Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

First Sunday after Christmas Day December 28, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Christmas 1 December 28, 2008 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

So we continue to explore the mystery of Christmas, and as we continue to read from the prophet Isaiah, as we heard this morning’s reading with our own experience of Christmas so recent, I think it’s easy to see that Isaiah really did get Christmas. He really got it, he knew what Christmas is about, and I think that’s another clue to Christmas as not being a historical event, because Isaiah got it before it happened. Rather than being an historical event, it’s good to explore Christmas as an eternal process. And in that reading we find out what it was about, how did Isaiah encounter Christmas? For Isaiah, it was a cause of great rejoicing; it involves the whole being; it is like being clothed or covered. It is a springing into life, and it energises the being: ‘I will not keep silent, I will not rest’. It will also be seen by all the world, it will be seen by all nations. We’re then told, ‘you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give’. Isaiah speaks of unfolding into a new being and of becoming a new person.

Yesterday I had to run an errand – I had to go to Garden City. It was a sobering illustration that for many, in fact for most people – I didn’t realize there were that many people in Perth – for most people Christmas has unfolded into the sales. Steered by the force of advertising, drawn by the gravity of consumerism, most, most will invest themselves in the accumulation of possessions, in the gratification of conditioned needs. And I thought, what is the process that they are engaged in, what drives, what moves? And I thought it’s the same process that we’ve all seen in those experiments with laboratory rats. Conditioned to seek out new clothes and to cover themselves with bargains, they’re completely oblivious of the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness, absolutely unaware. For many, for most, Christmas was a birthday party. And as we all know birthday parties are one-day events; they occur once a year and when the party’s over, it’s back on the treadmill. The church and the teaching of the church have not been much different, and still continue to look only at the event of Christmas, and so we end up with a simplistic birthday party theology; we’re actually pushed toward seeing the event, the day. But the gospels present an unfolding, the gospels illustrate the unfolding process of Christmas, and they invite us into our own unfolding - our unfolding as individuals and our unfolding as the holy people of God.

In verse 6, Paul says, ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts’ – Emmanuel means ‘God with us’. Paul continues in verse 7, ‘So you are no longer a slave’ - you are no longer a laboratory rat, ‘but a child’ – remember the child of the nativity - ‘and if a child then also an heir, through God’. That’s who you are, and an heir grows into an inheritance. I was thinking about that growing into an inheritance and then I thought, most mainline churchgoers attend church – this is the regulars – attend church just under once a week. Most expect to spend no more than an hour a week in church, doing the church stuff, this is most. If you think about it that works out as about forty-eight hours a year - two days a year to grow into an inheritance - and I thought no wonder the church itself is so slow in growing up. Imagine if our kids spent two days a year focussed on growing into what they might become.

Luke’s continuing account of the Christ child, if we read it as an historical account, a continuation of the Nativity story, it really throws up some interesting contradictions. If you look at verse 33 it says, ‘the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said’ – this is what was being said about their baby, Jesus. Didn’t Luke earlier say that God was the father of this child? Didn’t Luke tell us earlier on that Mary had been visited by an angel and was made fully aware of the destiny of this child? They’re not contradictions because Luke is not telling a historical story. What Luke is seeking to convey in the whole of his telling of the Jesus story is that the Divine is fully present in the fullness of humanity: Christ is fully God, Christ is fully human. You also are an heir, a child of the Divine, an inheritor of the kingdom of God: ‘And you shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD’.

The early or earlier church provides three feasts between Christmas and Epiphany. There’s the feast of St Stephen – that’s the one that Good King Wenceslas looked out on; St Stephen was the first martyr. Next we have the Holy Innocents, the slaying of the children as Herod tries to wipe out the becoming of the Christ child. Then we have the naming and the circumcision of our Lord. The feasts, like the gospel, seek to provide us with some reference points for the unfolding, and in the unfolding of Christmas they enable us to consider and reflect. The feast of Saint Stephen – the giving of ourselves, the giving fully and the dying of our worldly self –the first martyr. The Holy Innocents, the cost, the cost of the journey before us and the extent to which the authorities will go to prevent our realisation. The naming and circumcision of our Lord - the new name by which you and I and we will be known. What is that name? What will be called; what we grow into? Don’t wince at the circumcision at all, that’s there as a commitment, a marked commitment to our faith.

Thank goodness we’ve got twelve days of Christmas. The twelve days give us an opportunity to look reflect on these stories, to look at the Gospel, to look beyond the Christmas card version, the forty-eight hour-a-year growing and in fact, to be changed. At the turning of the year the slate is wiped clean, as we move from 2008 to 2009. We almost have enculturated the idea of setting a new course. Let’s use the twelve days of Christmas to more fully hear the story, and to look at the unfolding of Christmas within ourselves, to the journey that it might lead us to as we move toward the new year.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphries