Let Your Face Shine [On Us]

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture Readings: Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

In Isaiah we hear of the arrival of God’s saving action in the world. It is of a light coming to those who have been in darkness. There is great rejoicing from a people that have been multiplied. There are two similes used. One that is almost familiar and one that (I assume) isn’t:

they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

Jenn grows things. We harvest them. I really like going to our tiny garden and picking a bright orange habanero or variegated fish pepper to put directly into whatever I’m cooking. I like picking bay leaves from our little bay leaf shrub and then drying them for use later (they can’t be used fresh). I may even rejoice in this. This is, however, rejoicing-lite. While the appreciation is deep—linked to the wonder that the ground can produce the smoky fire of the pepper and the pungent sage and lavender for lemonade, appreciation that God creates and sustains creation in this way, joy that what we call a habanero or scotch bonnet Jenn and I first learned of as atarko with our church family in rural Nigeria on the border of Cameroon near the bottom edge of the Sahel semi-arid band south of the Sahara desert—that I rejoice in all of this is not the same as the rejoicing at the harvest of people who rely on the harvest for not only their livelihoods but also their very survival. Such rejoicing is deep. Tied closely to the desperate desire that comes with living close to the edge of survival.

They “rejoice as at the harvest” and “as people exult at dividing plunder.” This great relief of victory and joy at gathering of provision is heightened, is amplified because of the oppression that has been endured. It is a shaking free:

4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken ….

It is also the end of the battle. The reminders of this battle—the tramping boots and blood soaked clothing—these will be burned. This is the joy of the coming of the savior, the great light. The objective need for saving is recognized, felt deep in the bones.

Luke sets the birth of Jesus within the political context. While it appears that Luke is trying to make the case that Jesus is not a political threat—at least not a conventional political and

military threat to the conventional powers—the radically challenging nature of baby Jesus’s arrival continues to challenge us.

Luke orients Jesus’s arrival within a political context. This registration was not benign nor appreciated. (Craddock and Boring) It was an assertion of power and control by an occupying force. Mary and Joseph were caught up in it. Even while in late pregnancy they made the trip south to his hometown. This was certainly inconvenient and likely uncomfortable (perhaps she liked the challenge—Jenn for example climbed Table Mountain at 7 months pregnant and kayaked on the Anacostia for two hours the day she went into labor)

Perhaps it was the bumping of riding on a donkey or walking that got the labor happening, for once to Bethlehem the baby arrived. It is stated simply.

6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In any retelling—whether literary, movie, or by a campfire—significant events are compacted or not even referenced. The choice of what to minimize or eliminate is a specific choice or may be a result of particular interests or biases of the teller. In this case, a feminist commentator might note that a male writer would be expected not to focus much on the heroic feat of a woman. To deliver a child is not like having an Amazon package delivered (a house near us has a little cardboard sign by the front door. “Please drop any packages over the fence” with a little arrow pointing to a wooden fence a few feet to the left).

However, since the important thing is that Jesus gets here it is of some note that this is mentioned at all. A commentator notes 1/3 of the unique material in Luke focuses on women. And the full Luke account of the birth has a much stronger emphasis on the particular roles of women in this event—for example in the manner of the announcements of the birth and songs before the birth (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel of Mark starts with Jesus as an adult, Matthew only mentions “had been borne” in relation to Mary and Joseph not having sex until after Jesus had been borne–highlighting the divine conception, and John has no traditional narrative but rather a soaring theological reflection on Jesus’ participation in the creation of the world and then arrival into the world to be with the created ones.

Additionally, while the divine nature of the conception is noted earlier, it is not focused on. There were many such stories of divine arrival in that era. What is notable is that the Messiah, the savior, is born at all. (Craddock and Boring). No descending from heaven ready to go. The great light that is announced by Isaiah enters the world and sees the dimly lit stable for the first time. In some fantastic way, the Word which was from the beginning and who was present at

the creation of the world and through whom the world with its sources of light was created—as proclaimed in the opening of the Gospel of John—somehow, this awaited great light, who was the creator of light, descends the dark and crushing birth canal of Mary and sees light for the first time. This is the great mystery. The mystery of Emmanuel—God with us. This is the great light that has been awaited this is what will cause rejoicing as at the harvest.

This is the victory of God. The victory of God shows up with a young family forced to leave their home and who are given no place to stay.

6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And not only does the victory of God show up in the unexpected manner of a displaced person but the first announcement is to the shepherds—a class looked down on, distrusted, and also unexpected. No high-end PR firms. No world-renowned poet or preacher. The shepherds are the first evangelists, the first announcers of the coming hope and light. The Messiah, the awaited savior.

. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Isaiah had said: 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

For the grace of God has appeared (Titus)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. (Isaiah)

The sermon title–“Let your face shine” has some linguistic flexibility. If you include the parenthetical “(on us)” it may be that we are beseeching God to let the light of God radiate on to us. And if we were mimicking the language of the Psalms this is a plea for God’s blessings. It could also be an exhortation—almost an ethical-spiritual exhortation about how we should live. You now have experienced the light of Christ let your face shine! The one who created the light then entered into the light. This same light shone when the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that the great awaited light was now shining in the face of a baby in Bethlehem. This is the same light that we are invited to shine. Let your face shine!

Sow Thusly

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture Readings: Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:10

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

My dad is also a pastor. He is a pastor like we are pastors at Washington City—that is, he works another job that pays him not primarily in heavenly rewards, but in earthly rewards—the kind that can pay the electric bill or are accepted at the grocery store in exchange for food and other provisions. In addition to being a “free minister,” he is a carpenter. From early on I would work with him, both at home and on the job site. Since he is rather small, and I grew rather quickly, I was taller than him by about age 13. Now carpentry is both highly skilled and very precise but also quite physically demanding. When certain physically demanding “opportunities” arose, my dad had a line with a little smile (perhaps a chuckle?). He would say, “It’ll be a good experience.” Hoisting old steel scaffolding up to a second level—that is be good experience. Unloading this or loading that—a good experience. This is essentially how James begins this letter.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Testing which produces endurance is the spiritual equivalent to my dad’s so-called good experiences.

Unlike some books of the Bible there isn’t much known about the context of James. Most is conjecture based on hints in the text. For example, the naming of “James” could be referring back to a James and written in the tradition of this James or could written to one of the 6 James’ mentioned in the Bible or even an unmentioned James. Because of the content of the letter and prominence of the person, James the brother of Jesus seems reasonable. However, scholars who focus on this sort of thing don’t agree. Also, there are some reasons why this might not match up literally. What seems like a good possibility is that a later writer took the sayings and sermons of this James the brother of Jesus and composed them into the writing we have. This would allow for the thematic focus of this James but take into account other characteristics (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 548). This would also fit well with the suggestion is that this book is a “paraenesis, a genre of ancient moral literature characterized by various collections of moral sayings and essays, loosely held together by common themes and linking catchwords but without literary rhyme, theological reason or specific social location…with the primary exhortation to live a virtuous life”(DLNTD, 551). A later writer may have gathered the sayings and sermons of James.

In this task of determining the context, the most obvious may be the constructing a general picture of the community to whom the situation addressed. When the text begins with the exhortation to joy in the face of trials we begin to imagine the context. A context in which the first thing in mind is an exhortation towards the benefits gained through suffering.

Themes that emerge are not pandering to the wealthy and having faith matched by good works. At the beginning of chapter 3 we read “not many of you should become teachers.” James then goes on to say that it is nearly impossible to “tame your tongue.” In this context the orators were highly esteemed. As with esteemed skills or professions, many people want to be like them. What we see and see lauded easily becomes what we want to be. Our habits of imagination and desire are shaped through this contact.

