November 27, 2016
First Sunday in Advent
Anthem: Listen Here, Listen HereSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Shepherds don’t get days off. The flock always needs something. A wandering lamb. A ram that gets its horns stuck in the brambles. A sick ewe. Wolves. Poachers. There is always work, and there are few others who will come out to the pastures to spell them.
We know others who never get a day off. While the image of the welfare queen and the deadbeat are etched in our national psyches, and there are always people at every strata of society who will game the system, the truth is that many of the families that are receiving welfare are working fulltime and more.
I remember a Doonesbury cartoon from back in the day of the first President Bush. He is at some gala and he is announcing that they have created another 300,000 jobs. And the waiter pouring water at the table is thinking, “yes, and I am working three of them.”
There are people working hard to feed their families and maybe their children will get a job with a day off, but if they miss a day of work, for a doctor’s appointment or a child’s needs, they may not have a job when they go back.
And people who are looking for work often discover that trying to find a job is a full time job.
And there are others. Teachers. The great political hockey-puck of teachers getting three months off in the summer drives many teachers I know crazy. How many hours and days during that off time are spent either in their classroom, or in a classroom elsewhere learning more, or thinking through the class just past, or planning the next year, or working a summer job because we have devalued teachers and their pay so far.
Then there are the invisible illnesses. Multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cast on the arm, there is no bandage around the head, there are few outward signs, except perhaps how someone walks or how they move their arms. But physical ailments like fibro, where a change in humidity can cause your whole body to hurt, or arthritis that can tell a pressure change from three counties away, these diseases do not take a day off. There are good days and bad days, there are sunny days where all the sheep stay together, and there are days when wolves run through the flock every hour, and they may not know which kind of day it will be until it happens.
And there is mental illness. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression: there are no days off. There are days of better regulation with medication and therapy, and there are days that are so good that people stop taking their medication, which precipitates a decline of epic if not life-threatening proportions.
Addictions, compulsions, behaviors of obsession. There are no days off when life is one hour at a time, one day at a time.
And if you are the family of someone who deals with such chronic illnesses, such diseases, such difficulties, whether of the body or of the mind or of the spirit, there are no days off. You are right there with them through the ups and downs.
Parents can sometimes ship kids off to the grandparents, but even so, there are no days off for parents. And grandparents whose kids have enough difficulties that they are raising their grandchildren have all of these in spades, plus the joys of aging on top of it all.
There are several ways that God shows up in the Bible. The ones in the Temple expect God to show up on the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, to pray for the sins of all of Israel. But rarely does God keep to our schedules and calendars and agendas. Changing the paraments is no guarantee that God will show up.
More often it is in the wilderness. In the backside (“ass-end” is more literally of a translation) of the wilderness in the case of Moses and the Burning Bush. Forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, followed by temptations, for Jesus. On the boundary waters for Jacob who met and wrestled with God and gained the name Israel.
And in the days of Joseph and Mary, the world is in the wilderness of the Roman Empire. Sure, they built nice roads, and they created aqueducts, and they brought peace at the end of the pilum and gladius, the spear and sword of the legions. But for a people of the covenant of God, empire is wilderness. For those who claim God is king of kings and lord of lords, empire is a compromise with the other side.
And when Jesus is born, it is not proclaimed in the halls of Augustus Caesar in Rome. Word does not come to Quirinius, the governor of Syria, of which Israel is a satellite territory. Word does not come to the religious authorities of the Temple in Jerusalem, which has allied itself with Rome for its own protection and survival.
Word comes to shepherds. These were not Simon and Anna, faithful people praying in the Temple every day for the coming of God’s messiah. These were not people who had the leisure to always make it to synagogue for the sabbath.
Maybe these are people like you and me.
And the first word spoken to these people working themselves to the bone for the sake of their families, these people in the literal wilderness away from the city and the figurative wilderness of the empire of Rome, the first word spoken by God’s messengers:
“Do not be afraid.”
The first word is do not be afraid, because God will have the last word.
Do not be afraid, because God is going to show the world who has the first word of creation and the last word at the close of history.
Do not be afraid, because God and not the Roman legions, is the alpha and the omega.
Do not be afraid, because God and not Ceasar, is king of kings and lord of lords.
Do not be afraid, because God knows us in wholeness, even as we know only our brokenness.
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.
You shepherds, you workers, you teachers, you parents, you grandparents, you who struggle in body or mind or spirit, you who work too hard and cannot seem to get ahead, you who are hear because you need a word this day to get through this week:
Do not be afraid.
For Immanuel. God. Is. With. Us.
Thanks be to God.