Readings for First Sunday after Christmas Day 30th December 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Christmas 1 30th December 2007 Textweek

Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

This is just an aside: do you think the choir sound good, even though half of them are on holiday? It’s really good isn’t it? I had a dream last night, and coming in this morning it just reminded me standing there looking at the choir, and then just hearing the Gospel again afresh – ‘After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream’ - and it picked it up again. And also the second hymn, ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, that also reminded me because the dream was about me being in the choir, and there weren’t many of us and we had to perform at this function. I had to sing solo – one verse, and it was the last verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’! And I was aware during the dream that we all had books and song sheets but I didn’t know where mine was, and then we started looking it up and this hymn wasn’t in it and I had to find another one and I knew the words but I actually didn’t know how they started. I pictured the verse and thought it begins with an ‘e’ but it was ‘and’, so I thought, if I can remember that I can sing it and so on, and so on. So I really do appreciate some of the stress and what goes on in the choir, but my guess is that within that dream there was something about a part of me is not fully rehearsed in, that is fearful of, in relation to the Nativity and in relation to fulfilling my call in the world. Those stories, as with the songs that we hear when we come to church, are really layers of life and what we need to do is be able to pause and reflect on them.

That was an aside anyway, but it probably makes some sense as to where we are at the present time because for many Christmas is over for another year; you can hardly get through a day without someone telling you that and many will also say, ‘I’m glad, I’m glad that’s over for another year.’ And it’s almost as if we’re led by the calendar and drawn to look at the new year as soon as Boxing Day kicks in. There’s a pause where we can all just watch sport. That’s the pause to give the emotions of Christmas, which call on our emotions, the child within and the Christ child within - the reason there’s so much sport on Boxing Day is to distract that child. Most of us would have been engaged in sport in some form or another, so it gives us a chance to look away before we start to look toward the new year, each and every one of us with a different perspective. Cadbury and Lindt are probably already looking at repackaging and setting their Easter sales targets. We are almost impelled towards the next celebration, New Year’s Eve - where will you be, what will you do, what’s in and what’s out, and then to what will 2008 bring?

The guiding star of Advent seems to have been eclipsed by the coming of light and yet the liturgy of the Church, the carols that we sing today, the readings, remind that we are still very much in Christmas and therefore we’re invited to stay, to stay and reflect, before we make the leap into 2008 and before we start listing out our new year’s resolutions - you know those things that give us some sense of direction for the first few weeks or days or hours of the new year. Before we do that we might consider what will guide us, what will give us direction as we continue our journey. It’s as if we arrived at the inn and we’ve got a couple more nights booked in and then where shall we go, to where will we move? Maybe as we unwrap the gift of Christmas we might use the season of Christmas just to ask of ourselves what did I give, what did we give, at Christmas; what did I receive, what did we receive? What was revealed and what was brought to birth; what was made new or what was changed and what will never be the same again?

In the first reading Isaiah recounts, he takes stock, of what the encounter, the engagement with the divine means. In verse 8, ‘He became their saviour. It was no messenger or angel but God’s presence that saved them’. And the reading from Hebrews seems to underline the import of God’s presence as revealed in the Nativity, in verse 11: ‘the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have the same Father’. That’s one way of describing the closeness of the Christ child and me, and you. The one who you worship and you are perhaps a lot closer than you think - brothers and sisters with Christ. Is that not the revelation of Christmas – God with us, Emmanuel?

Matthew in the Gospel reading today seeks to legitimize the revelation of Christ within the tradition of the prophets; he is linking the story to the tradition. What he is really saying is that it is not new. The nativity story actually belongs in our tradition, and has come forward – it isn’t new but its revelation will make all things new. One of the points that Matthew is making and that I think it would be great, if I and therefore we, could get - this is a story that can make all things new, an encounter that can make all things new.

Then we have an account that illustrates how this revelation, the revelation of the Nativity must be protected from the forces of the world. Mary and Joseph grabbed the gift and they had to go away. Herod represents the ruling authority and it’s the ruling authority that seeks to destroy the divine revelation - the forces of the world, worldly gravity, working against the divine force, that which brings freedom from fear. Another timeless narrative, the story of Herod, the fleeing of Mary and Joseph with the baby – Al Qaida and the USA, the chicken and egg of fear are like Herod. Operating from their own fear they create fear; it is a noise so loud that we start to lose the voice of the angel, ‘Do not be afraid’. Switch on any news channel and what we are being given is to be afraid; we need to hear the language of the world in order that we can also hear the language of the divine, and know that these two dwell together. To what then will I then give my ear? The making, the selling, the shipping and the use of arms is a fearful and unholy response to that choir of angels in the Nativity scene that sing of peace on earth and goodwill to all. God is with us. Do I hear the word? Can I put my faith in such a still small voice?

The killing of Benazir Bhutto is not an event occurring in Pakistan, it is an event in our world, in my world. Just as the Nativity is not an event from another time in another place, but it belongs in my world, in our world. It’s good to become aware, to be able to read the signs of the world, read them and reflect on them in relation to the story, to the encounter, to the revelation of Christmas.

There were a couple of other headlines on the same day as the killing of Benazir Bhutto and one wonders about the world that we inhabit. More and more stories from near and far somehow seem to be stories from within; it’s as if the world is a reflection of that which is within ourselves, the perspective that we take on the world, how we see it, how we attend to it and what we do with it. If you come from Mars you can look down and say, they are operating in relation to what’s going on around them; equally if you come from Mars you can look down and say, what’s going on around them is occurring from within – we create the world that we live in.

Here’s a headline, it’s laughable this headline: ‘Priests scuffle inside Bethlehem church. Robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and stones inside the church of the Nativity on Thursday, as long standing rivalries erupted.’ Isn’t that amazing – this is two days after the celebration of the Nativity in the church of the Nativity, and we have priests with broomsticks and stones. Want some good news from the headlines? Same day, same paper: ‘More than a fifth of the Church of England’s bishops could face the axe under proposals being drawn up by its leaders.’ When we read the headlines it’s very easy to be distant from them and the way we achieve that is to create my world: it’s being protective of the self and if we devote too much time and energy to it we become selfish and all of those headlines then just merge with the rest of the drivel that you get on the TV – none of it matters. The announcement of the killing of someone seeking to bring change to a people has absolutely no more consequence than Rick Hart’s announcement what percent you will get off white-goods in his shop. The way that we achieve that is to just come into ourselves. Christmas is suggesting that we do that even more - go in further, go beyond yourself and find the divine within, and then all of a sudden from there every headline becomes important because the world is our world, of our creation.

The gift of Christmas is one of great hope, stunning hope: God with us. Not in the church, not being fought over by priests, not being carried in processions by bishops, God with us, with each and every one of us: in each and every one the divine is alive. The question for us is, will that make the headlines in 2008 – God with us? And as soon as we ponder that question, the obvious answer is no, I don’t think it will, because we tend to watch the headlines coming toward us. It can make the headlines in 2008, God with us, because the headlines reveal us in the world.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris