Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas 1B

I rang the doorbell and a young woman answered.

“Hello I’m Pastor Kevin,” I said.

She let me in and we sat down on the couch. The baby was asleep in the crib by the window.

I got straight to the point.

“So, why a baptism?” I asked.

“Well, I think it’s important to have God in my child’s life,” she said.

“What’s the baby’s name?” I asked looking over the crib.

She muttered something I didn’t recognize.

“That’s an interesting name, “ I said. “What’s the story behind that? Is it a family name?” I asked because I hadn’t heard that name before.

“No, it’s not a family name,” she answered.

“Do you know what it means?” I asked.

“No, it doesn’t have any meaning. It’s just a word I made up. I like the way it sounds.”

It wasn’t always this way, and she is an extreme case. And while the young mom had every right to make up a word with which to name her child, I wonder if she missed out on an opportunity. Names can offer a message to who we want our child to be when they grow up.

Most people know what their names mean, or why they were given their name by their parents.

What does your name mean? Most of us have names that mean something. Perhaps they reflect the hopes and dreams parents have for their children. Or they’re carrying a family tradition. Or they name them after a celebrity or important public figure.

My oldest daughter is named “Sophia” because it means “wisdom.” We chose that name to honour Lady Wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. Sophia in proverbs is a feminine expression of God, and her mom and I wanted to recognize aspects of the divine that are sometimes overlooked.

Sophia’s (or “Sophie” – she hates being called “Sophia”) sister is named “Naomi” to remember the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi and the message of faith and commitment that it inspires. It’s a wonderful story of integrity and sacrifice for others. And we wanted our child to embody those virtues.

When my parents named me, I know they struggled for days to find just the word to describe who they saw when they peered into my future. They wanted to place upon me the mantle of my destiny, hoping that I would be a force for good in the world, that I would lead others into a new tomorrow. And so they reached out to the heavens and grabbed with two hands and pulled down the name “Kevin” which means...”handsome.” Or more accurately, “handsome birth.”

And every time I look in mirror I’m absolutely shocked by how prophetic my parents were!

Bible names all mean something. In fact, if you don’t know the meaning of the many of the names you could miss the point of the story.

Mary and Joseph did what they were told and named their son, “Jesus” which means “God rescues” or “God saves.” They were glad to give him this name because they had laid all their hope on him, as one who would save God’s people from their sins, and rescue them from the hands of their enemies.

And so, as required by law, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to Jerusalem to offer the usual sacrifice as a thanksgiving to God.

And they encounter Simeon, the old man who’d been around the temple forever, whose eyes may have given out, but he could see God’s promises being fulfilled in a baby.

And Anna then wants to hold the baby, because she wants to feel in her arms the very power of God.

Both of them may have had a lot more years behind them than in front of them, but they could see God’s bright future being born among them. They could see that everything old was passing away. And that God was doing something new.

It was like there was a flip of the calendar and a new age had begun. And they were glad that they could see it before they closed their earthly eyes.

And at this flip of the calendar what are YOU hoping for? What are YOU looking for God to do?

This is the first new years where it actually feels like a NEW year. It could be because I’m in a very different place physically, emotionally, and spiritually than I’ve ever been. Being in this new environment, and carving out a new life, has forced me to think about what I REALLY want from my life. What I REALLY want my time on earth to be about. How I think God REALLY wants me to use my gifts.

So this flip of the calendar is opportunity for me.

What about you? How do you meet 2012?

Is it just another year, just like the last one, where you go on your day-to-day activities, not thinking of the future or worrying about the past? Just taking life as it presents itself?

Or do you see 2012 as a time pregnant with possibility, and you feel that anything is possible, and you just can’t wait to get in the game, grab the ball, and run to the end zone?

Or are you anxious about 2012, not knowing what’s around the corner, since 2011 has provided unexpected challenges?

Or are you hopeful that this will finally be the year when you get your life together?

Or are you all of the above? A muddle of mixed motivations? A patchwork of expectations?

What about for us here at St. Paul’s? What do you hope for our congregation in 2012? What do you want God to do with us?

We talked about our future during Adult Forum for a few weeks last month and we came up with some good ideas. I really enjoyed going through that exercise with you. Not just because I believe it’s vitally important to have your input in the future direction of the congregation.

But that exercise was also a test of sorts. Don’t worry, you all passed! You get an A+. The test was to see how you thought about the future. I wanted to see how you envisioned our church’s challenges.

Were you anxious about our future? Were you angry that this congregation isn’t what it once was? Did you have any anticipation that things were going to get any better?

What I saw was a group of people who are see the church’s challenges with sober realism, but also who are hopeful and excited about future possibilities for growth. And that is a powerful starting place for us to begin to rebuild a church that has always met its challenges head on. That’s because St. Paul’s is a church that still believes that Jesus – the message that God rescues and saves - is still being born within and among us.

No matter where you are in your life. No matter the challenges, expectations, quandaries, or possibilities, we trust in a God who was born in the middle of all of this, blessed us in our confusion and our hopes, so that we can rise to meet God’s future with open hands.

For you are a people who have seen salvation, which has been prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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