December 26, 2021
Saints, on this first Sunday in the Christmas season… yes, here in the church the Christmas season has just begun… on this first Sunday in the Christmas season our reading from Luke may feel far away from the babe in the manger… but our second reading today from Colossians… I think… takes us back to the heart of what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. So please listen as God continues to speak to you today from the scriptures.
Even though it is just the day after Christmas… and we want to hang out longer in the story of the stable… or at least I do… I had so much fun on Christmas Eve this year… being with people in worship meant so much… let’s start this morning with our reading from Luke where twelve years have already flown by. Blink of an eye, right. In particular let’s focus in on that first sentence of this morning’s story from Luke… how every year Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Every year they made the arrangements. Took the trip… and entered into the chaos from the crush of all the other people going to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple and celebrate that important holy day. Every year they experienced the story of the Passover… the story of the plagues and of the people being released from bondage in Egypt. Every year they heard the story where slavery was left behind… and freedom in God began. Every year they would see the Roman occupation as they came into Jerusalem and would wonder at the meaning… be challenged by how the Passover story and their lived reality collided. What was the faithful response to Rome? And every year, the Passover story likely spoke to them differently as their lives changed and progressed year after year. In hard economic times, the story may have said one thing. In the years when other children came into their family, the story likely spoke another way. As their first born grew older, the story said this and that… as they began to teach and share with their son how this story spoke to their faith… what it meant for them… how it framed the way they saw and interacted with the world around them. Once they were a people bound in slavery. A people without hope or purpose. But then… but then God remembered them and came beside them and cast off their shackles that bound them to death. God, through Moses, led them out of the Egypt and into the wilderness where they would receive God’s Law and learn what it was to be a people of God. Not easily… the people would rebel against God and would time and again reject God’s freedom and long to be back in slavery in Egypt. Year after year after year… the story told and experienced… year after year after year… the story shaping and taking new meaning… transforming them and their lives. Guiding decisions. Taking root in their son in a way that would change the world forever.
Whatever else we might imagine about Mary and Joseph during the Christmas season… this chapter in Luke shows their own devotion to their faith and to their faith traditions… and the importance of family in passing on that same faith to the next generation. Dedication and concerted practice would get Mary and Joseph and their family past the words of the surface of the story of the Passover… and take them into the heart of God that shone underneath the familiar words. That’s what’s so great about these stories. That’s why we tell them over and over again… and it never gets old. It’s how these stories teach us and shape us… how they define our relationship with God… and in defining that relationship… define how we see one another.
Think about the traditions of our church today… the story cycle that comes out during our scripture readings throughout the year… the importance of grounding ourselves in the tradition of Jesus’ story… Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Jesus’ baptism… later Lent, Holy Week and Easter… Pentecost and so much of the rest of the year spent in exploring the meaning of teachings and events and history… and how all this is still connected to our experience of being human beings in the particular currents of our own time. Whenever we think that the Christmas story is nice and quaint… but really not relevant… something always comes along and something clicks like it hasn’t before. Maybe the angels’ message of peace says something… speaks to your heart in a way that lights up something in your soul. A message of peace in troubled times… a message that at this moment can’t be ignored… can’t be put back in the boxes with all the other trappings of the holiday celebrations. Peace and the need to be a peacemaker may be the gift that comes from Christmas to you this year. Or another message that stirs you… motivates your faith.
Every year Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem not because they had an inside source that made the Passover lamb like you wouldn’t believe… but because that story… that Passover story… told again and again… experienced again and again… gave them a wisdom and a knowledge… a way of seeing and being in the particular currents of their time. They knew better than to stay at the surface and the words and the events there… they knew to stay close to the heart of God that shone underneath. So, as they walked the streets of Jerusalem, it wasn’t the Roman soldiers… or the occupation that controlled their reality. They lived and moved by God’s words and God’s will. When Jesus later teaches the lesson… to give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor and to God what belongs to God… I can hear those words first coming out of the mouth of his father Joseph on one of those Passover trips to Jerusalem… the boy Jesus aware of the Roman threat… seeing for himself the soldiers and their threat of violence… feeling as a young boy does all awash in his emotions… his father’s hand rests on his shoulder and these words of faith are spoken. Son, remember Pharaoh… Pharaoh too believed the people belonged to him… that they were his to do with as he pleased… but we were not Pharaoh’s people… we were God’s people… held close to God’s heart not by our own perfection, but by God’s steadfast love. Remember that son. I will, Father. Son, all the power the Romans possess is an illusion… they rely upon the sword to enforce their will. But the sword and its death are no threat to God. Faith is always the way and will always reveal the ineffectiveness of the sword. Remember that Son. I will, Father.
