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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C 2019 - Luke 2:5-19

Back in the 1960s there was a television program called Dragnet

Where two detectives would solve crime by thorough investigation. 

One of the detectives played by the Actor Jack Webb, 

would say something that became the signature line of the show. 

He would begin his investigations with the words, “The facts ma’am; just the facts”.

He would remind people 

that what he wanted was facts, 

because of our tendency to avoid them.

It has been impossible to avoid the accusations made over the past few years, 

that many of the things that were agreed upon as facts are really fiction.

Global warming? Despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists and increasing evidence that their predictions are coming true

For many, climate-change is a conspiracy to destroy the oil companies.

Vaccinations? Despite the overwhelming consensus of medical experts and decades of evidence that vaccinations are safe, for some doctors and many parents, 

vaccinations are really a threat to the health and safety of our children.

Brexit? Perhaps not a burning issue for us, but despite the admission of pro-Brexit politicians that they misled the British people in the campaign for leaving the European Union, the realization that the British economy will suffer and of course the threat of renewed sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, for many Brexit will be the best thing to happen to England in decades.

The state of our country? Definitely a burning issue for us, for while many are convinced that our country is on the brink of totalitarianism, for many many others in the America Things are, well, great again.

My purpose here is of course not to debate the merits of either side of these arguments; for that we have newspapers, books Fox, MSN and CNN.

My purpose here is to point out that all those years ago, Jack Webb was not just a TV character. He was also a prophet.

Why? Because was right. 

We do not live in a world that is interested in the facts;

 we use facts to support what we already believe to be the truth.

And thus we really hear only what we want to hear. 

For the people around Jesus that day in the temple, what they wanted to hear was compliments. 

They knew their temple had a long history. 

It had been built by king Solomon in the 9th century BC, 

And destroyed by the Babylonians. 

It had been rebuilt after their miraculous return from exile in the 6th century BC

 And in the first century AD it had just completed a decades long renovation project under King Herod. During which the very stones were covered with the votive prayers of the people who paid for them.

Moreover, it was the only place where the Jewish people could offer sacrifice to God. 

If they had been New Yorkers the temple would have been their St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge all wrapped into one.

But then Jesus informed them that what it really was, was their World Trade Center 

and the day was coming when the temple would be destroyed.

It does not say how the people reacted to this news. 

But then we know how they reacted. 

How would any of us have reacted in 2001 if we had been told that the World trade Center would soon be destroyed? 

How did President Bush himself react when he was told that Al Qaeda was planning to attack the US with hijacked planes?

How do any of us react when the facts don’t fit our convictions?

We cling to our fantasies and reject the facts, 

as well the one who gives them to us.

And this we do know. From Jesus’ own story.

For If there is one thing the four Gospels agree upon, 

It is that one of the accusations against Jesus at his trial 

was that he would destroy the temple. 

Of course that is not what he said. But that was beside the point. 

They were hearing only what they wanted to hear.

We also know this from today’s gospel itself,

because some preachers use this gospel, 

to claim that destruction and persecution that Jesus said would come with the temple’s destruction are happening now. 

And that even though Jesus was speaking to people two thousand years ago, 

he was really speaking to us, at the beginning of the 21st Century.

This is strange, because we also know

That by the time the four Gospels were being written, 

the Romans already had destroyed the temple in 70 AD.

And believers in Jesus were already being persecuted for their faith.

Thus for the first Christians, Jesus’ words were not predictions, they were fact. 

They were spoken first and foremost to them; not to us.

Thus, to use Jesus’ words spoken in the past, as some would do, 

to frighten us in the present is a misuse of scripture. 

And yet, if we dismiss Jesus’ words 

As first century sermons having NO connection to us, as others would do, 

Then we abuse his words every bit as much as those preachers do 

When they take them as predictions for the next ten years.

Perhaps we should take a cue from Dragnet and stick to the facts. 

Listen to the words of Jesus himself, 

Whose only real prediction about the future would seem to be,

 If any thing, given what he says, more of the same. 

Temples are destroyed, so are world trade centers. 

Peace gives way to war, whether it is Judea against Rome in the first century, 

or just about every nation in the Mideast against just about every other one in the 21st.  

Good people inevitably suffer injustice, as Jesus did at his trial, 

as countless do in our country and throughout the world every day.

And what is more, if anything it seems to be getting worse.

And yet Jesus does not use his words to frighten; but to encourage. 

Again and again he tells his listeners that no matter how bad it gets, 

God will be with them, 

God will guide them, 

Even in death God will not let them go.

And that is a message as pertinent to us in the twenty first century as it was in the 1st.

Why? Because we often do not cling to things as meaningful as a temple.

Nowadays what passes for security 

might be as fragile as an elderly parent, 

or as unstable as a stock portfolio.

Our homes might be our castle, 

but tell people that when they get evicted.

The people who walk past our church every day, 

especially young people 

who have long since stopped even caring what goes on in here, 

believe that they will never grow old, never get sick, 

think that they have no need of family, community, commitment 

because their free, young lives will never change, 

And yet the fact is, 

it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that they will; they always do,

and when they do, 

while we might want to know what our future holds, 

to the point of believing anyone who claims to predict it, 

be it a political pundit, 

economic guru or apocalyptic preacher, 

so that we can shape our future and thus tell ourselves that we are in control.

The fact is that we cannot know what our future holds. 

All we can know is what Jesus actually did try to tell anyone who would listen that day at the temple. 

That God is in control.

And that is important. 

Because Jesus’ words reveal a world 

which refuses to recognize that fact 

and places its trust in anything and everything else.

That is the world where cities are attacked, seas rise, buildings destroyed, wars waged, homes lost, and people sicken and die for lack of health care.

They challenge us to consider a world 

in which people do place their trust in the one he calls Father.

And they invite us to work for that world 

Where our cities might be safe again, and communities rebuilt. 

Where peace is pursued, homes secured, and people are valued and cared for.

Will we succeed? Who knows! That is the future. And that is just the point. 

We don’t know what the future holds. 

But by listening to what Jesus actually says in the present

we know something thing far more important. 

We know who holds our future. 

And as often as we have let go of God, God it would seem, never lets us go.

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