Archive for category Christmas C
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. [NRSA]
For starters, it’s still Christmas season and its not too late to find Jesus.
My guess is that we have covered in the last 50 years of Peanuts,(TM) Linus rendition of the first part of Luke’s Gospel about the decree from Ceasar Agustus, the baby born in the manger, the shepherds and the heavenly multitude, but have we found Jesus?
One of my favorite lines from the Forrest Gump movie is when Sergeant Dan asks Forrest if he had found Jesus, to which Forrest replies, “I didn’t know he was lost.”
While the passage for today gives us a rare glimpse into the childhood of Jesus, it also gives an opportunity to identify with losing Jesus. And the how quickly we lose what we think we have. Rather than asking have you found Jesus, we need to ask more often: Have you lost him?
The story of the parents, Mary and Joseph, who found favor and blessing to be the parents of Jesus as good and faithful folks, they too lose connection for a variety of reasons in one passage:
The parents were busy doing what moms and dads do and in those responsibilities and distractions a door is opened to focus on themselves than on Jesus.
Can we turn off the TV, stop talking about work, stop worrying about the grown-up things to play-teach-listen-and-be present without children and grandchildren? (Not entertaining, distracting or pacifying them, rather being present with them, doing nothing else.)
As important as Parental/Adult/Grownup responsibilities demand, they are not more important than time present with Jesus.
We certainly know what ‘you’ and ‘I’ are when we ASSume. What does one day assuming we have Jesus securely in our lives look like. What’s one day?
The classic Christmas movie, Home Alone, points to the room for evil and fear to take hold when we leave Jesus behind. And it happens most likely unintentionally.
But in the real world, what could be so bad about one day without praying? Without reading? Missing one Sunday? Missing one time of service? Not only are we missed by God and others we never expected, but ‘we’ also make ourselves vulnerable.
It starts the downward spiral if “I can do it by myself.” which we started at age two and somehow favor over “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Don’t assume Jesus is with you, check in daily, hourly, with every breath.
Mary and Joseph were at the point of fear and anxiousness in dealing with the absence of Jesus. Rather than being in communication in the first place, there is the moment when we see the fear of what life looks like without Jesus leading us.
How devastating our perspective becomes when we are grieving. It is a natural process of dealing with loss. It might be the loss of a relationship, a job, a dream, or any other confrontation with separation.
Frantically, Mary and Joseph begin to search. The look, they ask, the retrace where they had been. Jesus is right where they left him. Mary and Joseph were distracted, preoccupied, assuming someone else had their relationship for them; they begin to recognize the separation and are each torn by fear, anxiety and grief. From their place separation, they begin to search.
The search until they find Jesus. Our journey toward Jesus is the remedy for sin and separation: “We search until we find.”
Some folks are searching for “God’s love in the flesh” and mistaking that for physical things and physical feelings and physical relationships. These physical things are all part of our human experience, but the ‘things’ that gets lost is our spiritual self, our spiritual relationship, our spiritual nature.
As we conclude the Christmas season, let us make sure, for all the gifts given, received, exchanged and returned, that we are certain we start the new year having found Jesus, fresh and new.
94% of American’s celebrate Christmas (3). We have verbal and ideological battles with 6% of the population who don’t feel comfortable greeting each other this season by saying, “Merry Christmas.” It’s important to keep this in perspective. The number who keep a religious Christmas is about 70% with 29% celebrating some holiday during the same period of holidays (4). And yet we hear political debates about our nation not being a Christian nation, when 70% of the 94% who celebrate Christmas do so for religious reasons. Tis the Season to be religious.
The National Retail Federation reports
- average spending per person reaches $805.65 in 2015
- Gifts for family members will total $462.95 this year
- 46 percent of their shopping this holiday season was conducted online,
- 21.4 percent of smartphone owners used their device to purchase holiday merchandise in 2015,
- 47%) said free shipping/shipping promotions are important factors where to shop.
