January 5, 2014 – 2 Christmas A
Jer. 31:7-14; Ps. 84; Ephesians 1:3-6;15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The people of Israel were a people of journey. Joseph was a man of journey. You and I are people of journey.
Each of us is born with a yearning for God and, in our own ways, we set off to find God. We are created with that yearning and we are renewed along the way. I am amazed at the strength of the human spirit that does the yearning and I am amazed at the way in which God seems to bring us, continually, right to the place where we need to be. The spiritual journey is more about traveling than arriving. We don’t get to a certain place and stop. While I love the image of being born anew, it seems to me that we are to be born anew more in a process than a one-time accomplishment. God seems to draw us further and further along the journey.
The collect provides the underpinning for what follows in our lessons today. There we proclaim that God wonderfully created and more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. The dignity of human nature is sometimes hard to see with all the indignity we practice. But I believe our dignity is this yearning for the holy that we all have. It seems so true that we have been connected to God and that we always yearn to return to that connection. Most remarkable about this dignity of human nature is that it points to the being of God rather than ourselves. When we live into our dignity, there comes with it a deep sense of humility where we know that what we are about is due to God’s power, not just ours. As we live into our dignity, we work hard, yet we know that God is doing all the real work. We aren’t leading the process but yielding to the presence of the holy. So much of our life is spent trying to lead yet this spiritual journey is surely about following and it is in that following that our dignity is fully revealed. God creates us with that dignity and he restores it time and time again.
The prophet Jeremiah is told to rejoice and praise God because the Lord has saved a remnant of Israel. He will gather from the various parts those who have survived, those who have been faithful, and he will bring them home. Here we have the glorious news of homecoming after a hard and threatening journey.
The journeying of the people of Israel is constant. Abram is called out by God to leave his home and travel to Canaan. Later his offspring are called to move to Egypt. Then they are called to move back, spending so long in the wilderness on the way. After coming to the promised land, then they are swept away into exile. But now they are going to be restored, or at least a remnant will be restored.
Maybe in your life you can relate to this traveling and this matter of a remnant. As we are called to go on our journey, it seems that not all of us survives. I’m not talking about certain people surviving and others not. On my journey parts of me die, parts of me need to die. As I move through this spiritual journey, I have to let go of things that I have clung to so tightly. Some of my understanding of God has died. God, I find, isn’t a Santa Claus who brings me nice presents. God isn’t a puppet who responds to my every whim. God isn’t a genie in a lamp. God isn’t one who rewards the good and punishes the bad. God doesn’t act just like I do. Over the years some of the ways I have viewed God have died. And some more will die if I am faithful in my journey.
The journey isn’t about keeping all my ideas and all my notions just as they are. The journey is about being faithful as those notions die off. What is left is the remnant, the core, the possibility of new understanding and new life, a deeper relationship with God. It is only in dying that we are truly born. On your journey, rather than trying to bring back what has died, look for the remnant that remains. That is where God will work in your lives, in the remnant of your faith.
The psalm offers comforting language about our journey. It is a song praising Zion as the longed-for goal of the pilgrim. It is a song rejoicing in the house of God as our dwelling place. Happy are those who have this as their goal. There is the image of a people traveling through desolate places into cool and reviving water. Sometimes on our journey, we just need to be reminded that we are on the right path, that there will be rest when we need it and God will provide the cool and reviving water for us. The journey is not about carrying enough supplies to make it on our own or even in being so smart as to find what we need along the way. The journey is about moving and trusting that God will provide what is needed.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives thanks for the spiritual wisdom that God gives along the way, just enough to keep us going it sometimes seems, but always enough, always just the wisdom that we need. When we are ready to learn, the lesson comes.
The focus of our lessons, as always, is the gospel. Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him he and the holy family are in danger. He is to take up his newly delivered son and his wife and take them to Egypt and he is to stay there until he is told to leave. When the time is right, while in Egypt, an angel comes again and tells him to return. And just as he is coming home, another protecting angel tells him to go to Nazareth.
Perhaps you have noticed that so often we are called to move in our spiritual journeys and hardly ever are we told exactly what will happen when we get there. God seems to find it sufficient to do the calling. Though we often balk and want to know how it all will turn out, it almost always seems to be the case that we are told to go somewhere until we are told to go to another place. In that way the callings of God are temporary matters. Come here, we are told, knowing all along that eventually we’ll be called to come to another place.
I’ll assume that you are like me in that you want to know the next calling now. And I’ll assume that God says the same thing to you that he says to me: it’s not time for you to know that right now. God calls us to come here and he will call us out of that place into yet another place. One of the lessons we’re supposed to learn here, it seems, is that it’s all temporary. While we want to know the end answer, God wants us to learn how to follow his voice. While we want to know, God wants us to trust. And, in that way, these callings of God touch us with what is eternal, for it is only in trusting that we enter the kingdom.
The spiritual life is about journeying, obeying, listening to the voices, discerning which ones to follow, traveling forward not knowing exactly what will happen but trusting that another voice will come when needed. The voices usually lead us into places where we don’t stay forever but where we will stay temporarily until we are called forth into another part of the journey.
I had no idea as a young boy that I would be here today. Some of it, this journey of getting here, I would have planned out exactly the same. But some of it, I wouldn’t have chosen. Yet all of it, all of my journey, leads me right where I am now. As I look back it all makes sense but along the way there’s been confusion and trial. No doubt there will more ahead.
Today, or very soon, you will be called to the next part of your journey. Remember that God is in charge; he is to take the lead. You are to follow, to trust, to move on. He will always take you to the next place when the time is right. Not every part of you will survive each step along the way. Only the remnant will survive but that will be enough. The way will be desolate at times but ultimately cooling and revitalizing. You will be protected and guided along the way.
After Joseph was gone, so little was known about him but one thing always has been known: he was faithful to his callings. Of all the things that you and I may be trying to accomplish, it is really only that which has any merit at all, our faithfulness to the calls put before us. Be faithful on your journey; that’s really all God want