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In the Eye of the Storm

If someone makes a reference to “Hurricane Hazel” in our home these days, we’re apt to assume that Hazel, our 4-month old puppy, has gotten into some kind of new mischief, like yesterday afternoon when Hazel got hold of a roll of paper towels and shredded it so thoroughly that it looked like a ticker tape parade had passed through our galley kitchen.

“Hurricane Hazel” could also be a reference to a historic hurricane that struck the East Coast of the United States in October 1954. The great Lutheran preacher Edmund Steimle, in a Christmas Eve sermon titled, “The Eye of the Storm”, described his own first-hand experience of Hurricane Hazel when it hit his hometown of Philadelphia.

In Steimle’s words,

Unlike most hurricanes, which lose much of their force when they turn inland, this one hit with all the fury of a hurricane at sea: drenching rains, screaming winds, trees uprooted, branches flying through the air, broken power lines crackling on the pavement.

It was frightening.

Then suddenly there was a let-up, a lull. Shortly after, all was still. Not a leaf quivered. The sun even broke through briefly. It was the eye of the storm.

“All was calm, all was bright.”

And then all hell broke loose again: Branches and trees crashing down, the screaming winds, the torrential rain, the power lines throwing spark on the pavement. But that was a breathless moment, Steimle wrote, when we experienced the eye of the storm.”

Steimle went on to say that Christmas itself is like the experience of the eye of the storm. Before Jesus’ birth—long before—there was Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt, followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon. There was the oppression at the hands of the Greeks and later of the Romans. It was a stormy history.

And then, following the calm of Jesus’ birth, there was the massacre of the male children under the age of two by King Herod, there were schemes to end Jesus’ life, and, in the end, there was the crucifixion.

It was a stormy time, and Jesus’ birth was the eye of the storm.

Steimle’s metaphor of the eye of the storm seems especially pertinent for our own time. We know first-hand how Christmas is often juxtaposed with tragedy. The 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami that killed nearly a quarter of a million people took place on the day after Christmas. This year December 14th will mark the eleventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

And the land in which Jesus was born is no less turbulent today than it was in Jesus’ time. As I write there is hope that a truce between Israel and Hamas will be extended still further and that many more hostages will be released, but the war itself continues and the prospects for a long-term peace seem as remote as they have ever been.

Is the Christmas story simply a misleading calm in the midst of the storm that falsely lures people out of safety before the rest of the storm strikes, or is it an intimation of the deepest truth we know?----that in the midst of everything and in spite of everything, there is a peace that passes understanding.

I wish, more than anything, that I could declare to you that all the storms we face are over, but I cannot. What I can tell you is that God is with us in the midst of the storm.

What I can do is to remind us that we are in the season of Advent, a time when we remember the word of the angels who said, “Fear not.” They said this because Jesus was coming into the world, and because Jesus embodies the perfect love that casts out fear.

I can tell you that in spite of everything, Christmas is coming. And on Christmas we rejoice in the fact that the storm—the destruction, the violence, the fear, the grief, the hopelessness—does not have the last word.

But God—who gives us this peace in the midst of the storm—has the last word.

And the last word is the Word that became flesh and lived among us.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Jack


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