Daily Archives: December 24, 2017

Christmas Day: Proper I

birth-of-jesusThe Kingdom of Light

These readings are traditionally used during the Christmas Eve service in many liturgical churches. They may be used on Christmas Day as well.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Isaiah foretells a great event:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6)

At the time this prophecy was being fulfilled the world had become immersed in darkness, much like it is today. Israel was under Roman rule. Rome had laid upon the people a heavy tax. In today’s Gospel we read:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  (Luke 2:1-4)

The registration was for the purposes of taxation. Who would come and save them for the burden of Rome? A prophet of God had not spoken to them in 400 years. Many had lost hope that God would ever deliver them from the tyranny of foreign rule. This was about to change:

Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:5-7)

A far greater tyranny existed than Rome. This tyranny was a spiritual one imposed by the ruler of darkness. As a result, many Israelites had lost the meaning of God’s great love for them. Perhaps this is still true for many of us today.

Into this darkness a great message of hope was spoken, to shepherds no less:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”   (Luke 2:8-14)

The light of Christ had come

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.  (Isaiah (9:2-4)

Satan had blinded the understanding of God’s people. Though Rome was oppressive, the way the Law of Moses was interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees was even more so. Heavy burdens had been placed on the people through numerous religious rules and regulations.

Only the light of Christ could dispel this great darkness. His teachings and his examples clearly demonstrated God’s love for his people. Not only that, but he took on all our burdens by his death on the cross.

Are we still living in darkness today? What about the song: “He is making a list and checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice?” Do we measure up? Can God still love us? Have we done enough?

Jesus has done enough! He is still lifting our burdens if we will allow him. Again, from Isaiah:

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

We no longer need to live under the tyranny of darkness which tells us that God does not truly love us unless we measure up. God loves us because he measures up. He will establish justice and righteousness for this time onward and forevermore. Human beings cannot do this, though some falsely say that they can. Only God has the means, the authority, and the zeal to accomplish this.

Under this world’s governmental system there will always be some form of oppression. However, this world is passing away. The Kingdom of Light is growing and expanding. Do we not see it? Jesus is still calling people into his everlasting kingdom. Everyone is invited. Have we opened our invitation to join him? This is the true gift of Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let every hearts prepare him room. Amen.

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The Season of Christmas

 

adam_williams_fine_art_madonna_and_child_1250427034625Christmas is the feast of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh (the Latin “in carne” ggmeans “enfleshment”). This is a uniquely Christian teaching, the Divine choosing to become one of us. God is not only Transcendent, but also wholly Immanent, Emmanuel (God-with-us). We celebrate how that was accomplished through the miraculous virgin birth of his Son.

While God is Immanent he also remains Transcendent. We must rise above ourselves to meet him fully. This can only be done through the blood of Jesus. The  wonderful mystery of Emmanuel is that God is with us as we rise toward Him. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit and dwells in our hearts. Thus an understanding of both Christmas and Easter is required to comprehend the Christian faith.

How do we celebrate the Christmas Season? The secular celebration of The season seems to begin the day after Thanksgiving or even sooner, depending on decision of today’s retail stores. The season lasts until Christmas Day when all those presents many of us have dutifully bought are delivered, after which the Christmas tree is often quickly removed so that our homes can return to some sort of normalcy.

The liturgical church on the other hand celebrates the Season Christmas differently. It begins with anticipation as we prepare ourselves during the Season of Advent for the arrival of the Christ Child. The celebration of Christmas Season begins with a Eucharistic celebration on Christmas Eve (called the Christ Mass in the Roman Catholic Church) and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and we reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with Jesus. The consecration of this gift is later celebrated on Resurrection Sunday, observing the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died for us,  paying the price of our sins, so that we may be raised with him to newness of life.

Christmas and Easter go together. We receive the gift they offer by God’s grace through faith. What greater gift could we possibly receive? Let us not neglect such a great salvation. amen.

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Year B

You Have Found Favor with God

King David was disturbed that he was living in a house made of cedar and the ark of God remained in a tent. He had approached Nathan the prophet about building a housing for the ark. God spoke to Nathan about David’s desire:

Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.   (2 Samuel 7:8-11, 16)

God turns the tables on David. He tells David that, rather than having David build him a house, he would build David and all Israel a house, and that this house would be established forever. God was saying that he is the one who provides for his people and not the other way around.

Let us fast forward to the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise. It is a time when many of the people are in despair. At the time the angel of God visited Mary there had been 400 years of silence where God had not spoken to his people through any prophet. During this period there were many political upheavals for Israel. Influences from foreign nations had undermined much of Israel’s understanding and hope concerning the plans and promises of God.

When the Angel appeared to Mary how could she have possibly understood what she was being told?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”   (Luke 1:30-38)

What is remarkable is that, though Mary could not have fully understood what the angel was saying, she was able to receive it on faith. Mary responded:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”   (Luke 1:37).

Why was Mary able to respond in such a humble and trusting way? I believe this is revealed by her prophecy which is known by many as the Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

God’s timeline became Mary’s timeline. God made promises “to Abraham and his children for ever.” Mary had a powerful faith to see what the angel was saying as part of a continuum of God’s salvation history for his people.

Where do we fit in to this great promise of God today? Do we ever feel that God has not spoken to us for a long time? Surely there are times when God tests our faith. Surely we go through dry spells in our spiritual walk. Nonetheless, has not God made the same promise to us that he made to David? Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.   (John 14:1-3)

We cannot construct houses for God to fit in. He is the almighty, transcendent, and creator God who cannot be bound by human hands. Yet he is also Emmanuel, God with us. He has chosen to dwell with us forever. The psalmist writes:

Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.   (Psalm 100:3-5)

Like Mary, we need the faith, truth, and hope to say to God: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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