The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

December 26, 2010


Isaiah 52:7-10

Matthew 2:13-23

Silent Meditation:  It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling--the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart.   Old Christmas, Washington Irving.

For Whom the Bells Toll

As Howard Thurman writes, "When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, then the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…

It’s been quite a ride, this Advent season. I feel a bit other-worldly, having just made a trip in a large space-capsule, big enough for us all to travel to worlds past, and worlds future – envisioning a Godly Man walking the deserts of Judea two thousand years ago, preaching love of God and love of neighbor, envisioning a world two thousand years later which has morphed into just the kind of Kingdom of God Jesus dreamed of.  But now, we’re just about reached the end of the itinerary. We’ve seen the sights.  We’ve heard the sounds. We’ve followed the path marked Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  We’ve even listened to two angels and a chorus tell us the story yet again.  Now it’s time to return to what we sometimes call “the real world.”

To ease the re-entry process, we’ll sing a few more hymns and experience exquisite special music like offered by Eric Johnson this morning.  May the sounds replay in our hearts and our minds for many days to come.  But in a few days, when we take the tree down and put the Christmas music away, we might want to take a look around and see what’s been happening while we’ve been on Christmas break. Just what’s changed and what just has not changed in the world around us.

Some significant stuff has been happening. Christmas miracles, even.  Some actual bi-partisan work on the part of our blessed elected leaders, for instance.  Now I’m of the belief that God created differences of opinion and differences of approach to problem-solving for a reason.  I think God wanted to challenge our intellectual and reasoning abilities and our ability to work cooperatively, so he gave each of us only part of the answer to each problem facing us.  Much like a jig-saw puzzle, each of us has certain pieces of the whole, but we need each other’s pieces to put together the whole picture.  And, even more obviously, we have to work together on this puzzle project or nobody gets the picture.

This Advent Season, while I’ve been busy focusing on liturgies, looking for animals for the Nativity Scene and wishing I were a bell ringer, some of our elected leaders have been experiencing epiphanies of their own.  Unless you share the puzzle pieces, and are willing to let everybody play, nothing good happens. They figured this out and I can only attribute this to the Advent Angel at work.

When I studied Negotiations 101 years ago, I was told our team had to develop a one hundred percent right position on every issue – and never waiver.  Never waiver, at least, until the very last minute, and then just quiver, if possible.  The Art of Compromise was saved for Negotiations 202. Some of us never got there.  Interest-based negotiations where everybody gets to win something that was a graduate level course not yet dreamed of. 

But out in the Real World, the Advent Angel it appears has been providing lawmakers of every political stripe with a crash course in political negotiations. Compromises have been occurring. Lawmakers, ever so reluctantly, have been listening to each other and figuring out what each has to offer, what each side must have. Compromises frequently please no one, but as a retired negotiator, I remember that you can recognize a good contract agreement when neither side likes it very much.

I probably don’t have to tell many of you, but during the weeks of Advent, compromises were reached on a national tax bill, the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policies for the American military, and on providing health care benefits to first responders nine years after the events of September 11, 2001.

Yes, it’s been a busy Advent Season.  I see an utterly exhausted Advent Angel leaning up against the stable over there, breathing hard, gently holding a Christmas duck with a bum leg. 

Angel, you done good. It’s been a good Advent. There’s even a New START treaty!  Maybe peace can reign in this world of ours, after all.

            How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
            who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
            who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Yes, the Angel sighs, perhaps we did change a few hearts this season, but we fell short for the children. The undocumented ones. The children of the illegal residents, those who want to become full citizens through advanced education and/or military service to the country where they have lived most of their lives. It appears as though their country doesn’t want them. “Go away; we don’t like you or your families.  We don’t want your brains.  We don’t want your service. We just want you to go away.”

If we believe this morning’s story in the Gospel of Matthew, then we know that Jesus knows something about being a refugee. He knows something about being a child refugee, traveling with his parents, having no say in the where and why of his travels.

The Angel of the Lord had warned Joseph that it was no longer safe in Judea for little children. King Herod had gone mad with fear that he would be deposed by a child, so he ordered all infants and toddlers under the age of two to be murdered.  Joseph takes Mary and their baby and flees to Egypt.  Jesus spends the first few years of his life as an alien, in an alien culture, speaking an alien language, following an alien religion.  Chances are there were other Jewish families who were hiding out in Egypt, too. We wonder how the Egyptians felt about these strangers taking their jobs and eating their food, and generally disturbing their Egypt First mindsets.

Some years ago the US Border Patrol agents in Texas, found a life-sized crucifix, minus the cross,on a sandbar in the middle of the river Rio Grande.  When no-one claimed it, they donated it to the local Catholic Church. Since its discovery, this particular image of Jesus has attracted the curious and the faithful from the local area and from across the USA and Mexico.

Likewise, the name now given it, is also significant. Many are calling it the ‘Jesus Christ of the Undocumented’. Because it has become a symbol of the struggles that undocumented immigrants face when trying the reach the so-called ‘promised land of the USA’.

I’m not here to pretend that I  have all the puzzle pieces to solving the complicated issue of illegal immigration.  I certainly don’t have a plan to solve all the economic issues in Mexico which are forcing her people to flee the land of their ancestors in such great numbers and at such great risk.

I am saying that I’d rather have these young people – and they are our young people now – I’d rather have them in college or serving in the United States military, than hiding out in the barrios of our cities or wandering a literal or metaphorical desert, without hope or opportunity.
To turn our backs on these young men and women surely must qualify as a contemporary version  of the slaughter of the innocents!

On this day after Christmas, I am inviting us to acknowledge the tension many of us feel as we try to hold on to the wonder and the magic of the Christmas season, as we re-enter our regular worlds tomorrow mroning, challenged with the same issues we put aside for Advent.  

For many of us, it’s been a wonderful Advent Season.  The Christ Child is here for us. But Christmas didn’t come for everybody this year. Silver bells didn’t make all spirits bright.  Bells didn’t jingle on an open sleigh.  Some bells tolled.

There is more work to be done. May we be blessed with the ability to put our varying puzzle pieces together to help bring about Christ’s Big Picture of the Kingdom of God. Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo! Amen.




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