Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Gospel of John places Jesus’ birth in the context of the whole cosmos, connecting the birth of a little baby with the eternal expanse that is God’s canvas for creation. The Gospel of John uses “Word” or in Greek, “logos,” to name this person of God we call Jesus. Most of us don’t know Greek, and “Word” can seem too much a static thing to capture all that John is trying to express, so I find “voice” and “song” to be better translations. Listen again to the good news:
In the beginning was the Song, and the Song was with God, and the Song was God. All things came into being through this Singing, and not one thing came into being outside of this Song. God’s voice sang notes into the void, and the notes took shape and formed into worlds and stars and people and animals. And the Song that formed them remained with them and was at their center, so that they could dance according to its melody. This Song was their life. It was their purpose and hope and joy.
The Jesus who is born in a stable, to unwed parents, under the Roman Empire, is the very Song of God. Jesus is God, come to us, come for us. The Song is not separate from the singer, but is an active expression that reaches our ears and our hearts.
At St. Olaf College, church was at 10:30am Sunday mornings, late enough for most college students. Church at that time meant that we’d walk out of the chapel, down the hallway, pick up a few late sleeping friends from Fireside Lounge, and walk up the stairs to the dining hall. The noise of that walk would reflect worship. You’d hear humming or whistling of that final, sending hymn. Or maybe refrains from the choir piece. My head would reverberate with the tunes. The song of the Church, the song of God, had become a part of each of us. We carried it with us as we returned to the rhythm of life.
This is a reflection of the way the Song of God acts in our lives. Jesus has come from God to restore God’s Song to human life, to creation. We are meant to carry this Song in our hearts, so that our whole life is a dance to God’s tune. Jesus is the Song who birthed us, He is the Song of our hearts, the Song of our life. Jesus is the form and director who shapes and guides our lives. Even if you’re not always conscious of the ways your life is making melodies in the Song of God, Jesus is singing to you and the Spirit guides your response.
If you’ve been in a store this past month, and I’d guess most of you have- you’ve heard holiday music. Maybe you didn’t pay it much attention. But even so, your actions may have started to sync to the beat. I’m not much of a musician, but even so, I’ve noticed my steps down the aisles fall into rhythm. Or as I’ve waited in line, I’ve been tapping my fingers or toes. If someone had been standing outside the store and asked me what song I had just heard, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell them, but I still had been reacting to its influence over me.
In this way, God’s Song may not be loud or obtrusive, but still invites us to dance. The Song of God, the God who comes to us, longs to be the beat to which we live our days. Jesus’ life teaches us the way of God’s Song.
The lyrics of this Song are stories of love. It is love that sent the One who creates all things into creation- to be born of a human mother, welcomed by shepherds, and laid in a manger. It is love that sent this One to the sick, outcast, and forgotten, to restore them to health and community. It is love that led this One to the cross, to stare death in the face and declare a love for you that is so strong, even abandonment and torture will not break that love. It is love that won over death, so that through this One’s resurrection, the deaths of all people would be traded for life.
In Jesus Christ, come for you, God’s love Song takes on flesh. As a song leaves the lips of a singer and fills an open room, delighting the ears of all within, Jesus has come from God to touch creation, and delight all with the good news of God’s love. This Song, through whom all things began, will also restore all things, and renew our lives.
Rejoice: dance and sing! Today we celebrate that God has come for us. The Song that was first sung at the beginning of all things continues to sing life into all creation. One day, that Song will draw all things into harmony with himself and no longer will there be any discord. Jesus’ birth confirms your hope: God loves you, God is coming to us to heal the world and to bring you joy.
May you be filled with the Song of God, and hear the beautiful response of all creation singing in tune with its creator.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Tonight we gather around the manger. Here we meet the infant Jesus. We are confronted with the good news that God chooses to enter creation- to come to us! We find God-come-for-us, Jesus, in an unlikely place for a god to enter. We find him in a manger, in a little barn, with parents far from home, accompanied by animals.
The oddity of this location shakes us awake. This birth is an act of God unlike any other. God is showing Godself to be someone other than we might have assumed. Instead of seeking praise and adoration as a powerful ruler or a most holy priest, Jesus is born without power, among ordinary people. Those who arrive at the manger are no one special: the shepherds might even be people most would avoid. Their invited presence at the manger speaks God’s desire that all people are welcome. Jesus shows us a different kind of god, with a great big love for you and me.
Our Sunday School kids did a wonderful job in their program this year. One of the key questions this program raised was how we might have acted differently if it was one of us who had been the innkeeper, or the shepherds, or anyone else who met Jesus. Pippin the Christmas Pig also raises the question of how we might react to similar situations. If we wish we had been there to welcome Jesus, we learn that we still have a chance to act today. We haven’t been born into a time when we could offer Mary a warm room to rest after Jesus’ birth, but we do know there are other young mothers who need a safe place to live. These stories remind us to see the holy in each person we meet. In serving them, we serve God, and share God’s love. There’s always an opportunity to respond to God by loving others.
Sometimes, it’s enough to simply wonder at the awesome strangeness of a God who chooses to be born into creation. It isn’t often that we see anyone take a risk, or do something completely crazy, for love. Jesus’ birth, and life, and death, is a story of a God who is crazy in love with you. A God who gives up everything to be with you. A God who breaks down all barriers, even death itself, so that God would never be separated from you. The wonder of this night is that God has put aside all convention and expectation, stopped caring about your readiness to respond, and has simply come. In Jesus Christ, God has come to you, for you, so that you would know you are not alone, you are not forgotten, but you are loved into life.
This good news, a promise of faithfulness and love, shone in the eyes of a little baby, looking out from the arms of his mother into a world longing for healing and love. A simple stable held the fulfilled hope of all creation. Tonight, we imagine ourselves gathered there.
At the manger, we find a gift. The light of God shines through the little baby. In Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, the darkness of this world is being pushed back. God has entered creation to heal it. Jesus’ birth is God’s coming for you. God has not forgotten God’s people. We celebrate the light of Christ as a promise. It is a promise that God is still at work, to bring life and healing to all. God has fulfilled God’s promise to send a Savior, and Jesus will one day fulfill his mission to restore all of creation.
God has given his Son for you, may his light and life fill you with joy.
One of the most fascinating aspects of parenting young children is their concept of time. Yesterday, tomorrow, five minutes from now- it’s easy to see that Little doesn’t quite grasp these amounts of time. When she’s waiting for Mom to finish the dishes and come play, or waiting for it to be late enough in the morning to get out of bed-, even two minutes seems an eternity. She hasn’t been so regimented on a clock that she can know the passing of ten minutes rather than two. Still, we silly parents insist on using time-related phrases.
So, she picks up time phrases without knowing exactly what they mean. I see the effect of this language when I put her to bed, or when she plays “pretend bedtime.” She’ll tell me I get to snuggle for one minute, or maybe five. The other night, she used her fingers to show me how long one minute of snuggle time is — this long. My little one isn’t focusing on a precise measurement so much as a feeling that waiting to be together is always too long, and spending time focused on each other is too short.
Elsewhere in the Bible, (Mark 10:13-15) we heard words encouraging us to have a childlike faith. It’s in talking about time that having a childlike understanding makes sense. A childlike understanding of time is especially appropriate when we’re waiting for what comes next in God’s action for us.
This season of Advent is heavy in the theme of time and waiting for the hoped for time. Our Old Testament lessons will speak the voice of the ancient chosen people, waiting for God to renew God’s promise to establish a kingdom.
This voice of the Bible often asks, “How long, O Lord?” or “When?” “When will you answer us, when will you change the way things are, when will you act decisively to save us? When will you forgive us so we can be blessed again?”
The Gospel lessons in this season guide us into waiting, both through Jesus’ teaching and the words of those who first understood Jesus as God’s response to their waiting. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus describes a world about to fall apart. Jesus speaks of signs that the fulfillment of hope is about to occur. The writer presents Jesus talking directly to the situation his Christian community faces. For the early Jewish Christian community, signs of a world in the midst of decay were around them: the savior rejected, the holy city threatened by tensions, and the occupying empire as strong as ever.
Today, it’s not so difficult for us to look at the world around us and notice a world falling apart. The lament of Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1a) might just as well be on your lips or mine. They are the words of those who long for healing, for reconciliation, for justice. The cry echoes around the world, in Palestine and Israel, in West Africa, in Central America, in Ferguson, in our homes and those of our neighbors. Depending on where you’re looking, it can look like we’re at the very worst already. So does it mean we’re at the end?
