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All In A Call

Title: All in a Call 

Scripture: Matthew 2:13–23 

Prayer  - Gracious and loving God, awaken us to the mystery of being here and guide as we enter the quiet of your presence and peace. May we open ourselves to the joy of your presence in this moment, to hear the word of God speaking to us. Amen.  


My first telephone, and this will illuminate my date, was a transparent neon pink phone that plugged into the wall with a long cord extending the phone dialer to landline. It was a beloved, coveted device that connected me to anyone, anywhere, though at the time all I wanted to do was call all of my friends that I had just seen 20 minutes earlier at school. I used to call up my friends, sometimes on a three person call, and just keep the line going for hours. Some of you may relate, some of you may cringe. I don’t even know what we talked about, I don’t think for much of the time we were even talking. But we were connected, and I was walking through the house or my room with my friend right in my ear.  

The ability to call someone is a convenience I have always known. With the grasp of a telephone or a cell phone, there is little I can’t access. In any emergency I can get help, anytime I miss someone I can hear their voice, if I have a question I can call an expert, if I need to make an appointment, pay a bill, make a plan, connect to travel, all I have to do is call. The way we think of being on the phone has shifted since my first transparent neon pink phone, but the importance that comes with the connectivity of the phone certainly hasn’t. A very important part of our life is the ability to call someone. And what does it mean to call?  

According to the Oxford Dictionary, in the 1870s, when first used in reference to telephones, a “call” meant the noise made by a telephone demanding to be answered. And in an 1878 issue of the journal Design and Work, they described the call as an apparatus “to enable the sound of the voice while singing to be heard all over a room, used as a ‘call,’ instead of an electric bell.” In early use, to “call” was sometimes “in reference to speaking to a person who answers an invitational calling upon - a knock, ring, etc., the notion being originally encompassed by a call in.” One of the earliest written uses of “call” in this sense is from Shakespeare’s Richard II in 1597: “Today as I came by I called there” … The noun use came later, in the mid-1600s when a “call” and “to pay a call” meant “to make a visit.” 

For the same reason, Ammon Shea, author of The First Telephone Book, says Thomas Edison urged people answering the phone to greet with a “hello” instead of Alexander Bell’s preferred greeting: “Ahoy.” And the first phone book ever published, by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878, told users to call and initiate a conversation by greeting with a hello and ending with “that is all.” For a telephone call was meant to imitate the kind of call people had already known: The call upon, the call in, the effort made to check in, to seek help or guidance, to be in each other’s presence.  

In its essence, whether over the phone or in person, a call bridges the distance between us and another. 

I was really curious about the history of the word call and calling, because it’s also a term we use a lot in Christianity - and it’s a term used for Joseph’s dream and consequential flee to Egypt, which we are meditating on today. I can’t remember when I first heard the word call or calling in a church context, it feels so ingrained in our faith tradition. We use it to talk about our ancestors in Hebrew stories who called on God in times of trouble, we use it to talk about the psalmist calling to God from the temple, we use it to talk about God calling prophets to God’s work. In these modern days we use call to describe our own vocations - our calling - our work in this world as a piece of God’s work here.  

In its essence, whether we are following our ancestors to call on God or finding our own purpose in this world, for us, our call bridges the distance between us and God.  

Unlike Joseph, I have never had a dream that warned me of what was to come. Although at many points in my life I would have done near to anything to know what was coming next. If you have ever been at any consequential crossroads, you understand this. If you have had to wonder where your next meal is coming from, when your check is going to be deposited into your bank account, where you are going to live in a year from now, when your parent will see you again, where your child is going to be deployed, how will this work out - if you wondered something like this, you understand the desire for that kind of dreaming. The dream that tells you what God wants you to do.  

A voice clearly guiding you in one direction over another would be helpful. But that is not how things typically work. We arrive at the crossroad and we move by our faith, our instincts, and make a choice. We live knowing that the decisions we make, while often guided by a deep sense of God’s guidance, are often still very much our own. We always have a choice and I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I don't want it. I expect God's revelations. I expect clarity to come in ways that leave me choice-less, powerless, and flattened in awe. I want a divine encounter that will free me of all doubts for all time, so that I make every decision with incredible faith and confidence. 

As the Rev. Debie Thomas says, “God has not insulted humanity with so little agency; we get to choose. We have to choose.  No matter how many times God shows up, we’re free to ignore. No matter how often God calls us Beloved, we’re at liberty to retreat into self-loathing. No matter how many times we remember our baptisms, we’re free to waste our days, dredging out of the water the very sludge we first threw in. No matter how often we reaffirm our baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, we’re still at liberty to reject each other and walk away.” 

We are called upon by God, and this calling is an invitation. We then have the power to choose to accept it or not. And decide to live into it with our choices: how are we bridging the distance between us and another? How are we bridging the distance between us and God?  

On the heels of Jesus’ birth, Joseph has a dream, but he and Mary are human, and must also find their calling in making a choice. As we heard at Christmas, king Herod was an incredibly violent king. So, God calls upon Joseph, and is in his presence, urging him to leave. When Joseph hears what will happen to his newborn, he chooses to follow the instructions to flee immediately. The flight to Egypt was unexpected in so many ways. Now that the awaited child has arrived in starlight and received some pretty interesting gifts, the family must run for their lives.  

“A seeming detour into Egypt is actually a prophetic call. Potential doom looms over these early verses of Jesus’ welcome to the world - it is not a unanimous celebration but fear that this child would subvert the order of the world, that a mere child would weaken the powerful. The arbitrary violence of Herod would have been entirely familiar to ancient people living under Rome’s long imperial shadow. We Americans tend to trust that authorities are required to act to protect citizens. However, no such trust could have existed within ancient Rome’s seemingly unending power. 

Mary and Joseph, in the wake of Herod’s violent reign, need to respond.  And it’s God in Joseph's dream, who invites the choice to escape. Fleeing Herod, who wants to destroy the young Messiah, is their option, as they looked over their shoulder, weary and wondering every step of the way. After Herod dies, they return to Israel and must again choose to what to do next. Joseph and Mary’s trust in the God’s promise leads them to move by their faith, their instincts, and make a choice. Their trust in God’s providence emerges from a faith that expects God to reign in a world where the dominance of the powerful seems unchangeable. With that in mind, they make their choice. They go to Nazareth. And it is in their choice that the distance between Jesus and the prophetic call is bridged.  

Amid the joys of the Christmas season, the call of Joseph and Mary are a ripe reminder that if the world would have already known what was to come, things might have been different. Tragedy and disappointment are too often the orders of the day, even amidst the revelry of this season of joy. As the poet Jane Kenyon once wrote, “It might have been otherwise.” As the evangelist Gospel author Matthew might have added, “… but what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled.”  

We don’t know what is to come, and we don’t know how our choices fulfill God’s promise to us. But, if we step into our calling with faith, God promises they do. Think back to all of the humans involved in the story of Christ’s birth as it unfolds—Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, the shepherds, Herod, the Magi. God intervenes in their lives in mysterious and startling ways, often at a crossroads, offering an invitation. 

As we begin this new year, how are we living into our own call, listening to the Spirit of God as we find ourselves invited with choices? It’s not likely we will get a dream outlining for us what to do - but I hope we, too, trust God’s promise as we make choices this year. And that we fully live into our own call, using our faith and our instincts to choose everyday to bridge the distance between us and each other, and us and God, reveling in God’s presence in calling upon us. That is all. Amen.  


A (Shockingly) Short History of Hello by Robert Krulwich for NPR, published on February 17, 2011.  

Choosing Epiphany by Rev. Debie Thomas, published on January 6, 2019.  

Commentary on Matthew 2: 13-23 by Karyn Wiseman, published on December 23, 2013.  

Commentary on Matthew 2: 13-23 by Eric Barreto, published on December 26, 2010.  

Pay her a call? Or call her up? by Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman for Grammarphobia, published on December 16, 2016. 

What Is A Calling? By Angie Ward for Creative Studio, published on March 9, 2020. 

Speaker: Rev. Ashley Bair

January 1, 2023
Matthew 2:13-23

Rev. Ashley Bair

Interim Associate Pastor

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