Matthew 1:18-25 and Excerpts from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thích Nhat Hanh
Sunday December 18th, 2022
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome everyone again on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent! Wow, it’s been a cold stretch of days, so glad to have your warm hearts here in the sanctuary.
I invite you now to let yourself take some deep breaths if you are moved, to let yourself arrive more fully and to hear whatever word God has for each of us today. And as you are moved, join me in this preacher’s prayer from Psalm 19.
Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock, and our Redeemer Amen.
There are so many ways to tell this story. And in this country at least, we tend to tell it in ways that mostly delight us. Stars and angels and magi and a contented family. It seems a bit tidy. And that’s understandable that we would want to do that. In part because if we tell this story in other ways, it could indict us a bit- if the story was told in a way that asked us to make room for a refugee family in our home? Or we could tell this story in such a way that reduces Mary to one who would have been discarded, if it weren’t for Joseph! Joseph is the one who is the hero! You could read it this way.
Or we could tell this story in a way that highlights the Divinity of that one little baby.
Or we could tell this story in a way that honors the complicated truth of bringing a child into the world, the truth of how hard it is to bring an infant into this world, even now, in this country in spite of all of our abundance, there is healthcare tied to wealth and employment and no paid parental leave… It’s hard to bring a baby into the world.
Or we could tell this story in a way that lifts up how hard it is for any of us to see holy when It is right in front of us. Or we could tell this story in a way, and this is what I am thinking about today- what if one message for us in this Christmas story is about being willing to change? What if our call isn’t to find the answer, to arrive and never move, but rather what if one of the gifts this story offers us, is what can happen when we are willing to evolve, being willing to become unbound to our current views and as Thích Nhat Hanh practicing nonattachment?
As Richard Rohr wrote last month, “Evolutionary thinking is, for me, the very core concept of faith, where we trust that God alone steers this mysterious universe, where there is clearly much hidden from us and much still before us—and where “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and the human heart has not conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God” (1 Corinthians 2:9).” He went on, “Evolutionary thinking is contemplative thinking. It leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking agrees to knowing and not knowing simultaneously.”
Evolutionary thinking agrees to knowing and not knowing and it seems to me that is a bit like what Joseph did and maybe Mary too and maybe even Jesus later.
Because we read in the Gospel of Matthew that Joseph had made up his mind, that he was resolved to do what he was going to do. He had a plan. And it could have ended there.
But it didn’t.
Because as we read, he has a dream where an angel shows up and reminds him that there are other options, other paths he could take, that there are other ways to think about the situation.
The angel tells him to leave his fear behind and to recognize the Holy that is right in front of him! So what if faithfulness looks like being willing to evolve our thinking? Being willing to become unbound to our current views? Being willing to be unattached to our own way?
What if good things come not from being resolved, but from being unresolved? Being willing to give space and make a place for pondering and prayer before we go right to the answer?
What if that allows some room for wisdom to find us, whether in our dreams, or from our friends and from our interactions in the world? I am not sharing this today because I have become an expert at being unattached and at being able to evolve, but I am sharing this because I am convinced that this is essential not just for our church thriving or each of us thriving, but to the shared human experiment to find a way forward.
I think many of us probably grew up with the idea that good leaders are those who have the answers, but I think maybe what our workplaces and households and houses of faith and congress need are more people willing to have their answers questioned. And perhaps our success might be measured not by all of the times we were right, but by all of the times we dared to say we were wrong and integrate new insights and change our mind, the times where we learned and shared what that means.
What if one of the gifts for us in this Christmas story is the reminder that we don’t need to know, that it isn’t our job to have all the answers, to find them and to hold on tight and never let them go. Rather, we can see the light for the next right thing and maybe even see the Holy all around? As my friend and colleague Molly Baskette wrote in her new book, “Staying in the liminal place of holy uncertainty is deeply uncomfortable. But certainty in the life of faith doesn’t serve us well…”
And here’s the other thing I have observed in my own life, it takes a lot of energy to hold on, to cling.
So what if like Mary, we can trust that we don’t need to? And what if like Joseph, we can change our minds, become unresolved, be willing to evolve our thinking? And what if we can put our energy then to the present? To savoring it and loving it? And as Thích Nhat Hanh wrote, “Touching the present moment, we realize that the present is made of the past and is creating the future.” So our willingness to be open in the present, to shift where we are called, allows another kind of future to unfold.
Beloved of God, this week, when you are sold the lie that Christmas is a story of a perfect tidy family with everything all wrapped up, you can remember that the Christmas story is also about not being afraid to change, change our minds, our hearts, and our hopes for what could be, so we might love what is. God will be sure to meet each of us there. May it be so.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche