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.

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