Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Frist (First) Sunday of Christmas

December 31, 2017
Frist Sunday of Christmas (After printing my sermon, I noticed the typo.  It seemed fitting with the busyness that happened between Christmas Eve worship and the weekend after Christmas and made me laugh out loud when I read it.) 

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Luke 2:22-40

Please pray with me,
O God, you have been our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.  As we welcome this new year, bless us with peace.  Fill our days with the light of Christ and lead us on the path of life until we see you in our heavenly home.  You live and reign forever and ever.  Amen. 

It is good for us to gather together this week in this space, in the season of Christmas and on the cusp of a new year. 

It is good for us to be together as one year ends and another begins. 

It is often a time to reflect upon the last 12 months…both highs and lows and to think about the year to come. 

This time of year is when many people are coming up with New Year’s Resolutions.  Sestimates say more than 40% of Americans—make New Year's resolutions. (For comparison, about one-third of Americans watch the Super Bowl.)

But for all the good intentions, only a tiny fraction of us keep our resolutions; University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year's goals.

Last year I read the book, One Word that will Change your Life.  

The authors talk about how it is often the case that New Year’s resolutions are broken or left unmet, often by the first week in February.  Yet, if you focus on one word for the year, you are more apt to see positive changes as the year progresses.  As I have shared in the newsletter and on my blog, my word for last year was focus.  I took time throughout the course of the year to focus on different things in my life, which helped me take more time for reading, exercising, family and friends. 

Guided and shaped by one word, instead of focusing on one or more specific resolutions, I could follow a different path.  If I missed an opportunity to focus one day, I just shifted my focus for the next day.  I found that this word was part of my day to day life throughout the whole year….which I cannot say was true for past resolutions. 

My friend, Mindy chose the word strength.  Here is a jar that she kept on her dining room table throughout the year. 

Every time she did something that showed strength, she jotted it down and put it in the jar.  Some of her strength moments included, Marched in my first protest.  Ran on treadmill.  Brain MRI. Brave text.  Hiked Mt. Washington. 

Just as focus took on its own meaning for me, strength was defined by Mindy. 

As you look towards the beginning of a new year, what ideas or dreams or plans do you have in mind?  What goals do you hope accomplish? 

What do you plan on happening in 2018?  In addition to the tradition of a new years resolution…and preparations for a new year, are there other traditions or rituals that will happen in the next few days?  Pork and sauerkraut, perhaps? 

We see an example of a different tradition or ritual in our gospel lesson today. 

We are 8 days after the birth of Jesus which was the customary time for the presentation of a child.  So, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple.  This is just one example of Mary and Joseph observing the law.  Just prior to our reading today, the Luke shares that Jesus has been circumcised, another example of the parents of the Son of God following the law.  They are holding to these rituals and as they do, we see that Jesus’ life begins with fulfilling the law and coming into the temple in Jerusalem 

Essential to Judaism is the praise of God in all of life.  The Jewish law taught that God was to be honored in one’s rising up and lying down, in going out and coming in, in how one dressed and what one ate… (Culpepper) 

If we think about our daily rituals, not just the ones that come up at the beginning of a new year, but even just day to day, how do we or how are we seeing God in the ordinariness of all that we do?  Where do we practice praise and honor of God each day? 

We have the opportunity to give thanks to God from the moment we awake each morning. 

We have the opportunity to pray alone or together before meals to give thanks to God for family, food and the time and space to share a meal.

Sadly, it is too true that with the busyness, the pressures of secularism and modern life have reduced the significance of ritual observances in the lives of most Christians. 

A handful of activities and jobs mean that families are eating fewer meals together.  Prayer before meals and family Bible study are observed in fewer homes today than just a generation ago.  For many, religious rituals are reduced to church attendance at Christmas and Easter and to weddings and funerals.   (Culpepper)

Alan Culpepper talks about how ‘marking both daily and special events with rituals that recognize the sacredness of life and the presence of God in the everyday is practically extinct…The result has been that god has receded from the awareness and experience of everyday life.  Many assume that God is found only in certain places, in sacred buildings, in holy books, or in observances led by holy peoples.’ 

As we as a society shift away from these rituals and practices,…what have we lost from our daily experience?  How can we make that shift back? 

I had a conversation with someone this week who wondered if this was a generational shift.  She and her friends talked about how they saw Jesus in the presence of others, where her daughter just saw a friendly or helpful person. 

While it may be a generational shift, how can we as active members of the body of Christ bring back how we see and name Jesus in our midst? 

As we begin a new calendar year together, how will our lives and world be shaped by Christ?   How will we seek out God in the ordinary everydayness of our lives?  How will we name Christ when we see him? 

Not only are we given a fresh start each year to do this, but we are given a fresh start each day, because we have been washed in the waters of baptism.  We have been made new in Christ.  We are a new creation.  Washed in the (ritual) waters of baptism, we are freed from sin and death to proclaim Christ in our midst this day and all days. 

I encourage you as the year begins, to remember your baptism.  Just as we welcome Cole into the body of Christ, remember that you are part of this family of God, washed in these waters. 

Remember that you are gifted and able to see Christ in your midst and point him out. 
You are equipped to bring Christ into the ordinary and honor and praise him each day. 

May we learn (or re-learn) to greet the morning with gratitude, to celebrate the goodness of food, family, and friendship at meals, to recognize mystery in beauty and to mark the rites of passage – like a 16th birthday or a school graduation or a retirement . . .you name it. 

May we see these daily rituals not as restrictive…as something we have to do, but in ways that celebrate the goodness and mystery of life. 

Go forth, celebrate, give thanks and honor God each day. 

And now my the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.  

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