Tag Archive | Christmas

1st Sunday of Christmas, 2015

1st Sunday of Christmas, year C, 2015 (preached 12/27/15)

first reading:  1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Psalm 148

second reading:  Colossians 3:12-17

gospel reading:  Luke 2:41-52

*On this day I had the honor of being a guest worship leader at a neighboring congregation.


Our gospel reading for today, the story of the child Jesus in the Temple, is the ONLY story in the Bible we have from Jesus’ childhood.

In some ways it is a very unremarkable story.  Not that it isn’t terrifying, especially from Mary and Joseph’s point of view – but it’s an event that has happened to many families – a child going lost.  And there is no divine intervention to fix it – just desperate parents searching.

When most of us read this story we identify with Mary and Joseph.  I certainly do.  My family went through it with my then 5 year old autistic daughter.  We were on a family vacation at the shore and in a split second she went missing on the beach.  She was gone for over an HOUR, while we, the police, life guards and volunteers scoured the beach in search of her.

That hour was one of the most terrifying, horrific and frantic hours of my whole life.

artist: Duccio

artist: Duccio

Jesus was missing for FOUR DAYS.

A day’s journey BACK to Jerusalem from the point at which they realized he wasn’t in their group, and then three days searching Jerusalem.  I can fully understand Mary’s anger and frustration that I’m sure stemmed from intense fear, and as she stated “great anxiety.”

I can imagine her yelling and squeezing Jesus tight at the same time. For four days her son had been lost.  For four days she and Joseph had looked for him with great anxiety. Finally finding him in the Temple, along with the relief and gratitude over what I’m sure were prayers answered, was the typical anger any parent would feel at their older child who didn’t keep up with the group and ended up lost.

But Jesus didn’t respond with gratitude over being found. He doesn’t even seem happy to see them.  His response seems to be more annoyance at their seeming ignorance.  “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

“For crying out loud mom, what have you been doing the past three days, didn’t you know this is where I would be?  What were you thinking?”  Ungrateful pre-teen.

But Jesus had a point.  Where else would they think he’d be?

It’s easy for us to say if WE were searching for Jesus we would look for him in his Father’s house.  It seems obvious, but perhaps it’s not.

Where do we look when WE are the ones searching for Jesus?

Where do we look when we seek peace, a sense of wholeness, completeness?  Where do we look when we need to find security and love?  Where do we look when we need to find our “center” – our “anchor?”

Oftentimes, I’m afraid, we wander around grasping at straws, at anything that will, even temporarily, give us the feeling that we’ve found “it.”  And our culture doesn’t help much.  In our culture Christmas was over Friday, and the only real reason for Christmas in the first place is the next big sale.

We look in a lot of different places to try to find our Jesus.  And we wreak havoc with the first commandment in the process.

We look in the department store for that one thing to buy ourselves that will make us happy.  We go to the car dealership to find the make and model that will make us cool.  We go to the beauty department and try different kinds of cologne, perfume or make-up that will make us attractive to others.  We might even look to the liquor store or drug dealer to help soothe pain in our lives, to make us feel “ok.”

Problem with all those things is that they don’t work.  Oh, maybe for a while.  The high of a new toy is amazing, but it doesn’t last.

I saw a saying on the internet a few weeks ago that struck right to the heart of the matter.  It said:  “The ads lie.  The anxiety in your soul will not be settled by anything you can buy in a store.”

We search and look and seek and wander and grasp at things that we hope can fill the holes in our souls.

And all the while, Jesus is here.

All the while Jesus is saying, “Why are you searching?  Didn’t you know I would be HERE?”

Even those of us already sitting here can forget this sometimes.  That’s why we need to constantly bring ourselves back to where we KNOW we will find Jesus.

Where we KNOW we can find peace.  Where we KNOW we can bring all our hurts and doubts and fears. Jesus promises to be HERE, where two or three are gathered together; where the sacraments are celebrated and the Word is preached.

It’s too easy for our fragile hearts and minds to forget.  It’s too easy to get caught up in looking for happiness, security and love in all the “wrong” places.

Let’s keep finding Jesus here, where we are constantly reminded of a love SO great that it was willing to die for us.  Where we are reminded that even when we’ve failed we are STILL loved, always loved, always treasured, always precious no matter what.

Let’s keep finding Jesus here so that we remember there is an anchor who can hold us firm even in the middle of the greatest storms of life – so that we have the strength in our souls to withstand all the “ads that lie.”

Let’s keep finding Jesus here, so that when we leave here we can bring Jesus to those around us who are searching and hurting.

Let’s keep finding Jesus here, so that we learn and re-learn and re-learn again to see Jesus in our neighbor.

Let’s keep finding Jesus here – for when we know and are constantly reminded that we find him here, we can begin to see him everywhere.

AMEN.

 

4th Sunday of Advent, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/20/15)

first reading:  Micah 5:2-5a

psalm:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Hebrews 10:5-10

gospel reading:  Luke 1:39-45


Church of the Visitation, Israel, photograph by Deror Avi

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel, photo by Deror Avi

Today’s psalm and gospel readings are part of the same story, what we call “The Visitation.”  Shortly after Mary became pregnant, she went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

We learn earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth was about 6 months pregnant when Mary’s visit took place, while Mary was still very early on in her pregnancy. One author I read commented that The Visitation is a wonderful human interest story, but that its primary function is theological.  I disagree.

I think it’s a wonderful human interest story PRECISELY because it tells us a great deal theologically.  And I think it makes an amazing theological statement PRECISELY because it’s intimately involved in humanity.  I don’t separate human interest and theology.  Not only that, I don’t think GOD does either.

So, what is so profound about The Visitation?  WHY is it such a good human interest AND theological story?

The human part is pretty clear.

Mary had been visited by an angel, who told her she would conceive and bear a son even though she was still a virgin. Elizabeth, who was beyond normal childbearing age and up till then childless, was having an “unexpected” pregnancy herself, after an angel appeared to her husband Zechariah announcing that their child would be born.

Both women had concerns and fears I’m sure.  We read earlier that Mary was perplexed and pondering.  Her condition was not easily explained – and in that time and place an out of marriage pregnancy could be a deadly scandal.

For Elizabeth, the concerns and fears might also have been deadly.  Many women died in childbirth, and for older women the odds were even greater.  As thrilled as she was to be pregnant, I’m sure Elizabeth was also frightened for herself.

So we have two women with very unexpected pregnancies that were announced by ANGELS.  That makes for a definite human interest story.  Not only that, but for a religious book that is dominated by men, here the men are unseen and unheard, except for a little leaping in the womb.

This story is all about the women – and of course about God.

Intertwined with the human story of the women is the story of GOD – God choosing to become part of human history.  That’s the whole point of Christmas after all, isn’t it?  God taking on our flesh – our flesh holding God.

God chooses not only to preside OVER human history, but to become PART of it, to step into our lives.

And by choosing to do so, God makes Godself part of every moment, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, success and failure.  When God became one of us in Jesus, God became a part of Mary and Elizabeth’s joys and fears – and even their grief – OUR grief.

It struck me, as I prayed and pondered these passages, that the story of The Visitation isn’t only about two pregnant women – it’s also the story of two women who would bury their children.

Elizabeth and Mary would know the joy of motherhood, but also its unimaginable grief with the death of their sons.

As I reminded (one of our parishioners) when I visited with her on Friday – we need to remember that Christmas isn’t just the story of the happy baby – it’s the story of the baby who would die.  The joy of this moment of visitation is colored by our knowledge that John would be beheaded and Jesus crucified.

God through Jesus CHOOSES to become a part of this mess we call life.

Not just the line from the popular song, “God is watching us, from a distance.”  NO.  God is NOT just watching us from a distance, God is WITH us.  God knows it all, experiences it all, WITH us.

This is the gift of Christmas.  It’s not happy or sappy.  It’s not “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”  It’s not about inflatable snowmen, or Santas, or mistletoe.  It’s more like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

It’s a couple with no place to stay.  A young woman with her husband, forced to give birth away from their family and friends – in a BARN.  It’s not about fancy nurseries and cribs – it’s a feed box filled with straw.  It’s what Mary sings in her song – that God has come to lift up those who are lowly and hungry – to bring MERCY.

Our culture puts a lot of pressure on Christmas to be happy and sappy, because our culture doesn’t want to deal with life’s underside.

People would much rather fight an imaginary “war on Christmas,” than look at their own shortcomings in loving their neighbors and themselves and God.

People don’t want to connect Christmas with Good Friday, but when we don’t connect the two – then the consumerism and the inflatable snowmen win.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday we feel guilt over our grief and/or sadness because we feel it doesn’t belong, that there is something wrong with US.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday then all we celebrate is a baby and we stay lost in our sin.

We need Good Friday to be part of Christmas if Christmas is to have any depth, any real meaning in our faith.

God CHOOSING in love to be with us in all our moments from life to death is a profound theological truth.

It tells us that God loves us, strengthens us and carries us no matter where we are.

It tells us that God understands our fears, our grief and our anxieties.

So, as we approach Friday, some of us with joy and celebration, some with sadness, grief, or anxieties and fears, let us remember that God holds it all, and is WITH us through it all.

Emmanuel has come.

AMEN.

taking down the tree

Epiphany has come and gone, and this morning I began the process of saying goodbye to Christmas for another year.  All the decorations have been packed up and are waiting to be put back in the attic.  The nativity scene from our front lawn is back in the garage.  The tree is still up because my kids begged me to wait till they got home from school so they could help take the ornaments off – so in the next few hours it will once again be bare and ready to be taken out.  (It will be saved, however, because we have a tradition in our family to take the trunk of the tree and make a cross of it on Good Friday.)

I’m always a little sad to say goodbye to Christmas.  I know there are many people who can only stand the decor for so long before they want their house back, but not me or the rest of my family – perhaps it’s because we wait until Advent starts to begin decorating and don’t put a tree up until after the 15th so we’re not sick of it by the 26th.  I love Christmas.

The “powers that be” who decided when the Church should celebrate the Feast of the Nativity really knew what they were doing for us Americans.  It is a bright spot of life at the beginning of our cold dark winter.  Christmas lights help us find some joy in the early dark nights.  Festive decorations bring smiles to children’s faces and bring out the child in the rest of us.  We “oh and ah” over little ones being donkeys and sheep in church Christmas pageants, and I dare say that even the most spiritually jaded find some awe in a candlelight rendition of “Silent Night.”  Of course Christmas doesn’t come in the winter for everyone, for some it falls in the summer, so the symbolism of light and darkness don’t really apply – but where I live they certainly do.

So as I put the decorations away, as I pack away the ornaments my kids have made that mark their childhood,  I am very conscious of the passing of time.  I am also cognizant of the fact that our front lawn and living room will be darker places in the absence of those tiny lights on the trees.  The lights will NOT be shining in the darkness tonight.

But of course THE Light shines in the darkness, as it always has and always will.  The Feast of the Nativity and the Christmas season are a tiny part of our year, but the Light the season represents is “with us” each moment our whole lives through.  Without all the decor, I just might have to look harder to find it…

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

 

***addendum:  One of the reasons why worship is SO important, so VITAL to our lives as Christians, is that it gives us The Light.  The Word and Sacraments are present gifts of the Light given for us.  Jesus IS the Word, is IN the sacraments, and where two or three are gathered together.  So one place I KNOW I won’t have to look hard to find The Light is in worship.

2nd Sunday of Christmas, 2015

2nd Sunday of Christmas, year B, 2015 (preached 1/4/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

second reading:  Ephesians 1:3-14

gospel reading:  John 1:1-18


During the seasons of Advent and Christmas we experience growing darkness, but we also experience the boundaries of darkness being pushed back.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Darkness has always been a powerful metaphor for those things in life that oppress or engulf us, frighten or intimidate us, cause us worry and anxiety, and suck the joy out of our lives.

We know darkness in our physical lives when illness or violence strikes, or when we lack the basic necessities of life like food, shelter or clothing.  We know darkness in our emotional lives when we are burdened with worry, confusion, fear, grief, guilt or hopelessness, or when we live with addiction.

We know darkness in our social lives when relationships fail, when a loved one dies, when the blessing of solitude gives way to the burden of loneliness, or when we can’t make meaningful connections with other people.  We know darkness in our political lives when we can’t organize our communities or society in ways that are just and fair for everyone.

We know darkness as a global community when children are murdered at school, when there’s a natural disaster, or when planes go missing or crash into the sea.  And we know darkness in our spiritual lives too, when we feel separated from God, when prayer seems like an empty exercise, or worship only an obligation.

Darkness does indeed symbolize the evils and isolation with which we are entirely too familiar.

A pastor I knew years ago told our pastor’s Bible study group a story about an encounter he had with TRUE darkness.  While on vacation, he went with a group of people “caving,” exploring a cave.  While they were deep in the cave, the leader had the group stop, sit down, be as quiet as they could be, and turn off their headlamps.  One by one the lights clicked out until they were enveloped by utter darkness.

It was the most profound darkness this pastor had ever experienced.  He told us it made no difference whatsoever whether his eyes were opened or closed.  It was all the same.  He literally could not see his hand in front of his face.

After a little while, the leader turned on his headlamp, and what a huge difference that tiny light made!  It cast enough light to push back the dark and enabled the group to once again see each other, the space they were in, and the way out.

While the lights were still out, the leader asked the group how hard it would be to find their way out of the cave without their lights.  They all said it would be impossible.  Any attempt would be dangerous, since they couldn’t see the hazards, the slippery places, or tell the difference between a three foot or thirty foot drop.

The leader agreed and told them, “This particular cave is very popular.  People come here often.  Were you to get stuck here without a light, your best bet would be to sit and wait for someone to come in and find you.”

It takes no great imagination to make the connection between the darkness of that cave experience, and the darkness we know in our lives – between the light from the group leader’s headlamp and the light of Christ – the light of the world.

We are stuck in darkness, not knowing which way to go to free ourselves, and wait for the One who enters into our darkness, shines the light, and brings us out.

This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  A light shines in Bethlehem’s darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  It is a gentle glow, a thing of grace and tender beauty.

  • It is the first light of the Christ child, God’s own Son, sent to find us, lost in the night with no light to find our way and hazards all around.
  • It is the light of the Epiphany star, marking the way.
  • It is the candlelight of the last supper on Maundy Thursday and the soldier’s torchlight on Good Friday.
  • It is the glorious brightness of the sunrise on the empty tomb Easter morning.
  • It is the Spirit’s flame at Pentecost,
  • and the Son’s radiance that lights the whole city of God when He returns for us again.

This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  A light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

A ray of hope – but more than that, an assurance that while we still know dark corners and fearsome shadows in our lives, GOD IS WITH US.  EMMANUEL.

Christmas is proof of that.  God stoops so low as to become one of us.  The Creator of heaven and earth comes to us, not in a blaze of glory, but as a baby.

On New Year’s Eve we spent the evening with friends who have a dog and two cats.  My children were SO excited to spend time with the animals, especially since we don’t have pets at home.  I had to remind them to be gentle – that chasing after the pets and being loud and holding them down would only make them run away.

That’s the way God is with us.  Coming to us as a baby without worldly fanfare – gently and quietly – in a stable, as a carpenter’s son.

This baby, this Jesus, shows us the character of God – the depth of God’s love for you and me, the lengths to which God will go to make sure we are never lost in the dark.  Our rescuer, our Savior, HAS found us, and will remain with us until ALL darkness is banished from the earth.

Today, and every day through Christ, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

AMEN.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song

If you ask people what their favorite Advent or Christmas song/hymn is, chances are you’ll get one of the old standards – Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Away In a Manger etc…  I love all these, in fact, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem is right near the top of my list.  But it’s not my favorite.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” probably IS my favorite hymn for congregational or choir singing, but there is another song that has a much deeper personal meaning for me.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song is a contemporary song by Amy Grant.  It’s called “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton, and you can listen to it here if you want.  Or you can just read the lyrics:

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father you have come

And chosen me now

To carry your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone

Be with me now

Be with me now

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of your plan

Help me be strong

Help me be

Help me

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven…

It’s not an obvious favorite.  It’s a more “psychological” song – not focusing on the events, or on the person/mission/ministry/divinity of Jesus.  It imagines the thoughts and prayers of Mary as she approached giving birth, which is why it’s subtitled “Mary’s Song.”  The music is sad and almost haunting, the lyrics filled with uncertainty and fear.  But I think that’s what the approaching birth of Jesus must’ve really been like.  Poor Mary.  And poor Joseph too.  Mary is afraid, yet trusting that somehow God will take care of her.  That is faith.

My third pregnancy was unplanned.  I was SO looking forward to getting my life back with my youngest soon going off to full-day preschool (she was in special education, so preschool would be full-time).  Yet, late in September I discovered I was pregnant – there would be NO getting my life back.  My husband and I were frightened.  We had decided we did not want more children, especially after it became clear that our second child had so many problems.  Yet there we were.

As Advent came upon us I was nearing the end of my first trimester, the sunlight was waning, and the fear seemed to grow in me along with that new life.  I was 40, which put me in a higher risk pregnancy category.  It put my baby at a higher risk for “problems.”  How would we manage three children, especially with one already having special needs?  What if this child had problems too?  We hadn’t yet told anyone about the pregnancy except our closest friends and family because it was almost too hard to say out loud.  Then one Sunday in church a woman sang “Breath of Heaven” as a musical offering, and although I’d heard it before, I hadn’t paid real attention to it in a long while (the song had been out 13 years by then).  Right there in worship I was overcome.  It was all I could do to keep from sobbing.  It was MY song.  All the cold and weariness, all the fear and longing were mineI was Mary – hoping against hope that God would take care of me, that this child God had given to us would be okay, that somehow we’d be able to manage.  That song became my prayer.  I went home, dug out the CD and played that song over and over and over again, and cried and cried and cried – and prayed and prayed and prayed.

Eight and a half years later we have a healthy son, and though it’s not always easy or pretty, so far we’ve been able to navigate three children and autism too.  Our son has been a wonderful gift and we cannot imagine our lives without him.  Even so, I remember the fear and uncertainty as we waited for his birth – and so that song is still mine – it will forever be mine, because I remember.  No matter how many times I hear it, I still get chills…

***Not all the stories around our favorite songs have to be quite so heavy!  What’s YOUR favorite song of the Advent/Christmas seasons?

The War on Christmas

I hope all my American friends had a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving holiday yesterday.   Today is the day that many folks start to put up their Christmas decorations.  With this in mind, I thought I would share some of my thoughts regarding what some call the “War on Christmas.”

Some people have become very upset that employees at certain stores can’t say “Merry Christmas,” that some towns are in legal battles over creches on public property, or that their kids can’t sing Christmas carols at their public school’s “winter concert.”  They want to “take Christmas back.”  Well, good for them!   I would argue, however, that they’re starting in the wrong place.  You see, in America, we don’t have a state religion.  The founding fathers were borderline Christians at best, some only deists.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution puts it plainly:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

People often complain about the government doing “too much” for people, and usually that means public aid requiring our tax dollars – something Jesus would love actually.  You know, he was all about helping the poor.  Folks don’t want to hear about that though.  However, they’re ALL FOR the government suddenly becoming religious at Christmas, and not for giving to the poor, but for putting some plaster figures of a couple and their baby in the town park, or for a tree at the White House to be called “Christmas” instead of “holiday.”

