Sunday, January 4, 2009

Second Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith Jehovah.

Although I’m writing on New Year’s Eve, by the time these scriptures will be used in worship we will be well beyond New Year’s Day. Most of the congregation will be getting ready to head back to work and school after a couple weeks of vacation or reduced hours. I like to keep my Christmas lights up through Epiphany, but many people will have already packed away the decorations. Even the shelves of discounted Christmas items will be replaced by merchandise for Valentine’s Day in the stores. Christmas is over. Yet, as Christians we live by a different calendar. For us it is Christmas until Epiphany, which is on January 6th. Today, December 31st is only the seventh day of Christmas.

The world is different during the holiday season. Many people take extra vacations. They have visitors from out of town that join in the celebration. The television schedule is confused with lots of special programming and the radio stations play continuous Christmas music. We don’t pay as much attention to the news; most of those responsible for reporting the stories take vacation, too. We are a little nicer to our neighbors and a little happier. Perhaps we act differently because there is a special spirit about this time of year. Or perhaps we act differently because we set aside the stress of ‘the real world’ for a short period of time to celebrate. Whatever the reason, we are about to enter back into that world where we have to chase after the worldly dreams that we think really matter.

So, on Sunday when we are using these texts, most people will be confused by the continued attention we are paying to the themes of Christmas. They are ready to set it aside, to begin a new year and to settle back into normal life again.

But our Lord Jesus Christ was not born so that we can celebrate His birth and then pack Him away in a box until next year. He has come to save the world. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the light, the life, the way, and the truth. He is our Redeemer. He is our hope and our peace. Without Christ, we can have no love, no joy. There are some Christians who question the whole idea of celebrating Christmas. They feel that Christ was lost in the hullabaloo a long time ago and that it is just a pagan holiday. In some ways they are right. Too many people consider Santa more important than the Nativity, presents more important than love. And when the season is over, we go on with our lives as if nothing special happened. Yet, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the end of our story, it is just the beginning. It is the means by which God gave us His Son through whom we have our salvation. Jesus is not someone to remember just in December, He is the living Lord of our lives, our Redeemer and friend.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Christmas is a fleeting feeling. The joy of the holidays is overcome by the concerns of the world. The generosity of the season is bound up by credit card debt. Those who were faithful to attend worship services will take a break until Easter because they think they’ve done their duty. Even many Christians have had enough of Jesus for the moment. He is a reason to celebrate in December but that is the extent of their faith. But Jesus cannot be put in a box and He shouldn’t be forgotten now that the season is over.

How will we face the world as the old year turns into the new? Will we pack Jesus away with the ornaments and tinsel like the rest of the world, or will we remember His mercy every morning? We need not linger at the manger to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts. As a matter of fact, in faith we leave to manger and look toward the cross where our salvation was won forever. Jesus was born to die. He came to shed His blood for our sake. But we also need not set aside the spirit of Christmas just because the calendar turns to a new year. The things that make the holiday season special—the lights, the happiness, the kindness and generosity, the joy and faith—can remain strong in each of us as we remember that Jesus continues to be with us now as always. We will miss the Christmas lights that have brightened the darkness of December, but we are now called to be like John, to bear witness to the true light, the light that is Christ.

Two thousand years ago, a great divide had been built between God and His children that they could no longer see Him as He was. When Jesus came, many did not recognize Him because their ideas about God were so far removed from what was true. But God revealed Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. We see Him today in the scriptures, in the stories about His life, in the love so great that He gave His Son to die on the cross to destroy death, forgive our sin, and redeem our lives. We see Him in the mercy of Jesus Christ who willingly gave Himself that we might have life. We see Him in His grace, the grace that brings us into eternal life through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. All those who came before us, our forefathers, could only see God in part; they never saw God completely. Only Jesus could know the fullness of God because He is the fullness of God. Today we can see Him in Jesus.

At Christmas we are faced with the shocking image that God broke into the world: not as a white haired king to rule, but as an innocent and helpless child who lived and loved and learned about the world just like you and I. Yet that infant was far different. He was not another human, born into a cruel and chaotic world. He was, and is, the Word in flesh.

But the world would rather leave Jesus in the manger, to forget about Him again until the next Christmas season. For the next eleven months, most people will go about their lives as if nothing has been changed, never seeing the glory of God in the creation or in the faces of their neighbors. They don’t know how God works in our good times and in our bad and how He is with us through every circumstance. They don’t recognize God’s gracious provision or see the fulfillment of all His promises in their every day life.

The promise of Christmas is the ultimate promise of God: that God will turn the world upside down. Death leads to life, mourning leads to joy, anger leads to mercy, and sorrow is ended as God fulfills His word in our world. God will comfort His people and they will be satisfied. It is hard to imagine being satisfied when we face a world full of suffering and pain. Yet, it is in faith we walk daily, knowing that Jesus has been born, lived and died for our sake. There is always something greater beyond today’s troubles. We follow in the footsteps of our Master, trusting in His goodness for all our needs.

We find comfort in the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Him we are satisfied. We live in a day when so much seems to be wrong with the world. People look at the evil and pain and sometimes wonder if God has abandoned us. There are many people who do not believe in the existence of the Almighty God. There are no easy answers to that questions we ask as we consider the world in which we live. But for those of us who believe there is hope in the promises of God. We do not have to wait until the morning to dance and rejoice, or another Christmas season, for Jesus Christ has brought us new life and the fulfillment of the promises for all time.

In the beginning, God spoke and everything came into existence. He speaks and the sun shines and the rain falls. His word brings the snow, the frost and ice. He speaks again and the warm breezes melt the snow. His Word set the creation into motion and keeps it going. God spoke another Word, however. This was a word of redemption. It was a word of forgiveness and mercy. It was a word that brought hope to His people and to the world. It was spoken to His people, to those who believe. It began a new relationship with those whom He loves.

In the beginning, God spoke the world into being. He named the sun, moon and stars and put them into motion. He called out to the water and it separated, creating the oceans and mountains. From that day on, God has constantly expanded His sphere of influence over the world. He began with one man named Adam. They He gave Adam a wife. Later He called Abraham into a relationship, followed by Isaac and Jacob. Jacob became Israel and God established a bond with His chosen people. Then when they failed to live according to His Word, God sent His Son to bring redemption and reconciliation. This grace was given not only for His chosen people, but for the entire world.

Now we are called to a new beginning, to join in the work of God as we take His Gospel message of forgiveness into the world. It started with just one person—Jesus Christ—and now His Kingdom reaches around the world. We might think we can’t possibly affect the world around us, but God gathers us together into an ever growing people who are deeply love and gifted by God. For this we sing His praise and share God’s grace with others.

Some of us will have made New Year’s resolutions for 2009. These resolutions might be promises for healthier living, more commitment to our work and relationships. They might be focused on getting rid of bad habits or building better behaviors. The work of those resolutions might be hard, or it might take some simple changes. Whatever the goals we set to make our lives new, let us never forget all that the light of Christ does not fade as the last Christmas decorations are packed away. He has called us to shine His light to all the world throughout the year. We begin by remembering all that He has done and walking in the trust that God is faithful. He is with us. He fulfills all His promises. With that faith we can face whatever the new year has for us.

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