“Living Christmas All Year Long”
First Sunday After Christmas, Year B, December 31, 2017
Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:22-40
First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho
Pastor Andy Kennaly
Today involves several things at once. It’s Sunday, which is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day of Resurrection, specifically the First Sunday after Christmas; it’s the last Sunday in 2017, and it’s even New Year’s Eve itself. Lots of themes overlap when you have these types of dynamics. The Christmas message of Jesus born, the story we read of the Temple as the little boy, Jesus, is presented, along with calendar things like highlights of 2017 and resolutions looking forward to 2018: time, and the fullness of time is the overarching theme that seems to encompass all of this. Paul mentions in Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” When the fullness of time had come…born to redeem, born to adopt.
Simeon, a righteous and devout man with the Holy Spirit resting on him, Luke says he was guided by the Spirit to visit the Temple at the very time Jesus was present. When he sees Jesus, he praises God and says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.” Talking about Simeon, Paul Gordon-Chandler describes Simeon’s song, and as he writes about this, he’s helping us focus on that reality of redemption, saying “The entire song [the Nunc dimittis, Lk 2:29-32] is sung with the language of freedom. In the original Greek text, it has the connotation of releasing a slave. Simeon is describing his own experience as one of being released. In the song the word “now” is of utmost importance, emphasizing that an experience of profound liberation happened to him at that moment in time upon seeing the Christ Child. Simeon’s song is his way of describing how he was finally “released” truly to live. (Meditation One, Suzanne Guthrie’s Edge of Enclosure http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/christmas1bpresentation.html quoting Paul-Gordon Chandler, Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ’s Birth quoted from Vicki Black’s Speaking to the Soul: Daily Readings for the Christian Year).
I titled this sermon today, “Living Christmas All Year Long” to capture both that phrase, “the fullness of time” and to challenge the reality that Christmas comes and goes, we celebrate the Prince of Peace and then the rest of the year is steeped in violence, things like that. Once the decorations are down life goes on as usual. And this is normal, and even Mary and Joseph got on with life as the movement in this story shows. They didn’t stay in that manger scene, didn’t reside in Bethlehem, but when they presented Jesus the child at the Temple, they returned to Nazareth where they lived. The biblical story has movement, and time is one element that God operates in.
Interesting that Simeon is glad he can now die in peace, and the prophet, Anna was also of great age. These older people spent their lives in prayer and fasting and connect to God through the Holy Spirit. Here it is and Jesus is a boy, Pentecost hasn’t even taken place, and the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts, minds, and actions of people.
The Christmas miracle is not only for December 25. Opening our hearts to the living Presence of God, consenting to the action and activity of God in our lives; this is a calling that helps us live Christmas all year long, year after year as we put our hope in God.
Another aspect these two people share is their reaction involves praise. They both immediately begin to praise God, giving thanks, sharing their joy, sensing release and relief as redemption becomes tangible to their experience. Two old people with a message to share. They want people to know what Jesus means and what his life will bring about in the world. And this is good for us to hear.
David Lose picks up on this as they describe Jesus and what their eyes have seen, and how this message echoing through the ages connects with us. He says, “Glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, gladness and opposition. All these and more will be contained in this child…and indeed in each of our own lives, also. And that’s just why we need Christmas to last longer than 24 or 48 hours, why we need it not simply to persist into the new year, but to keep us strong throughout the year. Because this life is wonderful…and difficult. And God came in Jesus to be with us and for us through all of it: the ups and down, hopes and fears, successes and disappointments, accomplishments to savor and mistakes to regret; all of it. God is with us and for us…not just some of the time, but all of the time, even when we don’t act as we want, [even when we don’t] live into the identity God has given us, or [even when we don’t] make it to church on a regular basis.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/12/christmas-1-b-christmas-courage/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29)
In 2017 there were over 18 Sundays that I did not preach here. That is a lot of Sundays. The Renewal Group and the Worship Committee coordinated for those Sabbatical Sundays and Vacation days, and they did a good job of making sure someone was here to preach every week. I want to thank them, and assure them that I’ve got it covered for the rest of this year.
That time of Sabbatical was like a bunch of once-in-a-lifetime experiences stuffed together over a span of weeks. Living through those adventures, the interactions, the learning, and visiting different places and people are now not only memories, but they are embedded or implanted or woven into or integrated into our lives. This is not only a mental exercise of recalling in our minds thoughts or ideas about times and places. This also involves finding meaning and allowing the experiences to speak to our hearts and rest in our souls, to find resonance with the action and activity of God and God’s living Presence within us. The Sabbatical isn’t just a one time thing, but shapes identity in on-going ways. What has been done cannot be undone, and because God holds it all, even as finite life slips away, eternal qualities remain. God’s eternal now holds all things together.
I would suggest that as 2018 enters the picture and as Christmas day and the Christmas season begin to slip out of conscious thoughts just like the radio stations have stopped playing songs of the season, perhaps we need to come alongside Simeon and Anna and their life-long practice of waiting on God.
Perhaps we can learn disciplines which help us open our hearts, so we can perceive the world in transformed ways that other people just don’t see. Joseph and Mary likely walked past hundred of people as they took Jesus the child to the Temple that day, yet Luke only shares the response of two, because they had the heart space and the discipline that trained them to perceive the work of the Spirit, and they lived in the flow of what God is doing as God actively redeems the world. Living Christmas all year long is a calling.
May God help us heed the call, and through prayer and fasting and other spiritual disciplines, may we receive a heart to perceive the grace, love, and peace of God as a gift that redeems us from the tyranny of slavery to ourselves and all that seeks to hold us down. As children of God, with the Spirit of God in our hearts, united with God as heirs of the covenant, claimed in the fullness of time, may we praise God that Jesus grew, became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was upon him. As God’s beloved, blessed and sent to share the news, may we too seek wisdom as we grow our hearts, making room for the newborn Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace. And may God be glorified now and forever. Amen.