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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-13
 
For those Israelites of Isaiah’s time things had changed. Some had been exiled away from their homeland, others had remained in their homeland but seemed to be exiled from their relationship with God. Exile comes in many forms. Most of us have experienced exile of some form or another at some time in our lives. Here is a story of one woman’s exile. She had lived across from her church all her life. When I first came there I noticed that she had frequent complaints about things, but the one thing she complained about the most was the fact that we had kids acolyting. She would constantly harangue them about paying attention and it got to the point where she wouldn’t show up for church until the candles were already lit and the service had started. Even then she was constantly after the kids to be quiet, to watch what they were doing, to quit running, etc. all those things a person can yell at the kids for. It got to the point where people did not want her around. When asked about her behavior and attitude toward kids her story finally came out. Her problem was not with the kids, they were just a target of her anxiety. As it turned out she had watched the church burn after a lightning strike one time, living right across the street from the church it had filled her with terror. Her biggest fear was that the children could end up setting the church on fire. Even when we were so careful with the candles and them carrying the flame, she could not get over her fear. She was living in a self-imposed exile, keeping her from worshipping in peace of mind. 
 
Sometimes events in life send us into a sense of being in exile. We find ourselves distanced from friends, family, church family and/or God. Life seems to have changed in a significant way. We feel off, maybe even not in control. Our sense of well-being may be fractured. Exile is a hard place to be and it does affect our behavior. When we feel like we are in a form of exile, the Christmas season itself can make us feel worse rather than joyful and full of the spirit of the season. Those are the times when we most need a word of hope. And that is where faith comes in.
 
The people of Israel needed a word of hope because their lives had been shattered. The question at the center of their being at the time might have been, “Where is God!” Isaiah had already told them the reason for their exile, their idolatrous and unrighteous ways. Now it was time for him to give them a word of hope. He says, “God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and release to the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…to repair the ruined cities…to restore the covenant…to cause righteousness and praise to spring up.” This is indeed a word of hope and promise! hese words can bring us a word of hope when we are in exile, when we are oppressed by life’s struggles, when we are brokenhearted by tragedy and hurt, when we are captive and imprisoned by worry and anxiety, when we are mourning over loss, when we sit in what seems like the ruins of our lives, when we feel like our covenant with God has been broken and God’s love is far away. 
 
Jesus himself came to heal and to feed those most in need. Our faith tells us that his capacity to do that did not end with the grave, that he lives on in each of us who receives him, that he is fully capable of healing our brokenness, but it means letting him do his healing work within us. It means being willing to be led back from exile into full restoration of our right relationship with God. It means giving our pain, our frustration, our anxieties over to him and trusting that he will work with us, moving us in the direction of healing and wholeness, moving us out of exile into assurance, sometimes very slowly, sometimes in dramatic ways, but always moving us closer to hope.
 
The reason we celebrate this season with such joy is because the promise of restoration was fulfilled in the birth of a baby. The stage was set for the whole world to know God’s love and redemption through the birth of his son, not just for that time and place but for all the world and its future generations. We celebrate the birth of a baby because that baby represents the greatest hope for humankind, individually and collectively, because that baby grew to know our hurts, and temptations, and exiles. That baby grew to know when help was needed and what kind of help. He took that knowledge with him to the grave and in being resurrected is able to use that knowledge to continue healing and pulling people out of exile back into the wholeness of life, into the ability to rise and shine and offer hope and light to others.
 
As for the woman who feared that her church would burn again, because she could name her fear, because she was listened to, reassured that all was being done to protect the church that could be done, because Jesus was able to begin the process of healing, she was able to come to church sooner, be gentler with the kids, smile more, complain less, and perhaps worship with greater understanding of God. Perhaps her exile was coming to an end.
 
Yes this is the season we proclaim hope, peace, and goodwill toward all. But let us not forget to proclaim and claim it for ourselves as well. We are the bearers of good news, the light bringers who tell and share the story of the birth of hope. But we cannot tell that story fully and with conviction unless we can claim it for ourselves, unless we know from experience that Jesus helps us see our needs, brings us back from exile, restores faith within us, and is present with us in all our circumstances and events. Christmas is truly Christmas when understand the story in its deepest sense. 
 
In the next couple of weeks we will celebrate the story, hear its telling a couple of times, surround it with song and word and decoration and act of candle lighting. We will celebrate it in giving and sharing and acts of kindness and goodwill. Let us not forget to celebrate it in prayer and listening to God speak through all we do. Let us not forget to let Jesus work in us, to give over our turmoil to the one who can calm the storm. Let us not forget to be Christmas for others who may be living in darkness, in exile.   
 
 

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