Since you are here on New Year’s Day morning, I will assume you didn’t party too hard last night. I will assume that you spent a quiet evening at home or had dinner out with loved ones. I will assume you didn’t make any alcohol-fueled resolutions that you’ve forgotten by this morning. I will assume you are reasonably rested are ready to start a new year.
Today we begin the journey known as 2017. 2016 has come and gone. It’s history. and for some of us we are more than glad to see it go! Even though it’s an arbitrary date on a calendar, there is something about a new year that symbolizes a fresh start; a clean slate for us to write on. As we look at this blank page that is set before us, we hope it will be filled with beautiful experiences and warm memories. We hope it will be a time for health and prosperity for us and for those love. But we also know there will be sadness and challenges along the way. There will be difficult news for us to hear and problems we need to solve.
Yet through it all, there is one thing we know for certain: God will be with us in 2017 every step of the day! The holy messengers will accompany us like they did in all of the angel stories we studied during the Advent/Christmas season. If we listen carefully, they may have a prophetic word to share with us.
Perhaps they will tell us, like Sarah and Elizabeth, that our time of feeling barren or unproductive is coming to an end. Perhaps they will tells us, like Jacob and Mary, that we need to wrestle with ourselves, or wrestle with difficult news, so that a stronger person can emerge. Perhaps they will tell us, like Hagar and Joseph, that it’s time to move from desperation and despair to seizing the day and using our abilities to serve God in new and exciting ways. Perhaps they will tell us, like the shepherds on a starry night, DO NOT BE AFRAID. Emmanuel is with us. And if Emmanuel is with us who or what can possibly be against us?
These are some of the message we’ve heard the angels speak to God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps they will deliver one of these messages to us in 2017. But there is more to consider. In today’s readings, the angels serve another purpose we need to consider. The simplest way to state it is Divine intervention. What I mean by this is that there are times in our lives when God moves in a powerful and unmistakable way to rescue us from danger and lead us to a place of safety.
We don’t deserve Divine intervention. When it happens, it’s a gracious gift from God. I cannot explain the why’s and how’s of it. I only know it happens every once in a while. It happens in random and surprising ways. A child is pulled out of the rubble of a bombed out building and they are alive. Someone is running late for work because they slept in and they miss a massive pile up on the highway. A person with a terminal illness is miraculously healed of their disease. Someone is on the verge of accepting a job offer when everything mysteriously falls apart. Later they realize it was not the right job for them.
Some people call incidents like these pure luck but I believe they are Divine intervention. Again, I don’t believe some people are worthy of this and others are not. Instead, it has been my experience that God is going to do what God is going to do. Sometimes this results in an experience that is pretty spectacular and changes that person’s life forever. It’s the modern version of the burning bush or the leper who was cured by Jesus.
At the beginning of Advent, I shared one of my own story of Divine intervention. For those of you who haven’t heard it, the short version is that I had a tire blow out during a snowstorm. It happened on a two lane country road in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday night. It was a scary situation, but the miracle is that I saw a solitary farmhouse in the distance with its lights on. When I arrived I not only received hospitality but they got my tire fixed as well. As I left that farmhouse to go back to seminary, I had no doubt that angels had intervened. You cannot convince me otherwise. I was no more deserving than any other stranded motorist. But for whatever reason, God showed up and pulled me out of a dangerous situation. I will be eternally grateful for what happened that night.
In our gospel lesson we have the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. This occurred after the Magi visited the Christ Child. They were ready to return to Jerusalem to inform Herod of Jesus’ exact location. This would have been a disastrous decision. However, they were warned in a dream to take another route, and so they did! This is the first incident of Divine intervention in the story.
The second happens when an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to get up immediately, pack his things and take his family to Egypt, because Jesus’ life was in danger. Joseph did what the angel said. And as the story continues we learn that Herod, indeed, becomes filled with rage when the Magi don’t pay him a second visit. He sees this newborn king as a threat to his kingdom. Then he sends his soldiers to murder all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old and under. This is one of the most horrifying stories we have in the New Testament. Yet we know that Jesus would have also been killed if his father had not been the recipient of Divine intervention.
The third incident of Divine intervention occurs after King Herod dies. The angel appears again to Jospeh in a dream and tells him it’s time to take his family back home. The destination, however, is not Bethlehem but Nazareth which was Mary’s hometown.
This is a pretty miraculous story. We might be tempted to think it has nothing to do with us. After all, this is the Son of God who is rescued from danger. What does THAT have to do with us? Well, I believe this story tells us that sometimes God does intervene in our lives in order to protect us from danger. We may not be aware of this Divine intervention but this does not mean it didn’t happen. I would be curious to know if any of you have stories where you believe God intervened in your life and rescued you from danger. If you have one of those stories I hope you will share it with me.
The second thing I see in this story is that sometimes we make our plans, when God has other plans in mind. I’m certain someone out there has a story like that. I’m certain someone was headed in a specific direction in life and God made you take a detour that changed your life for the better.
Most of you know I started out as a chemistry major. I thought I had everything pretty well planned out. I loved analytical chemistry and was entertaining the possibility of being either a nurse or a forensic scientist. Then, God let me know through a series of incidents and conversations that I needed to go to seminary. This Divine intervention was the best intervention in my life that ever happened. I cannot imagine myself as a chemist. But I know without a doubt that God wanted me to become a pastor and a hospital chaplain. So, be careful when you think you have your life all planned out, because God may have another plan in mind!
Friends in Christ, on this New Year’s Day I hope you look to this coming year with hope because God will be with all of us. God’s angels will guide us, and quite possibly, might stage an intervention in our lives if we really need it. These kinds of interventions don’t happen often, but when they happen they are unmistakable and they change our lives forever. So I hope you will be open to God’s guidance in the coming year whether it comes in the form of a still small voice or a burning bush. Amen.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck