Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Second Sunday after Christmas, 2011

Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, West Lebanon, NH

 

Let us pray: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when he shall come to be our judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

   Happy New Year to everyone! We celebrate the beginning of the year ahead, even as we recognize the passing of the year 2010. The books are closed on that year. We can't do any more to redeem it. It is a done deal. Those of us who itemize our deductions will be sorting through all the receipts we have dutifully saved for the moment we calculate our income taxes. Those of us who seek to analyze the successes - and otherwise - during that old year will ponder questions like: "What could have gone better?" And "How could we have done better?" We will say things like:"I will never do that again" and "I firmly resolve to correct everything there is to correct." Yes, even as we reflect upon this past year, we make promises for the year to come. It is very human to do this.

 

   At this time of year, we celebrate the passage from one year to another, from one date on the calendar to another. Of course, Christians celebrate a new year on the first Sunday in Advent. That is the more appropriate time to wish each other a new year. Jews celebrate New Year at a different time. The day after the Winter solstice also signals a new year, at least in terms of an increase in sunlight. Even if the date, January 1, seems a little arbitrary, we celebrate it anyway. Anything for a good party. But perhaps there is within us a desire to recognize that life is a series of moments in which we pass from the past into the future.

 

   The lectionary text for today is something of a New Year's moment; it emphasizes that passage from the past into the future. Our epistle reading is taken from Isaiah. This represents the past; the words of a prophet spoken long ago. For those who use the one year lectionary, it is rare for us to hear a reading from the Old Testament. But at this time, it is entirely appropriate. The gospel reading is taken from the words of St. Matthew. It records a series of events in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The gospel reading ends with their arrival in Nazareth, the fulfilling of a prophesy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

 

   Two thousand years ago, on a night in Nazareth, it may well be that Joseph reflected on what had happened over the course of the previous year. During that time, he had certainly travelled a very great deal. He had journeyed to Bethlehem, where the child, Jesus, was born. Like all parents, he sought to protect the child from harm and travelled once again to avoid danger. King Herod, being a vengeful and jealous ruler, caused the deaths of many young children. Jesus was spared.

 

   But then, a call came to travel once again. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph that it was now safe to travel once again. It was a clear call from God. And Joseph, hearing and understanding God's will, packed up once again and travelled into the land of Israel.

 

   But even then, it was not an easy passage. Archelaus was a ruler in Judea and Joseph was afraid of what might happen if he returned to Jerusalem. Again, God spoke to Joseph in a dream and Joseph turned toward Nazareth. It was the fulfillment of a prophesy. And, at the end of this gospel reading, we find the little family in Nazareth.

 

   What else might Joseph have remembered about the year just past. Yes, there were the memories of the many miles travelled, the important memory of the birth of the child. But even more, there was the understanding of having done God's will. At crucial moments during the year, Joseph had been given a clear direction by God. He heard the directions and he followed them precisely. By discerning God's will for him and for his family Joseph had arrived at the precise location where God needed him to be.

 

   At this time in our lives, we may look at the past year and ask ourselves: "Did we live according to God's will for us?" Although we may not have been visited by an angel of the Lord in a dream, perhaps in a way we were. God speaks to us all the time; we have only to listen clearly for His voice in our lives.

 

   Like Joseph, we may sit and contemplate this great change in time, a clear passage from the old to the new. It is a passage from the Old Testament to the New Testament. It is the fulfilling of a prophesy stated long ago by Isaiah who could see the will of God clearly and recorded it for future generations. It is the transition from the expected event to the fulfillment. It is the Incarnation; the Word made flesh and come among us. Like Joseph, we may wonder at all this. Like him, we pray that our actions in this world are truly the fulfillment of God's will for us.

   We look into the New Year. It is, for us, a time to ask: "What will this year bring?" We don't really know the specifics; it is a mystery. But God, who knows all things, is well aware of what will happen. It is up to us to listen to God and follow Him wherever we are led.

 

   And if, like Joseph, we travel to a dusty little outpost in our lives, some place called Nazareth, we can understand that we have come there because of God's will for us. Although Nazareth was not a very fashionable city, it rests on a high hill. It commands a great view. If Joseph were to look out beyond the walls of the city, he could trace the route that took him to where he now stood. He could also see the many roads that might lead him to some future destination. Which, he might well wonder, would he take. God, of course, will know. Because God knows our beginnings and our ends. He has a purpose for us all. And His will will be done.

 

Let us pray: O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.