heard today, Herod is playing the par t of Pharaoh and Jesus is playing the part of a new Moses, sent to free God’s people. Joseph, the father of Jesus is warned in a dream to take the family to Egypt—reminiscent of the Joseph in the Book of Genesis who was also a dreamer and whose many dreams led the Hebrew people into Egypt in the first place.

Now maybe it all happened that way; I’m not insisting that it didn’t. I am only saying that it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not it happened historically. Our work here, and now, is to ask what it means. And I think the reason Matthew goes there is because it is true that the birth of Jesus does in fact threaten the powerful and does confront evil head on. Always. And when the powerful are threatened, almost always it is the innocent—especially the young and the vulnerable—who suffer. This we know; this we see; because it plays out again and again.

Matthew is right to include this part of the story because it keeps us from sentimentalizing the Incarnation. It reminds us that the world that Jesus comes into to save is not ready for salvation or for the costs of discipleship or for the justice that is required if there is to be peace on earth. Hear these words from theologian, Rita Nakashima Brock, commenting on this story of the Holy Innocents:

If children are the heart of the meaning of Christmas, the message of the full story of Christmas is what adults must do to keep children alive and help them thrive. If we had the moral courage of mothers, we would not only stop gun violence, but also guarantee universal health care, assure parents living wages for all work, provide excellent schools for every child, and care for families struggling with mental illness. Without the message of Christmas for the world, its meaning for children is thin and hollow.

And that, I believe, is the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown. Not only that Jesus is born in our hearts, but that he is born again in our minds and in our bodies again and again: until we begin to say yes to the never-ending Christmas story and enter into it. Until we really do get what John of Patmos got in his Revelation: that we are part of a people who follow the One who will ultimately wipe away every tear from every eye. And in the meantime, we are called to be a people who sit with those who weep and help wipe away those tears.

The Christmas story is not a fairy tale, but a truth that changes us and demands action on our part. I told you we’d get to the Incarnation: the point is here and in John’s Gospel as well, that God became human, so that humans might remember that we are created in God’s very own image and start to live that way. As we embark upon a new year of grace, we are reminded that the God we get at Christmas is not an interventionist God who waves a wand and makes the world a better place to live. The God we get is Immanuel: standing with us through it all, so that we never walk alone. God-with-us as we seek to be repairers of the breach; and instruments of God’s peace in a broken world. Step one is in acknowledging that the world is indeed broken, and needs us to be the Body of Christ.

Like the holy family, we need to find our way into the Christmas story. Like the shepherds, the wisemen, the people of Bethlehem, the people of Newtown: it is a story that is ever new. So that even in these early days of the Christmas Season—even before the magi have made it to the manger—we can already hear the whisper of what is to come: “take up your cross and follow me.”

I leave you with these words to ponder—words I return to every Christmas season from the late Howard Thurman, who was Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953-1965. There he played a role in shaping the spirituality of a young doctoral student named Martin Luther King, Jr. These words continue to challenge God’s people to enter into the pain and brokenness of this world—wherever there are holy innocents—as instruments of God’s peace.

Let us pray:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people, 
To make music in the heart. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Crying Baby Jesus: A Christmas Eve Sermon

Like most of you, I grew up singing “Away in a Manger.” And I pretty much assumed that the angels must have taught those very words and that very tune to the shepherds that night out in the fields and that Christians around the world have been singing it ever since, for two-thousand years. After all, if you look it up in The Hymnal to see who wrote it, it simply says that this is a “traditional carol.” Well, for reasons I will explain in a moment, this year I got to wondering:  “whose tradition?” So, of course, I Googled it… 

The hymn was actually written in the late nineteenth century—1885 to be precise—in Philadelphia, where it was published by an Evangelical Lutheran Church Sunday School in a collection called Little Children's Book for Schools and Families. While that’s a while ago, it’s still only decades ago; in a tradition that has been around for two millennia. In that collection it was set to a tune called "St. Kilda,” a favorite tune of the Puritans but not the one we all know; in The Hymnal it is set to a tune called Cradle Song. 