- 55.8 percent of holiday shoppers will splurge on themselves
The number one anticipated “item” for Christmas is what category? ____ Clothes. Men 48% / Women 56%. But the number one “non-item” requested is gift cards. Men 51% / Women 66% (3)
What does that say? We expect Clothes at Christmas and more than half the time we’d prefer to pick out our own clothes than have people guess.
So this is where we begin hearing this passage from the church to Colossae:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [NRSV]
Clothe one another in love
Imaging celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. Not just the first one.
Imaging, after all the celebration of Christmas morning of day one, we continues giving the gives of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.. all together as example of Christ’s love for us.
What does that look like?
Seeing or hearing the needs of someone who is hungry or wanting and we take them food for the day. It does not solve their every need, but it gives them one more day of perspective that they are not forgotten and their transformation is not hopeless. Or teach them skills to work or to deal with their brokenness, fears or depression. This is not the task of someone to do FOR us, but for us to give one-on-one. Gifts of compassion.
You could think of sarcastic and judgmental comments, that might be accurate, yet, instead you find kind words of encouragement or forgiveness. In speaking where you would have remained silent and offering kindness instead of leading with what’s wrong, you lead with the kindness you would hope to hear when someone is speaking with you. A gift of Kindness with words.
You and I could choose to give a gift out of our abundance away. You know how special it makes you feel to know someone has given you a gift of love, think how sharing what you have might make you both feel loved, even if it is yours to keep. A Gift of humble sharing, it cost no more because it is yours to give.
Often it is not the value of the gift, but rather the appropriateness of the gift. We wait and save up to give expensive gifts, when it is our present half-hour each day that transform lives around us. Which would I rather have today: a grand gift from my father, who died a decade ago or 20 minutes talking about the day with him face-to-face? In the meekness of time, we share the lives we have to share.
Or could you find it possible to not fix someone’s problem, but rather be one who stands with them while they work through the trial and error of failures. So often we don’t want folks to live life for us, we want someone with us, to make certain we are not alone. Can you be present with someone who is alone and listen, encourage and wait with them, the gift of patience, for you and them.
For the remainder of the Christmas season, ten more days, try giving these gifts in love for Christ.
In the next ten days: Let everything you do, be done in Jesus name.
As you wake to start the day: In Jesus Name
As you write a check or open your purse or wallet: In Jesus Name
As you open you mouth to speak or your mind to consider: In Jesus Name
As you cook, clean, travel, read, share or listen: Do so in Jesus Name
As we shall then be clothed in love.
- Those who know they are right and willing to kill those who disagree?
- Those who know they are correct and willing to label and dismiss those who are wrong?
- Those who know they are right and God cannot do I new thing that is beyond our control?
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [NRSV]
CAUTION: The Yellow Flag, the Caution triangle, the surgeon general’s official warning.
Key Verse: Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
- Be Alert.
- Pray for strength
- Be ready to stand before the Son of Man
Advent: Be Alert. The core purpose of the liturgical season of Advent is to make time and make ready our lives for Christ.
It has little to do with #redcups from #starbucks or store’s commercializing the season without the faith-based reason. It ultimately is study time before the test. It is practice driving before getting your drivers’ license. It is the work that leads up to the #retirement time we live the life unencumbered by work. (ideally)
I invite you to join in a series of mini marathons to prepare us for the full #26.2 mile race. I am not a runner at this point in my life. I learned from my DNA research that my people only have a 3% of becoming sprinters. I am certainly in the right family. But I do know that if I was going to self-propel my body in any fashion for 26.2 miles. I am not ready for the race today.
The first word of preparing in our text today is ‘Alert.’
Alertness is a willful, intentional, state of readiness to be either proactive and/or reactive to the situation and circumstances around us.
The rampant increase of acts of terror have raised our alertness to evil in the world. Paris, Mali, Chattanooga and even in our experience. We are cautioned to prepare one another to be watchful. If something is wrong or out of place, then report it, follow up on it and take the information as credible until it is disproved.
This way of daily life is stressful, and it carries the risk of being so cautious that we withdraw or cause injury to ourselves and others. The text affirms that we live in risky times. So learning how to be alert that is appropriate to the level of risk is what our insurance companies help us figure out.
Based on our experience of driving, they determine the degree of risk to cover inevitable accidents and losses we will experience. Every insurance representative would work with drivers, renters and home owners to take proactive precautions to prevent poor impact upon policy payments.
For our spiritual journey and spiritual home, we prepare in similar styles. Be preventive and proactive.
Luke and I have agreed to encourage each other in goal of loosing the same amount of weight. He is loosing muscle, I’m loosing fat. If we wait start until the end of April to meet our goals. We will surely fail.
We both agreed, let ‘s start after Christmas. With all the dinners and parties and festivities. It would be better to start when we were less tempted. But we are fooling ourselves.
Remember Jesus ministry was challenged by temptation before he told the first parable or healed the first person. We get busy in the temptation, because the nature of letting our attention and guard down opens the flood gate for failure and disappointment.
Advent. 1.a, Step one, be alert by study, fellowship, singing, exercise restraint from the thing we KNOW are not helpful. Be attentive to the building up of our spiritual self. Make our spirit the priority of each day. Not at the expense of all else, rather the priority of the day.
Advent. 1.b, Step two, pray for strength.
Wow, Jesus knows the disciples are going to find their weak points in a hurry. Not only will we get lazy and justify our physical demands replace our spiritual demands, but we will grow weary, quickly.
The preventative training is to pray. Pick a time and work to make it your prayer time. Read the prayers of others, start with the prayers of your childhood, sit in silence as ask God to hold your thoughts and worries and simply rest in the arms of God. But start praying with the regularity with which we do important physical things. When you eat, prayer. When you rest in the room of rest, pray. When you get in the car, prayer. When you arrive at school or work or your destination, pray for what you will face. Start talking and listening to God. Listen to spiritual music, read spiritual writers, discuss spiritual topics with a desire to inform and learn rather than force others to agree. All these are forms of prayer as we offer our speaking and listening to God.
Advent 1.c, Step three, Be ready to stand before the Son of Man.
Keep the goal in mind. Not only be awake and proactively growing your spirit. (2016: Have every member of RSUMC involved in some spiritual growth group. 3-300, sized) Not only be talking and listening to God, encourage one another to keep the goal in mind.
Our lives our gifts of God, entrusted to us to build a relationship with God through the grace of Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the Church. When we finally have lived our life, and we stand before God. Can we say, “I want to be with you.”
It sounds crazy in a way. It seems if anyone had a chance to stand before God and say I love you our I hate you. I know you or I never really knew you. If there was sliver of opening, we would want to go with God. But the truth is that not everyone believes this to be true, or has another way of fulfillment and meaning. Some folks with stand before Christ our judge and is not interested in our excuses or laziness or business or intentions.
The text’s second warning is that difficult, terrible, and oppressive things are to come in this world: Things we will want to escape.
Be alert, be preparing, be strong , be encouraging… but do all this for what?
Jesus has come into the flesh to show and open a relationship with God. Think of your best friend. How often would you want to share
- a meal?
- an adventure?
- a comment about the news or a movie?
- or build a memory or retell an old one?
- working through your struggles?
These are the journey points of a relationship with God. It is not just saying we are friends, it is showing it with the life, time and stuff that makes up our being.
Finally, we in a time of preparation, aimed for more than a day.
Like so many #wedding have months of planning and preparation lead toward a day, but should always be for more than that day: “That Day” may be the wedding, but it is the marriage that begins. Christmas is the season for which prepare. This is our first journey
- How am I going to keep alert my spiritual self and relationship
- How am I going to talk and listen to God and God’s people
- How am I going to become strong enough to finish the race.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. NRSV
Upside down Onside out.
Our world perspective is out of order and backwards, when children don’t feel safe at school, when politics is more important than people, when trillions of dollars of debt are ignored, when a kindergarder’s kiss is sexual harassment. Just a few, but you get the picture.
