DON'T GO BACK THE WAY YOU CAME
TEXT: Matthew 2:1-12
It’s Christmas Day, and here we are. The babe is in the manger, and, like the wise men, we have come to pay him homage. You may have heard various things about the Wise Men. They are sometimes called Kings, as in the carol, but they were most probably not kings but astrologers, those in the court of the Persian king who predicted the future, interpreted dreams, and gave the king advice about how to run his kingdom.
when the Hebrews were exiles in
might also have heard that it took awhile for the Wise Men to arrive in
Jesus is out of the stable by that time, although the family is apparently
it’s time for them to leave, but they weren’t called Wise Men for nothing. They paid attention to their dreams, and a
dream warned them not to go back and tell Herod anything but to return home by
a different road…one that did not go back through
I think that dream is also the message for us as we leave here on Christmas morning: Don’t go back the way you came. If God has truly been born on earth as a human being to live and to die for our sakes, that ought to make a difference. We should not be the same, once we have been to the manger and have seen for ourselves the Word made flesh.
often it makes no difference at all.
That problem was actually how the Methodist movement started back in
So Wesley decided to do something about it. He started small bands of people who met together weekly to challenge and support each other in Christian life and practice. They confessed their sins to each other, they joined together to help the poor, they studied the Bible together, and they made a commitment to live differently in response to what God had done for them in Jesus. There was a “method” to their meetings, and they were first called “Methodists” in derision for the strict method that they followed.
week by week, month by month, year by year, those Methodists began not only to
change themselves, but to change all of
course not all the churchgoers took on the challenge of a changed life. Some continued to go back home the way they
came. And even the church organization
itself had issues with people suddenly taking their faith seriously. John Wesley was soon out of a pulpit and had
to take his message out to the streets and the fields. Where it grew. Where it changed lives. Where it changed
Don’t go back the way you came. Some of course, will. The message of Christmas will not mean anything except a couple days off from work each year, and life will stay pretty much the same. But I’m here to tell you that if you’re just showing up at church because it seems like the thing to do, you’re missing the whole point. The whole point of being here is to be transformed by the power of God. To change. To go out differently than you came in.
Wesley taught the Methodists of his day that they were “moving on to perfection.” That’s quite a long journey for me, but I get his point. Christian life is about waking up each morning wondering how to be a little bit better of a person than I was yesterday. It’s about taking inventory of the ways that I failed to love God, myself, or others on one day and trying hard to do better the next. It’s about recognizing that if God actually took on human flesh and lived a darn hard life to try to show us how we should be living, that should make a difference.
My brother’s first year in college, my parents dutifully drove him and all his stuff all the way down to Kentucky for the start of school in late August. Imagine their surprise when just a week later a fellow teacher said to my father, “Didn’t you take Rob to college last week?” “Yes,” said my father, and recounted the difficulties of the endeavor. “Then why,” said the teacher, “did I see him on the news last night marching in the Labor Day parade here with the Rhode Island Independent Band?”
had played with that band for a number of years and didn’t want to miss the big
parade. So, he had spent money he was
going to need later in the semester to fly home secretly to march in the
parade, figuring he would be back in
you might imagine, my father was not a happy man. He recorded that unhappiness, as only my
father could do, in a multi-page, single spaced letter to my brother. If you could die from sarcasm, my brother
would have been long gone. The gist of
my father’s unhappiness was that he had put out considerably in time, effort,
and money to deliver my brother to
The comparison is not exact, since God is infinitely more patient and understanding than my father was…and my father was a good man. I don’t know that God uses sarcasm, although there have been times when I felt that God’s sense of humor was decidedly sick. But I do think that, like my father, the heart of God is unhappy when all of God’s gifts and all of God’s efforts on our behalf make not the slightest bit of difference in how we live our lives. When we see the gift of the babe in the manger, we should not go back the way we came.
If we did that. If we allowed the Christmas message of “God with us,” to really sink into our hearts, our lives would change. We would change the way we spent our money. We would change the way we spent our time. We would change our priorities and discover that things we thought were hugely important yesterday seem kind of silly and pointless today.
And as we changed from the inside out, who knows? Maybe we would start to get serious about addressing the widening gap between rich and poor. Maybe we would start new agencies and be sure that already existing ones were well taken care of. Maybe after a couple of years there would be fewer homeless people on the streets of Boston, fewer cases of domestic violence, and fewer people dying for want of basic medicine.
It’s been done before…it was the vision that created the Methodist church…the vision that we would not go back the way we came…that our faith would make a difference in how we live our lives. It could happen again, with us…here…this Christmas. Will you let it begin with you? You need only do one thing. Don’t go back the way you came. Amen.Sermon © 2005, Anne Robertson
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