Tradition. It’s a funny thing. We think we know the tradition, but the truth is that most of us are not really all that interested in the depth and breadth of the tradition so much as we are in “the way we did things in my family, or my church, when I was a little kid.”  If you don’t believe me then imagine this: what if Charles and I had conspired to sing the song as written tonight, to the tune no one here knew, and my defense was “that’s the tradition?” This nostalgia for our own childhoods, that we mistakenly confuse with the tradition, is a particular challenge at Christmas time. Like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, we are sometimes tempted to just keep loving tiny baby Jesus—and even more our image of tiny baby Jesus—rather than allowing the image of the child in the manger to invite us more deeply into the mystery of God’s love for the world.  

So I have been singing that carol for almost fifty years now: in church, in nursing homes, out in the streets of Hawley, Pennsylvania as a child caroling. And because of that I knew this: that when the cattle were lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus—come on everyone, you all know it—what does little Lord Jesus do, or rather not do? No crying he makes! That must be in the Bible, right? (It is not!)

The assumption, however, that the carol must have it right has caused pageant mothers (and I presume fathers as well) great consternation over many years in this parish. Every year we ask some poor parents if they will have their child play “baby Jesus” in our live nativity pageant. At first they think this is a great honor, but most years “baby Jesus” doesn’t get the memo that says “no crying he makes.”

So last Sunday night, I’m sitting at Memorial Church at Harvard when the choir sings a “traditional” Flemish carol with the words that have been printed on the front of your bulletins tonight. They go like this:
There is a young and gentle maiden,
With a charm so full of grace.
Look! See how she cradles the Christ Child,
As the tears flow down his face
There is Jesus Christ a -weeping,
While his vigil they are keeping.
     Hush, hush, hush, dear child, do not weep,
     Cease your crying, now go to sleep.
Wait, what?  Baby Jesus cried?! Says who? (Who are the Flemish anyway?) Surely if you have to pick a “tradition” to believe, of course it should be that of good sturdy Americans (even if they are Lutherans!) rather than somebody off in Flanders fields!  Colicky baby Jesus? Really?

Yet this image of crying baby Jesus has haunted me during these last days of Advent. There is Jesus Christ a-weeping…hush, hush, hush dear child, do not weep. Cease your crying, now go to sleep.
Well, of course I knew that the Bible doesn’t address this question at all, but I started to re-examine “the tradition”—even to the point of changing tonight’s gradual hymn to “Once in Royal David’s City.” (You’ll just have to trust me that it would not have worked for us to attempt to sing the Flemish carol!) Because in verse four, we just sang these words:  
For he is our life-long pattern; daily when on earth he grewnow listen up! …he was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness and he shares in all our gladness.

I have been thinking and praying with this image of the “crying baby Jesus” this past week. And it kept bringing me back to a verse of Holy Scripture that I memorized as a young child. My Baptist grandmother was old-school and she believed in teaching her grandchildren to memorize Bible verses, something I was not (and still am not) particularly good at. To my everlasting shame I am much better at memorizing whole paragraphs from the Book of Common Prayer!  But here is one verse I know by heart: John 11:35— “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible!

Now I know that verse is set in a different context, when all-grown-up Jesus is standing at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  But here is the thing: Jesus did grow up. And Jesus did weep. And if he was like us in every way, save sin, then he didn’t wait until he was a grown man to shed his first tears. Like every child he surely cried to let Mary know that he was hungry and when he needed Joseph to rock him to sleep and tell him everything was going to be ok. He surely did cry when his swaddling clothes were wet and he needed them changed. Hush, now, don’t cry little one; go to sleep. 

This matters to us, especially after a polarizing election year and Hurricane Sandy and all of that loss in Newtown, Connecticut—and that’s just the past two months! It’s been a hard year and let’s face it, a hard decade or so. And grief is always cumulative. Crying baby Jesus takes us to the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation and to the good news of this holy night: that God really is with us. God who, in Jesus, knew both tears and smiles and who, even now, feels all our sadness and shares in all our gladness. Immanuel. 

