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These People Marvel at the Star / It's a Sure Thing

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“These People Marvel at the Star” by Frank Ramirez
“It's a Sure Thing” by C. David McKirachan


These People Marvel at the Star
by Frank Ramirez
Luke 21:25-36

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. (Luke 21:25)

The English language is something of an odd combination of German, French, Greek, Latin, and just about everything else. In part this is because so many different cultures have impacted the British Isles. One of the most important of those events, worth remembering, because it affects the way we speak the language here in the United States, was the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. Though we Americans usually think of years like 1492 or 1776 as being especially crucial, 1066 is one we should keep in mind, because English history -- and therefore the English language which affects the way we think and view the world -- pivoted on those events.

Prior to that year the Anglo-Saxons had ruled Britain for over six hundred years. People spoke something very Germanic sometimes called Old English or Anglo-Saxon. When the king, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066, there was some question over who should succeed him. Those questions were brushed aside and Edward’s brother-in-law Harold was crowned on the day of the funeral. However, across the Channel in France, William of Normandy believed he was the rightful king because, according to what he claimed, Edward had personally designated him as the future King.

On October the 14th of that fateful year 1066 there was a great battle at Hastings between William and Harold. Thousands died in the fighting, and by day’s end Harold was dead and William was crowned king. The French language and French customs held sway, altering in the process the way the English spoke. More than a thousand years later it remains a major turning point in history.

The Bayeux Tapestry, a bit of needlework over two hundred and thirty feet long, tells the convoluted story of that year. Scientific study has shown that the stitching is consistent throughout, suggesting that this massive object was the result of a single team working together. The result is a lot like a storyboard for a movie. The events of that great year are depicted with all the twists, turns, and surprises of real life shown from beginning to end. There are signs in the sky, distress among nations, the roaring of sea and waves, as England is invaded and conquered. Nearly a third of the tapestry concerns that fateful battle.

One of the most striking portions is a panel that depicts the famed Halley’s Comet, which we recognize as an astronomical event that occurs with regularity roughly every seventy-six years, but for which the people of that time had no warning, and no real understanding of what it truly was.   

One sees the people pointing at the skies as the comet flies overhead. There is a caption that reads, in Latin, “These people marvel at the star.” As was true in the time of Jesus a thousand years earlier. People believed comets were harbingers of calamitous events. Unlike folks in our times, who are thrilled to see an astronomical event like comets, eclipses, and novas, people were frightened of any change in the skies.

Many people at the time believed that the heavens weren’t supposed to change. Therefore if a change was observed, it was very, very bad. The people in the tapestry obviously don’t believe the comet is for their delight. It is meant to warn them that great things are at hand, and that usually means ordinary people have something to fear.

The people are not alone. In the next panel one sees a king on the throne also in a state of alarm. Just so we know who we’re looking at, the name “Harold” is written above him. Harold is speaking with a counselor who can read the heavens like everyone else, and though it’s unlikely he would have told the king that the comet foretold his death, soon the king would be dead. The tapestry showed that Harold died with an arrow through his eye, which became the official version, although some contemporary accounts state that he was hacked to death by enemy soldiers.

Just as Herod and his advisers were alarmed when the Magi arrived from the East bearing gifts and looking for a newborn king, and Harold and his advisors were alarmed at the arrival of a well armed king, so too we may become disturbed at the thought of a major change in society and leadership

(This story can be illustrated with a power point slide depicting the crucial panel of the Bayeux Tapestry, which can be easily found on the internet. Make sure it is a photograph in the public domain.)

* * *

It’s a Sure Thing
by C. David McKirachan
Jeremiah 33:14-16

I’ve heard it said that the only way to win at a casino is to own the place. The rules are the house wins. In this journey of life, we rarely feel like our hopes and dreams are with the house. Hope... seems a fantasy that has less chance of coming true than a double down bet in roulette, or getting the cards for a royal flush. Things just don’t work that way.

Sometimes it seems the good news we preach is a misty dream, so easily dispersed by the hard realities that surround us that it feels like a fairy tale. Our culture’s demand for Joe Friday’s approach, ‘Just the facts,’ leaves little wiggle room. It denies mystery and awe, along with story, legend, and even hope. I saw a sign once that said, ‘God gets the credit, all others pay cash.’ But I wonder if that attitude reduces any credit we might give to God. We want results, bang for our buck, and we look every gift horse in the mouth. We always assume they, whoever they might be, are trying to put something over on us. 

Christmas is children’s cotton candy. We adults are working so hard to surround them with cute and sentimental that any deep meaning is never accessed. Christmas lights blink, blow up monstrosities clutter our lawns, and Silent Night has got to have a back beat to dance to.

How can we access hope in this wasteland?

Advent is an interesting season. Our tendency is to do the Christmas, ooo and ahhh, on the first Sunday. After all it’s been in the stores since Halloween. We don’t see this as an opportunity to pause and consider. We’re too busy. The preparations and celebrations inundate our schedules and leave us winded, let alone in debt by the time the day arrives.  

How do we find hope when we’re so frazzled?

As I read Jeremiah’s pronouncement I realized that it is not founded on a possibility, something we would like to see happen, but on an announcement of what was going to be. Jeremiah did not speak of something that might occur, but on a surety, a definite that was in the process of being revealed: “Behold the days are coming…”

When I was a child I used to take bike rides. One of my favorite destinations was the railroad tracks about a mile from our house. I’d go and sit on the twin steel ribbons, waiting. Most of the time I’d be rewarded by a shimmer, a slight vibration. I knew what was coming. It wasn’t a possibility. It was a sure thing. The monster was on its way. I had to make sure I was on the right side of the tracks, because the beast that was coming was a freight train, many, many cars long. Once the engine roared by, the cars would keep me from going home for a long time. I’d be late for dinner.     

Jeremiah’s announcement was not a weather report bracketed by percentages. He knew what God’s purposes were. These prophesies speak across the centuries to us. They might not fit into our lists and preferences, they might not be cute or sentimental, but they are a sure thing.

The Christmas story is a train wreck. An unwed mother, a nice guy who dreamed and probably cared too much to be practical. Political refugees, final stages of labor on the road, birth in a garage, visits from wide eyed, smelly shepherds, and we won’t even go as far as Epiphany.

Christmas is a monster. We can hear its distant vibrations. We know it’s coming. We know it will be coming whether we’re ready or not. The question is, will we receive it as an assurance of the living miracle of God’s love, or will we do our best to live through it?

Don’t get caught on the wrong side of the tracks. Live into this moment. Hope in the Lord. It’s a sure thing.


*****************************************


StoryShare, December 2, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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