Any student knows that watching the clock slowly tick the minutes away doesn’t really make math – or English- or Physics- go by any faster, but it is helpful to know that the end is coming and to watch the progress of time towards that longed-for goal.
Jesus talks about knowing the signs when the time has come. Could it be that by noticing enough of these signs, we’ll be able to know when that end-of-the-hour buzzer is about to ring? There’s a strong voice in our culture that tries to do just that. It might feel better to know how much longer we have to endure the pain of grief, the horror of violence, the cruelty of injustice. Like a runner who finds the strength in him to push through the final lap rather than give up to exhaustion, if we knew we only have to push onwards in faith for another month, or year… maybe that would be helpful.
But Jesus isn’t so precise.
For us, the point of Jesus’ teaching is not to guess at what exact time God will act, as if we have to get our act together before that, but to have a childlike faith, with a childlike sense of time. As children, we can be sure that God will act, without being too connected to a timetable. Five minutes from now, tomorrow, ten years from now, the span of time doesn’t matter so much as the anticipation.
Way back in September, Little started talking about Christmas. The stores weren’t even decorated yet, but she wanted to know if we’d be going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas. We said yes, and for the next week, she’d wake up and tell us that we’d be going to Grandma and Grandpa’s on Christmas. Every time we were on the phone with them, she’d excitedly declare, “I’m going to your house on Christmas!” We’d try to explain it was really a long time until Christmas, after all the leaves would be gone, and the snow would be falling. But none of that dampened her excitement. She remembers the promised trip to her beloved family and even though she doesn’t have much sense of how many days are left until Christmas, continues to be excited for it.
We’re given a faith that encourages us to wait for God to act decisively, to bring life and healing. Some days, it can seem unbearably long. Will the day ever come? When will God answer prayer? When will God end suffering? When will the space between earth and heaven be destroyed? When will Jesus return, to never leave us again?
How can we live with this tension of anticipation? Are we fools to continue waiting? Is there anything to wait for?
Secular culture picks up on the human capacity for longing and hope. This is the season for cheesier than usual Hallmark movies. We find the theme of waiting even in these storylines. It might go like this: The mid-life mother who hasn’t spoken to her daughter for the last twenty years, sets a place for her at the Christmas table every year, hoping she’ll come home. In the Gospel according to Hallmark, the mother’s faithfulness, her loving devotion to her estranged child is rewarded with a miraculous return and a renewal of relationship. Love is at the center of her longing and her hope. Love has the tenacity to hold on when rationality would let go, give up, and forget.
That’s where even outside of the church, people get it right. It’s love that makes it possible for us to live in hope, and to trust that the one in whom we hope will not abandon us. God has shown God’s love for you in Jesus. Jesus enters our human life: joy and suffering, and goes deepest in the places of despair, so that you would never be separated from God. Jesus forges the connection of love through his death and resurrection, so that you would always be held in God. Jesus invites you to be people of love. Let Jesus’ show of love for you inspire you to greater love, and in that love, find hope for longing fulfilled.
When will all be fulfilled? Some day. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Time to one who operates with a child-like faith isn’t what it is to those who operate according to watches and calendars. It’s not only in waiting for God to come again that we operate in a time that is out of sync with the world.
We Christians live our lives on a messed up time table. We live backwards into eternity. Today we have the joy of welcoming J* through baptism into the life we share in Christ. He was born just a few short months ago, but today he will die- he will drown to a life lived to himself, a life lived alone, a mortal life. He will be born again. Jesus will raise him to new life- a life lived to God, a life lived with God, with the whole people of God, beginning now and lasting forever.
We will say that J* has already died and been brought into Jesus’ life. But he is not yet completely living the resurrection life that is wholly in God’s presence. Still, we might count his eternal life as beginning today, and going on without end and without decay. That’s the life you also share. The sand of your span of life isn’t slipping through the hourglass. Your end has already occurred and your new beginning through baptism has changed the quality of your life, so that you remain forever renewed in the presence of God.
There’s a phrase we use to describe the time in which we live in relation to what God is doing. To describe what it is to live as a baptized Christian who has already died and is united with Christ, but still subject to the decay of this world. The phrase is: Already and not yet. Jesus has already won over death, fear, and sin. But our world is not yet changed by Jesus’ victory. So we wait, confident in the love of Jesus, looking forward to that day when creation will be restored and the eternal life in God’s presence will continue on forever. May God continue to fill you with longing for the time when God’s answer to our hurting world will be Jesus’ victory already and now and forever. Amen.
Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
If I were to distill an image of a classic Thanksgiving Day, it would look like a large family smiling across the table, over a perfect turkey and steaming sides. It would be followed by people lounging around, more or less engaged in a football game, utterly content. It’s an image of complete satisfaction.
Now, I don’t know if my stereotypical image of Thanksgiving is anything like the day you or I will experience. So, instead of getting too caught up in whether or not you left the oven at the right temperature or how Uncle Joe is going to behave this year, I’d like you to move away from Thanksgiving to imagine for yourselves when you’ve been the most satisfied in your life. When you’ve felt like everything was actually going right. Or if you haven’t been there, how you imagine you’ll feel when you finally have everything you’ve ever wanted.
It’s to this moment of achievement that Deuteronomy speaks. It describes a future moment:
12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied,
To that moment, it declares God’s command:
14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God,
It reminds them of God’s faithfulness and power:
the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. God made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
It repeats God’s command just in case we missed it earlier:
17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as God is doing today.
The text describes itself as speaking to those who are being led out of slavery in Egypt, through the years of wandering in the wilderness, into the promised land. There they will enjoy a life of abundance. But will they remember God when they are safe and content?
Recognizing all you need for life comes directly from God seems a little easier when bread is falling from the sky and water suddenly gushes out from a rock, rather than when you’re butchering a sheep you’ve raised and tended. Relying on God when it’s impossible to find food and shelter is one thing, and relying on God when your fridge is stocked and your home is beautiful is another.
The claim of Deuteronomy is that no matter how much work you think you’ve put into it making it, all you have is from God alone.
This can be troubling on many levels. First, people who have stuff often are able to describe how it is that they have come to receive and deserve it. They can point to good planning and hard work as the cause of their present happiness.
Secondly, if it is God who gives, how could there be people who do not have what they need?
In confirmation the other week, we were talking about the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed. We were trying to make sense of these words, which I read between the verses of our hymn for the litany this morning. The problem with this statement of faith is that we say we believe something that isn’t always true.
How can we say we believe that “God daily and abundantly provides” when we know that not everyone is experiencing this provision. Not everyone has what they need. Even while many people have access to more than they want, still too many do not have enough. Does God ignore or punish? Is God not powerful enough to provide for all people? Why is there a disparity between rich and poor?
This disparity is sin. For some to have, and have abundantly, while others do not is contrary to the will of God. The reality which finds people without adequate food, shelter, clothing, work, and life-giving relationships does not match God’s intended vision for creation. Because it does not match, it’s right to call it sinful.
We name the sin, and do what we can to work alongside God to heal it.
When we remember that all we have is from God, and that God’s vision is for all to have enough, then we can hold what we have loosely enough that God’s provision slides through our hands to those in need.
All you have comes from God. What you have been given is more than the place you live, the food you eat, the clothes on your back, and even the people around you. You have life. You have life today and forever, from the one source of life, our God.
We taste this gift of life as we celebrate Holy Communion. This experience helps us to know that God is the giver of all we have, God gives to all people, and that God’s gifts will sustain us eternally. We are transformed by our encounter with God at this table, transformed into a thanksgiving people.
Another name for Holy Communion is the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. We gather around the table with thankful hearts. God provides life-giving and forgiveness creating food as we gather around Jesus’ table. Jesus gives us himself so that we would be filled.
Our feast leaves us filled with God’s love, but also still hungry for more. We leave not quite satisfied. We long for a fuller meal, and look forward to the day we shall receive it.
You may or may not experience satisfaction in your perfect or not so perfect Thanksgiving. Compared to the typical volume of the Thanksgiving feast, our Eucharistic feast seems meager. But it is this holy feast that transforms us. At this table, you are welcomed. You who have much and you who struggle to make ends meet are drawn together by the God who gifts you with life. In this bread and wine is the promise that God is victorious over sin, and one day, you will be fully satisfied as you feast in God’s eternal banquet. Until that day, may this taste give those who have resources the gratitude to let those resources be shared, and those who have less the hope that God has not forgotten them. Let us respond to God’s gifts with thanksgiving.