I think most of us have felt, at some point or another in our lives, that what we really want is an interventionist God: a God who will intervene in human history and fix things that get broken, or better still prevent bad things from happening in the first place. A superhero-God who can at the very least spin the planet back in time when necessary to stop evil from happening. Such a world would be Eden, of course, and we would have no free will—but still it sounds nice when things are really hard.

In the world we do live in, there are some out there speaking in the name of Jesus Christ who find an interventionist God to be the cause of every bad thing that happens and usually they have a group that they are happy to scapegoat as the source of God’s wrath. Now I’m not really for going back to the days when we had heresy trials but if we did, Huckabee and Dobson and their ilk are the kind of clowns that ought to be the first brought up on charges. What they have to say is mostly about their own bigotry and fear and hatred and has very little to do with the holy catholic and apostolic faith we are here to proclaim tonight.   

The two great moments in the life of Jesus that take us to the heart of what his life was about are celebrated in the two great festivals of the liturgical year: Christmas and Easter. The two great icons of the birth and death are of a baby in a manger and of a man dying on a cross. If these two images reveal anything at all to us about the nature of the incarnate God, the suffering God, it is that God so loved the world. That is how John’s Gospel puts it. Not that God so loved the right-wing Christian zealots. And certainly not that God so hated the Jews, or the Muslims, or the gays, or the atheists, or anybody else. God so loved the world, the whole world. No exceptions.

But God so especially loved the little children of this world, that God gave up power and control to live and die among us to be with us and for us. There is nothing in Bethlehem or on a hill outside of Jerusalem to suggest that God is looking for ways to inflict hurt on people. Jesus comes to bring joy to the world, and peace on earth and good will to all people. That’s what the angels sing about, even if some are deaf to their songs. In his living and in his dying, Jesus shows us how to live more generous and compassionate lives. He shows us how to respond, when we pray for peace on earth: let it begin with me. He feels all our sadness and all of our gladness. Look! See how Mary cradles the Christ Child, as the tears flow down his face. There is Jesus Christ a -weeping, while his vigil they are keeping. 

Jesus most assuredly wept and weeps on this holy night with all who are grieving.  Not just those new losses that are still fresh on all of our minds, but old ones too. When I look back and consider all the funerals I’ve presided at in this parish over fifteen years, I wonder why it is that so many of them come in December: so much loss in our lives and so much sadness. So if you ask the question “where is God?” in relationship to the grief and pain that we feel tonight, then there is only one answer to that question: look to crying baby Jesus. It is the God we see in the face of this child that calls us to live life more abundantly. The God who is revealed to the shepherds and to us on this holy night is not some distant masochist who watches this all happen with glee, but a God who weeps when we weep.

And that is the good news of this night: that we are not left comfortless. We are called as Christians, as Franciscan Christians, to sow joy where there is sadness, to sow love where there is hatred, to sow faith where there is doubt; to sow hope where there is despair. That is what these weeks of Advent have been about: recalling us to the work God has given us to do in Christ’s name. In four words that is about hope and peace and love and joy. 

The late Fred Rogers (who was, if you don’t know, also a Presbyterian minister) once wrote that when he was a boy his mother told him after scary news in the world to “look for the helpers.” To look to those places where, after a disaster or tragedy, people are helping and caring. You see that both globally and locally. It’s as real here in Holden when people show up at their neighbor’s door with a casserole as it is in Newtown or on the Jersey Shore. Look to the helpers. There you see Jesus making all things new. Or as St. Paul reminded the first-century Church in Philippi:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
We gather here on this holy night and throughout the year to be re-membered and to listen for God’s calling to us to share the work that God has given us each in our own way. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist and Mary: to say “yes” to God by letting this same mind of God’s self-emptying kenotic love be in us until every tear is wiped away. Even the tears of baby Jesus.

