Sermon Archives

Thursday, December 24, 2015
The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Eve)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Movement of God

O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you,
the Life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you:
Help us, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you,
whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (A pray of Saint Augustine)

Consider for a moment all the movement of our world today:  from workday commutes to the seemly constant trips to the mall or grocery store, the endless errands that need completion, and our travels to see family or on those rare occasions simply to get away, we are nearly always on the move.  We’re flying here, driving there, taking subways and taxis and planes and trains, elevators and escalators all to get us from wherever we are to where we are going. 

Of course, all this movement isn’t actually new – rather, it takes only a brief look back at human history to see that even the ancients were on the move.  Abram and Sarai set out to find a new home, Jacob flees his brother Esau making his way to Haran, only to then flee his cousins and make his way to Gilead.  Joseph is sold into slavery and taken captive to Egypt where his brothers and family eventually come during a great famine.  Eventually, Moses and Aaron lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt through the wilderness to what will become Israel.  There is, of course, the fall of Jerusalem and the great exile which shapes the entirety of Isaiah’s writing, a bit of which we hear tonight.

This tale of movement across the ancient world extends well beyond the biblical story as well.  The two great Greek sagas, the Iliad and the Odyssey, both recount the remarkable breadth of movement within the ancient world – the one following the whole of the Achaean world as it sets sail for Troy and the other following the perilous journey of one man’s return.  And the accounts continue – from Alexander the Great to the remarkable transportation system upon which the Roman Empire is built.  All of human history is marked by movement, great movement, at that.

Our two great accounts of Jesus’ birth are filled as well with movement.  Magi from east, shepherds from the fields, angels from on high, and as Saint Luke tells us, “all the world” making their way “to their own towns to be registers.”  And in the midst of it all, in the midst of all this ancient movement, Mary and Joseph are traveling as well, from Nazareth, a place they call home, to Bethlehem, a strange place only Joseph’s ancestors once new.

With so much movement in our ancient DNA, it should come as no surprise that we continue to move today.  The only change through the years seems to be the modes of transportation we employ and the destinations we seek. 

In fact, if we look at it for a moment, we’ll see that much of our reason for moving, both then and now, remain remarkably the same.  Whether it was Abram so long ago, our ancestors who made the difficult journey more recently, or even our adult children today, the tale of human movement and migration is often one of hope-filled opportunity – a people setting out with the hope of finding something better on the horizon, because the opportunities here at home, wherever home may be, seem too scarce and too few. 

Another, equally prominent cause for our movement and migration is the threat of war or violence.  It is the threat of violence that sends Jacob on his way and the result of war leads to the great exile of Jerusalem.  This same threat of violence causes Joseph and Mary to steal away to Egypt with an infant Jesus still wrapped in bands of cloth.  Today, more than 45 million(1)  women and men, children and the aged live as refugees across the world, having fled their ancient homes with violence or extreme poverty close on their heels. 

Whether it’s a young graduate move across the country in search of a first job, a migrant family seeking a new opportunity, or a refugee family fleeing the epidemic of violence and war, so much of our movement today is a movement away:  away from our homes, away from our families and friends and communities, away from much, if not all, that we hold dear.

And yet, into all of this movement, ancient and modern, Saint Luke reminds us of another movement that is always at hand:  the quiet in-breaking of God into our lives.  Tonight we are reminded that into all the darkness and fear that pervades our world, Heaven breaks in. 

This, in fact, is the eternal movement of God – toward us, to seek us out.  In the garden, while Adam hides away because of his nakedness, it was God who moved toward Adam calling out, “Adam where are you?”  When Moses fled to the wilderness, it was God who called him back through the mystery of a bush afire.  When Israel and Judah were far from faithful, it was God who, through the prophets, came to them, seeking time out and promising their reunion.  When a young pregnant girl flees to an aunt, she finds God’s blessing awaiting her there.  When a man lies near dead along the road, God comes instead to him to bring healing and life.  When a young man returns home, beaten down by his decisions and the harsh realities of life, his father runs to greet him.  When a band of fearful disciples lock themselves, it is God who comes to them.  As two discouraged followers retreat to Emmaus, Jesus meets them on the way.

And on a cold night long ago, as a young mother and father make their way in the darkness, as they make their way in a world that seems to have no place for them, God finds them.  On a night that must have been filled with fear – fear for themselves, yes, but even more for the precious child whom they bear, God seeks them out.  On a night filled with loneliness as even ancestral doors close before them, God breaks in. 

Even today, God’s movement continues.  There may be no angel chorus singing, nor a singular bright star to show the way, but we can be assured that God comes even now, in the same way he so often did all those years ago – though the men and women of our lives.  Elizabeth, a Samaritan, Isaiah, a good father.  Each bearing God’s love. 

When we move away, God comes to us.  When to world seems too dark, God seeks to shine a light.  When we depart, God seeks us out – this is God’s movement. 

Into all our movements away, whether we are fleeing something in our past or seeking something for our future, God’s movement is to come to us, to dwell with us.  Wherever you are, wherever you lay your head this night, God will seek you out – for that is the eternal movement of God – a movement toward us, toward you, his beloved. 

And that, in fact, may be the greatest gift of God:  Emmanuel, God with us.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.”(2)

 

(1) Displacement: the New 21st Century Challenge. UNHCR Global Trends 2012.  See also:  Esri and Marina Koren, “Where are the 50 most populace refugee camps in the world?” Smithsonian Magazine, at (June 2013).

(2) Philip Brooks, O Little Town of Bethlehem.