Growing up, I had a fondness for fine art. The art I enjoyed was based on storytelling. The best feature of storytelling is that it can take so many forms: Books, plays, and even cinema. My first exposure to truly fine storytelling was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Marvel comics were another piece of fine art I enjoyed. I remember saying that Marvel comics were the finest form of American literature ever written. Based on the successes of their current movie franchise, I have been proven correct. From the prime-time television series category, the finest program of the 1980s was for sure, “The A-Team!” My personal favorite was always Mr. T; however, the character John “Hannibal” Smith said something in every episode that could be a statement about the Christian faith. Hannibal always said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I can imagine God making that statement as Jesus lived out his ministry and accomplished the atonement of humanity.

The Old Testament contains numerous stories of plans coming together and plans falling apart for God’s people. One example of God’s plan of salvation coming together was Joseph rising to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery by his brothers. You all remember the story after Jacob believed Joseph to be dead, a great famine hit the land. Because of Joseph’s entrepreneurial way of governing and his gifts from God, Egypt was prepared for the famine, so prepared in fact that Egypt became the place of salvation for the Israelites. However, the salvific relationship was temporary, as eventually, Moses had to free the descendants of these people from Egypt. As it happens so often, salvation that comes by people for people eventually falls apart. As time goes on, new people who are removed from the original act of salvation forget and corrupt the relationship built on those saving acts.

In today’s Gospel, we see a recapitulation of Israel’s salvation coming through a sojourn in Egypt for the Holy Family. We see the beginning of Jesus’s plan of atonement coming together. Just before what we read today, the three wise men came and visited Jesus and gave him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were then warned in a dream to avoid Herod and to return home. Joseph then receives a message from the Angel of The Lord. The angel tells Joseph to take his family to Egypt to protect them from the wrath of Herod. Joseph was a carpenter; how was he to afford a trip like this? When God calls us to do His will in the world, he provides. The gifts the Holy Family received from the wise men served as their financial backing to protect Jesus by going to Egypt.

Eventually, after Herod’s atrocities, Joseph receives word in a dream that Herod is dead, and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return and settle in Nazareth. I love it when a plan comes together. We all know the rest of the story and the extraordinary act of love that is the life of Jesus. Today I want to reflect on the human response to the physical world and the human response to the spiritual and eternal reality we live in. Using salvation as our theme, we must ask what each of us wants to be saved from. Maybe a better way of asking this question is, what is the goal of each of our lives.

The best way to live our lives is to in all ways and in everything, do the will of God and worship God. When we do that, no matter the experience we are having in life, good or bad, we have the comfort that we are walking with God. God is always there for us, always ready to listen, always ready to comfort, always ready to forgive, always ready to save. However, as we go through this journey, there are so many other activities and opportunities that are, for the lack of a better term, once in a lifetime. It is when these opportunities come up that we all so often forget about God. It is in these big chances that we tend to allow our prayer life to wane, and become reliant on ourselves, and stop giving God the opportunity to speak to us.

I see it all the time, especially in the life of young people, when those extracurricular activities replace Sunday mornings in church. Or for young professionals who finally have the break, they need to take the big step in their career, and the tunnel vision sets in, preventing them from maintaining their relationship with God. I see it in middle-aged people, who when the going gets tough, instead of turning to the church for help, they instead fall away from the church for fear of harsh judgment.

There is one group, however, that I see this behavior in far less. Our older parishioners tend to not have this issue. I believe that is because they have already made those mistakes and realize that while making them, and while unintentionally forgetting about God, he was always right there beside them. The gift of hindsight is something those who have lived the longest will always have over those of us who are still rookies at life.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me today; I am not suggesting that we should all trade in success for a humble life of piety. I am not suggesting we all take a vow of poverty and become monks and nuns. You all know I am not up for that kind of life; I enjoy having fun far too much for that! What I am suggesting is that while we venture through the exciting lives God has called us to live, let’s not forget God. Let’s make sure that while we go for that big promotion or try to attain that scholarship to the ivy league school, we are not doing it for ourselves but as an offering to God. What I am suggesting is that we dedicate all we are attempting to accomplish to Jesus, as Joseph did. Joseph could have easily become drunk with power and forget all about God, who gave him the abilities to attain that power. However, he used those skills to bring salvation to God’s people. Joseph never forgot who he served.

Jesus rescued each of us from eternal death and gifted each of us eternal life. While eternity is a hard thing to grasp, much harder than the worldly accomplishments set before each of us every day, it is indeed a reality. The best way for each of us to thank Jesus for his plan coming together is to invite him into everything we do. Invite him into our marriages, into our friendships, into our families. Invite him into our business deals, our ballgames, our swim meets, and our college essays. Invite Jesus into every aspect of our lives. When we dedicate all we do to Our Lord, we may not always get what we want, but we will be living an eternal life. When we enable ourselves to live in the present and fear not, we become living testimonies that God’s plan really has come together.

Sermon preached by the Rev. Christian M. Wood

Church of the Redeemer

Sarasota, Florida

Christmas I

27 December 2020