So Now What?
Isaiah 63:7- 9 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, "Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely"; and he became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
The candles were lit, we sang the songs, we went to bed and woke up to gifts under the tree, and filled our stomachs with food. But we arrived back at work or dived back into our other daily routines the day after Christmas with the same problems, the same headlines in the news, the same daunting challenges to overcome. So now what?
Mary and Joseph faced their own moment like this after the birth of the baby Jesus. Joseph was warned in a dream that Herod was set on destroying the life of their newborn, and this new family faced a “so now what?” moment of their own. Should they go and risk a treacherous journey with the hope of safety, or stay when God had warned them not to, stay in the relative safety of Bethlehem where at least they had a shelter over their heads, even if it was a humble stable. So now what?
Like Mary and Joseph, like humans throughout history who are inherently incapable of knowing exactly what the future will hold, which choice to make for the best long-term results, sometimes the future we are faced with is not one we ever expected. Mary and Joseph barely expected to be parents, let alone refugees. It’s reasonable to think that they would have expected parenting the Messiah would afford them favor from God, safety from the violence and danger of the world, but what they got wasn’t anything like what they expected. How did they do it we might wonder? What gives two people the wisdom and the courage to not only listen to God’s call, but follow it to a foreign place with their newborn?
The passage from Isaiah that accompanies Matthew’s text in the Revised Common Lectionary for today gives us a hint of how to go forward when the world doesn’t fit the destination we have in our minds and hearts. And that hint is simply to tell the story. We will tell what has happened to us; we will tell our story, our testimony of how God has acted for us and with us. We will tell the stories we read and the stories we live. We will tell them to one another, and we will tell them to the world. And as we tell them, we will remember what God has done and is doing. Despite living in a world that doesn’t look like what God’s reign should be, we will see glimpses of it here and there, in us and beyond us. And we will tell that story too. That’s part of what united us as members of this church, as United Methodists, and Christians of any sort is the stories that we share. As we go out after the joy of Christmas into a divided world remembering and telling our shared stories offers hope and the potential for peace.
After all, in the birth narrative of Jesus we’re told that after the shepherds had come and the angels had sang that Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Mary was making note of and meditating on the story of her son’s birth in her moment of joy, and surely as she and Joseph made the arduous journey to Egypt, she recounted it again and again as a way to remember God’s promises and goodness. Perhaps she knew the words of Isaiah, “I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” If you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement when something good happens and become too distracted to look for God’s presence, and then when moments and sadness or anxiety come there is no memory of God’s goodness to draw upon. Isaiah tells us that no matter our circumstances we should tell the stories of God’s steadfast love, and in our story about the holy family, Mary has the wisdom to pause in her moment of joy to remember the story that will sustain her and her family in their frightening journey to safety.
Like Mary and Joseph probably had romantic plans for settling down in peace and quiet and rest with their new baby after his birth, but were faced with a great shock and a long journey, it’s inevitable that in the new year, in the new decade, all our best laid plans will be turned upside down by unexpected circumstances. But when we’re faced with moments where we think “so now what?” we must remember the many times God has led us and our families and our ancestors in the faith through such moments. We must keep telling the stories of God’s presence with us and God’s steadfast love.
As we face uncertainty and so many possibilities in the days, months, and years ahead we should remember that storytelling isn’t just a way of whistling in the dark to keep the fear at bay. Telling our stories is reliving the moments of salvation; it is reclaiming the presence that seemed so real – because it was real, the hope, joy, peace, and love available to us in the form of Emmanuel, God with us– in the dark of our Christmas Eve service. Telling our stories is like relighting those candles that we held into the air as we sang “Silent Night,” except now instead of wax and wick, we bring stories and memories to light the darkness in which we live—until the darkness begins to resemble the light.