Readings for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 20, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Christmas is over and the decorations are long been down. If the season of Advent throughout the month of December brought joy to our lives as we prepared for our Christmas celebrations, these weeks in January as we have entered Epiphany is our reality. December is usually an exciting month. Joyous music on the radio. Feel good movies and childhood classics on TV. We are busy making preparations for our celebrations. Christmas truly is a joyous time of year. It is as though Christmas allows us to take a break from reality. To not think about the work that we need to do the other 11 months out of the year. To forget about the work that we have to do. To forget about the loneliness that we feel. To forget about the struggles that we face each and every day. Christmas becomes a pause button on our reality.
But as I said, Christmas is over. Lest we forget that Christmas ended at the beginning of the month. We’re back to reality. The decorations are down. Our homes and churches look empty. They didn’t look empty in November before the Christmas decorations were pulled out. But there is a certain emptiness now. Maybe sometimes you wish that Christmas would last longer. Or maybe never go away. Because Christmas leaves as quickly as it arrives. It is the church’s shortest season. And then we are back to where we find ourselves today; back to reality.
Our reading from Isaiah needs a little bit more context to fully understand what’s going on. For about 15 chapters in the book of Isaiah, the prophet is encouraging and empowering the people as they sit exiled away from their homes in a foreign land. He tells them that things will get better. You will be going home soon. You will be able to make a new start, and turn over a new leaf. This message encourages and excites the people. They have great anticipation of what lies ahead for them. After all of these years, they get to go home. They’re excited. Yes they’re anxious, but they’re excited. It’s similar to how we feel at the beginning of a new year. We let the past be the past and we look forward to what lies ahead in the New Year. Maybe a little anxious about what this New Year will be for us, but still excited that something in our life will get better. Maybe a new baby is expected to arrive and be welcomed into your family. Maybe there’s a wedding, a graduation, a milestone of some kind happening this year.
But then comes reality for the Isaiah’s audience, the people who were exiled. They finally return home to Jerusalem. And when they return, their excitement quickly turns to disappointment. Their home is not the way they remembered it. The picture that was painted in their mind turned out to be nothing like what was promised. What was promised and the reality that they were experiencing were not the same. They were different. They were totally different.
The same is true for us as we make this transition from Christmas to Epiphany. Throughout the month of December we have great anticipation and excitement, but then as feel good movies disappear, the tone of the music changes, and all of the decorations get boxed up for another year, reality sets in. Last year’s harvest was still terrible. Church attendance is still low. Our government is still sort of shutdown. Opened temporarily for three weeks? The poor are still poor. The hungry are still hungry. The loneliness hasn’t gone away. The struggles. The pains. The hurts of this life are still very real. They haven’t gone away. Throughout Advent and Christmas, we are reminded that this is exactly why Jesus came; to balance the scales. To give relief. To bring peace. And like the people returning to Jerusalem, we are left wondering, where’s the promised help and redemption? Lord, don’t you see our struggle? Don’t you see our pain? Come to our aid.
And you know what? Jesus does. He does know your struggle. He does know your pain. And He comes to your aid not with a bunch of flashing lights and blaring trumpets. Rather He discretely comes like a wedding guest who finds out that three days into a week-long celebration, the host is on the verge of a tragedy. The host of the party has ran out of wine. And being made aware of the problem, Jesus doesn’t take center stage, calling attention to the problem and turning this first miracle that He is going to perform into a big production. Instead, Jesus simply instructs a few servants to fill some jugs with plain, ordinary water. Nothing special. Just plain water. And without anyone knowing what was going on, He turned that ordinary, tasteless water into something extraordinary – the best tasting wine ever.
God knows our struggles. He knows the church’s struggles. That’s why He tells the people returning from exile, “You shall be a crown of beauty.” “You shall no more be termed Forsaken.” “Your land shall no more be termed Desolate.” Because “You shall be called My Delight.” God delights in us. He delights in His church. He delights in you. Now you see yourself as plain, ordinary water that doesn’t have much taste. But when God gets a hold of us, we aren’t plain. We aren’t ordinary. And we certainly aren’t tasteless. For God changes us. He changes us to the best – the best that we can possibly be. And that, is what our God delights in. He delights in us being our best.
In fact, God delights in us so much that in a way we could think of it as God wants to play with us. And He wants us to play with Him. For a child, some of their greatest joy comes when a parent, grandparent, family member or friend sits down and plays with them. That’s what our heavenly Father desires for us. He wants to play with us. He wants to interact with us. He wants to get to know us better. He wants for us to be happy.
And it is through the people around us, that God uses to make us happy and help make the struggles in life bearable. He surrounds us with friends and family to make the loneliness not feel so lonely. This is the reality that we live in. And no it isn’t the fulfillment of what has been promised to us. That day is still coming. But despite the reality that we are experiencing, we can choose to despair over the struggles of our reality. Or we can place our trust in God, knowing full well that our Lord delights in us and will do extraordinary things to us and for us because He did do something extraordinary for us. He died on the cross for us. He concurred death for us. He rose for us. And as He has promised, He will come again for us. Amen.
© 2019 Anthony Christoffels. All Rights Reserved.