Homily from service on 2 January, 2022 – Second Sunday in Christmas
Homily preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
The best cartoon* I’ve seen recently is of a group of nervous figures cowering behind the corner of a wall, and using a long pole to gingerly nudge open, and peer inside, a large imposing door that says 2022 on it.
I get it, because it does feel like…what in the world are we walking into in this new year…? What rough beast is now slouching towards Bethlehem and waiting to be born?
UCC pastor and author Quinn Caldwell, in his wonderful little book of reflections and meditations for Advent and Christmas called, “All I Really Want”, begins his day after Christmas reflection by asking, “Did you get everything you want? Is there a check mark next to everything on your list?” “Are you totally fulfilled? Completely happy?” In other words, “did you get everything you truly want?” You know, “the stuff you want so bad it’s more like a need…”
I got a lot of what I wanted…time with my family…and some much needed rest…time to read, and play board games, and relax…but…did I get everything I truly wanted? No. Of course not. There’s an awful lot I want that I’m not likely to get anytime soon…I’d love for this pandemic to move more quickly into its endemic phase, where it’s just another seasonal illness that we get boosters for every year, much like the flu. I like an end to the vitriol and tribalism that passes for politics these days…I’d like a healthcare system that cares for everyone equitably…I’d like a serious global commitment to taking real and meaningful steps to address the climate crisis…I’d like a justice system that focuses on restoration and reparation rather than incarceration…I’d like a few sensible gun laws…I’d like the gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us to be a lot smaller…I’d the world to be a safer more welcoming place for women, and people of color, and LGBTQ+ people…I’d like…well…you get the idea…I’m sure you have your own list. Yes, Christmas is here. Advent is over, but we’re still waiting for an awful lot, aren’t we?
Quinn Caldwell reminds us that the church “sometimes makes it sound like all we’re waiting for in Advent is the baby, and since God’s promised to give him to us, just like a parent promising an Xbox, we’ll be all set once Christmas morning comes.”
But that’s not how it works…Oh the baby arrives on Christmas…but then what?
Did you know that this is the one Sunday in the year when there are three different Gospel readings to choose from? Usually, the lectionary is pretty specific about the gospel…but not on the Second Sunday in Christmas…Today, we could hear two different sections from Matthew, or a chunk of Luke. Mostly, we tend to stick with the one we heard today…the wisemen and Herod…because that’s the one most of us know…it completes the mashup Christmas story that we’ve come to expect…We get the shepherds from Luke on Christmas Eve, and then the wisemen from Matthew a few days later. But in all of the readings…there’s a sense of things being…not quite as fulfilled as we might have hoped.
In this morning’s reading there’s this not-so-subtle subtext of Herod trying to use these foreigners as intelligence assets. “Go and search for the child,” and report back to me…because I need to eliminate this threat. Clearly, the mighty have not yet been cast down.
One of the other gospel options is the follow up to this…after the wisemen escape without going back to Herod, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with his family…and the Holy Family become refugees in Egypt, and only after Herod’s death do they come back and settle in Nazareth. (The lectionary leaves out the part where Herod slaughters all of the children under 2).
The third gospel option is from Luke, and is the story of adolescent Jesus wandering off in the temple and disappearing for three days (get it?) before his worried parents find him.
In all three, there’s a sense that…life just goes on…Ok, God is here…Jesus is born…but nothing really changes…God arrives as a baby and then does what babies do…grows up…and the powers that be are maybe vaguely aware of him…but after Herod dies, no one pays any attention…It’s just…normal. So I guess we could ask…Did any of them get what they truly wanted?
Caldwell reminds us that Advent isn’t just about waiting…waiting for some wish to be fulfilled…Advent is really about longing… “Advent isn’t just about fulfillment,” he says, “Advent is always about longing, and it’s always about longing that’s not going to be fulfilled for a long time. Christmas didn’t fix everything; it started fixing everything. Meanwhile, we continue to wait, with all the biggest items on our lists unchecked.
“And yet,” he says, something does change…Christmas does make a difference…“after Christmas,” he says, “after the baby, the tenor of our wait is different. Now, we’re not waiting alone. Now, we’re waiting with the God who could have remained above it all but chose to dive into it with us and not leave us until the end.”
And that’s a message I want to take into this troubling, hopeful New Year…It’s a message that I hope we can all treasure and ponder in our hearts…Yes, we’re still waiting…but we’re not waiting alone…we never have been. God is here, and in it with us, and always will be. Amen.
*The original did not say 2022, but clearly the sign above the door is easily altered/updated.