Matthew 2: 13-23 (The VOICE)
South Presbyterian Church – December 29, 2013
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Well … here we are: the Baby has been born; the shepherds have returned to their sheep; the Magi have come and gone. What’s next?
LOL I have to kind of laugh because some of US are asking the same thing, aren’t we? We’ve gone from one Christmas event to another … we might even be a little shell-shocked from having had to WORK during the holiday … or from having had family around us for a little bit too long … or maybe just from having to keep the place picked up from all the people whom we LOVE but who aren’t usually there.
Maybe we’ve had one too many parties to go to. OR … as one of Carly’s friends said, “I really HATE Christmas. I am SO glad it’s over and we can get on with life.”
For one reason or another, the holidays are often stressful.
And then there’s Mary and Joseph … this new family. New PARENTS.
All of us know what that’s like. Either we have BEEN one or we have SEEN them. It’s EXHAUSTING! And I don’t care if it’s a birth child or an ADOPTED child … midnight and 2 a.m. feedings … catching a nap when the baby naps …changing the diapers … worrying about SUPPORTING this new family … suddenly aware of your responsibility to the UNIVERSE for another living human being who is TOTALLY DEPENDENT on you????? It’s EXHAUSTING. It’s sacred, for sure … but it’s exhausting.
I was so sleep deprived when my daughter was born that I didn’t know if I was coming or going. And it was 2 months before she slept through the night … but then I stayed awake to make sure she was okay. It’s funny NOW … but at the time … all I wanted was a little peace.
I remember getting Christmas cards that year (because she was born 11 days before Christmas) and there was so much excitement … new LIFE … new BIRTH … new WINDOW to the world. And by the time I put the Christmas decorations away in January, I remember reading things like: All is Calm … and Peace at this Christmas time … and thinking … “Yeah! Right!!!”
So I can only imagine what Joseph and Mary were feeling. Everybody’s gone. The visitors have left. They have these strange gifts they’ve been given. Well… the whole THING was strange … from conception to birth.
I’d be willing to bet that they were ANTSY for some peace and quiet … some return to Nazareth and their routine. But Matthew tells a different story.
Joseph’s is visited by an ANGEL. “What? AGAIN?” you may ask. “What ‘up with these ANGELS!” Well, he is, and THIS time, the angels tells him to HURRY … get up … take Mary and the Baby and DON’T GO HOME. They’re supposed to go to EGYPT!!!!
Egypt! Are you KIDDING me? Haven’t I done everything you wanted? Haven’t I been a good sport????
Yes … but listen … you gotta get outa Dodge. You have to keep going or everything will fall apart.
Can you just IMAGINE what Mary might have felt like? Newly delivered. Still recovering. Adjusting to being a new mom … a TEENAGE mom … and you say we’re going WHERE?????
But this isn’t any ORDINARY family.
This is the HOLY family. They didn’t know that they were a holy family then, though. They were just a couple of young parents trying to do what God wanted them to do. And I’m sure THEY wanted peace and quiet as much as anyone.
I was really led to focus on peacemaking today. Everywhere we look … in the city, the county … around the world … there is so much violence and upset that a LOT of us are longing for peace. And so I went to the purveyor of all cultural knowledge … Google … to find out what people are saying about peace right now.
Not. A. Lot.
As I kept reading and taking in what folks around the world were sharing, I found an incredible EXHAUSTION when it came to the topic of peace and I decided it’s because most of them were looking at GLOBAL peace … South Sudan, Syria, Israel, Iran … even here in Rochester. Where is the OUTRAGE over the murders in this city?
We’re EXHAUSTED … that’s where it is. We have become an exhausted and de-sensitized society.
So I’m going to make a suggestion for us on this Sunday before New Year. And it’s a pretty SIMPLE one, really … SLEEP … DREAM … DAY dream! And here’s why …
Wikipedia tells us that Peace is a sign of harmony characterized by the lack of VIOLENCE … conflict behaviors … and the freedom from FEAR of violence. It’s commonly understood as the absence of hostility and retribution, but peace also suggests sincere attempts at RECONCILIATION … the existence of healthy or newly healed RELATIONSHIPS … prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all.
What I want to get across is the fact that in order to HAVE peace … we must BE peace … in order to SEE it … we have to ENVISION it … If we don’t have any concept of what a peaceful existence might look like, we stand no chance of ACQUIRING that.
Y’know, in the movie The Stanta Clause, we are told that most people learn that “Seeing is Believing” but REALLY … it’s the other way around … “Believing is SEEING.” And in order to BELIEVE … we have to know what it is that we are BELIEVING.
We might be able to think that God could come and with a wave of a Divine Hand, create Peace on earth, but our rational brain says that PROBABLY won’t happen today. So we have to look at what really MIGHT happen today.
And the answer is MOMENTS of peace … moments of peace in our own lives.
The Tibetan Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has written a small book titled Peace is Every Step. And I’m going to read part of it now. I invite you to listen in terms of Mary and Joseph embracing the message of the angel, but also in terms of yourself and your OWN life: [read slowly]
Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.
Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We don’t have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child. Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.
We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.
There are so many exercises we can do to help us breathe consciously. But one of the easiest is to recite these lines silently as we breathe in and out:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Let’s try that for a few minutes …
Close your eyes and just be aware of your breathing …
Breathe in and say to yourself: Breathing in, I calm my body.
Hold it there for a second or two and then exhale, saying to yourself: Breathing out, I smile.
(repeat two or three times)
This, my friends … is a GLIMPSE of what the Universe has to offer us when we center in GOD and not in our BRAINS … when we take in the PEACE and not the CHAOS … when we make a conscious commitment to be PEACE-filled.
Will the worries come back?
Sure. We’re human.
Don’t you think that Joseph was worried when he was walking next to a donkey carrying Mary and his new son? Don’t you think he was UNNERVED? … Did he second guess himself?
Did he wonder if he were losing his mind?
Or did he just take one. Breath. At. A. Time …..
One STEP at a time …
Therein lies the peace of God …
If we can DREAM it … we can BE it … now and forever more.
A Blessed and PEACEFUL New Year. Amen.