If you want to see the hand of God, then look to those places where there is love, for where there is love, there God is. Ubi caritas et amour, Deus ibi est. There are babies crying, even now—in our world and in our neighborhood. May we see in them the face of Jesus, the newborn king—the crying baby Jesus who yearns for us to double down as instruments of God’s peace, and as willing participants in the work that God has entrusted to us, that God shares with us for the sake of this broken world: to be doers of justice and lovers of mercy and a people who (always with God’s help) continue to walk humbly with God.   

Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with us.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

As you may know, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut has had a special relationship with the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney in Scotland that dates back to 1784, when Samuel Seabury traveled to Scotland to be ordained the first bishop of Connecticut and of the entire Episcopal Church in this country, after the War of Independence. Robert Gillies, current bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church has written a special collect for the people of the Diocese of Connecticut in this time of their grief and loss after the tragic deaths in Newtown. I want to begin with his prayer, this morning. 

Let us pray:
Sustaining and redeeming God,
In sadness and in the tragedy of awful loss, we offer before you those young lives lost as a consequence of human violence this past week.

We raise in the distress of this time the families of whose children are no longer to share life and joy with them.

We mourn those other families also fractured by the needless killings of that day.
As Jesus first came to his people and lives of the young and innocent were lost in the cruelty of one individual upon others, so now 2000 years on we stand alongside those whose similar grief is beyond our imagining.
Holy and loving God bring all consolation that can be brought to those most in need of your presence today, and never cease to make your presence real in this their hour of need.
To you we voice this prayer, Amen.

We remember the departed: Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, Grace, James, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Lauren, Mary, Victoria, Nancy, and Adam. May they rest in peace, and light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.

 *   *    *

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” So says “Verbal” Kint in the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects.”

But evil is real. At Holy Baptism, we publicly renounced Satan and all the spiritual forces that rebel against God. We renounced the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We renounced all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. A three-fold renunciation: we renounce them; we renounce them; we renounce them. Why? In order to turn to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust in his grace and love, and to follow and obey him as lord of our lives and of the universe. A three-fold affirmation.

And then most of us (including me) promptly begin to order our lives in such a way as to pretend that the devil does not exist, and that evil is not real. At least until we see madness and violence break out in an elementary school classroom, in a town not so different from our own. And, literally, when that happens; it makes no sense, because evil makes no sense. Our hearts are broken and for a time we can barely catch our breath and the darkness is overwhelming. As I heard one commentator put it on Friday night, investigators will figure out what happened at a crime scene, but at some level no one will ever know “what happened in the damaged mind and broken soul” of the twenty-year old perpetrator of such violence. That is what evil does—it damages minds, and breaks souls—sometimes beyond what is even fathomable or comprehensible. 

It is tempting, when we do dare to speak of evil we tend to want to project it onto some villain—people like Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein; maybe even Adam Linza. But the truth about evil is that it is far more insidious than that. It’s more like a cancer that leaves behind “damaged minds and broken souls.”  So I have no words of explanation about what happened on Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut. I don’t think we can “make sense of it.” What I can say, in trying to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in the face of such horrific violence is this: evil is real. 

And then this: love is stronger than evil.

Seventy-one times in the psalms, the Hebrew word selah (:סֶלָה) is used. It’s a very difficult concept to translate into English, but basically it is a musical mark—kind of like a rest. It’s a note to the choir-master that can be translated to mean: "stop and listen.”  The Amplified Bible translates selah as "pause, and think of that.”

So let me say it again and insert a mark for the choirmaster.

Evil is real.  Selah. Love is stronger than evil.

There is nothing easy or self-evident in that truth and at this moment in time we are still in shock; that selah may last a long time. Even so, our faith points us toward the empty tomb, even if getting there will take some time. Sometimes the world feels like Good Friday. Selah. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.  

If we believe that, then in the face of tragedy and death we are called to be again and again, and each time at an even deeper level, to become an Easter people, with God’s help; a baptized community who are renouncing Satan and all of the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and renouncing all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God, in order to turn again and again and again to Jesus Christ and to put our whole trust in his grace and love. With God’s help.

