When I was in college, I was a member of a 50 person African American Gospel choir, where I learn so much more than about how to sing. I learned about myself and about God. Many of the members came from the more evangelical and Pentecostal faith traditions and so every practice morphed into spontaneous worship as the members experienced the power of God through their music. Congregationalists don’t do spontaneous worship. This is not what our faith tradition is known for. And being that this was my first experience with this type of tradition, I felt uncomfortable and a little scared.
After class number one, I quietly slipped to the back of the crowd of individuals crying, speaking in tongues, getting the laying on of hands, and slipped out the door and walked the half mile back to my dorm. I was definitely uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to process the experiences I had seen in those moments. And I certainly didn’t know what to do with what that discomfort said about me. Was I not as open to the possibilities of God as others were? Was I not open enough to the beauty of diversity with which people seek out the Holy? When I left that night, I was not planning on returning the next week. This was not for me.
But when Wednesday night came around again, I found myself continuing to attend. I wanted to continue learning about God through the eyes of people who were very different from my traditional background. It changed my life and my spiritual life forever. I never spoke in tongues or openly participated but I learned that God communicates with each of us differently and just as we need him to. I learned to be open to the possibilities of God in a large and diverse world. This is the same openness possessed by the wise men at Jesus’ birth.
They came from a very different faith and culture than that of the Jewish family that Jesus was born into. Yet spiritually their hearts and souls were open to the possibilities of God, and because of that, they were able to witness and experience the miraculous hope of the Christ child even though they were most certainly Gentiles worshipping other gods and goddesses. They were still open to the work of God in their lives and the world.
Isaiah was another man, who like the wise men was uniquely open to the word and work of God. What we see today is that he was one of many prophets participating in the religious ceremonies of Jewish cultic practice where they used incense and chanted prayers to invoke a presence with the Holy. Isaiah got to experience something truly unique and wonderful and from that point he knew that God had something special in mind for his ministry. I always wonder whether we would be open enough to the signs of God to notice when he was doing some great in our world. But we too can be open to the movement of God in our world through our spiritual practices. So what are the possible religious practices that we participate in that open us to the possibilities of God all around?(give time to congregation to respond) It could be deep prayer, moments of meditation, chanting, song, scripture reading, devotionals. The list goes on and on but I fear that so many people out there are not taking the time to connect, to reach out to God asking for the inspiration and the sight to see his works.
We shouldn’t be fearful of that intense connection, as Isaiah was or as I was when I experienced others participating in such spiritual practices that seemed so foreign to me. We are called to look to God in our hope, in our times of need, and in our curiosity. We are called to bravely seek God, as Isaiah and the Magi did, in our lives. We are called to remember that through all the experiences of this life God is present and creating something new. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this in one of his Christmas sermons, “Through all the Advents of our life, we shall wait and look forward with longing for the day of the Lord, when God says, ‘I am making everything new!’”.
Do we still wait upon the Lord, searching, and hoping that he is doing something new and wonderful for our world? This year let’s take some time to connect with God on a deeper level. Let’s work to listen and hear God and to recognize his work all around us. Let’s set aside some time to come before the Lord. Let’s set aside some time to connect, to be still, to feel, and to experience the movement of the Spirit in our every day experiences. Let’s be aware and in tune so when God does something new and wonderful we can say as confidently as the wise men, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”.
Be open to God because he may be speaking to you now and you may not even know it. Ask God to open your heart to his leading. He is in this world. His work is being done. And I believe that he is doing something new to make his light shine throughout the lives of all people everywhere and this is our opportunity to be a part of it.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German Theologian, Christmas Sermons.
 Matthew 2: 2, NIV.
(based on Isaiah 6:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-11)