In this context, one in which wisdom is demonstrated through rhetoric, James warns of the risk to the one who speaks. Driving home from the annual Dunker Church Service on Antietam Battle Field, Monica and I discussed her hesitancy to preach. She noted not being an authority enough to stand up and speak with the authority of a preacher. Words are difficult and dangerous–Especially when they aim to showoff our wisdom.

While James doesn’t say that nobody should stand up and teach, he does warn of the gravity of this task. Additionally, he states that demonstrated wisdom through acts done in gentleness show wisdom. He writes, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
The Bible in the pew, New Revised Standard Version, reads “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” In my Bible the “for” has a footnote stating that this can be “by.” Which is much different. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for by those who make peace.
The New International Version seems a little clearer. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

Those who sow seeds or even plant seedlings will tell you that it feels like a bit of a gamble. One places a dead looking roundish bit of a former plant into the ground and wait for the green shoot. Even once the shoot breaks the surface of the ground any number of things, mysterious or obvious, may bring an end to the plant—and at any point in its life. Plucking it from the ground because it was mistaken for a weed—obvious. Or like our tomatoes this year—a lot of green plant but almost no actual fruit, for no clear reason.

Though it may feel like a gamble it is actually not that. A gamble is chance. Planting takes skill knowledge, patience, good observation—in short, one can become better at growing plants. It still is not fully controlled or predictable, but it isn’t just luck. Seeds of squash, as well as seeds of peace, are sown with both skill and hope.

Sow thusly and you will raise such and such a harvest. Sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. Sowing thusly is a demonstration of the “wisdom from above” which is “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” This is how we are to so.

All this leads to a harvest of righteousness—which sounds good. If I were to say to Ayuba, “when you grow up we hope you work for righteousness”—what would you imagine this including? Likely something more personal—perhaps a piety plus self-control plus honesty. And if your thoughts turn public it would be something—more like not being a con artist or drug dealer.

Now I typically don’t reference the Greek in a sermon. This is largely because my Greek isn’t all that good but also because reading a definition of a word without the language skill to assess the nuance of translation is of questionable value. Just because a word could mean a wide range of things, doesn’t mean that the author intended everyone one of these in every instance of use. Just because Ayuba thinks his papa told a corny joke doesn’t mean both that the joke was goofy and had something to do with the vegetable eaten from a cob.

However, the word translated as righteousness can also be translated as justice.
Whereas one translation reads: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness,” commentators Craddock and Boring translate—“And the fruit of justice is sown in peace among those who make peace” (The People’s Commentary, 719).

For most of us, the word justice brings up a much different vision than the word righteousness. Monica and I and other denominational colleagues have had extensive discussions about whether her new position within the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy should be framed as racial justice or righteousness. This discussion in part comes back to this question of translation in the New Testament but also about what each implies in our present English about personal morality or discipleship and affecting change in the systems, powers, and principalities of racism that are so deeply embedded in our society and church.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, of the National Council of Churches, preaching at the International Day of Prayer for Peace service we held here on Friday, “Justice comes from the disruption of false peace” Justice may unsettle, but it makes right. Without this disruption, justice is not possible.

Anabaptists, of which Church of the Brethren is a part, have historically focused on this separateness from “the world.” This separateness was from their observing the way that the “the world” operated—which was often simply other Christians who they felt weren’t taking their faith seriously—but also passages like this, Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Brethren called this “non-conformity.” This is what Jared McKenna, at National Youth Conference, was referencing when he coined the term “dunkerpunk.” We have a tradition of non-conformity—of being a “peculiar people.”

Though this can easily become legalistic or self-righteous (Jerry why do you have a fashionable mustache?) but what it aims at is justice and righteousness. A following Jesus such that our lives push against the norms and values that prevail. Systems of racism, militarism, and materialism as Rev Dr Martin Luther King reminds us.

Sow thusly, sow with gentleness, in peace, resist the devil, purify your hearts. Sow thusly with hope and skill, awaiting the harvest of righteousness and justice.