Here’s what I think.  Instead of having the government proclaim our religion for us (which it is NOT its job to do), we should stop being so lazy and proclaim our religion OURSELVES.

So, folks need to stop wanting the town to put a creche in the town park and put one on their lawn.  That’s right.   Proclaim the faith of YOUR HOME.  It’s not the town’s job to be Christian, it’s YOURS.  I can count on ONE HAND the number of creches I see on individual property around my area.  It’s pathetic.  Yet I see dozens of inflatable Santas.  We need to take responsibility for our faith.  I’m not saying you HAVE to put a creche in your yard, but if you don’t, then don’t complain about a town not having one in the park.  Everyone in our neighborhood and anyone who drives by our house knows we’re Christians because we have a lovely, simple creche in our yard.

As for the “holiday” tree vs. “Christmas” tree debate,  I DO fall on the side of calling it a Christmas tree.  Denying Christmas is different than forcing people to celebrate.  By changing the name they try to deny what it really is to make it more acceptable, and I’m not for that.  Not that a Christmas tree encapsulates the holiday.  Christmas trees are a relatively recent addition to the celebration of Christmas.  Then again, you can call it whatever you want, but it’s still a Christmas tree – a rose is a rose is a rose…  But then again, is it a Christmas tree if there are NO religious symbols on it?  Is a tree decorated with balls and lights but no angels, crosses, baby Jesuses, or nativity scenes a Christmas tree, or is it something else?  That’s a whole other debate.  But you know what?  The tree in MY house? THAT, my friends, IS a Christmas tree, and I’ll share it with everyone who wants to see it.  I’m not going to lose sleep over what the government calls the lighted tree in or outside of the White House.

I also don’t lose sleep over the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” from the salesperson in the store.  I can’t believe how important this has become, because I could really care less.  Since we are a country with no established religion, I would never want to force a Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or atheist etc… employee to wish me a Merry Christmas.  Really.  It puts them in a very difficult theological position personally.  Again, we need to stop being lazy and take responsibility for ourselves.  Who cares what the salesperson says to us???  What is coming out of OUR mouths???  Wish everyone and anyone Merry Christmas with joy in your heart if you want!  If the person you’re speaking with isn’t Christian then they can do with it what they will.  Heck, I’ve been wished Happy Hanukkah and I love it!

I feel the same way about public school kids singing Christmas carols.  There are PLENTY of secular songs to choose from – “White Christmas,” “No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Silver Bells” etc… all part of our culture and none of them forcing a child of another (or no) religion to proclaim Jesus.  I am most certainly raising my children as Christians and they go to church every week.  But I have no expectation that my children will sing Christmas songs in school.  Our house echoes with wonderful religious and secular songs throughout the season, and we sing Advent and Christmas hymns in church.  I don’t need the school to provide that for my children.  If you want your child to be taught about Jesus and sing about Jesus in school, then send them to a private school.

The so-called “War on Christmas” isn’t about Christmas being taken away from Christians – NO ONE can do that to us.  We can only do that to ourselves.  Christmas is about how WE celebrate, not how the culture celebrates for us.  There are millions of Christians around the world who are minorities in their communities, and yet they still celebrate.  There are places in this world where Christians are truly persecuted for their faith, and yet they still celebrate, even in the face of personal danger.

The only war on Christmas is the one waged in our own hearts and minds.  And YOU have control over who wins that war, not the government.

