Reverend Mel Baars O’Malley
January 3, 2015
Presbyterian Church of Chestertown
“Arise and Shine”
Like many of you, I have quite the collection of star words. I have heard that some of you put all of your stars in one spot in your house so you can see them altogether and remember them at once. Some of you may be more like me and put your star words strategically around your house or in your office at work or in the car so that wherever you go, one of your star words is close by, shining its light into your life. I end up putting at least one star on my computer at work because that is where I spend at least a few hours a day counseling soldiers or other service members and sometimes their families. It is helpful to be able to see my star. There are days when I need the reminder of who I am and whose spirit I reflect
Now, Pastor Sara has promised me that she never looks whenever she choses my star each year, and we all know that Pastor Sara would never lie. But, every year it seems like my star word was picked especially for me. For instance, the year that I was in Afghanistan, my star word was “empathy.” I know that you might be thinking, pastors are all very empathetic so that word should be super easy. But, going so many days in a row, without ever having a real break, I found that empathy was more and more difficult for me to offer my soldiers. But, with my star word taped to my computer, I could not escape it. It was a gentle and steady reminder that I wasn’t alone, but was being led and shepherded by One who has infinite empathy to share. With this in mind, I could keep going.
I am sure that you all have stories about the ways that your word was exactly the word you needed, even if at first you were not so sure, or how your star word brought light into places in your life that you didn’t even realize were dim. Our star words bring us encouragement as we navigate our lives, both the ups and downs. In many ways, our star words become a kind of spiritual discipline for the year. It is the word, the idea, the gift, that we meditate on as we negotiate our faith and seek to deepen our relationship with God. Our star words also help us to encourage others, to share God’s light with our neighbors, our co-workers and our family. Whenever we find ourselves on empty, we can lean into our word and rediscover the light that is shining through us.
In some ways, our star words seem to be pretty ordinary. This past year, my word was, “Listen.” It’s a pretty obvious that listening is important in our relationship with God and with one another. You may also recognize the irony that this would be my word since we all know how much I love to talk. But sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious, reminded, simply, that God is providing everything that we need if we will only pay attention, tune in, notice where God is already at work.
I think this is why I am so drawn to our passage from Isaiah. It is all about the Light that has come into the world at a time when darkness had covered the earth, thick darkness over everyone. The people did not know what light they needed. All they knew is that they were in desperate need. We understand trying to feel our way in the dark, bumping into things, not really being sure of where to find the light switch.
I think this is evident, just reading the news updates or watching even 30 seconds of any one of the presidential debates from any side of the political aisle. It seems that we are all trying to find the light switch. We think to ourselves, maybe the light will come if we just vote for the right candidate or formulate the exact foreign policy, which will bring the peace we are hoping for. And then we get angry and disappointed when the person or policy we believed would make a difference doesn’t actually bring the light we are longing for. So, we continue to march along in the thick darkness.
This morning, Isaiah reminds us of the good news that we need. He proclaims, “Arise and shine for your light has come.” Isaiah knows we are always in need of a wake up call. After all, it has been dark for a while. It is easy to start to believe that this darkness is normal and inevitable. So, he tells us, “Lift up your eyes and look around.” Stop chasing what seems to be the light in every direction, and recognize that the True light is already here. Pay attention! Start looking in the right places because the light is all around you.
On a day when we celebrate wise men following the star and bringing their gifts to the holy family, it’s important to remember that it took them more than 12 days of following the star to actually find Jesus. They saw the star when it first appeared but it wasn’t a quick journey to the manger. Though we only get a few verses about their trip, we can guess that following the star wasn’t a smooth ride. There were a lot of bumps along the way. We know for sure that King Herod did his part to interrupt their journey. And I can imagine sand storms, having to travel out of the way to search for water or food, possible camel “break-downs,” and given the fact that cold and flu season comes around ever year, even an upper respiratory illness or two, all of these disruptions got in their way of their following. Life slows us down at times.
But if the journey of the wise men teaches us anything about following the star, it is to keep looking up. No matter how thick the darkness gets, no matter how many bumps and pot holes might be out there waiting for us, if we will remember to keep looking up, the star and its light will still be there. The star has been there all along, ready to guide us, ready to bring warmth and light into whatever darkness we may be facing.
I spent a long Christmas Day working at the hospital last week. All of the staff were hoping and praying that it would be an uneventful day, but about 12 o-clock noon we got word that there had been a house explosion, probably from a gas leak, and everyone in the family, including four children, who had gathered for Christmas lunch was injured. The worst patients who likely would not survive would be heading our way over the next few hours.
Many of the soldiers that I work with, particularly the ones who have seen the horror of combat, often come to the chaplain in hopes of sorting out the darkness they have encountered. Why did those children have to suffer, they ask? How could God let this happen, they demand, especially on Christmas Day of all the days? If I have learned anything in these fives years of military chaplaincy, it is that sometimes there are no good answers to speak. This is where the star words do their best work. Because often there is really nothing to say that will make the darkness any easier to deal with. But there is something for us to do. We can lift up our eyes and look around. We can notice the gifts that God has given us, the ones that shine through even the thickest darkness. The gratefulness, the empathy, the vision, the grace, and the listening, and those are just my star words from these past five years. Imagine all of our star words coming together. Imagine the impact as we reflect this holy light further and further.
And if there is one thing I know about PCC, it is that reflecting the light of the star is exactly what you will continue to do in this New Year. Whether it is manning the winter emergency shelter in the coming months, packing backpacks every week so that kids in the neighborhood won’t go hungry, knitting baby hats for Brooke Army Medical Center’s neonatal unit, and all the many ways that you are reflecting the light of the star, this is our response to the darkness.
Arise and shine for our light has come. May we lift up our eyes and look around and follow the star toward the One who has come to bring us new life, whose brightness shines in the darkness and will never be overcome. May it be so. J Amen