The Ordinariness of Christmas
2008-12-21 by Alan Meyers
I am Alan Meyers, a Professor of Religion at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. I am also Parish Associate at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Parish Associate positions are for ministers like me, whose primary ministry is not in a parish, but who want to stay connected to ministry in a congregation and are invited by a local church to assist its pastor in some areas of the church's work. I enjoy preaching and have blogged here twice before.
The Sunday after Christmas! It may be one of the hardest days of the year to preach or teach. The energy is exhausted, maybe, that went into the Advent and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services and other church activities. Every year, after Christmas, a lot of people feel at least a little depressed. After the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the holidays, after the planning and working, after the fun and laughter, after all that is suddenly over, they feel what Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip used to call "post-Christmas let-down." We go back to our old routines, everything settles down to what we think of as normal, and we may feel like saying "Well, we've had Christmas. Now what?"But, perhaps post-Christmas let-down will be not nearly as much a problem if we consider anew the real meaning of Christmas. For someone to whom the most important thing about Christmas is that it is Christ's birthday, the special glow of Christmas continues; it is still there even after the tree is taken down and the decorations are put away. It may seem like a terrible cliché, but every day can be celebrated like Christmas. On December 25 we're reminded of the joy and the wonder of God's gift of his Son, in a very obvious way; Christmas comes out into the open, so to speak, and for a while, everyone talks about "peace on earth," and so on. But even during the rest of the year, that joy and that wonder are there -- sort of hidden, but still there -- in the hearts and lives of Christ's followers, ready to burst into visibility. The greatest thing in the world is to be a person who thinks about Jesus Christ and rejoices, not just at Christmastime, when the manger scenes are out, but all the time. The reading from the Gospel of Luke for this First Sunday after Christmas is about something that happened after Christmas, about forty days after the first Christmas, to be exact, long after the angels had gone back into heaven, long after the dazzled shepherds had gone back to their sheep. Simeon and Anna, these two elderly people in the Temple, have the great joy and privilege of seeing the baby Jesus. And they see him, not "on Christmas Day," so to speak, not heralded by angels, not proclaimed by a bright star in the sky, but only as a humble, ordinary-looking baby, brought into the Temple at Jerusalem by a humble, ordinary-looking young couple, Mary and Joseph.
One way we know that this little family, Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, must have been "ordinary" is by the particular offering they brought to the Temple. According to the twelfth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, a baby boy was supposed to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. And then, thirty-three days after that, the mother was required to go through a ceremony of purification, and she had to bring an offering to the Temple, an offering of a lamb and a pigeon. But if she could not afford a lamb and a pigeon, the Law said that she could bring two pigeons instead; this was called "the Offering of the Poor." And this "Offering of the Poor," two pigeons, was what Mary brought, according to Luke 2:24. This doesn't necessarily mean that Mary and Joseph were what you would call poor, but it does imply that they were not rich. Jesus was born, not into a very wealthy, prominent, upper-class family, but into a very ordinary one.
So, Simeon and Anna saw this ordinary-seeming baby, just like they must have seen hundreds of babies being brought into the Temple to be presented to the LORD. But in this normal, routine, ordinary baby, they saw the Christ, the promised Messiah, the longed-for Savior of the world and the hope of all humanity. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he took the child in his arms, and prayed joyfully to God. He said, "Master, ... my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." And he said to Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed." We're told that when Anna saw the baby, she "began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." She was bubbling over with joy about having seen the Christ in this child. The passage says that "the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him." No wonder they were amazed! How would a couple today feel if they were bringing their child to church to be baptized, and someone met them at the church door, and said these enormous things about their little baby, about how he or she was going to grow up and do all these wonderful, terrific things? Franco Zeffirelli directed a TV movie years ago about the life of Jesus. There is a scene in that movie in which Simeon meets Mary and Joseph, and makes this big fuss over the baby, exclaims loudly over him, and Mary and Joseph walk away from him looking back over their shoulders with the most hilarious looks on their faces, as if to say, "Is this a crazy old man, or what?" The most extraordinary things are said about this ordinary baby. The greatness of the Christ is hidden, for now, in the ordinariness of this child -- hidden, that is, to all except those like Simeon and Anna, to whom God has given eyes to see the truth.
