God is our anchor to eternity
Sermon Preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA
by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, December 24, 2020
Luke 2:1-14(15-20) In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Merry Christmas! It warms my heart to hear these lessons and to sing Christmas Carols in celebration of Jesus’ birth. In such an unpredictable year, Christmas reminds me of the anchor of strength we have in God.
This is the year of Christmas displaced and Christmas outdoors. We have been displaced from our church buildings, displaced from school, displaced from many traditions of the season, displaced from family and friends and activities and connections. In this displaced year, however, we are not displaced from God.
When God came to live among us in Jesus Christ, he came to displaced lives in a troubled land. The Romans had taken over the country, so even the Holy Land didn’t feel the same. Rome pressed their culture world against the Jews struggling to remain God’s people. Those were troubling political times. The struggle between the Jews and the Romans, the puppet-king Herod, the tax collectors, the radical zealots, the establishment Pharisees, all held the land in social turmoil. Even the census displaced Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
And on that first Christmas, we hear of Shepherds outdoors, living in their fields. Mary and Joseph displaced from home, not even able to stay in the Inn, but rather living with the animals, with only a feeding trough for the baby’s bed. It was a disrupted and displaced time for all of them.
And yet, God was there. God was present. God had prepared them to receive himself in a tiny, vulnerable baby. The earth-shaking victory of that baby was not yet complete, but God had broken into the world, and that victory had begun. In that displaced time, God was alive and active in the world, celebrating with those whose eyes could see him.
This year we are displaced and disoriented, outdoors from our familiar places and routines, disconnected, it seems, from the anchors that ground us, unsure of what the future will be or how we will live in that future. And yet, God has been quietly active in our lives and is still active. God is present with us in this strange time, guiding us, shaping us, sustaining us with his strength. God is still alive and active in our lives, bringing us new life and anchoring us to eternity.
This year, things were different. And yet things were the same. We lost so much of our daily routine as COVID shut things down, brought a constantly changing set of rules, and eventually started to hit people we know with illness and loss. Lingering pain of racism that simmered under the surface finally boiled over this year, leaving us unsure of how to reconcile. And in Georgia, politics still pulls at divisions between us. It is a different year.
And yet, there is much that is the same. We still worked hard to keep businesses afloat, students still studied and navigated classes. Children were born, students graduated, loved ones died, young people married, we still read our Bibles, and said our prayers and cared for each other as best we could. Though this was a very different year, we were still sustained by God’s grace, carrying us forward, strengthening us for each day, disrupting our complacency and blindness to help us look with fresh eyes on our lives and God’s call to us in our lives.
In this strange, displaced time, where is God active in your life? Where is God present with you, bringing you new life, anchoring you to his eternal strength?
Sometimes we get so focused on our present circumstances that we lose our grounding in the things that truly matter, the grounding in the things eternal. One example of this is from something that is truly temporal and not at all eternal: the struggle of my beloved Cleveland Browns football team. If you have not been following the Browns in the last twenty years, you are not alone. After the original team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, the expansion team Browns have struggled to put together a winning season.
I read recently that there was so much pressure to finally make it to the super bowl that year after year they changed coaches and systems and lost sight of laying a more solid foundation. The result was two decades of mostly losing seasons. In recent years, however, they began a more steady rebuilding, doing the daily disciplines that keep a team strong, building a depth of player talent and building on that foundation the next year.
So this year, a year in which so much has been turned upside down, the Browns are finding some success! It seems fitting, doesn’t it? We’ll see how they finish the year. But whatever their record at the end of it, they will be stronger for staying rooted in their training and their commitment to each other. I think this is a good lesson for us to learn as Christians.
There is a prayer from the prayer book that asks God for his mercy, that, with God as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through those things temporal that we lose not the things eternal. In a year in which the temporal affairs of our lives seem to be in such turmoil, God is still alive and active in our lives, bringing new life, and anchoring us to eternity.
We see this in the blessings of new children born to this parish, new couples married, new grace discovered. There are people who have been members of this church for years, but who have never been to a Bible study. But this year, they joined a study group online and have discovered not just learning about a book, but the blessings of Christian fellowship and prayer, the discovery of God reaching out to them in their displaced lives.
Even in this online year, we have welcomed new members to this church. These new members have never been inside our building, and yet they have felt God’s call to them in this community, and found welcome as brothers and sisters in Christ. Despite all the masks and social distance, we still reach out to care for one another, to help those in need, to support those who are alone and to rejoice in God’s grace changing lives. Each day, we focus on those daily disciplines that keep us strong in the faith—we pray, we read the Bible, we listen for God’s guidance, we take action to show God’s grace to others.
At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation, the miracle of God coming to us in human flesh, God entering human history in Jesus. Despite the sins and broken lives of this world, God came to us. God came to us in Jesus to live and teach us and to die for us to free us from our sins. He came to rise to new life that we might have new life—new life in this temporal world, and a new life grounded in eternity.
God is still alive and active in our lives, even in this strange and tumultuous year. God still seeks you, stepping into your life to strengthen you and bless you with his power. Wherever you are in life’s strange journey, God seeks you out and finds you where you are.
Tonight, open your eyes to see where God has been present and active this year. Even in crisis and loss, look for God’s presence in the midst of those struggles. Ask your loved ones where they have seen God at work, and give thanks together. This Christmas, celebrate the blessings that God has given you and prepare to receive him again in the year ahead.
God is still active and alive in our lives, bringing us new life, anchoring us to eternity. God bless you with eyes to see him this Christmas.