Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 26, Third after Epiphany, Children of Light #8: Disruption

Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus takes up the announcement of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That’s general. And then he makes it personal. He summons Simon and Andrew. He knew them already as followers of John the Baptist, who was now arrested, which maybe had confused them and doubtless disheartened them, and it’s no wonder they respond so eagerly to the summons.

The summons includes the hint of a commission: “I will make you fishers of people.” Which metaphor is strange, if you push it, because fishermen are enemies of fish; no fish ever agrees with having been caught. Or is there a hint that salvation has some death, some disruption, some repentance? He summons James and John as well, and just as quick they leave their father in the lurch and go with Jesus. The four of them have been fished and are caught themselves.

What about their wives and children? “Sorry kids, no fish tonight.” Such a disruption in their lives. A new kingdom has arrived and exercised eminent domain and imposed the draft, and for their families the disruption is a forced repentance. On Sabbath days their families have worship without them, because on Fridays they go with Jesus up into the hills. Every week another village, arriving at sundown, sharing in somebody’s sabbas meal, socializing overnight, sleeping on some rug, going to synagogue on Saturday morning, preaching and teaching, sharing some food, healing the people, then back home to Capernaum. “Well, well, isn't it swell to have you back!”

The announcement of Jesus was the same as John the Baptist’s, but Jesus shifted the meaning, and put more stress on the second part: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” With John, you had to go down to the river and repent, to get clean and ready for the kingdom soon to come. With Jesus the kingdom has come, ready or not, and he took it from the lake-shore up to the people on their dry hills, in their ordinary lives, and to receive that kingdom and to live within it is the repentance.

In this sense, the calling of the four fisherman is atypical and for their specific job. More typical is that the people remained in their villages and occupations. Jesus was teaching them within their habitations how to inhabit the kingdom that was there. The healings were the sign that the kingdom had come, their deep significance was liberation.

In their villages, not in Jerusalem. In Galilee, not in Judea. In The Bronx, not Manhattan. In the north, in the region of the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali, the borderlands of Lebanon and Syria, a region that has always been a battlefield, one army after another marching through, pillaging their crops and ravaging their women. A region of Jews in poverty, and of Gentile settlers controlling the means of production. The Jews were in depression, and they felt like exiles in their own land.

The Jewish revolutionaries were headquartered in Galilee because it was less controlled than Judea. Jesus had more freedom here to develop his campaign. Had he announced in Jerusalem that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, he might have been arrested too. Galilee was also a better venue for Jesus’ new version of the kingdom of heaven.

He didn't bring it as a kingdom of independence but of interaction. It’s not for isolation but engagement. It’s not for ridding your life of enemies but for loving your enemies close at hand. It’s not for getting rid of troubles, but for dealing with your troubles. It’s not the bright light of the noontime, but the light that shines within the darkness. The kingdom of heaven is for the mixed-up reality of your lives. It’s the light that shines before you to help you find your way. It’s the light that shines on your skin to give you courage.

He did not summon priests or scribes or soldiers, but ordinary working guys. And unlike with John the Baptist, who waited for people to come to him, as these guys had done the first time, here the Lord Jesus comes after them, right in the midst of their ordinary lives. And they have to deal with the disruption. Following Jesus is not magic. It’s usually in fits and starts, with gaps and hesitations, and with doubts and disappointments. That is your experience as well.

Following Jesus is just not a sudden simple thing or one nice gradual evolution. You get an experience wherein you notice God. And then there is a gap, and you wonder if it was real, and if anything has really changed. Maybe it was just your own wishful thinking. The voice of God is never discrete from your own self-enclosed experience. But then something happens or somebody says something that takes you further, and you feel called again. Now God is asking more of you, a greater measure of devotion, God is calling on you to something which is costly and disruptive. It’s liberating, but is it worth it? And then there’s more. And he says, “Follow me.”