Now, of course,to all parents who bring a child to be baptized, and in fact to all parents, their child is not "ordinary," but rather a most extraordinary, most special, most wonderful child. They know! To their eyes, their child is anything but "ordinary." And that really is something like the point I'm trying to make here. To anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, every child, every person, is extraordinary, is someone in whom the Christ may meet us. Every moment, every day, is a special day, is Christmas, the day Christ comes into the world bringing salvation.
Like Simeon and Anna, can you and I find Christ in the ordinary things of life, in the routine of everyday living, when things get back to "normal" after Christmas is over? Can we experience the joy and wonder of meeting Christ in every moment of every day, all year round?
More thoughts tomorrow.
Thank you to Susan
2008-12-18 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Susan Eastman for her creative post about the texts. She reminds us of the emphasis on God's initiative in our relationship and leads us toward thinking a-fresh about the Annunciation. Please scroll down to read her post.
Also, be sure to submit your sermons for the GoodPreacher award. We are eager for as many submissions as possible.
Borrowing from Hanukkah, I am considering preaching on how God rededicates humanity through Christ. That rededication begins with the Annunciation and then spreads to all of us through Christ. What if we thought of ourselves this way, as the rededicated, and then said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word"?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Good Preacher Awards
2008-12-17 by David Howell
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Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts for this week."With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"
Northminster Presbyterian Church
2008-12-15 by Susan Eastman
In the midst of the usual busy preparations for Christmas, the story of the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary strikes a distinctively counter-cultural chord. This first "advent" is not a matter of preparation at all, but of interruption. We know nothing about Mary prior to this unimaginable interruption in her life. Almost all depictions of her show her as beautiful, young, submissive, devout, welcoming Gabriel's news, perhaps with bowed head, perhaps kneeling. Yet for all we know she was headstrong and free spirited; for all we know she was fat and pimply. Mary's "estate" prior to the advent of Christ in her is irrelevant, because God simply chooses her and announts her for God's purposes. What matters is that the angel comes to her, and in doing so fundamentally disrupts her live, opening her to a world of joy and a world of pain.
Rembrandt painted and drew many images of the annunciation. My favorite is a very rough sketch in pen and ink. The angel leans over Mary, taking her hand in a comforting gesture. But Mary's face is turned away, and she has fallen out of her chair onto her knees. She looks anguished. And well she might be anglished. The angel's news can only mean ostracism for her, perhaps rejection by her family and her betrothed, almost inevitably a life of poverty on the margins of society.
Yet listen to the words the angelic messenger whispers insistently in her ear, even as she turns away" "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" Our English translations don't get the meaning of "favored" - it is a verb, not a noun, and it should be translated: "you who have received grace." Anne Lamont gets this perfectly when she writes that it means, "you have been loved for a very long time."
That's the good news of Christmas. We have been loved for a very long time. This has nothing to do with our appearance, or piety, or even faith. It has to do solely and simply with the fact that God loves. And because God loves, God interrupts our lives and takes hold of them, so that each of us may bear Christ in the world.
The House that God Builds - 2 Sam 7
Like Mary, David also was interrupted in the midst of his young life, and granted participation in God's work in history. We know a great deal more about David, including his egregious sins. Yet David is beloved by God, and models for us a searingly honest relationship with God. In today's passage, David gets the bright idea of building a house for God. The prophet Nathan initially thinks this is a good idea, but subsequently hears otherwise from the Lord. There are two aspects of Nathan's subsequent words to David that bear emphasis. The first is that the Lord who chose and anointed David, and traveled with David through all his trials, is a God who cannot be enclosed in a human house. God is on the move. And secondly, in an ironic reversal, Nathan tells David that God will build him a house!" What a lesson in humility! We think we do things for God, but all the time we are in the position of receivers. David's humble response names the reality: "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? ... Because of your promise, and according to your own hear, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it" (2 Sam 7:18, 21).
The house that God builds for David is, of course, the fact that the Messiah is descended from him. It is built in Mary's womb, in the Christ child who also lives in us, and in and through whom we also are built into a holy temple, a house in which God dwells (Eph 2:19-22).
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-12-15 by CJ Teets
Susan Eastman, who teaches Bible and Christian Formation at Duke Divinity School. As an Episcopal priest, she pastored from New York to Alaska to Oregon for over 20 years.
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