December 21, 2016 Sermon: The Longest Night Service

December 21, 2016

Longest Night Service

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Matthew 11:28-29

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

Growing up in Washington D.C. and the in the suburbs of Washington D.C., I remember the first time I noticed the milky way in the night sky.  I was sixteen on my first mission trip to a tiny town in upstate New York.  Our first night there, I walked outside and there it was, the galaxy like an arm wrapped around the whole world.

When you walk outside tonight you will see the moon lit up by our sun which is 93 million miles away from where you are standing.  The next nearest star to us is Proxima Centauri which is over four light years away, or about 25 trillion miles.

At the fastest we can currently travel in space it would take 81,000 years to reach it.

Our sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. And at current count, the universe has 2 trillion galaxies.

In the face of the immensity of the universe, the immensity of God’s creation, it is very possible, as one human being standing and looking at the night sky, to feel insignificantly small.

But that makes the incarnation, God becoming a human being, God with us, all the more astonishing.

God, who is infinitely big, far bigger than our expanding universe, became as small and fragile and insignificant as any other ordinary human life.

And for what purpose?

That we might know that we are not insignificant.  That we are, and each life is, of infinite worth – we are worth living for and worth dying for.

You, standing outside, gazing up at the night sky, you are called “beloved” by God.  Every person that we loved and lost this year and in years past, they too were of infinite worth, and called “beloved.”

In this time of Advent waiting we are reminded that God, the maker of earth and heaven, the creator of galaxies, becomes small, draws near to us, calls us family, and makes a home with us, and never leaves our side.

This is just what the psalmist wrote about in the psalm we read.

Psalm 121 is called a psalm of ascent, likely used by those going on a journey, perhaps a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem.

It is a psalm for those who journey through unknown territory towards a holy ending place.  One commentator calls this psalm “a psalm for sojourners”[1] – a sojourner is someone temporarily out of place, someone who finds themselves away from home and comforts, away from the familiar, but not away forever.

A sojourner passes through unfamiliar territory, and that can be a vulnerable and uncertain place to be.

The psalmist begins by lifting their eyes to the hills.  The hills have been interpreted in many ways over the years.

Perhaps the hills stand between us and our destination – the hardest part of the journey lies ahead of us – we must cross those hills, and walk through the high and rough places.

Perhaps those hills hold dangers, bandits who might overrun us as we journey, and so we look at those hills and we are afraid of what the future holds.

Perhaps those hills are where Jerusalem sits and the psalmist is on his way there, on a holy pilgrimage to a holy place, and so we look to the hills, hopeful that our time of traveling will be over and we will back on safe and solid ground with God.

Perhaps the hills represent God’s creation, and the psalmist looks around at the landscape, at the vastness of creation and wonders, “Am I all alone?”

And what follows is a question, “From where will my help come?”

It is a question we have perhaps asked ourselves, “Where will help come from? Where can I get help? Where can I look for help? Where will support come from?   Peace come from?  Hope come from?”

The first two verses offer us this perfect mirror reflection of question and answer– “From where will my help come?  My help comes the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  In the Hebrew the literal word order is more poetic and precise:

“I-lift my-eyes to-the-hills
from-where shall-come my-help
my-help from-with YHWH
maker of-heaven and-earth.”

The answer to the question is immediate and sure.  There is no pause or hesitation.

Help comes from God, the maker and ruler and sustainer of all things.

God who is bigger than the immensity of the universe.

This God is our help.  This God will not forget us, or ignore us.

This God will never fall asleep on us.  This God travels beside us in our journeys, when we travel far from home, when we pass through the unfamiliar and the painful, when we get lost, when we return – this God walks in front and behind and beside us.

This God will hold our lives.  This God will keep our going out and our coming in, from this time on and forever more. Amen.

[1] James Limburg, Psalms for Sojourners, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2002), p. 70.