Second Sunday after Christmas (Year C)
Sunday, January 3
Preached by Anna C. Haugen
St. Mark Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I worked on this sermon, Friday afternoon, Dad watched the Rose Bowl and Mom took down the Christmas decorations. First to go was the train around the bottom of the tree—Lars sent it around the track one last time before it was packed up. Then the ornaments were taken down from the tree and put in their places, the homemade ones in layers of tissue paper in shoeboxes, the store-bought ones in the boxes they came in. After the ornaments came the garlands, and then the colored lights, carefully coiled up so that they will hopefully be free of tangles when the time comes to take them out again. After the tree was taken care of it was time to tackle the smaller tasks of the stockings and knick-knacks on the mantel, my brother’s nutcracker collection, and the Christmas art on the walls. Last of all went the crèche, and the baby Jesus and his world were carefully wrapped up in tissue paper, to sit in a box in a closet for the next eleven months. And yet, here I am, to preach a Christmas sermon.
In our world, we’ve grown very used to putting Christmas in a box. Throughout the months leading up to the holiday, we spend enormous amounts of time and effort (and sometimes money) on presents to give to our friends and loved ones. We fuss over decorations, parties, what we’re going to wear, what food we’re going to have, who we’re going to visit, who we’ll invite to visit us. We stop, every so often, to remind ourselves that Christmas is not about the material things, it’s about love, and then go right back to our usual flurry of preparations. On Christmas Eve we come to church to hear the story of the baby born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, with angels and shepherds in attendance, and sing beloved carols. We open our presents, thank everyone, and then put the Christmas decorations away and go back to our regular lives while the radio stations and TV channels go back to their regularly scheduled programming. And yet, the God who came to Earth to become fully human, fully with us, who created the world and broke the bonds of sin and death, will not be kept in a box on a shelf.
One of the first things they teach you in seminary, when analyzing a passage of scripture, is to look for things that are repeated. Obviously, if the writer of the passage wanted to stress something, it must be important. Look at today’s second lesson, from Ephesians: it’s only twelve verses long (and in the original Greek, is all a single sentence!). Yet in those twelve verses, Paul repeats the phrase “in Christ” eight times. English has to use different prepositions to express all the nuances of Paul’s words, but still the thundering repetition comes through: in Christ, we are blessed. In Christ, we are chosen. In Christ, we are adopted. In Christ, we are redeemed. In Christ, we are forgiven. In Christ, we are shown the mystery of God’s will, and in Christ, we are marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Christ.
Christ is the Word of God through which the world was created. Everything in heaven and Earth, everything that has ever been and ever will be, came into being through Christ. Do we see this, when we look at the world? There’s a song I sing with just about every group of children I work with, called the Hippo Song, about how God created everything, and how “God’s finger-prints are everywhere, just to show how much he cares.” Do we look for God’s finger-prints, or do we only see the darkness in the world, the broken things, the pain and suffering and problems? Can we see Christ, the light of the world, the light shining in the darkness, the light no darkness can overcome? Can we see the true light, the light for all people, that Word incarnate, truly God and truly human, flesh and blood and bone and yet divine?
All too often, the answer is no. We are not alone in this, of course; the story of humanity is the story of people who reject God, who are given the true light in one form or another and yet do not know it, do not accept it. From time immemorial we humans have been so absorbed in our own sin that we cannot see the grace that is given to us. And so we turn away from God even as God reaches out to us. From Adam and Eve on down, the Bible is full of such stories, which are echoed in all of human history.
When I read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, I am frequently struck by how grateful I am that I don’t have to face the things many people in the Bible did. Jeremiah, the author of today’s first lesson, is one of the people I am most grateful not to be. He was a prophet of the Lord in the days leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Despite the attempts of King Josiah to reform Judah, despite the words of the prophets, the country and its people remained corrupt, and refused to listen to the Word of God. Jeremiah tried to show them their sin, tried to tell them that their destruction was coming, tried to get them to hear God’s word, that they might be saved. For his troubles, he was threatened, imprisoned, tortured, and almost killed. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and conquered all of Judah, Jeremiah went into exile in Egypt. He died without ever seeing the promised redemption of his people. And yet, even in the midst of some of the darkest days the people of Judah ever faced, Jeremiah could see God’s light. No matter how bad things got, God was with them, and God would save them. Even if Jeremiah himself never saw it, he trusted God’s Word and knew that it was coming.
The world is a pretty dark place these days, as well. America’s economic problems have left people from all walks of life jobless, homeless, hopeless. Around the world, things are even worse. The global hunger crisis deepens every month. We are engaged in a war on Terror with no end in sight. Every year, there seem to be more diseases and viruses to be afraid of. It’s no surprise that a national poll recently found that Americans are significantly less hopeful than they were ten years ago.
And yet, in this world of darkness, Christ is still here. Our shepherd calls us by name, to lead us back home, to walk in straight paths and not stumble, to redeem us out of our captivity to sin and death, to give us every good thing. Christ comes to us to be our light and our life, our salvation and our joy. Christ comes among us, the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth, to bring that grace and truth into our lives and make God known to us. Christ breaks into our fallen world to make us new, to make everything new, to make us children of God and forgive us for our sins, to mark us with his cross and seal us with his Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.