Tag Archive: Fear


This was Sunday’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA on the Parable of the Talents.

The parable Jesus tells of the talents is all about risk. It’s not really about the amount of money involved, but rather what each of these servants or slaves does with what the Master gives him. In the Greek, it says the first two servants “worked with” the insane amounts of money they were given – 5 talents is about 75 years’ worth of wages and 2 talents is 30 years’ worth of wages. Even the servant who was given 1 talent was given a lot – that’s 15 years’ wages! That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money.

So the Master gives extravagantly of his money to his servants – he hands it over to them to do with it as they will. And when he returns, the only one he is angry with is the one who didn’t do anything – the one who played it safe and buried the talent in the ground. It’s not because he didn’t make more money or didn’t make enough money, it’s because he acted from a place of fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

While the other two servants were given huge amounts, they acted out of abundance and decided to invest it and see what would happen. Their reward was being able to enter into the joy of their Master. But the third servant acted out of fear, real or perceived, did nothing with what he was graciously given, and, in the end, his fears became reality.

We have been entrusted with the greatest treasure – the Gospel. Each of us has been given the lavish gifts of God’s forgiveness and grace. But the trick is that we weren’t given these gifts to keep them to ourselves – we have received them to share. We have good news to share with those who ache to hear a kind word. We have been given forgiveness and hope for those who despair and feel they can’t go on. We have seen a way of peace and reconciliation that we can proclaim and live out in a broken and violent world. We have the love of Christ to share in our actions and our words.

In seminary, we were talking about taking risks for the sake of the Gospel and sharing the good news. In that conversation, one of my favorite professors said, “a glorious failure is better than a tepid success.” Hmmm. That really stuck with me.  Success is good, but I would rather try something different or off-the-wall in the hopes that it might better communicate or show God’s incredible love, than just play it safe. The Gospel is worth too much not to take those risks.

Yesterday, I heard of NFL player Jason Brown, who at the height of his career was one of the best centers in the league and had a $37 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams. But in October of 2012, he walked away from it all, even as his agent told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. He left in order to become a farmer in Louisburg, North Carolina. He had never farmed a day in his life. He learned by watching YouTube videos. Yes, you can do anything by watching YouTube! His plan? To begin “FirstFruits Farm” a farm that would donate the first fruits of every harvest to those in need, as well as providing other opportunities for people in the community. He describes it as the most rewarding thing, the most successful thing, he’s ever done.   As he says, “Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”

A common phrase to hear nowadays is YOLO – Y O L O – or, “you only live once.”

Even though this phrase can be used to encourage wild or irresponsible behavior, it’s true that we only live once. So how are we going to use our lives? God has given us an abundance of gifts, and as the parable shows, even one talent, is more than enough. So how are we going to use what we’ve been given – the love of God, our lives, gifts, and finances – so that we bear fruit in the kingdom of God? We may not be called to walk away from the NFL or start a farm, but how is God calling you and this community to take risks for the Gospel? Will you work out of the abundance God has given you, or are you caught up in fear about falling short, failing, or not using what you’ve been given well? God knows that we will fall short or fail, and that’s ok. But are we willing to step out in faith and take risks to serve God?

Let us pray… you have given us amazing gifts out of your generosity and your abundance. You have given us the gift of salvation and forgiveness, the wonderful news of your love and grace. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Free us from our fears and anxieties to take risks for the sake of your Gospel. Help us not to bury the gifts you have given us, but to work with and use them to bring hope and the joy of Christ to all people. Amen.
For more information on Jason Brown, check out these articles:

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Last Sunday’s sermon on 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Matthew 14:22-33 preached at Community Lutheran Church.

If you come by my office during the week, and I invite you all to swing by at any time, you will probably hear music coming from my computer. I might even be humming or singing along with something. Or, if you’re particularly lucky, you might be like poor Bob who caught me dancing and rocking out at my desk this past week to a particularly jazzy and soul-filled version of “My Life Flows On In Endless Song!” I’m sorry you had to see that, Bob!

Music is so important in my life. It gives me a means of expressing myself, and helps connect thoughts and ideas. It has moved me to tears and inspired worship, and it’s a way I find joy and peace. As an extrovert, I also find meaning and joy in conversation and socializing with others. And I admit, as a Millennial, I do use social media – in other words, I’m connected with others in real space and cyber space.