We come to Christmas year after year… and it’s not the forgotten presents opened on Christmas morning… or the twinkly lights and standard Christmas music 24/7 on the radio or the other surface celebrations… it’s the heart of God that shines underneath that we truly long to connect with through the stress and the mayhem of the holiday season. The Spirit of Christmas that can’t be altered by ongoing pandemic and political obtusity… because it is that same Spirit that we seek in dealing with whatever it is that is the big media story that threatens us this year. Even those come and go… but the steadfast love of God lasts forever. The shepherds come to a stable in Bethlehem. God’s message reaches them… tells them about this act of God that has happened. The promised Emmanuel… God with us. And off they go to find a simple family. People like them. Not to a palace or to a place where only a certain few are allowed and able to enter. Not seeking a God for those who can afford the privilege or who have the right connections. Shepherds out with the sheep. A family who finds no room at the inn. A God who breaks the bonds of slavery to sin and with forgiveness and grace speaks a message of peace… peace to a people primed to love even as they are not loved by the world. A savior is born that will lead them… will lead all from slavery into the wilderness where they will learn what it is to be the people of God. And the shepherds go off into the night glorifying and praising God!
What a story to hear and experience year after year after year. What a story to have shape our faith… to ground our devotion and dedication to God. And I bet… I bet that every year that same little story… twenty verses in Luke’s gospel… every year if you’re really listening… God speaks just a little differently to you in that story. Different as we start the third year of a pandemic. Different when your children are there with you. Different when in the blink of an eye it is your grandchildren now. In a time of loss. In a time of sorrow. In a time of great joy. The babe in the manger. The same babe. The same manger. A different experience. A different lesson to be learned and taken in and transformed by. A savior is born. Those words ring differently in your ears with each journey to Bethlehem. If you’re still paying attention that is. A savior born. Your savior.
The spiritual gifts of Christmas are there every year under everyone’s tree whether real or artificial. The tree that is. Compassion. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. Love. Love that binds everything together in perfect harmony. Take away love and there is no compassion or kindness or humility or meekness or patience… or even forgiveness. We know this to be true. We’ve witnessed it enough to give real testimony. Take away love and harmony is lost in the cacophony of individualistic noise.
Look, we’ve made the collective journey to Bethlehem this year. We’ve heard the story again this year. The question… the real question is how is it landing in your heart? What spiritual gift is being stirred up as this story intersects with the real world you’re living in today? Maybe you can feel compassion… kindness… maybe the message that is filling your heart is how you need… how we need to work harder for the children we’ve been given. Maybe we ought to be fighting harder to keep our children out of poverty. Maybe in 2022 we might want to shift some of our political priorities… the power of the sword isn’t creating a world envisioned by God… the gross accumulation of wealth by some isn’t creating a world envisioned by God… maybe it’s time to do something different… something a bit unexpected like having a savior be born in a stable… or to live a life where our gratitude is so great it can’t be contained for ourselves alone… where maybe the Word of God finds life and dwells with us… maybe we need to speak and work harder for our children… for their daily bread… for the development of their hearts and minds. Want and ignorance… what a deadly blow to the life of a child. Years of want and ignorance create what kind of adult in the end? Maybe that’s the message that’s shaking you today on this day after Christmas. The child born… this gift from God… was meant to free us from sin for a life abundant… so why would we have a hand in creating slaves to poverty and ignorance? What are we really gaining in return? Christ came into the world in a way that stirs the spirit within… that unleashes gifts… seemingly simple gifts, but gifts that can truly move mountains if… if… whatever we do, in word or deed, we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him. Amen.