Gods highway. The Holy Way
The prophet Isaiah, describes a highway. Not a traffic jam in Henry County, but a way paved with the folks who are trying to live right, putting their steps in sync with God.
Singing of Joy and Gladness
Isaiah foretells, the crowd will be recognized through singing songs of joy and gladness. Eternal and unstoppable joy. What are you singing about today?
So What: Christmas has become a season of compromise: (Santa and a savior: The Fight carton that stated South Park.)
The birth of Jesus paves Gods way of transforming grace and salvation. Do we worship a sacred santa and lust for gifts or trust the one who has given us THE gift before we even made our list? Are our Christmas prepping making us ready for traditions or salvation? ready for Warm fuzzies and mounds of wrapping papers or warmed hearts and a parade marching toward God?
Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [NRSV]
Matthew 1.18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. [NRSV]
Matthew’s Joe the Carpenter
Matthew spends the first portion of the first chapter telling the world his research from his early Christmas present from tryancestry.com 30-day free offer. He gives a concise history of relating father Abraham through King David to the father of Jesus, Joseph. It was customary to track the family relation line through the mother’s side of the family, so what is up with Matthew’s version? He stretches the family tree branches to roots into two neat and balanced sets of 14 generations linking the father of the covenant with the favored king of the people of God up to Joseph’s little Jesus boy.
One of the fun features of the online family tree database helps determine how many generations you might be related to famous founding fathers and mothers or former presidents.. no matter how far the stretch, we are related famous people some where. Unlike my paternal grandmother’s claims that we were of French decent, it turns out that after many years of researching the BRANTLEY name through England and possibly Switzerland. Our family name is said to a meaning: “Those who live in burned out lands.” So we conclude that we are from a long line of moonshiners, indentured servants and squatters. Sort’a makes you proud to know our roots run deep with fame and great integrity.
Joseph’s family tree squeezes a few branches to neatly fit on a the page of history in Matthew’s book for what purpose? He link’s Jesus to a history of God’s self-revealed witness in promise, favor, divine purpose. So why does Joseph have any doubt that God would be ready to continue to prized heritage?
So little is known of Joseph. It many painting and stories his vocation of a carpenter is captured in images of furniture making. But is a time of stone, break and tile construction, it is more likely that he made gates, wooden locks or crosses. These were the places where woodwork was most commonly used in Jesus’s time. But that is not as fitting with our image of contemporary or renaissance carpentry.
Never the less, Joseph, with a great family tree, must have forgotten his royal blood line as well as his trade was working with resources that were more rare than we could imagine. No mighty pine forests, no oak and poplar farms, cedars were scattered and wood was a scares commodity.
Joseph, was a decent fellow. He found himself in an embarrassing social setting with Mary, his fiancée. Joseph being a resourceful fellow, tries to down play, move one, no harm- no foul, perspective. Joseph is ready manage the problem and work out a solution with the lead damage for either he or Mary.
He was a fix-er: Someone who can identify the problem, find a solution and execute with precision.
HERE IS WHERE TO STORY BECOMES read and interesting to each of us personally.
Compare what we know about Mary and Joseph. She found favor with God and was eagerly ready to be an instrument and vessel for God’s work and witness. Joseph see’s the problem not the opportunity. He finds a solution to what he has identified as a problem and is ready to “make it so” as the Captain orders.
Joseph is our modern example of what to do when God’s will and way is 180-degrees from “our best judgment” and we choose to follow God’s instruction. Joe the Carpenter stands as a ordinary good person who lay aside the focus of the self in exchange for focus on God.
It is a Christmas miracle when we see someone choose the heart of God over their own heart.
That’s what we like about the changed-uncle scrooge.
That’s what we like about the big guy in the red suit doing the impossible to bring joy to a suffering world. That’s what we like about the Grinch who has a change of heart.
