Sermons That Work

No Coincidences, Christmas 2 – 2003

January 05, 2003


There are no coincidences. Each of us has had times when we have been struck by the oddness of events in our lives. An unexpected visit or a chance meeting connects us with people we haven’t been in touch with for many years; we apply for a job and discover the interviewer knows a mutual friend. These incidents happen to us often, and we often say, “What a coincidence!” But there are no coincidences.

In the Gospel today Matthew shows us a pattern of how God works in our lives. It appears that God’s plan is disrupted by the hatred of Herod because it causes Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Another dream calls them back to Israel and a prophecy is fulfilled. A third move is necessary. In fear of Herod’s replacement, the family moves to Nazareth where Jesus grows up, living into the prophets’ claim that the Messiah would be called “a Nazorean.”

Our lives can be determined by our free choices. We can, and often do, base them on what’s best for us or for others who love us. God expects us to do that. But many times we wonder, “What does God want me to do?” It is as if there was only one choice to make, and we have to be certain to make the correct one or fail. God is not like that. God leads us to choices and frequently there are several to choose from, all equally right in accordance with God’s plan. This is because God’s plan will prevail. That is the message of today’s Gospel.

In the Collect (prayer for the day) in the Episcopal Church for this Second Sunday after Christmas, we praise God for having “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature.” Human nature includes many things, but at its best it includes freedom, choices, fulfillment, and joy. These are expressed in the readings for today. The depiction in Jeremiah is one of a great diversity of people returning from exile to a place of abundance. Paul, writing in Ephesians, talks about the dignity and power of faith and our destiny of riches in our inheritance with the saints. All of this language paints a portrait of the best of humanity — humanity guided by God, a completion of God’s plan for God’s people.

But there are no coincidences. It is never by luck or chance that we stumble into the Divine plan. We know that God has been at work in each of us from the moment we were formed in our mother’s womb, even before that. Each of us is called to the same place, to a community being saved where we work out our own salvation. Each of us is given gifts to complement that community, and every one of us has a part in the story.

So, it’s not who we meet, or what job we take, or who we marry that matters. These are choices God gives to us. But surrounding all the choices is the framework of God’s plan for salvation, a plan that will be carried out with our involvement.

It is the New Year. Most of us would look back at 2002 and move on. We should move on, with a feeling of anticipation and hope, because each year moves us closer to the completion of God’s plan of salvation. In this new beginning of the year we can rejoice in God’s mercies, and the fact that God’s work includes us.

We can also rejoice that God’s work includes others. One great theme in the Gospel is the immigrant family. Joseph and Mary, in fact, are refugees, fleeing from political and personal danger to a place of relative freedom. So, what might we make of the people who come to places of freedom today fleeing from oppression? How is God using them to bring about the plan of salvation for all? What does it mean that we are seeing the largest migration of people the Western world has ever known? We see only the political pieces of the current changes in our cultures as new people move into them. What does God see?

One woman remarked recently that she had become acquainted with a new Hispanic family in town. “They’re marvelous,” she said. “They have so much time for each other, and the family is everything.” She had received a renewed image in meeting them of what family values might mean. A church experienced a number of newly arrived, resettled Sudanese that came to their church. The deep faith of these Sudanese people and their singing moved everyone. So, God shows us more of God and calls us to new places through our encounter with others, often in those who are homeless and poor in our eyes.

There are no coincidences. Every encounter with someone, each connection we find, is part of our being connected with the God that made us. Let us resolve this year to look forward to meeting God in the people we meet. Let us remember to seek and serve Christ in all persons. And let us rejoice that in doing so we are participating in the plan God has for each of us, the plan that will one day bring us home.

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Christopher Sikkema

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