Even so, throughout my life I have found myself being drawn to silence, contemplation, and stillness, time and time again.   And as much as I love rocking out in my car or hanging out with people, I crave silence and contemplation.

Finding time to spend time with God and to listen to or for God is a theme in this week’s lessons. Even last week, as Pr. Joe pointed out, Jesus tried to take time to pray to his Father, but was interrupted by the crowds upon whom he had compassion. This morning, we hear about the prophet Elijah’s need for rest, for Jesus’ time of prayer, and for the psalmist’s desire to “listen to what the Lord God is saying.”

And yet, in these readings, particularly the Old Testament and Gospel, the followers and servants of God… well, they miss the boat. Elijah, God’s feisty prophet, has just had his incredible showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal in order to prove that the God of Israel is the Lord of all. God showed up in a big way, and following the debate, Elijah killed the prophets of Baal, which did not sit well with Ahab and Jezebel. Since they were so upset, they tried to kill Elijah and he fled into the wilderness, so worn out and distraught, he wanted to die. After being sustained for 40 days and nights by God’s angels in the wilderness, Elijah finds himself at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai.

Statue of Elijah killing the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (From: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/wp-content/uploads/Elijah-at-Mt.-Carmel1.jpg)

Statue of Elijah killing the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (From: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/wp-content/uploads/Elijah-at-Mt.-Carmel1.jpg)

Sitting in a cave, Elijah hears God’s voice, which asks him “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he responds with a mini-rant, basically saying, “I have been super awesome and gung ho for you, God. Your people are not following your ways; they’re destroying your altars and killing all my fellow prophets. Now I’m all by myself and they’re even trying to kill me!”

Now, Elijah is blowing things out of proportion – there are other prophets and there are at least 7,000 faithful people left in Israel. And I find it interesting that God doesn’t respond directly with a speech, but tells Elijah to go and to watch because God is going to show up. There’s a great wind, and a crazy earthquake, and a blazing fire, and then, sheer silence. And it’s not just the absence of sound, it’s a stillness that’s full of anticipation and is humming with potential. And when Elijah hears that, he wraps his robe around his face and steps out of the cave. Again God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And rather than responding with awe and wonder, humility and obedience to what has just happened, Elijah repeats his previous rant word for word. Face Palm I can just imagine God’s head shaking and God saying “what do I have to do to get through to you?!”

Jump forward a few centuries. Jesus and the disciples have fed the multitudes, and Jesus puts the disciples in a boat telling them to go on ahead. He dismisses the crowds and then he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. He’s praying at night, by himself, on a mountain and during the fourth watch of the night, between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., he sets off across the waves that are aggressively pounding the disciples’ boat.

As he approaches, the disciples are seized by fear thinking Jesus is a ghost or an apparition. He speaks to them, telling them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” and his words echo God’s words to Moses when he heard God say, “I AM.” Jesus is saying, “take heart, I am God; don’t be afraid.”

This answer is sufficient for the other disciples, but Peter tests his Lord by saying, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So often, we praise Peter for his faith in getting out of the boat, but it’s important to realize that the other figures who ask Jesus “if it is you…” include Satan, the high priest at his trial, and those who mock him on the cross. That’s some terrible company to be in! This is not one of Peter’s shining moments. He does walk on water, but becomes frightened when he sees the strong winds and begins to sink like a rock. With lightening quick reflexes Jesus reaches out and grabs him, asking him why he began to doubt. They get back into the boat, the winds cease, and the disciples worship him as the Son of God.

 

What’s amazing is that Jesus has already calmed a terrifying storm for the disciples. He’s cured people, done miracles, fed the multitudes only hours earlier, and they still doubt who he is and what he can do. Once again, God spoke and showed up in incredible ways and the disciples missed it.

What is God trying to say to you? Are you listening? Are you making time to hear?

I don’t know about you, but I am awfully good at telling God how I think things ought to be! Sadly, I’m not always so eager to listen. I’m great at running around attempting to complete that never-ending to do list, all the while forgetting to carve out that crucial time for silence and solitude in my life. And sometimes, when God is speaking, whether in the silence of my heart, through Scripture, or through trusted mentors, colleagues, family or friends, I have a hard time listening then, too.   It’s then that I feel like Elijah, so hung up on my own stuff that I completely ignore that God has just shown up all around me and I persist in my own stubbornness. Sound familiar?

Or maybe we are blinded by our fear, failing to step back and see what God is doing and how God is trying to come through the storms and chaos to reach us. Maybe it’s just what God is up to or calling us to do that scares us, like the disciples who couldn’t believe it was really their leader on the water. Or, God reaches us and we, like Peter, don’t take heart and believe Jesus’ words that he is God and Lord of all, but rather put him to the test.

Yes, there’s a lot of fear in these readings as well. Elijah runs from Jezebel and, really, from his calling as a prophet of God. The disciples let fearful superstitions rule them instead of seeing Jesus as the God capable of taming the chaotic waters underfoot. The people of God are afraid of listening to and believing God. They let what was going on around them and inside of them dictate their interactions with God. Don’t we, too, let fear, noise, distractions, troubles, and our own insecurities sidetrack us from encountering God and God’s work in and around us?

If our Lord and Savior needed prayer time alone on a mountain to rejuvenate, what makes us think we don’t need to spend time in prayer and solitude as well? Perhaps it’s because we think it’s “unproductive.” Or maybe it’s because we are afraid of listening to or for God – afraid of hearing something we don’t want to hear. But in order to grow in our faith, we must face our fears.

On Thursday, we heard the results of the Church Assessment Tool. And one of our areas for growth is that people want to grow in their spiritual vitality. I am thrilled about this because it means that we as a community are interested in being transformed by God – that the Holy Spirit is at work here and calling us to greater discipleship. At the same time, this type of growth means that we are called to engage more deeply in prayer, study, worship, service and generosity. All of these activities are training so that we are better able to recognize God, whether on a mountain in silence, or in the midst of a storm. We spend time in prayer and solitude, but we come together in worship and community to support, encourage and challenge one another as fellow disciples. Elijah made the mistake of thinking he was the only one left who cared for God and he was plunged into despair. He missed the chance to be in community with God’s other faithful servants.

Jesus never stops coming to us in our boats when we’re quivering with fear. He never stops reaching out to us when we begin to sink because the winds are too fierce and are howling too loudly. Time and time again, he calls out, “take heart, I am God, don’t be afraid.” May we listen to God’s voice, giving us courage to face our fears in the midst of every storm. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

God Keeps Showing Up

This morning’s sermon on John 20:19-31 from Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Thomas was framed! Every year we hear this story the Second Sunday of Easter and I think – oh man, Thomas was framed! All of the other disciples disregarded Mary Magdalene when she ran back Easter morning and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Yet, we don’t collectively refer to them as “doubting disciples,” although maybe we should. Poor Thomas. He gets stuck with this permanent label of “Doubting Thomas” when, in fact, the word doubt doesn’t even show up in the Greek – he’s disbelieving or not believing.

So I was thinking about all of this and a song from the musical “Oklahoma!” kept popping into my head, but with different words.

Here is tune I used as the inspiration for my song about Thomas – “Poor Jud is Dead:”

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared,
And when he said to believe,
He needed to touch and see,
All through history people jeered.

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He always looks so doubtful and so sad,
He wanted to meet Jesus,
He’s got a lot to teach us,
And really I think he’s pretty rad.

This is what I do in my free time… Anyway, I do think Thomas has a lot to teach us. And I do think he’s pretty rad, although that’s a word I wouldn’t normally say – it just rhymed in the song!

So what exactly do we know about Thomas? As we hear in the reading for today, Thomas was called “Didymus” or “twin.” He shows up throughout the Gospels, but only speaks in the Gospel of John. We’ve already encountered him once in the past couple of weeks, when Jesus says he wants to go to Bethany to resurrect Lazarus. At that time, even though there was the fear that Jesus would be stoned, the Gospel records that, “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Pretty bold fellow, I think.