2nd Sunday after Christmas, Year A, 2014

2nd Sunday after Christmas, Year A, 2014 (preached Jan 5, 2014)

First Reading:  Jeremiah 31:7-14     Second Reading: Ephesians 1:2-14   Gospel Reading:  John 1:1-18

 

I almost feel like I have nothing to say, especially after the second and gospel readings for today.

These two passages in particular do a brilliant job summing up Jesus’ purpose and his unimaginable love for us.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the language is wonderful:  blessings and more blessings – we are holy and blameless before God in love.

We are adopted as God’s children.  God gives us “glorious grace” FREELY bestowed.  “In him we have redemption through his blood, and forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”

St. Paul writes about God’s wisdom, the mystery of his will, God’s good pleasure, gathering up all things in him.  He tells us that in Christ we have obtained an inheritance, that we live for the praise of Jesus’ glory.

That we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, and that God gives us a pledge of our inheritance, again, to the praise of his glory.

Like I said, what can I add to that?  I mean, they are pure words of grace.

The gospel reading from St. John is more poetic in nature.  A little harder to get at, and it shares the dark side of the gospel story as well.

St. John refers to Jesus as THE Word, through him we have life and light, and the light overcomes the darkness.

He was with us, but we didn’t recognize him – even so he makes us children of God, not because of anything we have done, but through the Will of God.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Even though they come at ti from different angles – St. John through the darker side of saying how Jesus was with us and we didn’t recognize him, and St. Paul using such positive language, I see a few themes running through both, and one of them is GRACE.

St. Paul writes, “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved,” and “the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”

In St. John’s gospel Jesus is described as being FULL of grace and truth.  And verse 16, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Grace freely bestowed, grace lavished, FULL of grace, grace upon grace.

Our journey of faith begins and ends with grace – grace at the font, grace and forgiveness proclaimed throughout our lives and present in the body and blood of Christ, and finally grace at our leaving this world and going to the place God has prepared for us.

Grace is the free and unmerited love and forgiveness given to us by God through Jesus Christ.

On this second Sunday of Christmas, this last DAY of Christmas, we have a wonderful opportunity to remember that this gift of grace first came to us in the form of a baby.

When a pastor presides at Communion, the part I read or chant after the Great Thanksgiving, (where you and I go back and forth:  The Lord be with you – and also with you.  Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord…), the next part the pastor does is called the “Proper Preface.”  The proper preface for Christmas is one of my absolute favorites of the whole year.

The reason I love it so much is for this line:  “that beholding the God made visible, we may be drawn to love the God whom we cannot see.”

It’s a lot easier for us people to grasp something when we can see it for ourselves.  That’s why we have the saying, “Seeing is believing.”

It’s a lot easier for us people to believe in concepts such as “love” when love is demonstrated, not just talked about.  That’s why we have the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”

God knows this.  So The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.  God wanted grace for us, mercy and forgiveness for us, to be more than a theological concept, to be more than an idea.

Through the Incarnation of Christ, Emmanuel, God WITH us, puts a “face on God’s grace.”

You know how companies get spokespeople who become the face of the brand?  A few that come to my mind are the Marlboro Man, Jared for Subway, and Flo for Progressive Insurance.

I almost hate to make the comparison, because obviously God in Jesus is SO SO SO much more than this.  Because in the end, Jesus isn’t just the “face of God’s grace,” Jesus IS God’s grace – and there’s a HUGE difference.

You’ve been told God loves you, but how do you KNOW?  We ALL know, because Jesus came, and lived and DIED and rose again FOR that love.

God’s grace lavished on us in Jesus.  Jesus FULL of grace.  Grace upon grace.  Grace heaped upon us.

We see in Jesus, the baby in the manger, the PERSONIFICATION of grace.  His life helps us to understand what the word grace means – unmerited love and forgiveness.

You want to know what grace is?  How HUGE it is?  You want to know if God loves you?

Seeing is believing.  Actions speak louder than words.

Look to the manger.  Look to the cross.

“That beholding the God made visible, we may be drawn to love the God whom we cannot see.”

AMEN.