Monday, January 5, 2009

Pools of Water

     Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water. As I mentioned to the congregations present this weekend, I had a hard time discovering a collective need in our readings this past week. I found plenty of words for myself and for individual situations of parishioners, but it was more of a buffet than a feast. So, I tried to take some time away. Of course, as people came to talk to me, I realized how much we each individually seemed to be suffering. Some are worried about their financial well-being. Others were worried about their physical well-being and are confronted with some scary diseases and prognoses. A few were upset about old wounds. The holidays can often do that to us because no one knows our wounds and pressure points better than our families. Some, of course, were worried for Karen and the kids. Some were worried for the mission of St. Alban's. And a tapestry was woven before my eyes.

     So many times we get deceived by the secular world about the meaning of the Christmas season. A number of people were concerned how family members would react to less money being spent on gifts, less travel, less things. And, all of us love to show loved ones how much we care for them, how much we love them, so the gift-giving in and of itself is not bad. But when we as Christians begin to feel bad about the season, we need to re-examine our motivations and feelings.

     The joy of Christmas for us ought to be that we are reminded that God became man. He became one of us! Rather than existing "out there" in terms of time and space, He chose to dwell among us. He shared our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our hopes. He did not have to do this, but He did it out of love for us. You see, you and I cannot enjoy the awe and wonder of Christmas without the implicit understanding that this beautiful babe will grow to walk the road to Calvary. His Incarnation makes possible His death and Resurrection and, as the Prayer Book reminded us yesterday, our possibility to share in "the divine life of Him who humbled Himself to share our humanity." And, for all the glorious wonder of Christmas, much of our work is in the desolate valleys of life.

     You and I are called to bear crosses for His glory. We are called to die to self that we may live in Christ and so witness the love of God which knows no bounds. You and I are commanded to be His hands, His feet, His voice in the desolate places of this world. And we can walk those valleys, those desolate places confident in our faith that we do not walk alone and secure in the knowledge that He has walked there ahead of us.

     Think of our reading from Matthew this weekend. Is there a less likely place that God's Son should have gone than Egypt? Egypt was where God's people had been enslaved. Egypt was where God's people had been chained by Pharaoh. And, still, God sends the Holy family to that very place. Imagine the response to this part of the story. The nation that oppressed the ancestors of God's people was the nation where God's Son was sent to preserve His life? You have got to be kidding! And, yet, looks what happens.

     Certainly the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt is full of symbolism. Jesus is obviously meant to remind us of Moses. Herod should no doubt remind us of Pharaoh. The death of the Innocents reminds us of Pharaoh's opposition to God's chosen people. Yet, the comparison is shadowy. Jesus is far above Moses. Jesus frees God's people from a punishment worse than enslavement. Jesus acts as the Son when Israel so often fails in its obligations and duties as a son of God. But Jesus is sent to the very place that many would not want to have gone, and He returns to save His God's people. The desolate valley has become a spring of life.

     You and I living on this side of the cross, on this side of the Incarnation, can look at life's desolate valleys with confidence. Yes, the journey will be painful. Yes, the journey may be tiring. Yes the journey may require sacrifice. But the promise is that there are pools of water in the valleys. We can face untimely deaths knowing that the end of life as we know it is merely a comma and not a period. We can face a disease knowing that the Healer can heal all diseases. We can look at old wounds recognizing the wounds He bore for the sake of all of us. We can face financial insecurity confident that He will provide as He has so many times before. And we can walk those valleys where He has placed us knowing that they, too, can be conquered just as He conquered death. And we can do all this with joy! If He is risen, if His story is true, we have no reason to fear anything this world throws at us. We have no reason not to expect to conquer in His name.

     And who better to face those valleys in His name than you? Each of us has been shaped by our walk with Him for particular ministry in His name. Who better to show His empathy than one who has experienced His grace in a particular situation? It is one thing for us to speak about God's redemption, but to speak to how He has redeemed our lives provides a testimony and joy that cannot be ignored by another. It can be rejected or accepted, but it cannot be ignored. You may hate living with a disease, but who better to talk of His strength and His grace in such a situation with another afflicted by the same disease? You may hate financial insecurity, but who better to testify to God's provision than one who has experienced His provision in the darkest moments of life? You may hate death, but who better to testify to His power over death than one who can make an alleluia at the grave? Yes, brothers and sisters, there is a lovely promise in the beauty of Silent Night. Before we ever get to experience that beauty and that peace, however, we must first walk the road to Calvary and throw ourselves at His merciful feet. And then, when that transformation truly begins, when we realize that we have been made a son or daughter by adoption, then we can experience the true joy of the season and face the valleys of life with the ability to see His pools.


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