That’s open-ended. You’d like to know first where he’s going. Why not just tell me where we’re going, give me the directions, and I’ll go straight there on my own? Why not just tell me what I need to repent of? I don’t mind repenting, just tell me what I did wrong, and I’ll be sorry and I’ll address it. Nope. Open-ended. Liberated.

You are called to freedom. And that means disruption, because freedom is always a disruption. But your life is full of disruptions anyway, though they are milder and less dangerous than the disruptions of their lives in Galilee then or Syria now. You manage your disruptions all the time, and you choose among them. To choose for certain disruptions is the meaning of repentance and discipleship. It’s all part of a single package. The kingdom is what Jesus brings, and to receive it is repentance, and to explore it is discipleship, and to embody it is healing.

It is both liberating and disruptive because everything is on the table. There are not some parts of your life which are in the kingdom of God and other parts which are exempt. Every action, every possession, every relationship, every interest, every issue, every dollar, everything you think or hope or say, it all belongs to the kingdom of God. For everything you need instruction, in everything you need healing, in everything you need forgiveness, for everything you need repentance.

Repentance here is not that you are feeling bad or sorry, but total receptivity, allowing everything on the table, including self-examination. I’m talking about freedom even from yourself. And that’s disruption. To let go of your nets is nothing compared to letting go of your image of yourself.

How did God call you? What were you doing when you heard that voice that brought you here? What did it sound like? The voice of God that called you was hidden in some other voice, some other thought, some other consideration. Maybe an itch you had. Maybe a vague feeling that you needed to do something, make a small change, maybe simplify your life, or maybe add some complication. You thought, I need some more religion in my life, some more spirituality, or some healing, or some ethical inspiration. These were your own thoughts in your own head.

I’m telling you that behind your thoughts was the calling of God. I’m saying that in, with, and under your thoughts, though indistinguishable from your thoughts, and indiscernible to any objective examination, except your own imagination, I’m saying that God is calling you to follow this strange character, this Jesus.

How do you determine which calls you answer on your phone? When my blackberry rings I check to see if it’s a name in my address book, and if not, I don’t pick up. They can leave a message and I might call back. Of course I’ve got ring-tones for people I always answer and ring-tones to warn me of people I don’t. How do you know it is God calling you?

You can tell, if it requires some new learning.
You can tell, if it requires some repentance, some self-examination and some disruption of yourself.
You can tell, if it means some liberation, some freedom.
You can tell, if that freedom and liberation is directed towards healing and wholeness and reconciliation and community.

God is giving you the knowledge you need to choose among your disruptions.
God gives you the light to make your way through the darkness.
God gives you companions to walk along with you to help you and affirm you and listen along with you.

You can tell, if the single word summery for it is Love.

Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 19, Second after Epiphany: Behold the Lamb of God

Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

The New Testament offers us four different gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s a big question which one was written first, and which depended on the others. The traditional answer is that they were written in the order they appear in our Bibles. So Matthew was written first, and then Mark, and then Luke made use of both Matthew and Mark, and then John was written last, and differently than the others, but assuming the story the others had told.

To my mind, John’s Gospel is a lot like Shakespeare’s plays. Not his tragedies or comedies, but his histories, like Richard III or Henry V. Shakespeare assumes your prior knowledge of the story, and in his drama he unfolds its meaning. Just so, the story already given, say, in Matthew, gets unfolded in John’s dramatic dialogues and long soliloquies. But the difference with Shakespeare is that the author of this drama was a participant in the story. It’s as if Richard III had been written thirty years afterward by the king’s best friend. The author was an eyewitness.

John never depicts the actual baptism of the Lord Jesus. Matthew did already, as we saw last week. John assumes it and unfolds it in the interaction of his characters. Let’s lay it out. It’s the day after the baptism happened, and John the Baptist is standing there, stage left, and upstage center is a small crowd. Stage right Jesus enters, and walks in. John points to him, and says to the crowd, “Behold the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. This is he before whose coming I had been speaking of.”

Then John turns towards us, the audience, and he breaks the fourth wall and testifies to us: “I had not known him, but when I baptized him I saw the Spirit descending like a dove upon him, by which I knew he is the Son of God.” The scene closes, exeunt.

