December 29, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Isaiah 63: 7-9, Matthew 2:13-23
I hope that you all enjoyed a lovely Christmas filled with much joy and peace. As we gather on this Sunday, just a few days after all the celebration, we are invited in our reading from Isaiah to think about the kindness of God. This morning’s reading from Isaiah invites us to consider the compassion and empathy of God. Kindness, compassion, and empathy are words that often show up in the realm of psychology and/or self-help. They seem like human words, human attributes. But today we are reminded that these ways of being are also of God. Let us pray, O God, we are grateful for this Season of love and hope. Teach us your ways of compassion; encourage us to be people of compassion and to accept the kindness of others. Inspire us to spread message of peace. Amen.
We can be thankful for this reminder of God’s compassion as the text from Isaiah is set against the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby fleeing to Egypt as Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children. The world is full of people and systems, driven by fear and vengeance, who will do all they can to extinguish joy and light and love. The world can be heartbreakingly cruel; the world desperately needs kindness, compassion, and empathy.
This week after Christmas we focus on Compassionate Joy. It might be helpful to define what compassion is. In a book on self-compassion, professor and psychologist Kristin Neff writes, “Compassion, then, involves the recognition and clear seeing of suffering. It also involves feelings of kindness for people who are suffering, so that the desire to help—to ameliorate suffering—emerges. Finally, compassion involves recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is.”
This understanding of compassion is so consistent with an understanding of who God is and what God calls us to be. God recognizes and sees our suffering. As Isaiah writes, “In all their distress God too was distressed.” And over and over again we see God’s desire to help us, to save us from our trials. In Jesus, God comes to us, enters into our shared human condition. We are called to do the same for others. We respond to the cruelty in our world with kindness, compassion, and empathy. We respond to the cruelty of our world with joy. Against the evils of the word we shout, we cry out, we overcome. We join our voices with God, angels, and saints to usher in the kin-dom.
Sadly, it would be easy this week to only focus on the cruelty in the world. We may be weary from the celebration and how easy it is to name all the “herods” of our time and age. with the story of Jesus’ family fleeing with him to Egypt in order to save his life. So what’s joy got to do with it? The Hebrew root for “joy” that is used 54 times in the Hebrew scriptures–ranan (pronounced raw-nan’)–means “to shout, to cry out” and to “overcome.” Our shouting for joy helps train our lungs and gives us the courage to shout aloud for the overcoming of injustice. How might we use our exuberance for the righting of wrongs for the sake of the wonders of God’s love to come upon the earth? Let us try to remember all that we have learned about joy: elusive joy, hopeful joy, loving joy, unabashed joy, peaceful joy, incarnate joy, compassionate joy. Joy still abides, it runs deep and wide.
“Angels Still Appear” — a poem by Ann Weems 
Angels still appear to those ready to receive blessings
in spite of the barren impossibility of their lives.
Elizabeth still recognizes Jesus and calls him Lord,
receiving him to her heart,
in spite of the distraction of her own blessing.
Blessings still come
To those who believe
That nothing is impossible In the hand of God.
Mary still gives birth,
Not just every Advent,
Mary still gives birth to this Child
Who advents into hearts, Unexpectedly and forever.
Herods still live who would kill this Child,
but Mary and Joseph still flee into the desert, and the night,
to protect the One given into their keeping.
Doors still slam in the Inns of this world,
Herods still plot to kill,
Deserts and darkness
Still threatens our safety, But God still lives.
In spite of war and terror,
Mary gives birth To the Prince of Peace.
In spite of hunger, Mary gives birth To the Bread of Life.
 Ann Weems, From Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light: Poetry for Worship, Study, and Devotion (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 29-30.
Where do you see compassionate joy: in your life, in your church, in your community, in the world?
New Year’s Blessing
by Joyce Rupp
I hope for you in this new year:
That the single, most significant dimension of life is your relationship with the Source of Goodness who never ceases to sing love songs to your soul,
That you find meaning, purpose, and vitality in what you do daily,
That you treasure your loved ones and let them know how dear they are to you,
That you make choices and decisions that reflect your truest self,
That you look in the mirror at least once a day and smile in happy amazement,
That you remember relationships are what count above all else – more than work or money, or all the material things we spend so much time tending,
That you live in an uncluttered manner, enjoying the freedom to be content,
That you keep your sense of humor when things don’t go the way you want,
That you find adventure in each new day and marvel at the wonders of creation which constantly present themselves to you,
That you never give up on yourself when others turn away or do not understand,
That you are attentive to the health of your body, mind and spirit,
That you take risks and accept the growth-full challenges that come to you,
That you draw on your inner strength and resiliency when you are in need,
That you carry peace within yourself, allowing it to slip into the hearts of others so our planet becomes a place where violence, division, and war are no more.
 Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (p. 10).