The Real Work of Christmas
January 31, 2016
“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
If you would bear with me and hear once more the words of Howard Thurman. I invite you to hear them and let them soak to the depths of your soul this morning.
"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 their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart."
The Spirit will be poured out and “your sons and daughters shall prophesy"1 With an almost three week old son now within my life, I do admit that I find myself wondering if imagining his cries as his own particular prophetic declaration would make them seem any different. Life has undoubtedly changed in my own home over the past month. Simplicity has seemed to go out the window. The complicated balance between life at home, service here at CUMC, and my studies has been very clearly upset. Yet, even in the midst of the incredibly quick changes of life there is a profound sense of joy that mirrors the slight feeling of panic that rises with each whimper and cry.
Many of Howard Thurman's meditations bear a potently prophetic tone and and share the implication of the prophetic declaration that we find in the beauty of these words. In fact, much of what Howard Thurman writes invokes a powerful and significant space for reflection. Thurman’s words speak with poetic clarity to the soul offering a space for us to hear a prophetic reminder of our call as followers of Christ; the one who sought out the lost, who healed the broken, fed the hungry, set free the prisoner, all while turning our eyes towards the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of humanity.
Those poetically prophetic words were irresistible in the planning of this sermon series. That as we struggle in this moment to consider what it means to be in mission, the prophets (modern and ancient) and their particular words seemed the only option. There is something indescribably wonderful and terrifying about the painfully uncomfortable word that bears the beautiful reminder of where we have failed or where we have yet to grow. There are no better words than the ones that have the quality of burrowing deep into our souls, the ones that stick in our side forcing us to reflect. Howard Thurman and Joel both bear the reality of this beauty in their words; because, while the prophetic call occurs in a clearly specific context it has a quality that reaches through time.
There is a reason that the prophetic call rings so clearly through time, a reason why we can hear the words of Joel or Howard Thurman beckoning us to the life we can recognize as the one God is calling us towards so clearly. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote it beautifully that “all prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil!”2 The prophetic word is a reminder that God, the Triune God of grace, who entered into the pains and messiness of creation in Christ is not indifferent to the realities of suffering or violence. It is the reminder that God very much cares what happens to people and all of creation. Remember just a little bit before this passage in Joel God becomes “jealous” for the land and has “pity” for the people. Sisters and brothers, God was not indifferent in the time of Joel’s prophetic ministry. God was not indifferent in the years surrounding Howard Thurman’s ministry. God is certainly not indifferent this day in the time of our ministry.
As Christians who have just celebrated Christmas we know as much as we can humanly understand the depth of God’s absolute care. We have borne witness to the fact that God is not indifferent the ongoing life of creation. The birth of Christ has pushed the growing edge as God entered into creation where the Son of God eats with sinners and redeems the brokenness of humanity. We have received the light of Christ and now we reflect in the post-Christmas season on the words of Joel.
It is important that these words from the prophet Joel show up in another place within the biblical story. They show up in the book of Acts. After bearing witness to the wonder of the Spirit descending on the Church, Peter uses this passage from Joel to describe what has occurred. These words are part of the frame for the birth of the church as it is birthed by the Holy Spirit that is poured out upon all people from all nations. Think back to the story of Acts 2, the story of Pentecost, where the Spirit filled a home and came to rest on the people. They begin speak in all manners of languages to proclaim the wonders of God. The gathered people have joined together in the prophetic cry as they proclaimed the wonders of God sharing in the prophetic declaration that, “God is not indifferent!”
In the moments of the story of Pentecost the church was not only born but it was made a prophetical community. After all, we are a community of believers that cling to the story of the Resurrection. We hold fast to the faith that God has redeemed all of creation in Christ. What is this good news we share if not a great prophetic cry that God is not indifferent? What is it if not the great reminder that God cares a great deal for God’s creation?
Brothers and sisters, the Spirit rests on us as it did those gathered in the house at Pentecost. As United Methodists we may not recognize it in quite the same movements or as vocally as other denominations; however, it is poured out for us all the same. The words of Joel that are repeated by Peter tell us that with that outpouring of the Spirit “your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” Joel declares that everyone will receive the Spirit including the “male and female slaves.” There is no extent of how far the Spirit is poured out. There are no qualifications for who or how many will receive it. The entire church is soaked in the Spirit so how will we join that prophetic witness? How can we live into the wonder of that tradition that we have been brought into by the Spirit to declare that, “God is not indifferent!”?
We are called to join in the proclamation in our lives as we seek to proclaim the gospel and follow Christ. The truth is we need not do it alone. The outpouring of the Spirit has taken what was traditionally the cry of one person or a few to the community into a wholly communal endeavor. We do not cry out alone. God has woven together the church as a prophetic community rather than simply raising up a singular individual, all the while placing particular points of concern in our own hearts.
Where is it that the Spirit is beckoning you to join that prophetic cry? This morning there is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to grow in discipleship by continuing to proclaim that God is not indifferent through action and commitment. In the gathering space are representatives of many of the missions here at CUMC. They are gathered around different tables that relate to their particular focus. Each of those representatives are here this morning to share the way that the Spirit beckoned them into mission. They want to share that with you and you are invited to speak with them today. We even have them color coded for you so that when you see people wearing blue stickers you know they work in children missions, green are those surrounding building and housing issues, and red is hunger.
God has poured out the Holy Spirit on us all and Christ has embodied the love of God which shows just how much God cares for all of creation. We are all called to mission, to the great prophetic work of reminding the world that God is not indifferent, that God cares. How will you cry out this morning, this week, this month, or even this year that wonderful proclamation that our God, the God of love, peace, compassion, and justice is not indifferent to all of creation that was made and called “good”?