Then, a few chapters later, after the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about going to prepare a place for the disciples in his Father’s house. He says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas, apparently the most inquisitive of the bunch says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Reflecting on these little snippets of Thomas that we get in John’s Gospel, it doesn’t seem to me as if Thomas is a doubter. It seems instead to show that Thomas is someone who wants to be engaged in his faith. He wants to follow Jesus, to ask questions, to understand more deeply, and he wants to really encounter the crucified and risen Christ.

Think about it, on Easter, the disciples, except for Thomas, were locked up in the house, shaking in their boots for fear that they might be persecuted and killed like Jesus. Mary Magdalene had come running, telling them about her garden encounter with the risen Christ, but they were still scared and confused and didn’t act on the good news she brought. With the doors still dead bolted, Jesus came into the house, stood in front of their weary eyes and said, “Peace be with you.” Then, in order to show them that he wasn’t a ghost or an apparition, he showed them his scars. And when they saw it was really him, in the resurrected flesh, they were finally able to rejoice!

Jesus then tells them as God the Father has sent him out, he is sending them out. In order to empower them to serve in the world, he breathes on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit.   It’s like the lion Aslan breathing new life into the statues in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Jesus breathes new life into disciples turned to stone by fear, worry and doubt. But Thomas missed out. It was the worst kind of “Oh, I guess you had to be there!” experience.

Later, Thomas returns and hears about what his fellow disciples have experienced. And surprise, just like the other disciples listening to Mary Magdalene before their encounter, Thomas doesn’t jump on the bandwagon when he hears that the others have seen the Lord. And so, Thomas says his now famous line: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But then, a week after the empty tomb, something happens. The doors are shut again, but this time Thomas is there. And Jesus shows up again, saying “Peace be with you.” Then, Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him exactly what he needs. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas, so overcome by the event, exclaims this beautiful confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” He’s so moved by his experience of the risen Christ that he doesn’t even need to put his fingers in the wounds. He’s so moved, overjoyed and maybe even relieved, that he claims Christ as his Lord and his God. None of the other disciples did that. He sees the resurrected Christ and he knows that it’s really God in the flesh.

Thomas needed to have his own encounter with Jesus. He needed to see him risen and encounter him, in order to continue his relationship with him post-resurrection. The other disciples had that kind of experience and relationship because Jesus appeared to them. They saw him, they heard him giving them his peace, and they even received the life-giving Spirit when he breathed on them. Thomas missed out on all of this. And then he had to wait for a week until he had his own experience. What was that like for him? He must have wanted to see Jesus so badly – just like the others did and, yet, there’s nothing…for a week. He must have been longing for an encounter with the crucified and risen one, but feeling left out from the experience that the others had had, and probably feeling separated from the other disciples, too.

How often are we like Thomas? We ask questions of our Lord and our God, trying to make sense of it all. We wrestle with God’s Word for our lives and try to follow what Christ has called us to do. We see the violence and hurt in this world and wonder how the resurrection has changed things. We long to encounter – to stretch out our hands to touch the crucified and risen Lord and know that this is for real. We want something personal and tangible in our faith.

And God knows that. Thomas had to see Jesus before his very eyes in order to believe, so Jesus shows up and offers his hands and his side to Thomas so that he can believe. God knows what we need in our lives, and amazingly, God keeps showing up, making Godself known to us. The wounded God shows up and reaches out his hands to us in our woundedness and brokenness. And we experience Jesus, maybe not like those first disciples, but we see him nonetheless. We see the God that journeys with us in our wounds and the scarred Jesus in the scars and hurts of others. We encounter God in sharing a great evening with family or friends. We experience the joy and hope of the resurrected One in the laughter of children. We are awestricken by the beauty of creation and the creativity of the One who shaped the world. We touch and taste Jesus in broken bread and wine poured out for the healing, forgiveness and redemption of all creation.

Yes, Christ keeps showing up, pointing to the wounds of the world, and inviting us to see how he is at work. He calls us to look at the scars and to see his very own wounds. To walk with others in their brokenness, working to bring healing, and to be surprised, shouting out, “My Lord and my God!” when we recognize Christ’s presence in the world. And he calls us blessed that we believe when we encounter him in the word, in water, in bread and wine, and in community.

The lesson for today ends with two sentences. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The writer thought it important that we hear this account and that we know that even if we don’t see Christ like the first disciples, God will keep showing up and helping us to see, understand and believe in different ways.

