Emmanuel: God-is-with-Us Sermon

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Mon, 12/16/2019 - 9:15am

God With Us sermon 12-01-19 at Harbor Church

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


What do the Glass Orb Project, counting seals, birdwatching, and our search for spiritual significance in life have in common? Perhaps more than we might think…

Emanuel, is one of the names we use for God at this time of year - it means ‘God-with-Us’ . It conveys a sense of the omnipresence of the divine, and that we can find evidence of this Presence everywhere and anywhere when we look for it. How we experience this reality is as individual as each one of us. How we seek sacred spaces and transcendental moments ultimately can have a profound effect on the way we live our lives each day.

This is the theme that we will be developing all month long during this Advent season. Each week we will examine a different facet of this simple question:

‘How and where do I experience “God” or the “Divine” in my daily life?.’ and perhaps more important, how does this impact or shape my life?

In this exploration of the spirit, we will share thoughts about things like discovering the Divine outdoors, searching out the Sacred in the ordinary, exploring the Eternal in the everyday, and looking for life connections in Community. I’m combining this Sunday morning focus with our Saturday morning discussion group, God Sightings and with an Advent column in the newspaper, so those are a couple of other opportunities for us to look for God during this holiday season.

The Glass Float Project was created by artist Eben Horton to promote the beauty of Block Island and to give visitors to the island a wonderful healthy activity to do while they are visiting for the day or for extended visits. Hundreds of handmade glass balls (similar to the net floats used by Japanese fishermen) are randomly hidden across the Island. Some are hidden along the beaches of the island and some are carefully placed along the island’s miles of Greenway Trails. It’s a treasure hunt and the rules are simple: If you find one, you get to keep it!

Each year hundreds of people look for glass orbs hoping to find one. And there are over 500 of them hidden around the island. With so many around, why do they seem so hard to find? I’ve been looking for a year and haven’t been lucky yet. It’s almost like they are hiding in plain sight, and we will see them if we are looking in the right places and in the right ways.

I think this is a fair analogy for God sightings. We are surrounded by the Divine. We see Evidence of God, the sacred or intelligent design is everywhere – in nature, the faces of friends, in the activities that occupy our lives. Where do you see this evidence most clearly in your own life?

Expectation. (and Events)

Counting Seals. I’m a a volunteer for the seal monitoring program. TNC and Mystic Aquarium. Every 2 weeks, bike or ride to Sandy point. Don’t always see them. But I hope to. Watching for the bobbing heads in the water the smiling face of a Harbor Seal, the distinctive horsehead shape of a gray seal. Although not always fortunate, I go out expecting to see them. This morning we lit the first Candle of Advent, the candle of expectation and hope. We read from the prophet Jeremiah, who told the people to expect to see the promises of God come true in their lives. Matthew quoted the prophet Isaiah when he spoke of Emmanuel. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah were writing to people who were in the midst of difficult circumstances. And so are many of us. Health issues, loss, estrangement or separation from loved ones are only a couple of the issues that some of us are dealing with. Some of us have other crisis’s in our lives. Are we ready, attentive, alert to everything around you, expecting to God to be with us, to come through for us? Kim Gaffett reminded me that seeing no seals is data too. Even if we aren’t see the promises and presence of God in our present moments, our faith in those promises and that presence can sustain us. And so we can live in expectation and hope.

Birdwatching (and other activities)

Crazy-as-a-Coot walks. Are they crazy? Getting us Early in the morning, sometimes in foul weather, to catch glimpses of these illusive creatures? I don’t know much about different species of birds, but I like to walk on the trails. And I’m learning to identify a couple of species, and as I do, my enthusiasm for this endeavor grows. I know what a Great blue Heron looks like, and now I can say, there goes an LBJ (Little Brown Job)!

Looking for God in unlikely places while engaged in unfamiliar pursuits. It’s easy for many of us to see God in nature, but what about in other less likely places and ways. Technology regularly helps me to see God more clearly. Bible Study Programs. Garmin Bicycle Computer. – getting a little ‘lost’ on purpose, because I know that Garmin will get me home.

Emmanuel, but you will call him Jesus, which means the one who saves. Jesus saves us from our sin nature, and rescues us from different situations. He can also see us ‘home for the holidays’ when we are looking to him as an example and for guidance.

Scanning the Horizon. (keeping our eyes peeled)

Binoculars on the boat. Ferry rides. The macro and the micro. Looking all around us and then zooming in and focusing on evidence of God. The open ocean holds endless possibilities.

The Safe Harbor, entering the port. Through the breakwater. People who live on Block island refer to it as the green and red jetties.

Every visitor that arrives by ferry passed by this landmark, yet how many notice the7 inch green square with the number3 on it or know what it means. Like tourists we can miss these aids to navigation, or not understand their significance in our God sightings if we’re not really looking for them. Like glass orbs we can walk right by them if we don’t have our eyes peeled. we can miss divine moments throughout our day in the same way.

Thanksgiving Dinner (the faces of “God” around the table.)

We just enjoyed a great family holiday. Did you experience any God moments through and with the time you spent with family and friends? Through love and meals and time shared? Through reminiscing about old stories told and retold? IN the joyful faces of the children who hold the promise future for all of us? The presence of God can often be most tangible to us through people, through both the joy and challenges that relationship present us with.

Yes, Seeking God in our lives can be a little like looking for glass orbs, or counting seals, or birdwatching.

Yes God is still Emmanuel, God is still with us. Every Activity, or Event, or relationship can present us with an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the divine in the every day. My prayer for this holiday season is that we will see the sacred all around us, that we will experience God’s eternal presence in each place and every face, and that as a result, we will draw nearer to God and one another, amen.