We try to follow him into all of the pain of this world by way of the cross.  Like the principal of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dawn Hochsprung did, dying as she lived, for the love of her students. Or Victoria Soto, a 27 year old first-grade teacher who gave her life, a ransom for many.

Our broken hearts go out to the all victims and their families and those congregations and their clergy where funerals will be happening days before Christmas. But there has to be more, going forward. We have to talk seriously about gun-violence in this country and gun control and then move beyond rhetoric to real solutions. And then we must hold our politicians accountable. We have to talk seriously about mental illness and how to support all who suffer before their minds are damaged and their souls are broken. All indications are that Adam Lanza was a deeply troubled soul long before Friday morning.

Have you ever noticed how often, in the face tragedies such as this one that people of so many different faith traditions and of no faith tradition gather for candlelight vigils? There is something deeply human about this instinct: while it is so tempting to want to curl up in a ball and isolate ourselves and curse the darkness, people nevertheless come together and light candles. This instinct takes us to the very heart of Advent: even as the days are getting shorter and darker, we light a candle. And then another. And then another. We come here today to light that third rose candle—the candle of joy—at a time when we are not feeling very happy. But joy is not the same as happiness. Joy takes us to that place where we again put our trust in the God who is with us not only in the manger but on the Cross as well: the God who is with us whenever two or three gather in his name to share the bread and the wine as signs of Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death, and signs of hope for the journey. Christ has died. Selah. Christ is risen. Selah. Christ will come again.

In moments like this, we need God to be God, because we have no place else to turn. But in such times, the darkness feels overwhelming. We light candles to remember that we are part of a communion of saints who have walked through darkness before, but we have seen a great light. In Holy Baptism that light has been given to us, to let it shine through us. That is why every time we celebrate Holy Baptism at that font we light a candle from the Paschal Candle for the baptized: as an outward and visible sign of our calling to be little lights that shine in the darkness. To walk as children of the light, for the sake of the world.

In our regularly scheduled Advent program, this sermon was meant to focus our attention on the First Song of the Prophet Isaiah. I have to tell you that I gave very serious thought to changing that plan today, and perhaps going with another song, maybe the twenty-second psalm together:  “my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The feeling of the absence of God, with which our tradition is quite familiar—is itself a crying out to God. But this is the song we have been given on the third Sunday of Advent—a song that blesses God, remembers God, and gives thanks to God for doing so many marvelous things. We may not all be ready yet to sing such a song when it still feels like Good Friday, while we are still so numb. But maybe we need to sing it until we can believe it again, and then when we begin to believe it again, to allow it to transform us until we can live it. Even at the grave, we make our song.

It would be tempting to hear these words as an historical statement: the days are surely coming, Isaiah sings, and then we think that since Isaiah sang his song hundreds of years before the birth of Christ that he was making a prediction. And then on December 25, the Year of Our Lord, One, his prediction came true and Jesus was born.

But that is not really what the prophets are all about, and if we read the text that way then Advent is little more than a nostalgic journey back to first-century Palestine, back to the historical Jesus who may or may not have been born in Bethlehem anyway.

If, we mean to join this song, then something more is required of us than going back in time to the days of Isaiah or the days when Jesus was born. So let’s try it another way: surely it is God who saves me. Surely it is God who saves us.  Each of us are invited to make these words own, in our own time. It’s not a one shot deal. It’s not something that happened once upon a time in Bethlehem on Christmas morning or even on a hill outside of Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon or once upon a time in our own lives, maybe when we were baptized or quit drinking or started going to church again. Our salvation is still unfolding. 

To sing it together today is not an act of denial: we come here far too mindful of all the ways that sin and death have a grip on our lives in places like Newtown and Nickel Mines and Columbine—and in places like Damascus and Gaza—and in the violence of poverty and despair much closer to home, including our own struggles against despair and addiction and the dark night of the soul.

Surely, it is God who saves me;  
I will trust in God and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,  
and will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing  
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say,  
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon God’s Name;
Make God’s deeds known among the peoples;  
see that they remember that God’s Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, who has done great things,  
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy,
            for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.