Receiving Christmas

A sermon preached the first Sunday of Christmas at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings are here.

Soooooo, if you were here yesterday, you may be wondering if:
A) That in all of the pre-Christmas commotion, did we forget to update the gospel lesson in the bulletin, OR
B) That you are so discombobulated by all of the Christmas festivities, that you think you imagined the same gospel lesson yesterday and today OR
C) That we slipped some extra eggnog into your coffee this morning OR
D) That Mother Nancy’s just gotten lazy and is replaying the gospel and sermon from yesterday.

Let me reassure you that none of the above are true. One of the choices for the gospel reading for Christmas Day is the same lesson at the First Sunday of Christmas. Except for one little detail – today’s is longer and includes more verses than the reading for Christmas Day. Now, I won’t pretend to fathom the brilliant minds that are the keepers of the Lectionary and offer some explanation as to why, I’ll just run with it and do my very best to give you something to ponder for this coming week.

But before I do my bit, let me ask, for those of you who were here yesterday, Christmas Day, is there anything you remember? That’s a seriously dangerous question for a preacher to ask!

So, for those of you who weren’t here yesterday, let me bring you up to speak. We talked about how John’s telling of the nativity, the story of God coming to us, doesn’t include what we expect in the Christmas Story – there’s no shepherds nor angels nor a baby in a manger. John chooses to take us farther up and farther into God’s eternal story so that we can hear God calling us to participate with him in the bringing about of the kingdom on earth as in heaven as we live the Christmas Story every day of the year.

And John leaves us with no doubt that Jesus was fully God and fully human, both God and made in the image of God, and that from this fullness – some say that Jesus is more fully human than we can even imagine being because he never tried to live any other way than in the image of God – from his abundance of grace and his absolute truth, we are given, we are able to receive all that God has to give. Grace upon grace.

But just what is grace? Grace is that which we don’t deserve. And this is so often taken as a negative with statements like: we don’t deserve God’s love but he gives it to us anyway. That sure doesn’t sound much like ‘good news’ to me, how about you?

The good news of God’s grace is that we don’t have to work ourselves to death to get it. Regardless of the choices we’ve made in life, God offers us the gift of his love and life and light. God doesn’t love us “in spite of” or “regardless of” or “because of” anything we’ve done; God loves us because of who God is.

In the beginning, God made us in his image and said we are good, and our place in God’s creation made all of creation very good.

And from the beginning, God gives us the choice to live into the good and holy image in which we are created, to bear this image to the world so that the world knows that every human being is given the power to bear the good and holy image of God, to love as God loves.

When God first gave the law to Moses, the Ten Commandments, it was to help the Israelites learn to love as God loves: an unconditional, all in, other focused love. People who love God and their neighbor and themselves as God loves don’t need other gods; we don’t need to boost up our own egos by working constantly and can let go of our need to control and rest; we don’t have to take or even desire what others have, life or property, because we seek together to ensure everyone has what they need. This is how God says loving people live.

And when God decided the time was right, he came to show us the truth of what living in love looks like in flesh and blood. This unconditional, self-giving love looks like a baby in a manger, born to parents who risked everything, even their own lives, to walk with God into God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. This love looks like the poorest of shepherds and the wealthiest and most educated traversing difficult journeys to get in on what God is doing in this world because they are willing to accept the awe and mystery of something they can’t fully grasp.

This love looks like a man who spends time with those on the margins of society and who works to restore the dignity of life in others, who feeds the hungry, washes feet, and heals even those who seek to harm him.

This God’s-image-bearing love works to include everyone because everyone is a precious child of God. This love sheds light on the truth that real power is demonstrated by compassion.

And although it is the baby Jesus we celebrate during Christmas, it is the life and words and actions of the man Jesus that we follow every day of the year as we learn from him more and more who God is and whose we are as beloved children. That’s the good news: that we can know whose and who we are, if we seek the truth of that in the right place, with the right person – the one through whom we are all created, the One that John testifies to, our source of life and light and love.

But just what does that look like for us here and now?

Do you know the poem by Howard Thurman titled “The Work of Christmas”?
Howard Thurman was an American author, theologian, and civil rights worker in the first half of the twentieth century and was a mentor and spiritual advisor to Martin Luther King Jr.

Thurman’s most known book is titled Jesus and the Disinherited in which he discusses nonviolent responses to oppression.

His short poem, taken from a collection of writings on Christmas is one many of us see floating around this time of year:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

Christmas isn’t over, the season of Christmas, the twelve days of Christmas is just beginning. But the work of Christmas, the coming of God among us to remind us of whose image we bear, is ours to do with God’s help all year long.

The work of Christmas is seen in the lives of the greats like Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King and Bishop Desmond Tutu who’s death we grieve today, but we know that the light they shown so brightly is the light of God and the darkness will not overcome it. These men and so many others have devoted their lives to the work of Christmas.

And when we choose to follow Jesus beyond the manger and into the hurting world where ever we are, the work of Christmas also looks like what we do in our community and families to help those who feel lost feel love, to feed the hungry both physically and spiritually, to tell people of the freedom of the good news of God, that we don’t have to earn God’s love, God loves us because of who God is and who we are. The work of Christmas happens as we receive the gift of God’s love, letting it flow through us into the world, sharing the message of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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