St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-24-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-24-2017

Fourth Sunday in Advent – Joy

What Will You Find Joy?

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, Amen

I’ve mentioned, on occasion, that a requirement of my Seminary education was to take a “Cultural Immersion” trip to a foreign land. The school would rotate the assigned trip mostly between Israel, Egypt and India. As it turned out, in my year, our class trip was to India.

I need to emphasize that these trips were not vacations and, though we were foreigners in a strange land, we were not tourists. “Cultural Immersion” was exactly that; we simultaneously studied the cultures of the land we visited as we were immersed in them.

Our trip to India, holding true to its subtitle, Paradox and Paradigm, was expertly designed to show us the extremes of the Indian cultures. Each time we traveled outside the Seminary that hosted us, we would make two stops. Some days it would be one location showing great wealth and the next place, great poverty; On other days it might be a combination of political power contrasted to powerlessness; On another day perhaps opulence versus dearth, and so on.

Of all the many trips we took in those three weeks, the one that left the greatest impression on me was, no doubt, the day we traveled by train to a city named Vellore and then traveled by bus to Kolar Gold Fields.


Our featured stop in Vellore was “The Golden Temple” This is a Hindu Temple on a 100 acre, park-like, property; the star shaped walkway to approach the temple is over a mile long; and the temple itself is built with a steel superstructure covered in its entirety with very ornate embossed copper plate and that is covered with overone – and – one – half tons of pure gold leaf.

While making our way through the complex I saw a lot of other travelers, both tourists and pilgrims. I saw many, or most, of them with awe struck expressions on their faces; but I saw few reacting with obvious joy.

By the way, the temple is dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

Our second destination was, as I mentioned, the place where much of that gold likely came from; Kolar Gold Fields.

Until 1972, when the ancient gold mines were shut down, Kolar was a bustling town with an economy fueled by the many jobs and great income of the mines. Today, however, it is almost a ghost town.

As we drove through the area we saw evidence of what once was country clubs, overgrown with weeds; dilapidated abandoned mansions now housing multiple families of squatters, boarded-up banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores; and, perhaps the saddest, closed-up schools.

The end of our drive was at a complex of villages that were once company housing for the lowest paid workers. The inhabitants were those left behind after the collapse of the local economy with no means to relocate elsewhere.

The houses, if you can even call them that, were one-room sheds, about 12 feet square, attached end to end the length of streets that were only about 12 feet wide with an open sewer trench running down the middle. The construction of the homes consisted of a light wooden frame with corrugated steel roofs and woven palm fronds covered with plaster for walls.

In the village of our particular focus one of the first things you might notice was the lack of young men. We soon learned that anyone capable of working was likely away to a larger city to find work, usually living on the streets or within the construction sites that employed them and sending every bit of spare money they could earn home to their families.

As we were lead about by our guide we saw women doing laundry by beating the clothes on a flat rock. It was also pointed out that the collapsed building off by itself was the latrine, the only restroom facility for the entire village, now unusable. And, as we walked along a small tanker truck arrived to make the state sponsored weekly delivery of safe drinking water; limited to about ten or fifteen gallons per family per week and collected and stored in open 5 gallon plastic buckets.

The picture, I’m trying to paint for you here, is of poverty at its extreme; poverty that even I cannot imagine even though I witnessed it with my own eyes.

The paradox of the day was the view of wealth, great enough to clad a temple in gold held against the paradigm, the structures, that keep it separated from those with the most need.


I didn’t realize it at the time, perhaps I was in shock or perhaps, from my standpoint of privilege, I just couldn’t let it sink in right away, but over the weeks and months that followed I was struck by another paradox. You see, the most amazing thing I witnessed in that impoverished village was…surprising joy!

Right off the bat, as our bus arrived, we were greeted by both young and old smiling faces rushing out to greet their visitors. Young boys with a single soccer-ball among them stopped their play to join in; young women and grandparents carried their infants along to welcome us.

Then, as it turned out several of the young men of the village were graduating seminary that very evening and we were invited to return and join the celebration. When we did so, we were joyfully given seats of honor at the ceremony. Afterward we were joyfully asked to stay for the feast they had prepared. Not a feast by any American standard, closer to a pot-luck, except that our meal was specially prepared, a little lighter on the spices for our delicate American pallets, and we were served as honored guests with everyone near us expressing their delight with the greatest hospitality.

It is embarrassing to admit, that from my point of privilege, I couldn’t previously imagine people living in such dire poverty could find joy in their lives much less finding joy in sharing what little they had with others, especially with traveling strangers who would not have an opportunity to return the acts of kindness.


It took a while for me to figure out how this could be; how they could find such joy in their meager conditions. But, after giving it much thought I came to the realization that they were truly living in Christian faith. Unlike so many of us who, when feeling joyless, work toward finding joy in the future; these people were finding joy in the here-and-now. They were living in the moment and making the best of the opportunities presented to them today!

The boys had that one soccer ball… and that was enough! The girls could dance in their bright colored saris… and that was enough! The women could cook a delicious meal on a restricted budget… and that was enough! And the whole village could participate in offering hospitality to their honored guests… and that was certainly enough!

You and I also have enough; we have enough to find joy in every time and place and not just in this Advent season, but in every day of the year, every day of our lives. All we need to do is learn to recognize the opportunities and grasp them before they slip away.

As it was for the villagers; may the joy of living in the hope, peace and love of Christ be yours today, and in all your today’s.



2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”
7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:
7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;
7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,
7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.


Romans 16:25-27
16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
16:26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith —
16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Luke 1:26-38
1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
1:35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
1:38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.