Next scene, the next morning. Stage left, enter John the Baptist, now with two of his disciples, Andrew and Philip. Stage right, Jesus enters and walks in. John points. “Behold the lamb of God.” This time, his disciples leave him and cross the stage to walk behind Jesus. Jesus turns to them, and he says his very first lines in John’s Gospel: “What do you seek?” They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And he says, “Come and see.” Jesus turns up stage, they follow him, and we see a small table and a rug, and he sits down and they do too, and John the Baptist exits.

Time passes. It’s late afternoon. Jesus is still there, but only with Philip. Off to the right we see Andrew and his brother, Simon, and Andrew says in a stage whisper, “We have found the Messiah.” He leads Simon over to Jesus, but Jesus speaks first: “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas.”

How did Jesus know his name? Was it supernatural knowledge, or normal recognition? Why did he give him that nickname? Cephas is translated as Peter, and they both mean Rocky. Was it a compliment? Did “Rocky” have the same associations it does now? Did Simon have a reputation? Or was Jesus being prophetic?

Why did Andrew and Phillip address Jesus as Rabbi if they thought he was the Messiah? Since when was the Messiah supposed to be a Rabbi? That was never in the prophecies. Were they holding back a little, curbing their enthusiasm? They had reason to be careful, because the government was not too keen on the chance of a Messiah.

What did they talk about that afternoon? Fishing? Sports? Taxes? The Romans? The Kingdom of God? Did they ask him about the Lamb of God thing? Like, “Why did John the Baptist call you the Lamb of God, and how do you plan to take away the sin of the world?”

“O Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” “Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi.” “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” It’s become important in Christian liturgy, but John the Baptist said it first, right here, and how did he come up with it? Since when was the Messiah supposed to be a lamb? He was supposed to be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

A lamb is meek and mild and not too bright, but good eating, and fit for sacrifice. Was it because the metaphor of the lamb unfolds the meaning of the dove which John the Baptist had seen come down? In the Torah, a dove is the poor person’s substitute for the lamb, and the lamb was sacrificed to take away the sin of Israel. Of Israel. Not the world. The Messiah was for Israel. Why did John the Baptist say, “the sin of the world?” These new combinations of Biblical expectations would give Andrew and Philip and Jesus lots to talk about that afternoon.

What John unfolds, more than the other gospels, is people having fellowship with Jesus. Is that what we’re supposed to have? St. Paul in the last verse of our second reading says that you have that fellowship. But how can you have the fellowship of someone who is so distant? Is Jesus not distant from you? Yes, you know of him from history, and from the language of the church, and you pray to him and sing to him, and you know that this strange character, sometimes man, sometimes God, is at the center of your religion, which is fine and as it should be, but he is distant, and how shall you have fellowship with him?

Well, despite the suggestions of so much evangelical Christianity, it’s not going to be like it was for Andrew and Philip. The Lord Jesus is not going to be your best friend, nor will he walk with you and talk with you and tell you that you are his own. So do not think, “What’s wrong with me that I don’t feel Jesus close to me like that?”

It’s no wonder that Muslims think we Christians have two gods: the Father God in heaven and the Junior God with us here somehow. Even St. Paul’s language can suggest we have two gods, the Father and the Son, and the second one is the one that we have fellowship with. So let me issue this corrective: There is nothing wrong with your Christian experience if you don’t feel like you have Jesus up close or in your heart. He came to do a job, in his Incarnation, and he did it. He came to teach and to reveal and in his sacrifice to take away the sin of the world and he did that, and then he ascended into heaven, and his job was not to stay on to be your special friend and junior God.

You have fellowship with him in two ways: in terms of his being absolutely human and his being absolutely God, not some sort of mixture in between.

