Leave for Life
December 10, 2017 Speaker: Series: To follow the star
Scripture: Luke 2:1–2:5
Leave for Life
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are continuing in our Advent sermon series, which we’ve entitled “to follow the Star: Finding our way back home
Last week we looked at the story from which our sermon series title comes…and we learned about how God revealed himself to these foreign wise men, and drew them to Himself by sending a star all the way to the village of Bethlehem.
And its interesting because this week’s passage, as with last week’s, shows us that experiencing God’s will often means leaving where you are in order to find your way home.
That may sound somewhat paradoxical, which it is, but nevertheless, it can be true…that sometimes we have to leave where we are in order to find our way home.
The magi, or wise men, left their country, which as we discussed last week was probably Babylon or Persia, in modern day Iran or Iraq…
That’s a long distance…they would have in all likelihood crossed the Arabian Desert, all to find a newborn child.
The journey undertaken by Mary and Joseph in this week’s text is not quite so far, but for a pregnant woman it wouldn’t have been easy nevertheless.
So let’s turn now to our text from Luke’s gospel chapter 2, verses 1-5.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 and everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Faith is seeing in the dark: trusting that God will take care of you
When I graduated from college I was given one of the greatest opportunities of my young life. A group of my friends were told that if we were able to purchase a flight to the Cayman Islands, we would essentially be given free room and board in one of a couple different oceanfront properties owned by one of our friends’ family.
Needless to say I found a way to purchase the plane ticket. A few of us decided during the trip that we ought to get scuba certified while we were down there. The Cayman Islands have some of the best scuba diving in the world. After completing our classes, we were invited by our teacher to go on a night dive.
Now, when we were told about this, to me it sounded like a great adventure. The instructor told us we would use underwater flashlights, and I was sure with all the great modern technology that we would be able to see just fine.
So, it turns out, not so much. Right as we entered the water I was alarmed to find out that I could see barely anything at all, and what I could see was only a foot or so directly where the flashlight was shining.
My discomfort only intensified as we descended along a coral shelf, and I found myself disoriented, and unsure exactly which way was up. Now I want you to picture being essentially blind underwater with a relatively limited amount of air for you to breathe.
You have begun to question which way is up, and you are swimming along a coral shelf that makes it such that you cannot just swim in what you assume is up, though again, you’re not quite sure, because, after all, your disoriented by the darkness.
At this point I was in complete freak-out mode. While we were part of a group, there were multiple groups diving, so I was unsure if I was even in the right group.
Now, eventually, we made it back to shore, I didn’t die as I was fairly sure was going to be the case…and we even saw an octopus, which was really cool.
But recently I learned something about night diving.
That is, there is always a way to know which way is up. And the way to do that is to feel your bubbles…that may sound strange…but when you are diving your breaths produce bubbles, and so long as you can feel which direction they are going, you will know which way is up. And I think there is a lesson in that…
When you can’t trust your senses, when you can’t even trust your judgment, you can always trust the bubbles to get you back to the top.
And isn’t life like that some times. We get disoriented. We end up on a path that we didn’t anticipate and at times we can even feel lost. But just as a night diver can trust in the bubbles, we too can trust that God will take care of us when everything seems dark and uncertain.
Live by faith, not by Sight
In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us “we live by faith, not by sight.”
In a lot of ways that’s what Mary and Joseph did as they traveled late in Mary’s pregnancy from Nazareth, in Galilee, down to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem.
In some ways it probably felt not only uncomfortable, but also unfair that a decision by Augustus in Rome meant that they must leave the comfort of their own home and travel to an unknown place, especially for Mary.
But thankfully for the holy family, they did have their faith. Perhaps Proverbs 3 would have come to mind as they prepared for this journey they were forced to take:
Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation version of this text)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight
Leaning is an interesting term to use here isn’t it. We know that generally speaking, leaning on things isn’t a good idea. And when crisis hits, that’s often exactly what we do. We try to control and solve the problem as quickly as we can.
But often the problem is outside of our control. And leaning on our own understanding is more likely to lead to a fall, as it would be to lean on an something unstable.
But the second half of this proverb is interesting as well:
Notice, it doesn’t say, submit to him and he will show you the path. It doesn’t say, submit to him, and lights will miraculously show up lighting the path. But it does say he will make our paths straight. In other words, He will provide a way.
Some times what we want in our lives is clarity. We want to know exactly where God is taking us and when He is going to do it. But a part of the problem with that is that it doesn’t require us to practice faith or trust in our God.
If you weren’t already thinking it, our family is kind of in one of these situations right now. We know that God has closed a door here at Tower, that He is calling us on another path, and while I would love to know exactly where we are headed, I recognize that things like that don’t ordinarily work that way.
But I’ve sensed throughout this entire process, once the initial shock wore off and it became clear that we needed to move on, that God was in fact guiding us.
That as swiftly as the whole thing happened, that God is directing our steps, even if we don’t’ know exactly where those steps are leading, and that our role is simply to trust and obey, like that great hymn reminds us.
And that takes a daily conversation with God where I turn over my will to Him and place my trust in Him to provide. And what I find is that, when I forget to pray for this direction, when I forget to ask for Him to guide our steps, the anxiety begins to mount…and that is the reminder to place my trust back in Him, and not in myself.
But I’m not the only one who desires clarity in the midst of an uncertain path forward.
“When John Kavanaugh, who was a noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.
When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”
“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
The Unexpected Journey of Mary and Joseph
Some times God takes us on journeys that we never would have anticipated. He took Mary and Joseph on a journey from Galilee in the North to Bethlehem in the South when she was close to giving birth.
It must have seemed like a horrible plight to put upon a woman so close to childbirth. But it also enabled her to fulfill a prophecy she never could have fulfilled if not for that long and exhausting journey.
Listen to these words from Micah 5:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be our peace
Sometimes we have to leave where we are to come home. Often we think of the Christmas season as a time to come home, and that is true.
But sometimes it is not until we leave where we are that God enables us to see more of His vision for our lives. So may we in those moments cling to our faith, live by our faith, which is not by sight. Trusting that when we do so we will ultimately end up back home.