January 3, 2017

The Glory of God

It is New Year's Day - and darn you guys look very very good this morning! Either you are like me and tucked in bed well before midnight last night or at least dozing on couch with hot tea or a Shirley temple something......Or you have stout constitution and require little sleep and will crash sometime around 4 pm this afternoon and miss the big game. But just as on Christmas Sunday it is good to gather and be together on this New Years holiday as well to begin our new calendar year. I wanted to be sure at the beginning to get in a plug for the other 364 days as well - You know this is somewhat a contrived date on the Georgian calendar (If you are international enough you can celebrate New Years around the world in any given month). let us never forget that Every day of our lives is a new beginning a new day - and every day can start a new year for you - don't be getting down in the dumps on Jan 2 or Feb 25th. Save your noise makers and blow them every morning.
New Year's Day in a way is a strange holiday for we spot light and celebrate both looking back AND looking ahead - we reflect and say goodbye to the old and welcome and look forward to the new. In a way it is not for the faint of heart for we pause our busy lives - if even for a day - and take a hard look at the past -stop and take stock of what we accomplished or did not - what we did right and what we did wrong - wrong paths followed perhaps - what we meant to but did not get to - In some things we see plainly we are doing the same old way and the self promised change did not happen . But we also pause to consider the future - take stock of our dreams - our hopes - Are things going to be different this year or more of the same? How do the yearnings of our hearts and these proposed new beginnings really come to be? - fit into the stuff of our lives?
On New Years we sing Auld Lang Syne - written (or overheard in the country) by an Presbyterian I presume, Robert, or as an old Scottish gentleman I once knew would say "Bobby" Burns in 1796 -It is a convoluted song of sorts/ more than a little melancholy - It literally translates "old long since" and means "times gone by" But it does have a great great line which I will claim as good Christian toast as any: "We will take a cup of kindness yet". I guess to date me Dick Clarks rocking New Year's Eve (with the real Dick Clark) has been what I am used to but I am not too old to fondly remember Guy Lombardo on TV as a kid at the Waldorf Astoria every year with his royal Canadians orchestra - I assume if he were alive today that not only would his music be passế but his immigration status would be in question not being born and a citizen of the good ole USA.
In Scotland there is an old tradition called first foots where shortly after midnight on New Year's eve, neighbors pay visits to each other and impart New Year's wishes. Traditionally, First foots would bring along a gift of coal for the fire, or shortbread. It is considered especially lucky if a tall, dark, and handsome man is the first to enter your house after the new year is rung in. (I assume one who is invited or with which you are familiar). (white hair) The new year is the most important holiday in Japan, and is a symbol of renewal. It is the occasion for Bonenkai or "forget-the-year parties", held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. New Year's day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done. The Spanish ritual on New Year's eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year. We have Greek friends and New Year's day is also the Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. One of the traditional foods served is Vassilopitta, or St Basil's cake. A silver or gold coin is baked inside the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be especially lucky during the coming year. (that is of course if you do not mistakenly swallow it) (above - Wikipedia or similar sites)
And of course in the US we have Times Square and dropping of the ball a midnight - black eyed peas /rice /ham... and lots and lots of football. The Dutch who first settled the big apple, would burn their Christmas trees on the street and light fireworks to purge the old and welcome the new. They were noted for their love of beer and wine - another tradition that we have not neglected but I guess upgraded to Champagne.
Epiphany is coming up this Friday - the visit of the Wisemen -but the visit visitors to the Christ child were the shepherds, who The Bible says were minding their own business, doing their work when they were interrupted by the glory of God and an angel. And they were terrified. (Not sure why angels are so scary in the bible. It could make us question our view of what angels are in our imagination - maybe not so warm and fuzzy and comforting - but something that scares the you know what out of you. I guess at first glance the glory of God can be like that too. I think their fear has more to do with the sudden realization that they do not control everything in their lives. Sometimes I think we take one of two postures in life. We work our fingers and minds to the bone to get everything just right - just the way we think we want it or it is suppose to be. And / Or we take life for granted - its the same old same old - its all so mundane we get bored. And so when something like an angel or a voice or an instinct or a stranger or the glory of God shows up - It scares us that everything is going to fall apart - Be different.
They are told that this is good news of great joy and they get up and go - the wake up from taking their lives and the world they took for granted - and go and see -come to Jesus - and go away glorifying God. (Mary being a little more genteel, treasured all these things in her heart, but evidently these tired and smelling shepherds couldn't keep their mouths shut).

It seems to me that the shepherds are a pretty good role model for us in the new year. Instead of planning out every little detail of our perfect lives being, we can be a little more open to the glory of God shinning around us. Not being so afraid of the dark night sky. To get up and do something about good news of great joy if we hear any.

This past Tuesday morning was a raining morning as the sun tried to come up - dreary- and I was with my son in the car at 7:15 am driving to the dentist and for some god awful reason I was struck that morning with these existential thoughts that I get once in a while - What if there is no God? What if there was just too much evil in the world for the good news to be true? Why can't God speak a little plainer to me? - And there, as I was brooding to myself - my son poked me and said look out the side window and there on Route 1 Rhode Island Ave. was a glorious rainbow - horizon to horizon. Like I was Noah on the ark about ready to give up and pow! Was it natural occurrence -sure - was it a coincidence -sure somewhat- But was it a sign to me of the glory of God - you bet. (Of course you know what did I do with it? - relish it and cherish it and prize it --No - when I got out of the dentist office an hour later I looked up and said "God would you mind doing that again" just to be sure i know that it is you?
I turned on the radio yesterday and Diane Rehm, retiring after 30 some old years is running an interview with Mya Angelou of several years ago. Have you ever listened to Mya Angelou? The glory of god is all through this lady. She was raped and she did not speak for years as a child - Have your read “And Still I Rise?
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
And the glory of God shown around them.....
It’s been two weeks since a neo-Nazi website posted photos and contact information for several Jewish people in Whitefish Montana and encouraged online harassment of them. Three families in town and a dozen businesses were targeted. There are only about 100 Jewish families in whitefish out of 6000 population and many more thousands of visitors. So several folks in the town got together and started handing out white paper menorahs to put in shop and home windows as a sign of solidarity and that religious bigotry has no place in their town And now they are all over - Jewish and Christian and Muslim windows. One woman whose grandfather was a holocaust survivor said: "It's a small thing, but for people who celebrate Hanukkah every year as part of their Jewish faith, seeing menorahs in their neighbors' windows means a lot. (from NPR)
Yesterday at 15th Street Presbyterian we held a funeral service for a 43 year old man who suffered a heart attack on Christmas. 250 people filled the sanctuary. Ushers, Trustees and Deacons prepared the way. A complete repast - one of the finest meals I have ever seen was served after. Our office manager, our Treasurer, the president of the Board of Trustees vacuumed the church and cleaned the bathrooms the day before. Dehrric played the piano. We did not know the deceased or the family or the 250 friends and co-workers who attended. But we do now. This church because of simple request to help a family in need from one of our members, reached out and made a difficult day, the first day on a long journey of healing, more bearable.
It seems to me that being aware of the glory of god shinning all around us and getting up and moving toward that glory and becoming part of it is what Christmas is all about - and probably the best New Year’s resolution you will ever make.. Maybe that glory will be in the heavens - on a mountain top or a mountain top experience - but it could also me in the smallest act of kindness and grace that you see - hear about - or are moved to do yourself. you know you can hear angels singing almost anywhere if you are listening. The glory of the baby Jesus was fulfilled in the life of Christ - a life of compassion, love, mercy, peace and sacrifice. Where you find those things you will find God's glory - in fact you will find God. Amen
Sermon - Jan 1, 2017 - Luke 2:8


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