There is a sign given every day that God is not yet finished with humankind – it is in the promise of each child born.  A popular song beats out . . .

            “Each child that’s born, a morning star rises and says to the Universe, who I am”

Each newborn cry to the world lets us know that life is an amazing gift.  And it is right to give thanks for our gifts.  So in the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to be presented in the Temple; a bit like our practice of baptism or christening.  It’s a formal recognition, even a covenant that this child is not just ours – but comes from God and is ours by gift – put into our keeping.  This child will have their own dreams; we can guide them, but not control them.  The story of the baby Jesus in Luke is a beautiful story – the one we retell each year on Christmas Eve with the cute stable, adoring shepherds and multiple angels.

But there’s more to the story.  The nativity in the Gospel of Matthew points out a darker side, just as life does. While there is still the Promise of Tomorrow, it comes in the midst of a terrible massacre as King Herod searches to destroy Jesus.  Life is made up of a vivid mixture of good and light, but also the dark and the ugly.  Yet we seem to insist that God always bless us with what is good?  We get angry with God when life doesn’t go the way we want it to.  In the last rendition of the Hobbit, at one point when the village has been destroyed by Smog the dragon, devastation is everywhere.  Among the wounded and dying one person is rolling around at the water’s edge crying out, “Why me?  Why me?”  As if no one else had suffered.  

We all come to life with a certain perspective we have developed.  We can get stuck in that perspective that keeps us from seeing life in a deeper, more meaningful way.  Listen to the words of Dewitt Jones, a renowned photographer for National Geographic in Everyday Creativity (4:20 – 5:37)

“I remember a photograph I took of Yosemite Falls . . . not a bad
 photograph. I had already gotten rid of a lot of things that might distract you from
viewing the falls, like the parking lot I’m standing in and the visitors’ center. But a lot of

            people would have said, “That’s a great photograph, Dewitt!”

But as I looked through the lens, I thought, “Is this really the essence of Yosemite Falls?  Is
this what got me so excited that I ran all the way across and meadow and set up my cameras?”
I realized it wasn’t.   What had drawn my eye up there in the first place was just that area way
down at the bottom. Just that tree and the falls behind it.


I had the wrong lens, the wrong perspective. The wrong angle of view. And when I changed 
my perspective, then I found a real photograph!


The lens we chose when we view a problem is critical. Our perspective is what holds the key
to weather the solution is ordinary or extraordinary.

So first we have to find the right perspective. If we can’t learn to change lenses, we’re
trapped. But I’ve learned there’s always another perspective. And when we believe that,
it can transform the whole way we look at life.”

It is in our humanness that we can ask God to take our discomfort, our tears, our restlessness, our fears and foolishness and let us use our humanness to heal ourselves and the world. What might change if we become part of the healing?

Listen to a new perspective on your troubles that you want to get away from so quickly:  (Thanks to Bob and Chris Atherton for bringing this to my attention.)

“May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships – so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people – so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish – so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform that pain to joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world -so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.” 

At the end of the Year: we have the requisite final week of commentaries and news shows that parade the year in review.  We have a human need to look back and remember and it is amazing as we watch those shows and find ourselves nodding and thinking – oh I had forgotten that happened. Was that this year?  Remembering is a spiritual practice that comes to us as a need to reflect on our life. (When we take communion, we remember who Jesus is for us.)  For every time there is a season, and looking back is the action of an intelligent person.  Reflecting on what is past is the action of a wise individual.  An unreflected life is not worth living.   

Mark Nepo, philosopher-poet and cancer survivor, in The Book of Awakening writes an amazing daily devotional book.  I used his entry for October 17 as the meditation for this service and it states “I did not survive to be untouched.”  And he goes on to explain. . .

“The emotional patterns of our lives are very strong.  They often come into being because we’ve needed them to survive.  But sooner or later, we all arrive at moments where the very thing that has saved us is killing us, keeping us from truly living.  Being invisible once kept us from being hurt, but now we are vanishing.  Or listening once kept us in relation, but now we are drowning in our unheard cries.  Or avoiding conflict once kept us out of the line of fire, but now we are thirsting for contact that is real.

Early in my life, I learned to protect myself, and this meant that I became very good at catching things.  In fact, I never went anywhere without my catcher’s mitt.  No matter what came at me, nothing could surprise me.  And while this saved me from the unpredictable assaults of my family, and even helped me in my odyssey through cancer, it eventually had a life of its own.  Everything—birds, women, friends, and truth—was intercepted by the quick reflex of my mitt.  Eventually, nothing got through, and the very thing that helped me survive was now keeping me from being touched.  The softness and wonder of the world was vanishing from my life. 

But I did not survive to live at a distance from things, and so I began the long and painful process of putting my mitt down, of regaining choice about when and how to protect myself.  I began to realize that letting life in was a deeper way to survive.” 

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wrote a beautiful poem  that has been put to many songs.  It is of encouragement that there is a season for all, a time for everything under heaven.

