First Sunday after Christmas; Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
Well, here we are, we’ve done it. Christmas day is done and gone. The waiting days of Advent, pregnant with anticipation of the coming Christ, came to their climax in the celebration of Jesus’s birth Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner has been served, and all the dishes are cleaned. The shepherds have gone home with their sheep, and the cattle are lowing elsewhere. The aisles and aisles of Christmas finery in the stores have been packed away in some stores and deeply discounted in others to make room for Valentine’s and Easter displays. It’s a time that leaves us in danger of feeling shiftless, ungrounded, even let down. You wonder if Mary and Joseph felt that as they took on their new parental responsibilities. New, young parents. Traveling, yet again, this time to the temple, for Mary’s purification (a ritual required of all observant Jewish women after all that messy childbirth business), and to offer sacrifice for their first born. It’s the spiritual equivalent of post partum depression, as we face an ending and a return to “normal life” (whatever that is), where we had for so long anticipated a beginning, and new life.
Fortunately, we have Paul today to rescue us from any sense of ennui. Paul brings us back to Christmas with his own birth narrative, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” No census, no mangers, no shepherds, no angels. Simply this, the time was right and God offered this incomparable gift, born of us, to be one of us, to share and live with us. Paul goes on to explain the real implication of this – God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” “Abba” is the aramaic equivalent of “Daddy”, or “Papa”. We know it from the intimate prayer of Jesus to his Father as he approaches the day of his death. The point of Jesus coming, being born human, if we are to believe Paul, is that we might know ourselves as children of God.
God’s son was born into financial poverty. The rather famous conditions of his birth itself suggest that. That could, theoretically, have had as much to do with a crowded town as a lack of means. But in the aftermath of that first Christmas Mary and Joseph get back to the business of the day, offering two turtle doves (or pigeons) in sacrifice for their firstborn as required by the law. If they had money or means, the law would have required a lamb.
I had the opportunity yesterday to meet a young family who, in the wake of Christmas, had nothing. Through a variety of circumstances this family found themselves without a home, without means of support, without food, simply without. They were hungry, and did not know where to turn. They met someone else, who had a house that they could use. Now they are warm and dry and together. The person with the house knew people who could spare food and furniture and books. Now this wonderful little family can sit together at the dinner table. They have something to put on the dinner table to eat. Out of the ashes of their old, broken lives, a new life is beginning. God’s work was done in their lives. The work was not done as part of any church, or organization, just one child of God serving other children of God.
This is not the time to lament the endings. This is the time to be about God’s work. To join with Simeon in blessing the Holy One. To join with Anna in praising God. To be the gifted children that God has created us to be. To bring God’s graciousness and love into all his children’s lives.
Today marks the new year, a new beginning. By all means, take a breath and recoup from the chaos and emotional pull of Christmas. But breathe in the reality of Christmas, do not blow it away. In these quiet minutes (there may not be many), let the echo of intimate connection with God, “Abba, Father”, echo in your heart. “As the prayers of Jesus are formed in us they form us, shape our faith and faithfulness. When we pray the prayer of Jesus and profess the faith of Jesus, we begin to do the works of Jesus… And all of this as God’s once and abiding Christmas present to the world.” (THOMAS R. STEAGALD)
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God” Amen.