That’s what we like about one person allowing the news of the Christmas Story encourage the faithfulness of one to like Charlie Brown to keep Christmas when all the others are packing up the decoration of the world.
Joseph is the change of heart guy, who does the good think God asks.
Did he have to? No.
The story could have been very different of he had walked away from Mary or imposed his plans over God’s plans. God didn’t make Joe have faith. Here is the hidden gift of Christmas.
The messengers come to tell it, the question is do we believe and trust our hearts with God’s.
Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is the task of Christmas, All year long.
The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. [NRSV]
years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Dr. Paul Ruskin on the “Stages of Aging.” In the article, Dr. Ruskin described a case study he had presented to his students when teaching a class in medical school. He described the case study patient under his care like this:
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she babbles incoherently for hours on end. She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her name… I have worked with her for the past six months, but she still shows complete disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort to assist her own care. She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
“Because she has no teeth, her food must be pureed. Her shirt is usually soiled from almost incessant drooling. She does not walk. Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her screaming awakens others. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but several times a day she gets quite agitated without apparent cause. Then she wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case, Dr. Ruskin then asked his students if any of them would like to volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered. Then Dr. Ruskin said, “I’m surprised that none of you offered to help, because actually she is my favorite patient. I get immense pleasure from taking care of her… and I am learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew before. She has taught me the spirit of unwavering trust. And she has taught me the power of unconditional love.” Then Dr. Ruskin said, “Let me show you her picture.” He pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old baby daughter.
Now, I like that story for several reasons. For one thing, it shows us the importance of perspective. And it shows us how essential it is to have all the facts before we make a decision. It reminds us too, that our children have so much to teach us… if we will tune in and pay attention.
Sometimes the events described in the Bible bowl us over with their sheer size.
- Genesis of God commanding light and darkness to go their separate ways, summoning the seven seas like charters, and, with a word, drawing up the massive continents from the primordial ooze of the formless earth.
- Or, hundreds of thundering Egyptian chariots dashing headlong after fleeing Hebrew slaves. Suddenly the once dry gap in the sea is invaded by a violent wall of water,
- Or again, the vision in the Book of Revelation of the saints in heaven gathered in a multitude greater than the eye can see, an ocean of faces and white robes larger than the mind can measure, an endless throng finding the place in their hymn books, and triumphantly singing, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!” Compared to this, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sounds like a quartet.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and the familiar story we have heard from Luke’s gospel is itself one of those events which threatens to overwhelm us by its scope. It begins, to be sure, in a small and gentle way, shepherds resting on a Judean hillside keeping wary watch over the flocks. But suddenly the episode spills beyond the edges of imagination’s canvas. The night sky is flooded by the light of glory. First there is one angel, then another and another, until finally there is a heavenly host, putting on an angelic display so terrifyingly spectacular that the King James Bible seems deeply understated when it reports that the shepherds “were sore afraid.”
The important thing to notice is that Luke does not dazzle us with spacious description.
- How bright was this shining glory of the Lord? Luke does not say. What did the angels look like? Luke is silent.
- How many were there? Luke declines to count them.
- What exactly were the angels doing as they filled the sky with song? Luke has no comment.
- What expression was on the face of the newborn savior? Luke says nothing.
It is as if Luke pulls our attention away from the events themselves and focuses it instead on something else, namely the responses of those who were involved.
The shepherds were “sore afraid,” but returned from Bethlehem “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” The people who heard their reports “wondered at what the shepherds had told them.” Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” As for the “glory of the Lord,” Luke is reticent, but when it comes to those upon whom it shone, he breaks his descriptive silence and saves his fullest language to portray what happened in their lives and hearts.
But there is another, and more important, reason why Luke turns our gaze from the light itself toward the faces of those people who were illumined by it. Luke wants us to search those faces and to find our own faces reflected there, to find ourselves once again filled with wonder, to ponder these things in our hearts, to contemplate the possibility that we, too, might glorify and praise God this Christmas Eve for all that we have experienced because of the life of the Christ child born that night.
Luke does not want us to be fascinated by this story’s height; he invites us instead to explore for ourselves its depth.
There was once a Christmas pageant at a small church in which the part of the innkeeper at Bethlehem was played by a high school student. He was a quiet and polite boy, but the kind of boy for whom the word “awkward” was an apt description — awkward in manner, awkward in social relationships, even awkward in size, his growing frame always pushing at the limits of his clothing. His peers liked him well enough, but he was the sort of person who was easy to overlook, to exclude from the center of things.
When Joseph and Mary appeared at the inn, he stood … awkwardly … in the doorway, slumping a bit toward the couple as they made their request for lodging. He then dutifully recited his one line, “There is no room in the inn.” But as Mary and Joseph turned and walked wearily away toward the cattle stall where they would spend the night, the boy continued to watch them with eyes filled with compassion. Suddenly responding to a grace which, though not part of the script, filled the moment, he startled himself, the holy couple, and the audience, by calling, “Wait a minute. Don’t go. You can have my room.”
Making Room for the Baby:
Every baby will keep every parent up all night, at least once. It’s a rule. Whether because they are teething or colicky, anxious or tummy-troubled, or just plain fussy, it’s part of a baby’s mission in life to keep its parents awake weeping and wailing.
We parents are “hard-wired” to respond to an infant’s cries. What has kept us grieving all week, a grief that can’t be spoken? What has kept our hearts hurting all week, a pain that won’t go away? When an infant or child is in trouble, or hurt, or killed, both our right and left brains insist we must do something to “fix” the situation. If our hearts melt at the mere sound of a distressed infant, how much more do our hearts overflow in anguish at the sight of children being harmed or in harm’s way – even if our own nerve endings are jangling and cross-firing.
Before there were “white noise” recordings, washing machines, or long car rides to soothe the plaintive cries of a child, parents in every culture on the planet came up with the same plan to quiet a crying child — lullabies. Sweet melodies, slowly cadenced, softly sung, lullabies “lull” little ones into a dreamy place. They also have almost lulled me to my doom. One of my favorite CDs is Tom Wasinger’s “The World Sings Goodnight,” which I have downloaded into the playlist of my truck. These 33 lullabies are from all over the world – Bolivia, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, Egypt, India, Algeria, Iran, to name a few other than the more obvious ones from the US and Canada. My problem is that as I’m barreling down the highway listening to these lullabies, I’m also being lulled to sleep.
Ask your people what lullabies were sung to them growing up. You might start with your own, and refresh their memories about lullabies that are as famous as “Away in a Manger” (Luther’s cradle song) or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Frere Jacques” (Brother Jack) or “Rock-a-bye Baby” (written in late 1700s when some English immigrants to the new world saw how native Americans carried their children) or as forgotten as Brahms’ “Lullaby and Goodnight” (Brahms Lullaby) or “All Through the Night” (a Welsh folk song first recorded 1784) or Paul Simon’s lullaby written for his son “St. Judy’s Comet”.]
I suspect that everyone here has noticed that the actual words of some lullabies aren’t always all that comforting think “down will come baby, cradle and all.” But the cradling arms and rocking-chair rhythms in which these songs were sung created a safe, special place for a fussy infant.
In this week’s gospel text we heard the first hymn of the new age. Jesus’ birth announcement came in the form of a song, Mary’s Song, known as “The Magnificat.” The “Magnificat,” Mary’s hymn of praise to God, is nothing less than her first lullaby to her baby, to the embryonic Messiah. The first thing Jesus heard in his mother’s womb, outside the beating of her heart, was Mary’s lullaby telling him in the womb how blessed his mother was with his presence. Mary’s lullaby tells her child that his conception is a product of both God’s “mighty arm” and God’s great mercy.
Here is Mary’s Song. Let’s say the lullaby together.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Like most lullabies there are some dark and downside stanzas. The proud get knocked off their high horses, or fall from their pedestals. The powerful are scattered and brought low. The rich are sent away empty. But the melodic leit motif of Mary’s lullaby affirms God as Savior, committed to the covenant, keeper of the promise made to Abraham and all his ancestors generations ago.
