Matthew 1: 18 – 25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
Sermon: “Sparks of the Divine”
The sermon title comes from a line President Obama used in his speech in Oslo as he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace. He said, ‘Let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.’
We’ve been talking lately about the two kinds of language we use: mythos and logos. This is the season of mythos.
The ancient story says ‘the Prince of Peace’ was born in a stable because there was ‘no room for him in the inn.’ It’s our story, not because we think it happened 2000 years ago, but because we understand that it is happening now, and that’s a faith statement, it’s an affirmation, it’s about hope.
There’s never room for a Prince of Peace until and unless we make room in our hearts — room for the Prince of Peace to be born in us today.
We humans are evolving, not only biologically, walking upright, using language, solving crossword puzzles! but we are evolving spiritually and morally…we are the Magi on our journey together; we are the three kings, the Wise Men who traveled together following their moral compass and bringing their gifts, each different, but valuable: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Each of us brings what we have, and what we have is what we are, and we’re here tonight to re-wrap ourselves.
The Prince of Peace is being born in us as the hope we need – the hope for progress away from violence, toward peace, following the star.
We’re here tonight because there’s something in us that longs for peace, both within ourselves and among us.
So we follow that star until it comes to rest over that place.
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi) “A hard time we’ve had of it…arriving at evening and not a moment too soon. Finding that place is, you may say, satisfactory.”
What I’ve been saying so far is mostly in the category of speech we call mythos; it’s important. It’s essential to our spirit or soul if you will. Now for a bit of logos:
When President Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace he said: “I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.
“And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.”
‘Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice,” he said.
And he said, “I am at the beginning…of my labors…”
I thought of the story of the mythological story of the babe in the manger, at the beginning of his labors, the beginning of his life, when kings bowed down to him.
The story of this special birth in the humble surroundings of a stable is about hope — Emily Dickinson called it ‘the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.’
Who can live without hope?
President Obama disappointed some when he said, “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.” That’s a down-to-earth statement from the logos side…
His candor was jolting. “… make no mistake,” he said, “Evil does exist in the world…To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
“…a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”
Violence, he said, “…is an expression of human folly…and he quoted a predecessor, President Kennedy, who said, “Let us focus on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”
“A gradual evolution of human institutions.”
“Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.”
When we understood the myth in its universal sense, we see that the birth of a baby in the humble surroundings of the stable is about the potential in each of us to bring peace into the world; it’s about the inherent worth and dignity of every person; it’s about the ability each of us has to help humanity take another step on the long evolutionary march toward peace and justice. It’s about that hope, and it’s a hope share.
It’s about “…the continued expansion of our moral imagination.”
There’s not a person in this sanctuary tonight that does not know and acknowledge that our human nature is imperfect, but we also share the belief that our human condition can be improved –no, not only that our human condition can be improved but that it must be improved, and we must be part of that improvement.
That’s our faith statement, and it is the essential meaning of the story we celebrate tonight. The story of shepherds following a star is about the moral compass that’s built in to each of us; we know right from wrong and there’s a needle in us that points to the best of which we are capable; it’s what’s best about our humanity, flawed and fragile as it is, it’s what we have to go on.
The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway – the other four are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, but Alfred Nobel stipulated that the prize for peace be set apart to distinguish it. It was in Oslo that President Obama said, “Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.
He said, “…for that is the story of human progress; that’s the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.”
May each of us bring a spark of the divine so that we can light up the darkness, carrying seeds of hope, faith and love into this weary world.
Fra Giovanni’s “Letter to a Friend” Perhaps a holiday letter:
I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got. But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.