First Sunday in 2021: A New Narrative in a New Year
- Prelude – “Adore Him,” arr. by John Cumberland; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 173 – “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies,” by Charles Wesley; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Prayer Time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “How Great Thou Art,” by Carl Boberg, trans. by Stuart K. Hine; Dr. Jerome Wright, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Scripture reading – Matthew 6:25-34, Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Sermon – A New Narrative in a New Year, Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 679 – “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright,” by Ambrose of Milan, trans. by Robert S. Bridges; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Sung Benediction – “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You,” by Meredith Wilson; Stacey Fradkin, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude- “Rejoice and Be Merry,” arr. by Todd Kendall; Pauline Olsen, organ
The Manger is still here; let’s still imagine the Star, the shepherds, the mother and father of Jesus were still here and, Jesus is still here in the manger. I asked that the stable be left up even as we now turn our attention toward a new year.
It’s the first Sunday of Epiphany, the Sunday we normally remember the Wise Men. But Epiphany is about a whole lot more than the Wise Men. It is the awakening, the realization of who this child is; that serendipitous “Aha” moment that comes when we recognize the importance of the event that took place last Thursday night. And given that it is to be that moment of realization, also means that the whole thing that preceded this worship service, every piece of every story we heard during Advent needs to make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then there is no “Aha” moment. Christmas simply becomes what it has all too often become; a time of giving and receiving gifts, of family traditions, or like last week, singing Christmas carols. Christmas, however, is much deeper than any of that, but to get there, to get to that AHA moment, we have to go back and revisit certain pieces of the story. Only then will we really know. Only then will we really understand. I believe it’s important enough that these first two worship services of the New Year, I want to explore it. Why? Because it sets up everything that is to follow, and I mean everything. And to get to where we need to go, I want to teach a bit, rather than simply preach. So, first, let’s go back for a moment.
Advent, those four weeks that precede Christmas Eve, is the official beginning of the overall Christian year. It is a time of preparation for everything that follows throughout the year. It is a time to anticipate that what’s coming is something new and different; something exciting if not overwhelming. The word that really defines Advent is the word “search.” We see throughout the story, in the shepherds, the Wise Men, even as Herod searched for the child. Mary and Joseph searched for a place for the birth.
We often forget that part of the story, that it was not easy to find this child. It wasn’t just that he was born in a small and unexpected town. It was also that his birth took place in an unexpected place.
It took time and effort, watching and waiting, listening, and following…searching…to ultimately find the child. It took a willingness to do whatever it took to finally honor and worship him. Each element is designed to define our own search for this child, and our own search of our faith. But let’s back up a bit so that we can understand what was really going on. To get there we have to first realize that there was a reason both Matthew and Luke had birth narratives in their gospels, and that those pieces set the tone and the reason for everything that followed.
Both Matthew and Luke were seeking to change the whole narrative, the whole understanding of God. To get there they both utilized the ideas of opposites to differentiate the current expectations of the lighting bolt Messiah from what God’s real intentions were. The intentions were for a new beginning, that became a new Covenant. It’s why Luke has Elizabeth and Zechariah in the story. They represent the old understanding, the Temple authorities, and even wealth, power, and royalty.
Notice that as soon as Elizabeth hears and sees Mary, everything is reversed, and it is the priestly class (Elizabeth) that honors the lowly class (Mary). That which is within Mary becomes the new Temple, even the new definition of God’s Law. He will become the chosen light for nations. It won’t be the Temple or a throne, or anything that might appear in the Temple.
Even more importantly for both authors, was that the presence or essence of God would no longer be contained in an ever-expanding box; not in the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy of Holies, or even the Temple. Jesus will be the living essence of God; redefining God as a God of relationships, of love, of grace, even abundance. This would be a healing God; not one who causes harm. This God lives beyond the Temple, in every aspect of creation. That’s where you will find His essence. He is one who dwells in every aspect of Creation. It’s in Creation that He can most readily be seen; in the order and beauty and power of it. But there is one more element that is essential for our own “Aha” moment.
Jesus, this Son of God, will not be Judean. Jesus will be Galilean. He will not simply live in a land that is almost totally barren, almost a wasteland. He will be more readily experienced in a place of beauty, a place filled with life; a place, like the famed Garden of Eden, where there are birds and animals, rivers that feed, crops that grow, trees and fruits, and all the wonders God’s creation can provide. That’s where Jesus comes from, and that also changes the narrative.
Yes, he was born in Bethlehem of Judea, but he doesn’t stay there. One of the additional great gifts given by the Wisemen was the warning about Herod, that Herod was searching for the child in order to kill him. But there is even more to that part of this changing narrative. Jesus, with his mother and father, flee to Egypt. It is the same place where Joseph, not the father of Jesus, but the youngest son of Jacob who was kidnapped by his older brothers, thrown in a well, thought to be killed, who instead was taken to Egypt and from there, rose in power to ultimately become the steward of one of Egypt’s highest officials. Ultimately, given his power, he was able to save his brothers and his father.
If that wasn’t enough, it was in Egypt where Moses was raised up into power, lifted from an arc, and who also saved his people by escaping with them from the power of Egypt and led them to the doorstep of the Promised Land. Now Jesus steps into that role; that of savior to his people.
And like Moses before him, travels from Egypt back to the Promised Land and then on to a land truly filled with milk and honey, Galilee. From there, he will move into the role of Messiah, but not just for the Jews. In between, there were shepherds, an Inn Keeper, Wisemen, and even Herod. Jesus was the opposite of that king of Israel, opposite of a king who, instead of saving the children of his people, sought to destroy them. As I said, this story is about opposites; what was before and what comes next.
That’s why Advent is the beginning of a new Christian year, because the story of Christmas very literally changes everything. It is the most significant new beginning there is. Yes, Easter is vitally important but it’s Christmas that sets up everything that is to come…everything.
A new beginning is taking place. It is totally unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. As we now look back, we begin to see just how beautiful, wonderful, challenging, and life-changing this story is. It begins to make sense once we are able to grasp the whole history, and, as a kind of jigsaw puzzle, see how each piece creates the overall picture. The entire understanding, of what and who and how God was and is, begins to change. But that’s just it, this is just the beginning of the new covenant that will be found in Jesus.
So thus we have this Epiphany. We suddenly realize that everything begins to shift and change with this birth. Each piece of the story adds to it, each piece is vital to our understanding of just how it is a new beginning. If we don’t first understand that, the rest won’t make much sense.
Next week I’ll get more specific and deal with what it means for us right here at Trinity.
But until then, we begin our search again, now in a new year, as we turn toward another reminder of just how significantly everything changed with the birth of Jesus. But from the beginning, we now move to the end of his life…but first let’s pray.