As with most of my sermons, there are points of divergence from the notes and the delivery. Alas, in the middle of the two there is much to be interpreted.
The Running From and the Facing Of Fear: Nativity and the Call of God to Make Room
4th Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2016
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church
I can still remember it, even when my father retells it. It’s found someplace right in here. It was Fall Fest-meets-Halloween and we were walking through the local county fair. I couldn’t of been more than about five or six but as we went there were all of these games and animals and toys and things to see and big wonderful things to experience.
At this fair they’re also happened to be this haunted house, it was that time of the year after all. And I can see it in my minds eye walking along just passed this fountain walking through this area with adults and kids when all of a sudden out of nowhere, out of this huge trailer barged a massive Frankenstein like figure in his hand a chain saw…
Now y’all this was pre-zombie this was pre-The Walking Dead this is like Texas chainsaw man massacre kind of days. The chainsaw a rip the Frankenstein came out he hit the ground no farther than probably I don’t know 20 or 30 feet from me and I was done. And I let everyone know it.
Around I turned sprinting as fast as I could screaming away from this thing that I could not bear the idea of facing. And just when I thought I had gotten to a safe place, I turned and looked to see it just behind my father. And I could hear my father calling. Joshua. Joshua. Stop. It’s OK. The Frankenstein creature fired up the chainsaw one more time I sprinted even farther this gravelly road until I found myself standing next to the cows and the chickens and pigs in the 4H competition.
Alas, there in the hay, where the chainsaw could not be heard, I was safe. Standing among the animals of the local 4-h show. A few minutes later, dad eventually found me. He came.
You know, sometimes we have to run from that which we fear to find ourselves in a place where we are able to hear/experience what we needed to know most.
Let’a face it, we all do it anyway. We all run in life, (literally/metaphorically) from monsters and noises, from each other when we disagree or when we fear rejection..and yes, we even run from God.
I can tell you I thought I knew that dad was going to protect me…I know I believed it, but until that thing burst out of that trailer…I sure as heck wasn’t convinced.
You can hear this same, “I’m not so sure its true-ness” in this story of Ahaz. Believe me, this is not just a subtle little reading meant to tie us directly to Matthew’s gospel though it works. The story of Ahaz is a story of fear and the long-suffering of trust.
We don’t get it here, but in the preceding verses we discover Ahaz was scared – he was full of fear that somehow God would not do what God said God would do that he believed he had to trust himself. You see, Ahaz was the leader of a modern day Aleppo — with rebels and armies bearing down on his locale to seize it. With allies who knew the brunt of war, who he hoped would help – Ahaz fled and when he reached the end of his security blanket of allies, Isaiah shows up and well, so does God. “Test me,” God suggests..and Ahaz, tired, worn out..no way…is the hardness of life enough? And so God, meeting him right where he was, makes a promise….salvation will come Ahaz.
Salvation will come yall..
There is Ahaz and then there is Joseph. Sometimes we run (like Ahaz) and well sometimes when prepare to face our fears (like Joseph), and we dare to do what we know the right thing is for us to do and God shows up and gives us a vision of something we never imagined.
Honestly if I’d been Joseph, I probably would’ve been fearfully leaning towards doing what I was “legally” able to do as well. I mean, “pregnant” by the Holy Spirit? Joseph had every right to dismiss Mary – in fact he had the right to have her “stoned.” But, just as he had made up his mind to do what was right, God dreams in and says, “wait just wait…” And Joseph, the dreamer, the carpenter, the man trying to figure out faith just like you and I…waits…
Church this is one of the most understated parts of the Christmas narrative. “Nativity” — our capacity to be reborn in God — is found in our willingness, just like Joseph, to live by faith more than fear. Joseph, just plain ol’ human Joseph, was willing to risk the vulnerability faith in exchange for an intimacy with God.
You see y’all, in the face of an uncertain future, Joseph said yes to God. In the face of certain of ridicule, Joseph said yes. In the face of poverty, of rumors, of refugee status, of having “that child” in his house – Joseph said no to fear and yes to God. (Joseph — much like Mary — was willing to face fear, willing to risk all he had become or was to become in order to be who God was calling him to be.)
Hear this church: vulnerability never risked, is intimacy never gained.
Sometimes my friends, we know what we are scared of – as a young boy at county fair I sure did. But and sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes we run away because we think we know best, and sometimes our conscience…or the PHS…or in the case of Joseph an angel…shows up and challenges us to risk looking at things not simply from what we can do, but from the imagination of what faith would call us to do.
There is a lot of Ahaz happening right now. Children and adults all over our world, country, city, neighborhood are huddled down hoping not to test the big divine one…hoping that salvation will somehow come…and God I hope it will come too in their time.
And, there are quite a few Josephs in here. Some of us, well we need advent to remind us that we need to face what we fear, we need to risk some vulnerability and dare make a little bit of room in our lives – even if have to run – we need to dare to make a little bit of room in our hearts for God to do something we never dreamt possible.
Cause Christmas is coming y’all…nativity is a coming. Epiphany is coming yall.
You know, at one time, I wondered why that Frankenstine story was so strong for me. For the longest time I thought it was because I was so scared of spooky things…but it wasn’t. I’m pretty convinced, that story marked me not because I was lost, not because I was scared, not even because there was a chainsaw…no..the most powerful part of that story, is that despite it all…running…screaming…hiding…fearing…dad still showed up.
Y’all, God shows up.
When our lives are crumbling like building around us….God shows up.
When there is no room left in the inn…God finds a way to shows up.
When we think we know what the right thing to do is…God shows up.
Make a little room, church. Make a little room. And let’s see what God showing up in us, might mean for us…lets see what God showing up, might mean for the world.
Amen. Amen. Amen.