Changes Are Afoot
Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 30th December, 2007
With Christmas behind us, we are looking forward to a new year. Of course, the arrival of the New Year brings many different things. For some, it is merely another day, another year. For others, it is a new start, a time to bring about much needed changes. And for many, it is also a time that changes are attempted, but are discarded quickly.
In this day, the last Sunday of December, the day before New Year’s Eve, we are all gathered here in Church, reading about the changes that Jesus and his family went through when he was young as recorded by Matthew. It is interesting how different the feelings of the season changes between the birth of Christ and the time shortly after.
Christmas was all about the warm and fuzzes. You know, there was nothing but peace and tranquility; joy and praise, angels and shepherds, songs and presents. Today, however, it is not so. What we have read is violent, dangerous, and scary. In today’s text, we are introduced to the tumult in which Jesus was born. We learn today that after His birth, the family was moving around, from one place to another, never really being able to settle down anywhere, because the king had heard of a threat against him. In his search for Jesus, the king had murdered innocent toddlers, all children under the age of 2.
Though our lives were probably not in mortal danger, I know that all of you know what it is like to move and the impact that it has made on your lives. This is definitely something that I’m quite familiar with. At the age of 7, my family came to the US. After spending one year in New Haven, we moved to Pittsburgh. We stayed put for awhile, but then we moved out to Wexford, PA, which was in the suburb of Pittsburgh, before finally moving back into the city. Of course, then I had to go to college, the quintessential transient lifestyle, since we had to move in and out of the dorms every single year.
So, I feel that I can safely say, the beginning of Jesus’ life probably was not so enjoyable. In some ways, we can identify with what Mary and Joseph felt. But rather than focus on the places they’ve been, or even what it meant for Jesus to have gone through great suffering even as a newborn, I would like to talk about the dramatic changes that took place and how I found it being applied to me, especially during this time of the year.
Change is always challenging, whether we want it, expect it, or not. For Jesus’ family, change was absolutely necessary to save their lives and avoid being murdered. We, too, sometimes begrudgingly make and accept changes in our lives. I remember when my parents first moved to Boston. It was difficult for me to come back home to Pittsburgh to a near empty house. It was a place that I had called home for a very long time, and when we left, I felt a sort of emptiness. And I’m totally not going to lie—sometimes, I’m annoyed that they live in Boston rather than still in Pittsburgh.
I think change can have this affect on us. There is a feeling of emptiness, of fear, trepidation. Yet, change can always be positive. At least, once we get used to the change and accept it, we grow to see it not as scary and bad, but something that can improve our lives and grow to be comforting. Change and the challenges that it brings us is what helps us grow. It is being stagnant that keeps us from becoming who God wants us to become.
In order for us to see the positive in our lives, we must trust in God’s plan for us. For me, I now know what God had planned for me. As I stand here and preach, it’s probably pretty clear what this change was supposed to have done for me. I’ve gained church experience that I never thought that I would or wanted to participate in. Preaching was not something that I wanted or thought I could do, but here I am, and you’re probably listening intently.
For Joseph and his family, there was also something comforting in the different moves. It may have been because they knew that their lives would be spared on the run, but it probably most likely had to do with the knowledge that God was with them. Our passage opened today with Matthew writing, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." What must that have been like! To go through probably the scariest time of your life knowing that God will be there, not only guiding, but protecting you.
I can tell you right now, if God came out that clearly and told me exactly what to do with my life, I’d be much more at ease. But, you see, this is exactly what it means to have faith. Faith is not being told outright but nonetheless knowing that God not only exists, but that God is with us and guiding us. Having faith is to be able to trust God and God’s plan for us. It is with this faith that we are able to accomplish things that we otherwise cannot.
How many people have seen Indiana Jones? Do you remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Basically, what happened was, his father (Sean Connery) had been searching for the Holy Grail, which is the cup that Jesus was using at the Last Supper. They finally narrowed the search down to this cave, but it was booby trapped. Indy had to go through four tests in order to get his hands on the Holy Grail. The third of these tests was a walk of faith. He had to cross a HUGE ravine. There was no other way to cross it except to step out into the open air and trust that a land bridge would appear, which, of course, was what happened.
I bring this up, however, because this is the way we can be when we face something scary and daunting. Being in Clinical Pastoral Education has forced me to face myself completely. There are times when I am challenged to see things that I do not know about myself and then make a change. The one thing that I have learned about change is that we have to have the courage to face our weaknesses, to want it to happen, and work at it, knowing that God provides us with the strength and wisdom to overcome it rather than fixing it for us.
Joseph could have certainly ignored the sign from the angel, dismissing it as a merely a dream. He could have been mad that God has put him through such difficulties. Yet he did not do that. He took the word of the Lord seriously. He complied rather than complained. As Christians, we are called to walk with God and to witness to Christ’s goodness. This is the season that we learn what God has done for us. Christmas is the day when Jesus was born. It is on this day that God made the biggest change that the world had ever seen. It was the day that God became man. Or rather, a baby.
Everyone was expecting a great hero, perhaps a great warrior who would be king. But, it was a baby whom God sent. There could be no greater change than God’s transformation into human. Instead of offering us a quick fix, God got in the trenches with us, to walk with us and to share our burdens so that we may have the strength to transform ourselves in the face of our suffering and adversity. To let us know that He is with us no matter what is happening in the moment.
This is what I want to challenge you in this upcoming New Year. Many people make New Year Resolutions or vow to change something in their life because we are all flawed, imperfect creatures who fall again and again. It is this time in our lives that we must call upon God to give us the courage to face our challenges and to make the change so that we can be better people, better friends, and better children of God. At the same time, we also ask God to open our hearts to include forgiveness and compassion for others and for ourselves when we fall.
So I challenge all of us: What is something you want to change in your life? Is there something you know that you should change that you have not gotten around to? And last of all, is there something that you have been dealing with where you cannot see God? How can you invite God to hold you in the midst of your pain and suffering?
Perhaps we can even start today, right here. There may be someone who is having a difficult time here today who may need your smile or your compassion. Are there people in our congregation with whom you have never spoken? How can we work with each other to witness to God’s great blessings? I notice that we are all scattered in this very large sanctuary. Perhaps, we should start by sitting more together. I would like to take this moment to invite those of you sitting in the back rows or to the sides to move to the middle.
I can tell you right now, no matter what the resolution or change we make, we will falter and we may even fail. But the presence of God will always be with us, picking us up from the rubbles around us, guiding us to our safe haven. Let us be encouraged that God is always in the midst of suffering and change, holding us and supporting us as we face ourselves and make the necessary changes that we need to make to walk with God.