Mary’s lullaby is sung to offer comfort and to inspire action. But it’s more than that. Mary’s Song “extolls,” “magnifies,” “praises” the Lord. But not just for what has occurred in the past, but for what is to come in the new future God has made possible through the child who is to come: Emmanuel, God With Us.
There is good linguistic evidence to suggest that the term “lullaby” is derived from a Hebrew idiom “lilith-aba” — or “Lilith begone.” “Lilith was a demon/witch from early Israelite literature who was believed to steal little children. “Lilith-aba,” “Lilith begone” was part of the words sung over a child to protect the little one from evil. “Lilith Aba” became “lullaby.”
So perhaps the very first Hebrew lullabies were not just about putting small children into a sleeping stupor, but also keeping us alert to the approach of evil and to take decisive action against it. Mary’s first “lullaby” to Jesus, “The Magnificat,” was just such a tune. Mary’s hymn sang sweetly about the great gift she had received from God. But Mary’s hymn also sang fiercely about the actions and changes that would come about because of this new work of God in the world. Mary’s first “lullaby” sung to baby Jesus was not designed to put him to sleep, but to wake him up. “The Magnificat” woke the baby Jesus up to his mission and message just as the sound of his mother’s voice had awakened the baby John to his mission of proclamation and preparation.
The Messiah has come. Things will change. God is present and working great changes in the world according to God’s covenant and promises.
It is impossible to escape “Santa Claus” this time of year. No matter how hard we try to make Christmas about Jesus, that big fat guy in the red suit keeps showing up. Instead of getting sucked into a consumer-culture’s Santa Claus, maybe we should be telling the “lullaby” of the original Santa Claus, the actual Saint Nicholas, the Magnificat Nicholas.
Nicholas lived in the third century in what we now calls Asia Minor, or the Middle East. He rose in the ranks of the church and even attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. But instead of accepting his high role and rank in the new church hierarchy, Nicholas chose a different path. Having inherited significant wealth, Nicholas didn’t just refuse it, chuck it, or give it away in one big lump sum. Instead, Nicholas spent his life and his inheritance on saving others, especially the very people named in the Magnificat the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the condemned. Nicholas bought a young woman out of slavery (what today we would call the sex trade industry). Nicholas purchased pardons for those condemned to death because their primary crime was being poor and desperate. During the time of famine, Nicholas bought grain and distributed it for free to the most destitute and desperate.
Saint Nicholas lived the lullaby sung by Mary to Jesus before he was even born. St. Nicholas took words of “comfort and joy” and transformed them into witnesses of challenge and love. It is what we are called to do. It is what the Christmas story reminds us to do.
Our Response: A wedding ceremony was about to begin. Members of the bridal procession anxiously waited for the organ music to accompany them down the aisle. But there was only silence. One of the ushers tried to get the organist’s attention by snapping his fingers. Still there was silence. The usher then tried clapping his hands. Still no response. Finally, the now panicking usher called out the organist’s name. “Neil … Neil,” he shouted and all the people in church obediently dropped to their knees.
The Magnificat in today’s Gospel message is enough to have us all kneeling. In the worlds of “O Holy Night,”
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born! O night, O holy night, O night divine!
It’s not until you fall on your knees that you can stand up to your true self, to the person God is calling you to be this Christmas season.
Would you join with me now as we fall on our knees and sing our own personal Magnificat to God?
Luke’s word to us this day is that God hears those prayers, and that it is into just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that the power of God is born. It is there that God entrusts the treasure, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things — setting things right.
On a dark night in a feed stall in Bethlehem, the treasure which was entrusted to Mary became the treasure for us all. All the Herods and all the priests and all the powers-that-be gathered around to do their worst. But on Easter morning, just as Mary said, “God stretched out his mighty arm ….”
Credits: Reading from Long, Sweet, and Others mentioned here in.
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