Sunday, January 05, 2014

Christmas 2A

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.

After a little chit-chat, 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, and don’t remember.

“That’s an interesting name, “ I said. “What’s the story behind that? Is it a family name? I don’t think I’ve 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 connect us to a greater story than the one we can make us on our own. Names connect us to our past, so we know where we came from. Names can offer a message about 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 an admired public figure.

My oldest daughter is named “Sophia” because it’s the biblical word for “wisdom.” Her mom and I 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 often 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 and better 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 from 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.

For example,  Matthew and Luke both have Jesus’ genealogy recorded. But they’re slightly different. But neither genealogy are a clinical listing of names. Each genealogy tells a story about Jesus, within a specific jewish tradition. But if you don’t know what the names mean, or who these people were, you’d miss a lot about what they were trying to say about Jesus.

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 as we heard on Christmas Eve, Jesus grows up like most Jewish boys. Mary and Joseph, as required by law, bring Jesus to Jerusalem to offer the usual sacrifice as a thanksgiving to God, and to circumcise him on the eighth day.

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. After all she’d been praying for him for years.

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 God’s heavenly future 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 been in a while. Being in this 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.

The challenges I face personally and professionally are opening doors for growth and creativity. And I look forward to what God will do in 2014, and how I can respond to God’s gracious possibilities

So this flip of the calendar spells opportunity for me.

What about you? How do you meet 2014?

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 2014 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 2014, not knowing what’s around the corner, since 2013 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. John’s? What do you hope for our congregation in 2014? What do you want God to do with us? What would you like to see God do with this church?

No doubt, we have challenges ahead. Like most other churches. Challenges that may demand creativity. Challenges that may require difficult decisions. Challenges that may stretch us beyond what we’re comfortable with. Challenges may insist that we re-think what we do as a church and how we do it, in order to meet the opportunities that God is throwing at us.

We may be asked to make tough choices to maintain our effectiveness in mission and witness. God may inflict some holy discomfort on us as we move forward in the direction of God’s vision. 

We don’t grow in wisdom when we are comfortable. We don’t grow in faithfulness when things are running smoothly. We don’t grow in knowledge when we are constantly being told what we already know.

God maybe asking us to look with open eyes at what the world is doing, and to listen with open ears to what the world is tellings us. Not so that the world can dictate to us what we should proclaim, or impose a set of beliefs that are at odds with what we have traditionally confessed. 

But to respond to a world in pain, to immerse ourselves in the struggles of those who need good news,

a world alienated from its past, and struggling to understand itself,
a lonely world hungering for the intimacy of a community

a world searching for God but not knowing where to begin looking,

a world that suspects that there is more to life than prosperity, but can’t put their fingers on it,
a world craving rootedness, but constantly finding itself on the road

a world that is suspicious of institutions such as the church, but who longs to touch the divine.

The world isn’t what it was. And so God is opening our hearts, minds, and labour to new and fresh expressions of an ancient faith.

It’s harder to be Christian than it was even ten years ago. It’s harder to be church than when we were growing up.

But God has put us here at this time, to respond, at this moment, to the cries of a hurting world. But not as people superior to others, but simply as a people chosen to do this work.

As we heard in today’s reading from Ephesians,

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”

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

No matter where WE are as a church, no matter the demands, struggles, or opportunities, we still call God “Immanuel” because we believe that “God-is-with-us,” as promised this Christmas season.

Again, as we are reminded in today’s second reading:

“[For] just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

May this be so among us. Amen.

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