01/01/2023 ~ First Sunday after Christmas Day ~ Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23. ~ A.K.A. (01/01/2023) The Holy Name of Jesus, A.K.A. Mary, Mother of God ~ Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21 ~ A.K.A. (01/01/2023) New Year’s Day ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46 ~ COMMUNION SUNDAY ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/786349262
Christmas Every Day
“I will recount the gracious deeds, the steadfast love of God, the praiseworthy acts of the Sovereign, because of all that God has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel which God has shown to them in mercy, according to an abundance of steadfast love.” — Isaiah 63:7.
There is no question about this: different families have different seasonal traditions at this time of year. Even different individuals in specific families have different ways of offering these expressions of bonding at Christmastide.
Outward signs of the emotional involvements in these rituals can be deceiving. Many would assume, for instance, my late uncle was not one for delving deeply into emotions, that he was cold, distant. His practice, having purposefully missed the family gathering on Christmas Eve was to, on Christmas morning, whip out his money clip, peel off of a bill with a significantly high number on it and grumble, “Merry Christmas.”
I’m happy to get that kind of gift. But this is not about the receiver. This is about the giver. Some might think the behavior my uncle displayed was detached.
However, if you knew my uncle, you knew A) he had a love affair with money and, hence, his giving was very heartfelt but B), perhaps more problematic, he was as tight with a buck as anyone you’d ever met. It was said he could squeeze a penny so tight it made Lincoln cry. So for him giving a gift of money was an emotionally, difficult experience. So the gift was also a sign of sincerity. (Slight pause.)
There are three life lessons there. First: never assume anything about another person’s emotional state based simply on outward signs or reactions. Second: emotions are real, no matter how misdirected, poorly used, ill advised or dysfunctional.
Last, emotional expressions, most of the time, do not contain a lot of logic. But that lack in logic does not negate the reality of emotional experiences.
Indeed, some might feel embarrassed about giving the wrong or a less than adequate gift. This issue can send some givers into fits of fretting while others let any sentiment about that simply roll off their back. But most of the time the expressions we offer one another through the elaborate giving of gifts or simply cooking a meal for others are often very personal and often very filled with emotion.
Here’s a reality: especially at this time of year when it comes to gift giving, some are more reserved and some tend toward exuberant emotional outbursts. But whether it’s about gifts or simply about what we do with and in the rituals we practice, this is a truth: we all have familial traditions during Christmastide we hold sacrosanct.
Here’s an interesting quandary around traditions, rites, rituals held sacred in families at Christmas. New family units, two people getting together to form a deep relationship, an emotional union, that happens constantly. So this question might arise: ‘how can two separate, different family Christmas histories get melded into a new tradition?’
You see, it’s likely two people engaged in building a new relationship had very different traditions when it came to seasonal rituals in their families of origin. It’s equally likely they will then explore ways to make themselves into a new family unit.
When Bonnie and I got together, the tradition in her family was to do stockings on Christmas morning (the stockings in question being her father’s old army socks) and to open presents after breakfast. My family, on the other hand, was never into stockings. And our tradition was to open presents right after we attended the Christmas Eve service.
The solution here was easy. Bonnie liked the sound of finding out what she was getting for Christmas twelve hours before she used to find out. So she just went with it.
Traditions also change as families mature. I have friends with children whose tradition was to visit their Moms and Dads, the grandparents. Two years ago the last of those grandparents passed away. The familial tradition has now changed. (Slight pause.)
Traditions grow; traditions change. Our emotional life does get wrapped up in traditions. But treasured traditions do change over time. (Slight pause.)
For a moment I want to come back to the issue of emotional involvement around gift giving and receiving. It is often said that it is better to give than to receive.
But we do need to be wary that giving is not bred out of any sense of seeking superiority, dominance. We also need to be wary that giving is not something bred out of wanting to have another person indebted to us.
Indeed, gift giving means just that: giving. Giving, in order to be true giving, needs to be an unconditional act (dare I say an act of unconditional love) or it’s not a gift. It’s more like a trade. So yes, one’s emotions may well be all over the map at this time of year. But when gift giving is approached with an appropriate spirit, real giving means a surrendering of self. (Pause.)
These words are from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “I will recount the gracious deeds, the steadfast love of God, the praiseworthy acts of the Sovereign, because of all that God has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel which God has shown to them in mercy, according to an abundance of steadfast love.” (Pause.)
The words from Isaiah are clear. God is steadfast, always present and always giving, surrendering self. (Slight pause.)
I think we often feel our own lives are like a roller coaster, in turmoil. Indeed, look at the story from Matthew’s Gospel today. The family moves from Israel to Egypt to escape violence, then back to Judea but, hearing about an unfriendly Monarch still on the throne, they go to Nazareth in Galilee. (Slight pause.) Believe me, they weren’t able to simply pick up the phone and call a moving van. Turmoil was the order of the day.
There is a twofold point here. Even when things are tumultuous, God is with us. And perhaps the emotionally healthy response to God’s act of unconditional love, unconditional giving, is faithfulness. (Slight pause.)
To come back to that gift giving motif, what would it be like for us to have Christmas every day? What would it be like to give our emotions, our full emotional life unconditionally, daily? (Slight pause.)
I think the message Isaiah has for us is no matter what happens, that is how God relates to human life. God offers us unconditional love, daily. In short, God says no matter who you are or where you are on you life’s journey, no matter who you are or where you are on your faith journey you are loved, unconditionally.
You see, we Christians believe that Christmas does happen every day. Why? We believe God is with us always, through times of trial and times of tribulation, through times of joy and times of jubilation.
How? We believe God sent Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus was raised from death, lives with us and among us, to more deeply inform us about the fulness of God’s love, to more deeply inform us about unconditional love.
Indeed, we celebrate the feast of Christmas in commemoration of the fact that, in this act of unconditional love, the reality of the incarnation which we call Christmas, in this act God sent the Messiah. (Slight pause.) So, how can we form our own traditions, the traditions we develop, to be an expression of our own emotions about God’s love?
Perhaps we can express our own emotions about God’s love when we remember that for Christians Christmas does happen every day. After all, this is what we believe: God offers unconditional love each and every day. Hence, the gift of Christmas happens each and every day. So perhaps our response needs to be to strive to share the love of God with everyone we encounter each and every day. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Walter Brueggemann is well known and respected Biblical scholar. He published this poem on December 8 of 2022, just three weeks ago.
What Child Is This by the Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann
“‘What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
We ask in awe and wonder.
We know who this child is:
We know: this is the child who will grow in authority to cast out demons,
while we are beset by the demonic force of racism and nationalism.
We know: this is the child who will grow in capacity to feed the hungry multitudes,
while we casually permit children all around the world to die in starvation.
We know: this is the child who will grow in power to heal the sick,
while we are overrun with drug ads
and quibble about deductions and co-payments.
We know: this is the child who will gain his life (and ours) by losing it.
This child, born to occupy center space in our lives, our energy, and our imagination,
is the one who will dwell among us, full of grace and truth.
We know his name; we receive him as gift; we answer to his call to obedience.
This child, in his authority, capacity, and power, is the way of God among us.
His governance shall have no end.
Walter Brueggemann — that, my friends is what Christmas is about, this unconditional love of God.
BENEDICTION: Let us treat all God’s children as our next of kin. Let us praise God for the people all around us. Let us praise God for the fulness of time. And may the peace of Christ which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds in the companionship of the Holy Spirit and the love of God this day and evermore. Amen.