It’s the Third Sunday in Advent

Matthew 5: 1-16:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.   “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When my grandfather was a young man, he used to bring his family by horse and sleigh up Dudley Hill to their grandmother’s house for Christmas celebrations.  They sold their milk door to door in a neighboring town, and raised almost everything they could think of right there on the farm  — using everything but the squeal on the pig!

But the world changed when Henry Ford made a cheap automobile.  Suddenly it was no big thing to travel by car 10 or 20 or more miles and farming began to change as well.  They got a truck to move stuff around, and then got a tractor.  The horses became entertainment.

They got used to having autos and trucks and all seemed good, but then one day some very smart, invented the first practical milking machine.  And farming changed again.  The economic size of a herd probably doubled overnight, and that meant they could make and sell more milk and make more money.

Today the economics of scale mean that the small family farm my family depended upon is something of a rarity; the family farmer has had to learn to come up with more and more ingenious ways to make a living.

I guess that’s a small way of saying that even in the most traditional of professions change happens.  I could have run through the same sorts of profound changes in others — medicine was enormously different, for instance, before the discovery of penicillin and people laugh off illnesses today which would have killed us 60 years ago.  Today, the world of newspapers and information sharing is undergoing that same sort of sea change, with the growth of the internet.

Even in the church, change has happened, though we don’t always realize it.

I’d bet this church room was once heated by a wood stove with a pipe that ran thru the room, so that we would all “benefit” from the heat, such as it was.

Our churches once refused to have instrumental music because it was “against God’s will”.  Someone here can almost certainly remember the first woman to serve as a full deacon (not a deaconess!), and of course, the first woman pastor

Even twenty years ago, we validated our acceptability when moving into a new community by joining the church.  Today, church is an option.  I heard a professor from Oregon report recently that something like 75% of his freshmen students have never been inside a church and do not recognize quotes from the Bible when he uses them in his religion classes.

What does all this have to do with Advent or even with Jesus Christ?

It is simply this – in the midst of change, constant, unremitting, sometimes annoying, sometimes invigorating, and maybe even disorienting, in the midst of all that, Jesus Christ calls us to a way of life which does not change.  Jesus Christ frees us from the uncertainty of change, frees us to the challenge of thoughtful living.

We don’t wait for Jesus with anticipation and joy because he’s sealed us in amber to be preserved whole as we wish we were — that’s not Christian faith, that’s petrification.

Jesus doesn’t save us from change.  Jesus helps us keep our way through the change, to know what is good, to use his principles to discern good change from bad

The best physician I ever had was a man named Luis Viteri.  He was my doctor when I was a little kid, and seriously ill with an intractable infection.  Over a period of about five years I was in and out of hospitals, and the subject of any number of really annoying tests.  This was before some really smart researcher discovered the generation of antibiotics which could stop my infection in its tracks.

What made Dr. Viteri so good was not that he knew the latest treatment – though he certainly did, or even that he was so persistent in treating me over a frustrating period of time.  It was simply that before or after the discovery of antibiotics, Dr. Viteri cared about his patients.  He gave me his best, and his best gave me as good a life as was possible in that time.  Dr. Viteri didn’t need change to be good; he simply was good.

Following Jesus Christ helps us tell the difference between the gizmos and glitter of change and the values which endure.

Jesus went out for a walk one day and he met a man named Levi (in other versions of this story, he’s called Matthew)…. and spoke to him, called him to a life built on long-lasting values instead of immediate gains.  And Levi stood up, left the tax booth and followed Jesus.  That’s what we’re waiting for. . . a word to follow a new way, a way built on what endures.

And what endures is perfectly plain.  For the core of our faith is clear and simple:

Blessed are those who have not….  blessed are those who are not possessed by their possessions.

Blessed are those who mourn — blessed are those who loved, for only those who love can possibly mourn.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness — blessed are those who invest their energies and passion into making the world a place marked by justice and enough for all.

Blessed are those who are merciful.

Blessed are those who are pure in heart.

Blessed are those who make peace.

Blessed are those who stick to their principles, when all around take the quickie shortcut, and give them a hard time.

We who follow this way become, by following, salt and light and leaven to our world.  We are called to the Christian path to do exactly this — not so much to save our individual souls — but to live in a way which transforms our society, which saves our world.

God in Christ comes to give us meaning and purpose to our lives,  to show us how to live in a way which makes a difference.  And with that way, we become truly free, free of all the meanness and short-sightedness of our world, free of the endless struggle to have more, the endless need to be better than perfect.  God  comes to us in the guise of a baby to bring us the true freedom for which all the world years.

That’s why we’re waiting with such anticipation.  We’re waiting for freedom.

Amen.

Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a cavalier king charles spaniel

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