First, in terms of his being absolutely human you have your up close and friendly fellowship with him by means of your fellowship with other believers. If not Andrew and Philip, then Tom, Dick, and Harry and Sally, Nancy, and Beth. When you sit down together, and speak to each other about your spiritual and ethical lives you are having your appropriate personal fellowship with Jesus. He is among you not as a separate character but as your community itself. (John's Gospel lays this out in chapters 14-17,)

The Holy Spirit makes him present in, with, and under your very human interaction and conversation with each other, and also as you serve the needy and the poor. I am inviting you to believe that when in fellowship with each other you discuss these stories about him and his miracles and metaphors of doves and lambs and water into wine, and that although you cannot actually distinguish him from your own experience, to believe that he is with you to strengthen and enrich you in every way.

You also have fellowship with Jesus as he is absolutely God when you relate to him as God, the One God. Jesus as God is not other to you than the whole God, the very God of very God. When St. Paul says in our epistle that you call on the name of Jesus Christ, he means that when you name Jesus Christ as the center of your faith, that Jesus does his job and makes himself the medium, the means, and the way for you to have that fellowship with God which is appropriate to the Almighty and Eternal God.

The form of your fellowship is worship, praise, and adoration, and love. You love God not as some friend, but as God, who though distant to your sense experience is present to your imagination and your soul. You do not have any direct sensation of God, but I am inviting you to believe that the Holy Spirit comes into and under your self-enclosed experience so that what you imagine might be true really is true, that you are having direct fellowship with this almighty and invisible Spirit behind the universe whom we call God.

Not because you achieve it but because God comes to you to have fellowship with you. God is the lamb who comes into the world. I invite you to believe that God is the dove who comes to you in love.

Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, January 10, 2014

January 12, Epiphany 1, Children of Light # 7: Baptismal Enlightenment

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

We cycle through these scripture lessons every three years, so this is the fifth time I have preached to you on these lessons for today. I don’t like to recycle old sermons, and so I keep myself fresh and I also build a sermon series by asking a recurring question of the lessons each week. Since Advent I have been asking each set of lessons how you are a Child of the Light.

Today the light is explicit in Isaiah, where God says to his chosen servant, “I have given you as a light to the nations." The light is implicit in Jesus’ baptism. The baptism of Jesus was his enlightenment. This may surprise you, because we think of enlightenment as something from other religions, like with the Buddha, or with the Hindu mystics or the Sikhs or the Sufis. But as early as the first century after Christ, when Greek philosophers were getting converted, baptism was explained as enlightenment, and even the current Roman Catholic catechism says that enlightenment is one of the four key meanings of baptism.

This may strike you as odd when baptism is most frequently a ritual for infants. But this past week I held my granddaughter when she was one-day old and just opening her eyes, and then I held her two days later and she was looking intently at everything, watching every change of light and motion and color. Her first few weeks will be literal, physical enlightenment. Your spiritual enlightenment is your being born again. Even when we baptize adults, they have to receive it like infants, newly born again.

Today the child of the light is Jesus, at his baptism, because he hears from heaven what a father tells his child. “You’re my son! You’re my beloved. I’m happy with you!” My therapist told me that I’ve been working on getting that from my dad for most of my life! Change the nouns as needed. Mother. Daughter. Jesus didn’t get it till he was thirty years old. This is the first time that his Father in heaven ever spoke to him. I don’t know that he expected it; or the dove. But I imagine it quickly made sense to him, and confirmed all kinds of intuitions and deductions he had.

What did Jesus know and when did he know it? Lately I’ve been asking that question also of our lessons every week. Many Christians work with an assumption that Jesus knew everything all the time, and that he automatically knew the full extent of his identity. Quite not so. He had to piece it together from what his parents told him and what he read in scripture, and then he had to blend it all together and mix a lot of metaphors in new and risky ways, with very daring new interpretations.

What kind of a Messiah shall I be? A warrior like David? An sage like Solomon? Like the Messiah of the prophet Micah, or of the prophet Zechariah, or of the early Isaiah or the later Isaiah? What does it mean to be the Son of God? Or rather, what shall I make it mean to be the Son of God?

He was a great mind, the Lord Jesus, a great human mind, a thinker, a student, creative, imaginative, a theologian, and an ethicist. We call the Apostle Paul as the Great Theologian, but Paul was to Jesus like Plato was to Socrates. Socrates wrote down not one thing, but his disciples did and applied and expanded what he had said. The Lord Jesus wrote no document himself, but he was the great creative mind that got this whole thing going.

I asked a colleague this week whether Jesus studied to write his sermons. How long did it take him to prepare his Sermon on the Mount? Do not let his Divinity detract from his Humanity. Don’t think he didn’t have to work diligently at developing his understanding of himself.

But at his baptism he was enlightened. It was a gift. It must have lightened the heaviness of possible uncertainty. Yes, Jesus, this is who you are. You are filled full of all the righteousness and the justice and the glory of God. And the dove confirms your intuitions. Jesus, the water, the dove. In the Torah that would be Noah, the water, and the dove. The dove with the olive branch, the dove of peace and reconciliation, the dove that means salvation is accomplished by the love of God.

It’s not what John the Baptist expected either. He had said in his preaching that he expected the Holy Spirit to come down as fire, and the Messiah would baptize them all with the fire wrath and judgment to purge away the sinful and their sin. But Jesus is here confirmed as the Messiah who proclaims the peace of the forgiveness of your sins, graciously, as a gift, without regard for your deserving it.

Here’s what I get out of this for you. Isaiah says that you are the light to the nations. You are the light of the world, as Jesus puts it a little later in Matthew. You as an individual who are part of the Christian community. For you to enlighten others, you yourself must be enlightened. Which you are, as baptized, and which you must be, as living into your baptism. And the great part of enlightenment, for Christians, is to know yourself. You are responsible to know yourself.

You are responsible to know your identity as God’s daughter or God’s son. You come to know that just as Jesus did, by diligently learning it from those who love you and imagining it from scripture and tradition, but also, when it’s just plain announced to you, you believe it.

You are responsible to know yourself as God’s beloved, and again, from both the community and scripture to deduce and imagine why that is so, and what that means.

You are responsible to know that God is well pleased with you, and why that is so. And also not why it is so.

I mean, good self-knowledge is to know what is lovable and well-pleasing in yourself. And that which is well-pleasing and lovable about yourself you should enjoy and cultivate, with self-respect. But you are also responsible to know what is weak and shoddy and selfish and sinful about yourself. You are responsible to be aware of your falsehoods and your compulsions and aggressions and how you cheat and when you discount other people and irritate and hurt them. I’m talking about confessing your sins, and I mean confessing them to yourself. Admitting them to yourself. Of course confessing them to God, and confessing them to other people whenever that is appropriate, but here I mean confessing them to yourself. To truly see yourself, which is enlightenment.

It’s difficult to do this. We learn to dissemble early on; we learn to hide, to distract, to divert, and to deceive, and we learn to do it to ourselves, from fear, from guilt, from shame, from abuse, from being wounded or corrupted or crippled in our self-awareness. Whatever. We have reason to believe we will not be well-pleasing, we will not be beloved, we will be disowned. We have reason to fear the purging and punishment of the fire God’s anger that John the Baptist was expecting.

But God’s Spirit is a dove. The flood is past, God is at peace with us, the judgment is over, even for all your future sins and your short-comings, God has seen them and judged them and forgiven them already, you are still well-pleasing and in spite of them, so that you can confess to yourself the truth about yourself without fear of being penalized for it.

The Messiah is a dove, a sacrificial animal, the sacrificial animal for the poor, and the Messiah sacrificed himself to pay the penalty for your poor soul and cancel all your guilt, so that you are free to investigate your own personal shortcomings and free to discover your own weaknesses and free to explore the ways that you are not a loving person and free to see yourself how others experience you when you are at your worst, and as free then also responsible. You are responsible to be enlightened about yourself, that you might share in giving light to the world.

That’s your testimony. That’s what you are witness of. Peter and the apostles were the witnesses of all that Jesus did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. Good for them. You are the witness of all that Jesus has done in your own life and among the people of your community. And I can tell you right now, the testimony that will give the most light to other people is not about this great miracle that God did for you or that achievement that God helped you with or that success that your spirituality gave to you, but rather the testimony of your reconciliation, of your realization of your forgiveness, of your fitful acceptance of God’s love. That’s the light that can help others get out of the prison of their fear and guilt.

You are responsible to be enlightened. But at the same time you cannot completely know yourself. As I have said before, you can be at rest in the mystery of your own life to you. You can be at peace not so much in knowing but in being known. As an infant is known by her mother. Or by her grandfather, as the case may be. You can be at rest in believing it when God says to your soul (and in Hebrew, the soul is feminine, even for men), “You are my daughter, my beloved, in you I am well-pleased.”

Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, January 03, 2014

January 5, Christmas 2,: Children of Light # 6: Enlightened

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

A couple Sundays ago I preached about Joseph, the father of Jesus, and about the dream he’d had, the first dream, of an angel telling him that the pregnancy of Mary was from the Holy Spirit and not from infidelity, so he should marry her and accept her baby, and name him Jesus. I said that the dream did not make things easier, but actually more difficult, yet Joseph decided to believe his dream.

I mentioned that Joseph shared his name with the original Joseph in Genesis, the kid with the coat of many colors, whose dreams got him sent down to Egypt. The dreaming kid in Genesis and the dreaming father in Matthew.

Today you get Joseph’s dreams number 2, 3, and 4: the dream to flee to Egypt for safety; a couple years later, the dream to return to Israel; and not long after that the dream to settle back in Galilee. You get a sense of little Jesus being bundled about from place to place. Not in a car-seat, but maybe in a sling or a papoose or even a basket. Like Moses in the basket, also rescued from the raging of a king and the killing of little baby boys. Moses in the care of Miriam.

Did you know that the name, Mary, is a later form of Miriam? To Matthew it’s not coincidental. He sees it as fulfillment: Joseph for Joseph, Miriam for Mary, Pharaoh for King Herod, and Moses the Prince of Egypt for Jesus the Prince of Israel. “Out of Egypt have a I called my son.”

The word “fulfillment” means several things. The first is that the Old Testament story is so true that it keeps coming true again. It is paradigmatic and typical.

Jesus is a type of Moses and it’s a paradigm that children are the innocent pawns and victims of the powerful.

Both Herod and Pharaoh are the types of rulers who will sacrifice children to preserve their power. And despite their power, their strongest motivation is their fear, more than greed and pride.

Both Mary and Miriam are the type of women who protect their children at great risk to themselves. They have more to fear than rulers do but are less constrained by fear.

Joseph is a type of Joseph because the way that God typically works salvation in the world is to call a man to read the signs and make some hard choices and invest his life in the right thing, even at cost to his own interest. It’s an old story which gets fulfilled in new ways because it’s such a true story.

So I don’t think you have to say that God had set it up for King Herod to act this way, and that King Herod just did what he was supposed to do. No, Herod did not do what he was supposed to do. What every king is supposed to do is quite clear in other parts of the Bible: he is supposed to guarantee justice, especially for the poor and the weak, and guarantee the safety of women and children. King Herod did the opposite. Yes, that was in God’s plan, but in the same way that in your plan are traffic jams on the BQE. What King Herod did was typical, and God could plan on it, but God still judges and condemns it.

The second meaning of fulfillment is that this story and its details hold more than just what’s in them. The particulars of the story are the concentrated icons of a larger and more comprehensive story which is behind it and is poking through it.

It think of it like in those old war movies, when there’s a scene at the naval headquarters, and in the middle of the room is this great table, with a great map on it, and officers around it with long wooden sticks for adjusting the positions of the little wooden battleships.

It’s like that with the little details of this story. Matthew invites you to believe that there’s a larger story behind the particulars of Joseph and Joseph, of Miriam and Mary, and of Moses and Jesus. He also invites you to believe that while the individual characters are free to do as they want, there is a long-range plan of God at work, a grand strategy, fully able to gather up our individual and momentary choices into God’s ends. You are expected to believe in that, just as Joseph was expected to believe his dreams. Sometimes you believe it because what else is there to believe in?