1.      Comforting idea that there is a season – which means there is movement. There is a bleak midwinter – but we know that spring will come.  Sometimes it may come more slowly than others, but the trees will bud and the flowers will blossom.  In the desert, don’t we rejoice in September, knowing that the heat of summer is finally almost at an end.  The most energetic days:  are the 1st day of school  . . . . .  and the last day of school.  There is movement – it won’t remain the same. 

a.       Part of the equation is that you can’t count on good times all the time.  We have fun, we enjoy life, we laugh – but not always. A serious moment in the TV show of MASH that was about army doctors on the front line of the Korean conflict in the 1950‘s.  It was a show that mixed humor with seriousness in a masterful way.  One time Colonel Blake gives some hard advice that Hawkeye didn’t want to hear. He said, “In command school they told me two truths about war:  #1 is that Young men will die and truth #2 Doctors can’t change truth #1.  
b.      Another part of life is not to forget that bad times do eventually end.  Kate Spencer author of the 12 Lessons writes, “As you write the last chapter of 2014, give thanks for the lows and the heights.  It is through our lessons that we learn, grow and become who we are.”  And history proves that we have far too many people who refuse to learn from the past and are inevitably doomed to repeat the horrors of yesterday.  When life is hard, we need to learn from it.  We need to be able to go farther and see more.  Isn’t the definition of insanity – keeping on with the same thing and expecting a different result.  Listen again to the photographer Dewitt Jones and how perseverance can make a difference.
Everyday Creativity (7:08-8:27)”I remember another forest I was in one time. The Geographic sent me up to the Red Woods. Beautiful place, but one that had been shot a million times. I was going to have to come up with another perspective. And I was out there in the morning and it was gorgeous, but I was shooting post cards. Nothing new, nothing different. I could go down to the visitors’ center and buy something like this, it was not going to shake them up at the Geographic. I had to find the next right answer. But I know it’s there, so I just kept going, you know. And eventually I’m down on that path, in the mud, looking up through some rhododendron and I saw this photograph, and I’ve sold this photograph more than any picture I’ve ever taken in my life.
 When we work from that perspective, then as we press out looking for the next right answer, we do so not in terror, but comfortably, knowing that it’s going to be there for you. And you begin to embrace change, rather than fear it. We begin to hit the world with a sense of abundance, rather than scarcity. And you just get more and more comfortable with reframing a problem into an opportunity.
Problem . . . opportunity.  Problem . . . opportunity.” 
Remember, the picture comes out of being in the mud and looking up.  You can change – God is all about the ability to change.  (The word repent comes from a military term that means to turn an about face – go in the opposite direction.)
2.      The Teacher of Ecclesiastes is about balance. The world moves on – let us live into it and move forward.  That is why the next generation will do things we have never even imagined.  

So we come to the End of another year –
Reflection of choices made and dreams to come.

Learning Forgiveness/acceptance for what is behind.  How do we come to terms with the past so that we can move forward. We have to work at it, be willing to change our perspective, to go the second mile in searching for another right answer.  

Grace and wisdom for what is ahead – each day that you wake and give breath to your life – you have a choice . . . .

After  40 years, the people of Israel were finally at the edge of the wilderness, they were ready to enter the Promised Land.  Moses and Jacob gather them together to remind the people of where they have been and where they are going.  Moses gives them a choice: 

Duet. 30:19 – “I set before you today life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your children may live.”  The choice is in choosing how you will live.  There will be hard times, there will be wonderfully bright times – how will you live in deprivation and in abundance. 

You get the good, you get the bad – and you can live in hope.  It is all in the way you live – in the choices you make: 

·        To preserve and nurture, to build up and secure new ways to love, to create compassion
·        To feed the hungry in body and soul. 

 Everyday Creativity (18:39 – 19:40) “There’s a line from the Bible that says, “The banquet is laid though nobody comes.” And when I’m being creative, I see that life really is that banquet, all around me, all the time, presenting me with endless possibilities. Showing me a world full of light and beauty.

And I know if we let that beauty fill us up, that it will come out in a thousand ways. In
the quality of the way we conduct ourselves, in the caliber of the products we produce, in
the depth of service we give to our clients and our customers
In the way we treat our families, in the service we give in our communities, in the stories
we tell to our children at bedtime.

That perspective, that window, is always there if we’re open enough to see it. And when
we see it, the world truly is extraordinary.”

Choose life – that you and your children may live.  Hope is what anchors the soul.

So I offer this prayer as an ending to this sermon:

·        Into God’s Hands – may you place your worries, cares and troubles.
·        Trusting in God’s Wisdom – may you walk your path, following your direction and your goals
·        and Believing in God’s love – may you place your life in God’s keeping.   Amen.

 Thanks to Dewitt Jones, Everyday Creativity from which I took three segments and to Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening. 

Worship for Dec 28, 2014 at Paradise Valley UMC, Paradise Valley AZ
Rev. Andrea Andress