Adventurous Lectionary – First Sunday after Christmas- January 1, 2017

The Adventurous Lectionary – January 1, 2017 – The First Sunday of Christmas
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Luke 2:13-23

A new year is upon us. After the revels of the holidays, with extra services and visits, and imaging for the year ahead, I’m taking this Sunday off, leaving it in the capable hands of two colleagues in ministry. Hopefully, it will not be a “low” Sunday, after the “high” of Christmas Eve. Still, I find this passages edifying as well as challenging in my own post-Christmas journey.

A few years ago, in the midst of my Christmas shopping, I noticed an interesting coffee company ad announcing, “Revelation in a cup.” Today’s readings speak of our ability to notice God in our midst. God is abundant, providing hints and revelations everywhere, but do we have senses to notice? Some revelations inspire, others protect. If we can notice God in a Bethlehem baby, perhaps we can notice God in all things, and all things in God. Perhaps, if we train our senses to discover God’s presence, every cup of coffee will become, as Joyce Rupp suggests, “the cup of life.”

These passages also describe human violence at its worse. A price is placed on the baby’s head. He must be destroyed by the powers that be, and so they kill hundreds of innocent children to snuff out one life. There is nothing extraordinary about this: it is going on in Aleppo, among refugees throughout the globe, and even – in more “white collar” ways in boardrooms across our nation.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a new age in which salvation will come through the presence of God’s Beloved. Presence and relationship – the touch of God –will save the people. Yes, we must mend our ways, but our hope is not solely in our own efforts but in the wondrous grace of God who dwells with us bringing forth marvels out of the messiness of our lives.

Psalm 148 rejoices in the discovery of a universe of praise. Imagine the Psalmist’s ecstasy at discovering divinity speaking forth in all creation. From her or his own self-interest, he or she is raised to cosmic consciousness. All things praise God; God’s energy flows through all things, inspiring them to praise. But, not only all things, but each thing, reflect divine wisdom and deep down praise their creator. We live in an animated and enchanted universe. There are no dead zones, no senseless regions. All things experience holiness – what process theologians have called panexperientialism or panpsychism – in the intricate interdependence of life. Psalm 148 is rounded out by the final words of the Psalms, from Psalm 150:6, Let everything that breathes praise God! Praise God!” And, that inspires us to ask, “What if every breath was a prayer? What if every breath was a blessing?”

We suffer from ecstasy deprivation. It is reflected in our own boredom and alienation from the non-human world, and our own willingness to secure this year’s profit while putting planetary life at risk. It is found in the inability of leaders to see the beauty of a new born in its wonder and their failure to enact policies that place care for the vulnerable as a priority war-making and profit-making.

The words of the Epistle to the Hebrews present the profound embeddedness of God in the world. God is “one of us,” Christ shares our faith, embracing and making sacred every season of life. To the chagrin of worshipers of the high gods and despots, the savior suffers. Not aloof, he shares in our pain and redeems us through sacrificial love. Herein, we find an ethic of relatedness, seen also in Philippians 2:5-10: to live a Christ-formed life means to live empathetically and sacrificially. God is not apathetic, unfeeling, but empathetic, feeling with. Indeed, only a suffering, companioning, God can save as both Whitehead and Bonhoeffer assert.

The Gospel reading involves violence as well as hope, and had best not be read with young children present. Herod is angry at the magi’s duplicity and wants to take revenge on the young children of Bethlehem with hopes that one of them might be the Messiah. The powers that be do not want either a prophet or a Christ/Messiah, whose message will turn everything upside down. Nothing has changed as millions are still being sacrificed to maintain the status quo and powerful countries ruminate about barring the door to refugees. Still, God is at work. Again, Joseph has a life-changing dream, and the Holy Family flees to Egypt, refugees in search of a home for their newborn and dependent on the kindness of strangers. God is revealed in dreams as well as doctrine, in intuition as well as institution, in sensations as well as sacraments. Revelation abounds and we best take heed to the many ordinary and extraordinary, secular and religious, ways that God communicates with us.

Today’s passages remind us that the world is more wonderful than we can ever imagine. Noticing is the heart of today’s scriptures along with the recognition that each moment is God-filled and each situation pregnant with divine revelation to both inspire and protect. In the spirit of William Blake we can proclaim that “if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is – infinite.”

About Bruce Epperly

Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. Prior to coming to Cape Cod in 2013, he served on the faculties and often in administrative and chaplaincy roles at Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor in spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. He has served as pastor or interim pastor of congregations in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He is the author or co-author of over 35 books in the areas of theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job; From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure; and A Center in the Cyclone: Clergy Self-care in the 21st Century.