How much did Joseph know, and when did he know it? Faith is always a projection. Faith at its best is a vision, and at its worst it is a fantasy, and how do you know the difference? How many nights during the childhood of Jesus did Joseph lie awake, wondering and worrying what he should do next? How many nightmares did he have, and how did he know which of his dreams were true?

I figure he must have thought about those stories from the Torah, of Moses and Pharaoh and Miriam and his own namesake. And also the story from the Prophets, about his royal ancestor in the house and lineage of David, the little Prince Joash, who was rescued and hidden from the murderous intent of his grandmother, Queen Athaliah.

Joseph will have seen those stories as paradigms for himself. And you have to see your own life in your own way as a fulfillment of the scriptures, that the story is true again in you, so that when you suddenly get that dream, the fitting dream, you can be ready to respond.

Now let me shift gears. First, let me say that my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were truly joyful. But I confess that in the days afterward I felt down. And I think it was the news. Back to reality: climate change, Syria, South Sudan, China and Japan, Iraq and Iran, Israel and Palestine. You’ve been singing the angelic song of “peace on earth, good will towards men,” and then you face the endless variations of men getting busy with the opposite.

I was thinking, why do we do this church thing? What difference does it really make in human misery? Where is the fulfillment of all the promises?

So I was challenged when I read that sentence at the end of our epistle: “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” That sounds great, St. Paul, but isn’t it an empty dream, a projection, a lovely fantasy? If it’s true, then where is the fulfillment?

Well, what St. Paul advises is that you cannot see it on your own. You need enlightenment, you need it from a spirit of wisdom and revelation. He says that you need the eyes of your hearts enlightened. Now there is a strange metaphor. Hearts with eyes. That sounds like a surrealist painting. He doesn’t say the eyes of your mind, nor the eyes of your soul, nor the eyes of your guts, which would be your emotions.

Your heart, because your heart is at your center, between your head and your guts. Your heart is the meeting place where you combine your mind and your feelings into your convictions, and where you merge your thoughts and your desires into purposes. Your heart is the home of your will, and of your wanting. You think of your love as coming from your heart, because love is neither just emotion nor just mindfulness, but their combination through your willful purposes going out from you.

The Holy Spirit opens and illuminates the eyes of your hearts. Not your observations, not what you look at, but what you look for, what you go looking for, what you aim for, what you want. So it’s not just what your mind tells you, or what your gut tells you, but what your heart wants to reach out to.

It’s only from there that you will ever see what are the great riches of your glorious inheritance and it’s only from the stance of love that you will discern what is the immeasurable greatness of his power to you who believe.

It’s why King Herod could not see the power of the baby. Nor Pharaoh. They were powerful rulers, both of them, but they acted out of fear, not love.

It is why Miriam and Mary could both act so fearlessly in caring for Moses and Jesus.

It’s why Joseph could keep on moving in the world and trusting his direction, despite his being on the run from fear of death and persecution, because he was navigating from his heart. His heart told him more than he could think and understand, his heart told him more than he could feel, and what it told him was that there was something immeasurably great behind the small and risky choices he was making.

That’s the right move coming out of Christmas. That’s the Incarnation’s proper follow-through. You must see your own small life and your own small choices as another fulfillment of this great story. Which means that you too must address this world and all its agony in love. Yes, please do think about it with intelligence and sober analysis and critique, and yes, do fully feel it, from pleasure to anger and from happiness to grief, but then only from the choices of love do you make your way into the world, or else the world will be cruel and bitter, no matter how much power you have.

But you have been enlightened. It’s to your eyes of love that the great riches of your glorious inheritance begin to show themselves, and the immeasurable greatness of his power is for the greatness of your hearts and for the power of your love. What is being fulfilled in your own personal particulars is the never-ending story of God’s love.

Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.