United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, January 1, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I sat down at my computer at 11:00 p.m. last night aware that an hour remained in the year that was quickly coming to an end. Earlier in the evening I had completed the preparation of a sermon for this morning. I set that one aside.
The week was a very full and busy one for me. There were those who suggested I recycle an old sermon to which I replied, “I can never do that.” I’ve retold some of the stories and anecdotes I’ve shared with you over the years, but I’ve never repeated an old sermon. Having said that I will repeat something I have shared with you before but that will come later.
Someone suggested that I just speak from the heart and not feel compelled to write the sermon down on paper. I replied by saying that I had a speech teacher who offered a word of encouragement by telling me that I had a lot of good ideas but that my sharing tended to go all over the place and that I needed the discipline of being concise.
I also said that I have thought about what I would say to you if I knew that I had very little time to live. However, I always felt anxious that that would bring about a demise to my existence – that I would surely die.
I think it is time.
It is a new year and perhaps it is time to take stock of what is really
important about the life of faith that we share. It will not be
a “bucket list” about the things I want to do before I die.
Instead, it will be about finding God in unexpected places and in unexpected people.
Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew is about the magi who seek out the place where Mary is to give birth to Jesus. They come bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh but more importantly they come to worship him.
Why go through all the trouble? one might ask. After all the journey from the East was not an easy one. Still the magi ventured forth following a star to the place where he lay.
What was it about this messiah or “anointed one” that so captivated them? Why the fuss over the birth of a child?
During the Advent season throughout the month of November
our choir rehearsed and sang the anthem In the Bleak Midwinter by
Christina Rossetti and Gustav Holst. The lyrics to the second verse
reads: “Heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain. Heaven
and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak
mid-winter a stable place sufficed. The Lord God Almighty, Jesus
The lyrics continue: “What can I give him poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man I would do my part. Yet what I can I give him, give my heart. Give my heart. Give my heart.”
I do not remember the time or day but I do remember a moment in my life when I gave my heart. I had no frankincense, gold or myrrh to give the Christ Child – just a grateful heart.
Today we celebrate Epiphany. Epiphanies are sudden realizations and intuitive new understandings of ordinary occurrences. They are often viewed as the coming of a brilliant light with the power to transform.
Those of you who saw the sunset yesterday may have marveled as I did at the glow of a brilliant orange-colored sunset. And as the evening wore on a crescent shaped moon cast its evening light over the ocean and land.
It was in the ordinary occurrences of the setting of the
sun and the rising of the moon that
God is revealed among us in unexpected places and it was in the ordinary occurrences of the touch of a hand or a smile that God is revealed among us in unexpected people.
The magi who came from the East bearing gifts for Jesus were led by the light of a star to the place Jesus was. “Arise, shine;” writes the prophet Isaiah, “for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth; and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear to you” in unexpected places and in unexpected people. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Now about repeating myself. Sometime ago a young boy named Darrell Labrado from the island of Molokaʻi recorded the gospel song, “Give It All to Jesus.” The melody to the song belies its lyrics. But both remind me of why I believe the birth of Jesus changed the course of human history and my own life.
“Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows? Are you tired of spinning round and round. Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life and at the feet of Jesus lay them down.”
“Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus – shattered dreams, wounded hearts and a broken joy. Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus and he will turn your sorrow into joy.”
“He never said you’ll see only sunshine. He never said there’ll be no rain. He only promised us a heart full of singing about the very things that once brought pain.”
So, give them all to Jesus and he will turn your sorrow into joy for it is through God’s grace made known to us in the birth of the Christ Child that our despair will turn into hope; our anger into love; our anxiety into peace; our pain into healing. As we gather to share the broken bread and the cup poured we are mindful of the ways in which we are made whole through the One who is the light of the world.
Mahalo ke Akua. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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