Jews teach us that Jesus is no slouch when it comes to holy living. Our Jewish Jesus is challenging. He is always calling us out for making excuses for not living up to the love of God. Of course, we complain that there is no way we could ever, on our own, fulfill the Law. And that is very true. But the point is that Jesus came and did fulfill it, and by his grace and mercy, those who follow him can, too. So let me summarize Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount this way: God has given you one precious life. What are you going to do with it? You may not know it, but you are a partner in God's redemption of the world. What are you going to do about your little corner of it?
The turning of the year gives us a great opportunity to go home by another road. Today, let's make a resolution not to take the road of fear, not to make decisions based on fear, but to be courageous and take the road of faith. Believe me, we will have many opportunities to put our resolve to the test in the next year.
The truth is that the true light will never be seen in one of those light-infused homes in a Thomas Kinkade painting, because no one lives there, least of all Kinkade himself... The Good News of Christmas is that the true light is coming...into our homes, with all of our cracked windows, dirty closets and dishes piling up in the sink. The true light is coming into our lives, with all our broken promises, festering wounds and bags of guilt and regret cluttering up the hallway. But the good news is that we don't need picture-perfect lives, where the darkness in us is painted away with dabs of false light. We can face and embrace the darkness because the true light is coming.
God loves Christmas even more than we do, not because of the merry-making, the gift giving, or the caroling. Christmas gives God joy because in this season, we make more of an effort to love as Mother Mary does, by caretaking and homemaking. Every day in the newspaper, there's another story of some person or organization that our community is caring for. And every Monday, we gather here to plan how we can make a home for a few vulnerable people this winter.
Wenceslas is the archetype of the good king, the one we are always looking for, and the one I'm afraid we will never get to vote for. But we don't need to. We already have a good Lord and we are already learning to walk in his footsteps. And that makes our own journeys so much easier. Nineteenth-century critics of this carol complained that the tune, which was originally for a song about spring, was too upbeat and joyful for such a somber theme. But those critics don't know what we know about becoming friends with the poor on the journey. When we reach out to help them get home, it is a joy. When we bring them along, we can't help but break out in song.
But whatever kind of home we were born into, by now, we all live in the same landscape. The wilderness that John is in is the life that we all live in. And the quickest way to make our way home to God and one of the best ways we can prepare for God's come home to us is for us to make a way home for others. It's in the work of leading others home that we discover that we're already there. But if we string up the barbed wire, if we put up roadblocks so that others can't make it safely home, neither can God, neither can we.
That's what happened to Jesus the first time. Do you suppose that's why it's taking him so long to come back a second time? If you think about it, the human race is like one big dysfunctional family. Can you imagine how uncomfortable Christ would be around our global Thanksgiving table? Half of us would be hoarding the turkey and stuffing. The other half would be starving. Late arrivals would find the gate locked, and they would have to be background checked before we let them in the front door. As soon as they were seated, someone would start talking politics or religion and we would all get out our sharp knives. Everyone would start yelling at once; no one would listen. Our poor host and hostess, try as they might, would not be able to get our attention. They would sit there, sobbing into their sweet potatoes, while the kids would run and hide in the kitchen. If the world were a dinner table, I'm afraid that's what Jesus would come home to.
When I read the Book of Joel, this is the take-away for me: We don't have to look away from the terrible things that happen in life in order to hold onto our faith. If we want to grow in grace, we have to have the courage to look right into those situations because that's where we will see the great things that God is doing.
To challenge the assumption about money and power, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury." And what did he mean by that? She had what the rich don't have: nothing. She gave what they could never give: everything. And that tells us something: that Jesus is always messing with our values! Maybe that's why he's such a hard sell in Silicon Valley. But there's something else. Jesus is telling us about this widow: she is not just a victim, but she's a very different kind of hero.
John says that in the new earth, God will make a home and dwell with us. In fact, the Greek says that God will pitch a tent with us. So here we are in the old earth. It's as if we were living in the Jungle, right along the creek. It's raining hard, the camp is flooding, the police are coming, but will God get there first and set up a big tent to keep us all together, safe, warm and dry. Not a one will be lost, because what God made, God will save. God doesn't lose things as we do. And so we will end up right where we began. Our ending is our beginning, and it's all in God.