The writer thought it was important to share this so that we could believe and continue believing, and have abundant life in Christ. So that we wouldn’t remain locked up in our rooms of fear, doubt, worry, or stress, but that we would be filled with Christ’s peace and the animating breath of the Holy Spirit. Christ is calling us to go into the world and to encounter him in the woundedness there, so that we too may see and believe, saying “My Lord and my God!”

I’d like to end with blessing. Thomas was blessed and transformed by his encounter with the risen Christ. And we, too, are blessed and transformed by Christ as he walks with us in our beliefs, as well as in our doubts, wounds, brokenness, struggles, and unbelief.

So in a few moments, I will ask you to stand up, find a neighbor and bless them.   With their permission, you can trace the sign of the cross on their hands, a symbol of their work in the world. And maybe you can offer a blessing such as, “God bless you, bring you peace, and help you to see Christ in the world.” So start blessing!

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Born Into Our Suffering

This is the sermon I preached at Community Lutheran Church yesterday on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Here’s the text from Matthew 2:13-23 for the First Sunday of Christmas:

13Now after they [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “what’s the deal with the Gospel reading for today?!” I mean, seriously, it’s the First Sunday of Christmas, and the lectionary gives us the slaughter of the Holy Innocents?! What happened to the angels and shepherds, the wonder of the manger and the word become flesh?!  It even feels like this gospel sets a totally different tone than the other readings for this morning.  Isaiah speaks of recounting the gracious deeds of the Lord, of praise and God’s mercy.  The Psalm speaks of angels, men and women, birds, beasts, sea monsters (that’s my favorite part!), and, indeed, all of creation praising God.  Hebrews speaks of God bringing God’s children to glory.  And then Matthew speaks of Herod killing all of the children two years old or under.  It’s… awful.

All together, the readings present celebration and praise of God alongside the struggles and pains of life under Herod’s rule.  Herod the Great, who is the ruler Matthew is writing about, was a powerful king – a “Jewish” king in name only known for his complete and unabashed loyalty to Rome as well as his incredible building projects, which included the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, entire cities, and several fortresses.  He was also known to be a ruthless leader, harshly squashing opposition, even to the point killing multiple members of his own family! Talk about family drama…

Bearing all of this in mind, it makes sense that Matthew writes about Herod being afraid when the magi mentioned that they were looking for “the child who has been born king of the Jews.”  And it makes sense that Herod is infuriated that the wise men hadn’t returned to tell him where exactly they had found the boy king.  Herod the Great, a man who lived to defend his power, was terrified at the prospect of a new threat to his throne, even if that person was to be the Messiah!

Now, different traditions say that there were varying numbers of children killed, and we may never know if this massacre actually took place.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that there was a vicious tyrant ruling the region where the Messiah of God was to be born.  A Messiah who was to be the true ruler of God’s people – not the empire of Rome, not the puppet kings appointed by Rome, but a true king, with the best interest of God’s children at heart.  A king that would be worshiped not only by Israel, but also by Gentiles like the wise men who had come from afar.

Needless to say, this made Herod a wee bit uncomfortable and he responded to his fears by commanding that all the children under two be killed.  Now, if Herod had remembered his peoples’ history, he would have recalled the slaughter of the baby Hebrew boys at Pharaoh’s hand and how one baby, Moses, was spared.  He would have remembered that Moses was saved to deliver God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land – to bring about a whole new chapter in Israel’s history.  And if he had remembered all that, it might have crossed his mind that maybe God was acting again in his own day to bring about a new type of liberation.

But he ignores all of that, or at best, forgets, and, instead, innocents die while Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus flee to Egypt.

Last week on NPR I heard a shocking statistic about the war in Syria.  There have been many statistics about this war, but this one caught me completely unaware and caused me to tear up in my car.  I heard that so far, 11,420 children have been killed in this brutal civil war.  11,420.  That is roughly 10% of the total war deaths.  And over half of the 2 million refugees are children.

In addition to these statistics from overseas, we cannot forget that on December 14, we experienced the first anniversary of the shooting of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Sadly, it’s clear the slaughter of the innocents continues in our own day – this isn’t just a story about Herod, Jesus and the children of Bethlehem.  It’s a story about us, Jesus and all the children of God.

