December 29, 2019
First Sunday of Christmas
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’m not gonna lie, this gospel text, in the midst of the Christmas season is a tough one. It’s hard to hear about the slaughter of the innocents when we are basking in the light of the word made flesh, the prince of peace come among us on a silent and holy night.
Yet here it is.
We enter into the birth story with a character that is not excited or hopeful about the birth of a savior. This Herod is not excited about this birth because it will change the status quo. And for Herod, the status quo is good, because it benefits him, so he wants to maintain it.
While we hear of his actions and cringe, yet at the same time, we are almost immune to the same rage and death around us today. It’s far too easy to fall into the status quo, a place we feel comfortable because any change would mean discomfort for ourselves.
And so, on the fifth day of Christmas we hear this text and struggle with how it fits into the Christmas season.
Yet this text, with its discomfort has something to say to us today.
First, in this season of Christmas, it is okay and holy, even, to pause and reflect upon the evil that exists in the world around us. That even though God sent Jesus into the world, there are times and places when evil prevails, and it is not of God’s doing, it is of our own doing through our sinfulness and brokenness. So we need to continually have our eyes opened to stop and see the evil around us and how with God present in the world though the birth of Jesus, we are called to respond to the evil around us.
Secondly, that we are continually called to put our trust not in humanity, or human rulers, but in God. How we respond to evil at work in our world and the sadness, anger and death it causes, is our call as Christians. We are called to speak hear the voices of those weeping and mourning. We are called to acknowledge their pain and suffering. And we are called to respond in God’s love and grace working for justice and peace in all the world.
Our call is to respond not out of fear, but out of love, care and compassion for all of God’s children. Our call is to see the presence of Christ in our midst – in the birth of a baby, in the feeding of our neighbors, in sharing space at a table with strangers, in a simple act of kindness to someone we don’t know.
Our call is to respond out of love.
Friends, we are coming to the end of a year that has been incredibly divisive. Our culture has seen a shift that makes it okay to put down others for different beliefs, to pick on those who are different than we are and to almost be proud about acting this way. Friends, this MUST stop. These actions are not living out of God’s love. They are examples of living out of fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of letting others truly be themselves and fear of being vulnerable.
Not to say that we cannot be fearful, but when we act out of that fear we do so only to protect ourselves and the way things are, just like Herod. (Oh, that’s a tough pill to swallow, right?) That it is far too easy to live out of fear to protect what we know and how we fit into the world as we know it because we do not know how to act if the world is different. We truly become comfortable in the systems in which we find ourselves that we work to maintain those systems, even if they are oppressive to others. So, the truth is, we all fall victim to sin in the world and in our lives.
We are not trusting fully that God is at work in the world.
Yet in those moments, when we respond out of love…amazing things can happen.
When we respond out of the abundance of God’s love and grace in the world, the world changes.
The week before Christmas I was finishing up my homebound visits with a trip to Elizabethtown. I was thankful that Loretta Schneck called and asked if she could join me. We spend the day together with a good visit with Claude. Then we were warmly welcomed into the apartment of June Brossman with smiles and tears of joy over our visit. She gifted us with stories and a small parting gift at the end of our visit. We chatted as we drove and as we shared lunch. As we parted ways in the church parking lot my heart was full – overflowing even.
The parking lot was already filling up for food pantry distribution and as I entered the narthex, I received word that there was already some issues with a patron or two arriving early.
I took a deep breath and shared my joy filled day with the pantry volunteers. I encouraged the volunteers to remember the amazing generosity that would happen through the food distribution and that many, many families would be grateful and fed for Christmas. I encouraged and hoped that the volunteers would shake off the frustration from one incident to see the overall good that would happen as the afternoon progressed.
I was able to do this because I was living out of the joy and love that I had experienced that day. I was in a place of gratitude and joy and I couldn’t help but to share it.
Friends, how have you experienced God’s love and grace this Christmas?
How have you seen and felt God’s love and peace around you?
How will you let that peace and love and grace guide to you live your life?
We are called to live out of this love.
When we do, it is a game changer, not just for us, but for everyone around us.
(At this point in the sermon I shared with folks that if looking over the last week or so they were struggling to find a moment or experience that allowed them to feel God's love, peace and presence that they should check out the Angel Tree. This tree holds tags that people take prior to Christmas that list gift wishes for families in need. As the gifts are distributed the families are invited to write notes of thanks and the tree is transformed into a Thankful Tree. Of the three tags I read this weekend, this one tugged at my heartstrings the most: "Dear Santa, I love you.") If you are local to Trinity, come check out this tree. :)
We are called to live out of this love...and when we do, it's a game changer.
In the midst of a broken world, where we struggle with violence, anger and hatred, God still calls us to be at work in the world:
With a heart filled with love…
With words that express welcome and love…
And with actions that show God’s presence here and now.
And now may the peace which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.