January 3, Second Sunday after Christmas
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
How do people come to faith? Is it something that just happens?You wake up one day and you have it? Is it something that is always there waiting to be revealed? And one day you see it…like a star in the sky? Does it dawn suddenly, or gradually? Do you hear it as a call coming from far away? Beckoning you onward? Calling you home?
How have you come to this point in your journey? And how do you continue on in that journey? How do you continue to grow in faith?
For me faith has always been a bit of both…something that just is sort of there—a gift, and something that I’ve had to work at—to practice…in order to see and hear it better. For me there’s always a little bit of both mystery (I’m not sure what or where it is) and experience (I know it when I see it, feel it, touch or taste it). I think it’s both mystery and experience for most of us. I think that’s why the author of the letter to the Ephesians prays for us to be given a spirit of both wisdom and revelation.
Today is sort of a mixed bag, scripturally. There are three separate and very different gospel readings that are appointed for today.
In one reading from Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to escape the murder of the innocents that Herod is about to perpetrate, and then is told in another dream to return after Herod’s death.
In another, from Luke’s gospel, we are told the story of Jesus and his parents going to the temple for Passover. Jesus is 12 and is beginning to assert his independence. So he stays behind in the temple. His parents don’t notice he’s gone for a whole day, and when they finally find him—three days later—(get it? three days?) they find him sitting among the teachers in the temple and everyone amazed at his understanding.
And the third, the one we heard today, again from Matthew, is about the Magi coming from afar and searching for the child—the Messiah.
I’m not entirely sure why the second Sunday after Christmas has such many and varied options for gospel readings…There’s some history there I’m sure…but it did occur to me, as I pondered which one to use, that they all have to do with journeys. Journeys toward God. Journeys away from the powers of this world that corrupt and destroy. Journeys that are not always direct routes, but then what faith pilgrimage ever is—but always toward God, and toward “home.”
A journey deep into a foreign land, to avoid danger, and then back.
A journey to the temple where new possibilities emerge from an experience of loss.
A counterintuitive journey from the lands where the sun rises but away from the sun but toward “the Son” toward “the light”, a transformative encounter, and then a way back east “by another road.”
Even Jeremiah is all about a journey—returning from exile—a journey back from the place you were carried away to.
Maybe it’s just that the new Star Wars movie has re-infused our collective conscience with a new take on the “hero’s journey,” or maybe it’s just that this first weekend in January is a time when many of us look back, take stock…see where we’ve been, and wonder where we’re going, maybe it’s all that, but whatever it is, I’m seeing journey motifs everywhere.
And today is a pretty good time to pause and reflect on where we are on our own journeys.
So where are you? Where have you been? Are you on the road you thought you were on? Are you searching? Is there something you’re feeling drawn toward—or impelled toward—something you can’t quite put your finger on…a bright spot on the horizon…a dream you can’t quite make sense out of?
Have you experienced a shock…something that has made you completely rethink the way you see life? Are you struggling…? Having trusted God and your faith for so long and yet…things haven’t worked out the way you hoped…the disappointments have piled up, and now you’re wondering where the light has gone?
Maybe you’re feeling pretty good about where you are, and where things are headed.
We are all at very different places on the journey of faith.
And like the old song “Lonesome Valley” says, no body else can make the journey for you, “you’ve got to walk it by yourself.” I think this is Herod’s problem (well, one of Herod’s problems) he tries to short circuit things…tries to hire out the journey, possibly afraid to go himself, or just too enamored of his own self-importance, and consequently he never learns, and never gets any closer to the Divine.
The journey in faith is one we all take, and our particular journey is one that only we take. But we’re all on the path…somewhere along the way…and today we’ve all made our way here.
Each week before Communion I try to remind you that wherever you are in your journey of faith, that you are welcome here. I offer that as a reminder of the reality that we are all at different places in that journey, and I also want to remind us of a deep truth—that for just a few minutes—one hour out of the 168 hours in each week—for that fraction of time—we are all joined—not just with those here, but with all across the world, and throughout time—we are joined in the act of giving thanks to God for all that has come our way, for all that we have learned, for all that we have let go of, for all that is still to come.
We have come here today…(maybe for the first time—maybe for the 1000th), we come here from a variety of places and for myriad reasons…maybe out of habit, maybe out of hope…to worship…to be helped…to celebrate…to grieve…
We come seeking inspiration, and restoration. We come with questions, and trust, and doubt. Some of us following stars, some of us fleeing darkness, some in need of strength and challenge, some in need of solace and sustenance.
And for these brief moments all of that is freely and graciously available.
Of course, it’s available any time, but we are invited to become especially aware of it every time we gather. No matter where we are. So keep coming back, it works.
And once you’ve received what ever it was that you needed when you arrived here, we send you back out onto the road, to continue your own journey. And so, on the cusp of this new year, I want to offer a prayer for all of us as we travel on the way of our various journeys.
O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, who led the Magi by a star; watch over us your servants, pilgrims on the way of faith.
Be our companion on the road, our guide at the crossroads, our breath in weariness, our protection in danger, our shelter in the damp, our shade in the heat, our light in the darkness, our consolation in discouragements, and our strength in all we do.
So that with your guidance we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the journey, enriched with grace and virtue, and filled with joy. [modified from http://bethlindfoote.com/tag/pilgrim-blessing/]