Giotto di Bondone - The Holy Innocents

Giotto di Bondone – The Holy Innocents

It turns out that this story isn’t the antithesis of Christmas after all.  In fact, it is the very meaning of Christmas that God comes into our hurting world and walks with us through all that we encounter and go through. You see, Christ is born in the midst of the ugliness and hatred and violence of this world.  In a fragile, helpless baby, God enters into history and human time in the flesh.  God is born into our pain and suffering.  And there’s the good news.  God is born into our lives and our experiences – not just into some far off land in another time, but directly into the middle of – the very heart of – our darkness, pain, brokenness and suffering.  And we heard it in the Isaiah reading for today: “…and he became their savior in all their distress.  It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”  In God’s love and pity for us, God chooses to be fully present with us in Jesus.

And Jesus didn’t only live as a human, but also died as a human.  God is a God of the cross, bearing our pains and experiencing death as fully human.  Because God has taken on human life, God is intimately acquainted with the distress, despair and grief we encounter.  As the author of Hebrews wrote: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Or, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs “O Holy Night:” “The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger, In all our trials born to be our Friend; He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King, before Him lowly bend! Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!”  The fully human and fully divine Jesus is our real king, not a tyrant like Herod.

Of course, we can’t forget that the story continues after the crucifixion.  Our God is not only the God of the cross, but also the God of the resurrection and of new life, conquering sin and death once and for all.  He brings forgiveness, life, comfort and hope to all in need.  This is the promise of Emmanuel – “God with us” – in all that we go through, no matter how difficult or hopeless the situation seems.

In our baptisms, we too, are marked with the cross and given new life in Christ.  As such, we are called and challenged to walk among and with those who are suffering as Christ did, meeting people in their needs and journeying with them – helping to bring about transformation in the name of the One whom we serve, one step at a time.  Where we see the slaughter of the innocents, the oppression of God’s children, the destruction of creation, we are called to step up and respond.  To make a difference, acting in loving service as a response to God’s amazing love and grace in our own lives.  Where there are barriers between God’s children, we are called to work to knock down the walls and bring reconciliation.

As we reflect on God being present in our suffering and that of the world, we can reflect on how we can be present to those around us in their time of need.  What can we do for those suffering in Syria?  What can we do to lessen the violence in our world? What about the children hungry in our own backyard – the children who receive backpacks of food each Friday at our local schools before leaving so that they can eat over the weekends?

Herod feared Jesus and what this baby boy might do.  He feared change and the loss of his power.  And to some extent, Herod’s fears were grounded because Jesus’ birth did change things.  And as our texts for this morning point out, that’s what Christmas is all about.  It’s the celebration and praise of God’s almighty acts and God’s entering into history to bring hope and new life.

Today, Jesus continues to threaten the status quo and promise change and transformation in our lives and in our world.  It’s like that line so often heard in movies: “Is that a threat? No, it’s a promise.”  Jesus doesn’t only threaten change and transformation, but promises it.  Continuing to try to follow Christ in our daily lives transforms us, little by little.  And through God’s grace, we are invited to be a part of changing the world even if it’s hard to see that we are making any difference.

We, like Herod, may fear the change and transformation Jesus brings to our lives, even if we don’t respond as dramatically as Herod did.  We might find ways of ignoring or resisting God’s call, or just feel uneasy about what we might need to face within ourselves to better follow Christ.

But God has come to walk with us in our lives.  The question is, how we will respond to God’s presence? Will we respond with fear like Herod and continue abiding by the status quo? Or will we welcome and embrace God’s presence and the kingdom of heaven?

God never stops coming to us in our lives, seeking us out, and calling us to welcome the ways of God’s new kingdom.  Even if we respond with fear or trepidation, God continues to gently invite us to be transformed by grace.  Thanks be to God for God’s steadfast love that comes to us at Christmas and every day.  Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Thank You

Where suffering, wounded and broken hearts abide,
There within them you humbly reside.

Where pains and hurts are too great to tell,
There among them you have chosen to dwell.

Where confounded by worry, fear, and sin’s snare,
There with tenderness, love and mercy you patiently care.

Thank you.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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