Come home to Calvary
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What were you doing on December 31st, 2019? Where were you? Who were you with? How did you ring in the new year that was to be 2020?
Did you make any new year’s resolutions? set your intentions? or in the theme of “20/20 vision”, did you create a new vision for your life?
Who would have known that just 3 months later, all those plans, dreams, hopes and intentions would need to change. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that we would spend 9 months in one form or another of quarantine.
It has been a hard year. Some would argue it has been the hardest year. And those who would say, “no, probably not the hardest,” would still agree that it has been (dare I say it?) an unprecedented year.
Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary chooses a “Word of the Year.” In 2019 it was “climate emergency.” In 2018 it was “toxic.” But “this year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several (quote) “Words of an Unprecedented Year”.”
“Most lexical innovation happened this year as a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Included in these words are: coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic, social distancing, shelter-in-place, lockdown, facemask, superspreader, PPE, and unmute.”
While so many new words have emerged and taken root in our society, most people would say this is the year that has left us speechless…unspeakable amounts of grief, loneliness, death and illness, canceled plans and changed traditions.
The Rev. Dr. Gregory Love, a friend of this congregation, shared a presentation with us back in November on “God, Covid-19, and Suffering.” You can still find that Adult Education video on our YouTube channel. And in it, he proposes four models of where God might be in the midst of all this suffering caused by the pandemic. He admits that there is no perfect model.
But the one which he agrees with the most is the third model he presents which affirms two truths:
(1) God is not source of suffering; but against it. And
(2) suffering is not the end of the story. God is creating something new.
The Rev. Steve Stockman from Belfast agrees. Quoting Inderjit Bhogal, Methodist minister, theologian, and once leader of the Corrymeela Community, he writes:
Check the first two verses of the Bible.
That explains where God is and the rest of the Bible and our lives prove the point: – Genesis chapter 1, verse 1: In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.
verse 2. Now the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
There was an emptiness, a formless void over the deep. That wasn’t God.
God was there, though. Not only there, but creating…
So, in the deep, dark depths of coronavirus,
I expect God to be where God always is;
hovering over this murkiness,
this tragedy, empathising with those who have lost loved ones
and those fighting for their lives in … hospitals.
And I do not only expect God to just be there, but to be creating, too.
God will be weaving good in the seeming despair.
In March, our plans, dreams, hopes and intentions changed. They had to.
And perhaps in December, as we say “good riddance” to a year like no other, we can say that we, too, have been changed.There are many things we might call this year. The OED report says, “What words best describe 2020? A strange year? A crazy year? A lost year?”
There’s been a huge upsurge in usage of each of those phrases compared to 2019.
As people of faith, however, we believe in a God of redemption, a God who is doing a new thing, a God for whom nothing is lost or wasted.
Jan Richardson, artist and poet writes:
From all that is broken,
let there be beauty.
From what is torn, jagged, ripped, frayed,
let there be not just mendings but meetings unimagined.
May the God in whom nothing is wasted
gather up every scrap,
every shred and shard,
and make of them
No matter what your 2020 looked like – whether you lost a loved one, got Covid, felt isolated and alone – God has been there with you.
Because that is where God is, in the midst of the murky depths of human pain.
But that is not the end of the story. Because as Frederick Buechner says, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”
And we are a resurrection people.
We see this more readily in other aspects of transformation rather than our own. We know that grapes must be crushed to make wine. Diamonds form under pressure. Olives are pressed to release oil. Seeds grow in darkness.
So perhaps whenever we feel crushed, under pressure, pressed, or in darkness, we, too, are in a powerful place of transformation. And that is when God does a new thing within and among us.
We saw glimmers of this, even in 2020. Babies were born; new appreciation was had for the simple act of gathering together; gratitude swelled for those on the frontlines and essential workers; a vaccine was approved and began distribution.
But so much more remains to be done in order for a more just and fair world to be born.
As we say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021, this is our opportunity to commit to something better, something new, something that further resembles God’s dream for this world.
Like the sheep in today’s Children’s Meditation who shaved off her own wool to clothe the wolf pup, what must we shed and get rid of, so that we can begin the new year clothed in love and compassion, humility and hope?
How will we go forward into 2021 to be co-creators with God for a new future?
Because God has been creating all through this year. And something new is on the cusp of breaking forth.
Maybe it’s as simple as committing to listen, both for God and to others, or as big as considering a change in vocation.
All I know is that this year, I want to be more like Jesus.
And as a meme on social media states, by that I mean:
– Hang out with sinners.
– Upset religious people.
– Tell stories that make people think.
– Choose unpopular friends.
– Be kind, loving, and merciful
– And take naps on boats
Y’all, it’s been a hard year. But the birth of Christ which we celebrated just a few days ago reminds us that new life and resurrection are not only possible, it has already begun.
The prophet Isaiah knew it. Simeon and Anna knew it when they encountered the Christ child in the Temple. And we, too, as witnesses of the birth of Christ and the grace of Christ can also have faith and know deep in our bones that new life and resurrection has already begun.
And so I leave you with these words by Howard Thurman as he chose to move into a new year following Christmas:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
Let it be so.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.