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They Went Home
December 29, 1996

LUKE 2:22-40

Eight days after he was born, Jesus was circumcised according to Moses' law, and 33 days later, the family went to the temple in Jerusalem for a ceremonial cleansing of Mary from the birth by making a sacrifice. Incidentally, we know Mary and Joseph were poor because Leviticus instructs worshipers to bring a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering; unless the family is poor, then they may bring two doves or two young pigeons. While in the temple, a stranger came up to them, took the baby in his arms, and said some strange words about the baby being a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Israel. The parents were amazed and mystified by what he said. Then, an 84-year-old woman who lived at the temple, praying and fasting, began to prophesy about the child. What a time Mary and Joseph had in Bethlehem and Jerusalem!

Mary and Joseph, in spite of being somewhat perplexed by all that had happened, certainly had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, what we call a mountain-top experience. What do you do when you climb down from a mountain-top experience? What do you do after angels sing in the sky, shepherds appear out of nowhere leaving their flocks behind, a bright, brilliant star shines in the sky, strangers from Persia come bearing gifts, and a stranger and an old woman speak messiah language about their son?

What do you do after a mountain-top experience-- a big trip, an outstanding play or concert, a fun party, or an inspiring service of worship? I know I have a short memory, but I believe our two Christmas Eve services were, if not the best, certainly among the most beautiful and inspiring Christmas Eve services I've experienced. The children were absolutely delightful; the music, poinsettias, candles and spirit of the second service were deeply moving. What do you after a mountain-top experience? What do you do after you hear a Faith Moment that touches you? What do you do when something said in a sermon speaks to you? What did Joseph and Mary do?

They went home! Luke 2:39b-40, They returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. They went home to the ordinary, the usual, the routine, the struggle to make ends meet. They went home to wait for the MasterCard bill, clean up the mess, take down the tree and the outdoor decorations, and settle back into the routine. They went home!

But, home was different for Mary and Joseph. Now they had a baby, and a baby changes a home! And, he was a special baby. I'm not quite sure what Luke means by the favor of God was upon him. Certainly he cried, had to be fed and changed. But, something was different. Hopefully, every mountain-top experience enriches your life, and makes your home just a little different. Hopefully, something happens when you go home.

I have a double AA sermon this morning. Take home with you, and practice AA, and your home will be different. The first A: Appreciate what you have. In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds told about the angels, Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. She treasured and pondered. Do you treasure your home? Do you treasure your family? Do you appreciate what you have? In my second sermon to you some 3 1/2 years ago in which I laid out some ground rules for our working together, I included the admonition, No Bitching! Griping and complaining accomplish nothing but dark clouds, hurt feelings, and negative energy. You are a wonderful congregation. Rarely do we hear any complaining and griping. When you have a concern, you share it openly in the proper place and to the person who can do something about it. As a result, we have a loving, supportive, spirit-filled congregation.

Now, take that same admonition home. No Bitching, No Blaming. Take responsibility for what you are and what you have, and be grateful. Don't try to find out whose fault it is; relax, and appreciate what you have. Don't gripe about your family; it's the only one you have. Don't criticize each other. I know of no one who ever changed or grew because they were criticized. Criticism breeds defensiveness, anger, and retaliation. Encourage the positive, don't criticize.

Don't feel sorry for yourself. Appreciate what you have. The second day of Christmas, which the secular world calls the day after Christmas (!), USA Today featured an 87-year-old woman who has lived all her life in Appalachia. She has never traveled anywhere. She lives in a cabin through which the cold wind blows; but it doesn't bother her because she is hard of hearing and can't hear it! She has no running water, no inside toilet, no telephone, no electricity, and she has never heard of Elvis or the Beatles! But, she is very happy and contented. She appreciates what she has. When she broke her leg some time ago, neighbors took her in while her leg healed. She was enthralled with the TV; but, even so, was more than ready to go home.

Appreciate what you have. Columnist Sydney Harris wrote, When I hear somebody sigh, "Life is hard," I am always tempted to ask, "Compared to what?" Appreciate what you have, rather than lament over what you think you don't have. Look for the beautiful and give thanks. Look for what is right and give thanks. Look for love and give thanks. Poets are able to look at the ordinary, the routine, the same old thing, the rut, and see beauty. Listen to a passage from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey--work of the stars,

And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,

And the tree-toad is the chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,

And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,

And the cow crunching with depress'd head surpasses any statue,

And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels,

And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer's girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking short cake.

Appreciate what you have. Look for beauty in the ordinary and the routine, which leads me to the second A: Attention. Timothy Miller, in his book, How to Want What You Have, urges us to pay attention, p. 138

Whatever you feel, feel it completely, without reservation. Whatever you see, see it completely, without reservation. Whatever you touch, touch it completely, without reservation. Whatever you hear, hear it completely, without reservation. Whatever you do, do it completely, without reservation. Whatever you say, say it completely, without reservation. If you are hot, be completely hot, without reservation. If you are cold, be completely cold, without reservation. In other words, pay Attention!

In a cartoon, Frank and Ernest are walking. Frank asks, "Where are we?" Ernest answers, "You can't fool me, we're right here." Have you discovered how it is difficult to be right here, present, paying full attention to the moment, without your mind wandering, either remembering something from the past, or planning what is next? Haven't you found yourself thinking of what you are going to say next, rather than really listening to what is being said to you? Paying attention means to trust the moment, and fully experience the moment. Whitman was able to see the exquisite beauty of a tree-toad or a blade of grass because he was giving the object his full attention. Two men were talking. One said, "I worry about my wife. She has begun talking to herself." The other replied, "Oh, mine does also, but she doesn't know she is talking to herself. She thinks I'm listening." That might be funny if it weren't so true, and so common.

Pay attention. Give your full attention to whomever is talking to you as if what he/she is saying is the most important thing in the world. Especially to children, pay attention, full attention. Give your full attention to whatever you are looking at. Give your full attention to whatever you are doing as if it were the most important task in the world at the moment-- washing dishes, mowing the lawn, writing a letter, driving your car. Helen Keller once said, "I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." Live each moment. Enjoy each moment. Live neither in the past or in the future, but in the now.

Mary treasured and pondered the moment. If Mary had been like many of us, she might have thought, "Oh, dear, where are all these shepherds going to sit? Do I have anything to serve them? Is my hair a mess?" Or, she may have thought, "I wonder what's going on in Nazareth right now? I wonder what my mother is doing. Wouldn't she be amazed at what is happening? Wouldn't she enjoy this!" Treasure and ponder the moment. Let the moment speak to you, communicate with you, and fill you with gratitude. For, if you are fully attentive, you will probably soon come to appreciate what you have.

They went home. You can't stay on top of the mountain for long. You must go home, but may the mountain-top experience make your home different as you treasure and ponder, pay attention and appreciate.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris