Expecting a Surprise

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others, Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome!

Merry Christmas!!!

Expecting a Surprise

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we
see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be
afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to
us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our
hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and
celebrate more fully our shared humanity.

Happy New Year!!!
Today is January 1, 2017, the first day into the New Year.  I am so hopeful that this whole year will be full of amazing and wonderful surprises for all of us.  This past week has had a few surprises in receiving a couple additional Christmas gifts from God in the way of two strangers to care for and the gift of much rest and time at home… and through all of that, the study and consideration of names and words…

The two things that have been on my mind this week are today’s celebrations, New Year’s Day –the feast of the Holy Name; and in this week’s Gospel lesson according to Luke we heard, “and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb…” I also want us to consider the opening to John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…”

Let me try to explain a little about the relationship of these two things the way I understand it. Today is the feast of the Holy Name.  That is when Mary and Joseph took their baby to the temple and, in the gospel according to Luke, they met a man called Simeon who gave Jesus his name, which means savior.  To name something, is to provide a word for that something.  A name is a word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others.  So, to name someone or something is a creative process by which we use our words… it is to give an identity, to lay claim to something and in some ways to establish a relationship with that someone or something.  

As I said, to name something is a creative process… and in the Gospel lesson, we are told that God’s own creative self is word.  The created “stuff,” all of matter and energy, the stuff that has been around since the time before anything was around is called, “Word”… and John claims that the true light, all life’s existence is “Word” and then when Jesus comes to earth, he is “Word.”  God is all one thing and God is called Word.  When we consider this Gospel lesson… the deeper we go, we find it is really pretty amazing!  John’s Gospel is always beautiful and almost always indirect and unclear at first glance… but so full!  So, to name something and to use our words, is to make something.

What was on my mind a couple of days ago is how the feast of the Holy Name may be even better suited for this creative process than the secular ‘New Years’.  What do we most often do for New Years? We make resolutions and plans and goals for the year to come and try and review the year that is past… what occurs to me is that process is a bit like “re-naming” ourselves.  Not to actually change what we call ourselves, I’m not going to change my name Jennie to a different name like, Myrtle.  That would be a different act from what I am talking about, although that too has creative power…

I mean, to make promises about who and what we are to become this year, is to redefine ourselves, to re-name ourselves… and so, we might ask each other how we have “re-named” ourselves and those in our closest relationships for the upcoming year instead of saying, what are your resolutions… this process of renaming, when done well and in the Christian context is also a way to reconnect us with God…

When I was praying about the truth, beauty and good, which is another name for God, in my prayers I found how I want to reshape myself this year: first and foremost I want to continue to become a better woman, a little bit better model of a human being and a perhaps a better priest.  I want to better serve St Barnabas, the Church, and our surrounding community.  Then, in terms of being a better steward to myself, so that I can become a better servant of others, I pray about how I want to do things like go on a guided retreat several times this year, and how I would like to remember my daily disciplines.  Maybe in amongst all of that, become a better steward of my body, mind and spirit with even better practices of eating, exercising and sleeping.  All these things that I want to do, to offer to God, are a way of wanting to rename myself.  So that when someone thinks of the person, the one who is named Jennie Anderson, they would think of a person who is a better me… renamed… this is a transcending process… this renaming and it may be a little better than simply coming up with a couple New Year’s resolutions… a new way to look at all the Christmas/New Year hope and renewal… re-naming ourselves with the incarnation, the Word made flesh… continuing to welcome the new baby Jesus… the birth of love in the world… the ultimate gift from god.

This process isn’t limited to each of us as individuals; it is linked to us as a community too.  It is about how we all together are to rename ourselves… what will St Barnabas mean to someone who is just learning about us?  What will St Barnabas mean to someone who has been with us for many, many, years and claims the renewal/renaming process?  Will it be threatening to them because the identity is changing in some ways?  Or will it be exciting as the growth and great potential we have yet to live into is coming …

What will the community of Norwich, the Upper Valley and surroundings look like after this re-naming process goes on?  How will we redefine our communities this year?  Will we be more generous?  More loving?  More hopeful?  Will we be more active in our participation of the artistic and creative work of bringing the love of God to our neighbors near and far?  It truly has its beauty as well as its surprises… and most importantly to me is that this whole creative process brings to us and to the world, hope, love and joy!

Today is January 1, 2017, the first day into the New Year.  I am so hopeful that this whole year will be full of amazing and wonderful surprises for all of us.  I pray to remain curious so as not to be too quick to judge. We each can get involved in the re-naming of ourselves, our community and our world. We can find hope and refreshment in the light that shines in the darkness.  We can care for each other well and be present for that process which is sometimes even a little painful… we can remember to pray…

In particular this year and at this time, let’s remember the First Baptist Church of Lebanon and it’s creative and re-creative process in the aftermath of the devastating fire; let’s remember all those who came to us here at St Barnabas last year as guests, hikers, new community members, and simple strangers passing through; let’s remember those of us in our community who have been through great changes this past year, and those who will come to be with us in this new year and bring more changes, chances and surprises; let us pray for our whole community, locally in our neighborhood, in the Upper Valley, in the broader United States, and the whole world…

And so, for this 8th day of Christmas, let us pray:

Creator God, each day holds a surprise. But only if we are curious about it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can meet new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity…  Holy God, we come, joyfully, to witness your birth, the birth of Love into the world.  Come, let us adore you.  Christ, the child. Amen.