Be Still and Know

Based on Psalm 46 and Luke 1:68-79
Imagine with me for a moment that a visitor arrives at your door with a certified and asks you to sign for it. You don’t recognize the return address. You wonder what it’s about.
If you’d been having problems and dealing with lawyers, such a letter might make you anxious, worried that someone has subpoenaed you or even worse, sued you. Not a visit you’d like. Not a letter you’d want to open.
On the other hand, if you’d recently submitted a novel to a publisher, been having promising conversations with them and had been awaiting an official response, you might see the letter as potential notification that your book will be published, maybe even a contract to sign. You’d feel excited and happy, full of anticipation.
How we think about a potential visitor plays a big role in our reaction to the visit. If you’re expecting bad news, will you be open to good news instead? Is the visitor a relative you’d rather not see, like that cousin who teases you unmercifully about your looks? Or is it an old friend you’ve missed dreadfully and can’t wait to invite in for supper? When you were young enough to believe in Santa Claus, were you expecting presents or a lump of coal in your stocking?
Today is the last Sunday of the church year, a celebration of the Reign of Christ also known as Christ the King Sunday. It’s a time to reflect  before the Advent season inundates us with things to do, places to go, people to shop for and visit, and the advertising related to all of these things. The traditional Christmas cheer is expected from us despite the knowledge that life and everything that makes it difficult continues during the holiday season. In a way, life becomes more poignant, more difficult, because we want life to be as merry and bright as it is portrayed to be in every Christmas card. As adults, we know that can’t happen.
The Bible is more realistic than Christmas cards. In Psalm 46, God reminds us to be still and know how mighty, how exalted, how loving and how protective God is. This in spite of earthquakes and floods, despite the violent overthrow of kingdoms and the deadly flow of lava when volcanos erupt. Despite the fact that there is always war and fighting somewhere on this busy planet. The psalmist reassures us that God is trustworthy, that bad news doesn’t have to wreak our faith and life’s hurts don’t have to keep us from hoping and trusting in God’s promises. Every age has its troubles. God is good all the time.
We all have things that are analogous to earthquakes in our personal lives. We know that gathering with relatives for the holidays might lead to the rehashing of old arguments or to political disagreements. COVID still leads to isolation and distancing we could not have imagined three years ago. We live through troubles like separations, divorce, the loss of friends, the illness or death of loved ones, lost jobs, accidents, violence, and so on. We want to scream and lament when bad things happen, and there are psalms for that, too. It’s okay. God has big shoulders and is always there to listen.
But we can also find comfort in being still, finding a quiet spot and taking a slow, deep breath. Notice that word “Selah” at the end of each section of the psalm. Selah means “Stop and think about that.” or “Stop and listen.” We can remind ourselves to be still and know that God still holds all of us and indeed the whole world in hands that were pierced for us. We can be still and lay our heads on God’s huge chest and know the peace and comfort that only pure love can offer. We can be still and listen to the heartbeat of the one being who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, sacrificially, steadfastly, and eternally.
Christ is a king whose crown is made of thorns, not gold and jewels. His garments are just like those of everyday people, stained by the sufferings and hardships of life on a dirty and often tragic planet filled with sinful people. Although Jesus is God, he also experienced life in a human body and in a human family. He didn’t experience being female directly, true, but his mother had many children, and he witnessed her struggles and birth pangs. He even experienced feeling forsaken by God while he was on the cross. He understands us completely because he has been one of us.
Our second lesson today records the words of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah. He had been visited by an angel who told him that John would be born. When Zechariah was skeptical because he and Elizabeth were so old. Gabriel punished him for his lack of belief by making him unable to speak until after John arrived. The neighbors and family who had gathered for the circumcision assumed that John would receive his father’s name, but Elizabeth said, “No, his name is John.” Then they looked at Zechariah, who suddenly regained his speech, told them the baby would be named John, and proclaimed the good news. John would prepare the hearts of the people to receive the healing and grace-filled arrival of Christ the King. The Greek words describe the “visit” of someone who wants to help out a person in distress, like a doctor or an EMT. John would teach the people to understand who Jesus was and to prepare their hearts to accept him as the long-awaited true Messiah after centuries of predictions and proclamations had dulled their hope.
God visited us in the form of Jesus out of an earnest desire to help us. We must be ready to receive the visit, the grace, of Christ as the holy helper who comes into our world. We’re used to thinking of Jesus as being with us always, a member of the family, a resident  of our hearts. And that is true as far as it goes. But if we reimagine Jesus as coming anew, this year, we might just get to the point of appreciating the enormity of the miracle that he is. We might get out of the holiday blahs and remember the reason for the season that goes beyond that cliché and sweeps in to save us, to liberate us from sin and death. Jesus doesn’t bring the coal we deserve. Jesus brings forgiveness and salvation.
John had to cry out in the wilderness to let people know that the time had finally come, that the Messiah wasn’t just a musty old story but a reality about to turn the world upside down and pour out the love of God in a miraculous way. John’s preparation was necessary for those who were open to the idea to receive it, to open the shutters on the windows of their minds and hearts far enough to repent of their old ways and let in the light and love of Christ.
Before Zechariah began to speak, his friends and relations were confused. Why wasn’t he talking? Why was Elizabeth giving the baby a name that no one in the family had, departing from tradition? What was really going on?
We need to ask ourselves that question anew. What is really going on? What wondrous visitor will come to us? Are we standing at the door about to open that letter I mentioned earlier worried about bad things or expecting a blessing?
We need to pause, to be still and know, that the miracle of Christmas happens anew in each heart that accepts Jesus as savior. Yes, we’ve heard this story before. Let’s stop and breathe and focus on the here and now. Right here, right now, Jesus is coming into our hearts with fresh forgiveness, with newness of life. Redemption isn’t a once and done business. It’s something we need every day, over and over. It’s something we don’t deserve and can’t earn. It’s a gift we need to be prepared to receive properly. Our anticipation can overwhelm any jaded attitudes we have. Our savior is coming! Make way, make room! The King is coming! Hallelujah!

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