Year B — This First Sunday after Christmas

Commentary for January 1, 2012
Click here for today’s readings  

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 
“My whole being shall exult in my God….” 

Think about what it means for one’s “whole being” to get involved in exultation — most of us are from very word-oriented traditions when it comes to worship. We listen a lot; we sometimes think about what we’re hearing. And — occasionally — we actually do something with what we’ve heard (though we don’t want to be too spontaneous or obvious with our actions.)

Our holiness brothers and sisters may have one up on us here — Shakers, Quakers, Rattlers, Rollers, Pentecostals of all varieties, even “Amen!” Baptists. That’s probably a bit more of “whole body” experience when it comes to exultation.

Of course, there are some quiet ways to involve the whole being, as well. Prayer posturing (in the most positive sense of the word) such as kneeling, standing, or even falling prostrate would certainly qualify. (Not too sure about “Tebowing” here — but, maybe God likes it?) Incense involves a different realm of the sensual; visual elements in worship can help. 

I don’t think Isaiah’s point is necessarily about trying to come up with “the next new thing” in worship in order to attract the masses. But I do think a bit of consideration about stepping away from our potentially over-Reformed, hyper-sensitive aversion to anything “bodily” as part of living out our faith might be in order. Is God the God of the senses as well as of the mind?

Psalm 148
This psalm text has a whole lot of praising going on! The Bible is one of the first texts to promote inter-generational worship. Don’t you just love the image of v.12? ” Young men and women alike, old and young together!”

Galatians 4:4-7
Talk about a “pregnant moment!” God’s timing was “full” — it was “ripe”– when Jesus entered the world as a human. The Christ was “born” to redeem us — actually, so that we could be “adopted” (a different form of birth) as children of God.

Gotta love the opportunity to call God “Daddy” — nothing sexist or exclusionist in this image. “Abba” is a term of endearment, a transliteration of the word spoken (or babbled) by children in cultures around the world. It comes through to us from the Aramaic term for a father…that moment of recognition that occurs with a grin and a stream of “abbababababa” gibberish from the mouth of a baby. Warms the heart, you know…as God’s heart must be warmed by our recognition and calling out for “Abba.”

Luke 2:22-40
Simeon and Anna speak for the “senior generation” concerning this child that has been born. Their words are both wise and warning. This one brings light and glory — but risk, danger and soul-piercing emotion, as well.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Text: John 1:1-14; Philippians 2: 6-8
The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” (The Common English Bible)
I don’t attend big league sporting events very often. I take a yearly pilgrimage to Turner Field to see the Braves; otherwise I can count the number of NFL, NHL or NBA games I’ve seen live on both hands without using my thumbs.
But every time I go I find myself a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff that happens that has nothing to do with the game. Noise, lights, noise, food, noise, huge video screens, noise, fan contests. Did I say noise?
The last time I went to something like that I realized how easy it would be to lose track of the main event in the midst of all the loud and gaudy distractions.
And so it is with the Mass of Christ. There are so many loud and flashy and strident voices crying for our attention during this season that we can easily get distracted and lose track of the main event.
There is the commercial push that tries to convince us that the core to happiness is more stuff and that the best Christmas gift ever is the particular piece of stuff being advertised.
And while we all know that isn’t true, we still find ourselves inundated with the commercials and almost against our own wishes and better judgment, we find ourselves buying a lot of stuff to give away to others.
Then there is the noise of standard American secular “Holiday Season.” I kind of like some Christmas songs; “I’ll have a bluuuuuuuuuue Christmas without you,” for example, but few of us want those songs as our public soundtrack from the first day of November until Dec. 25th.
Then there’s the Church related stuff which is intended to help us remember the coming of Christ but sometimes gets in the way too. We can get so carried away with and worried about the Choir cantata and the Children’s Christmas program that we center more on the choral performance and the cuteness of the children than we do on the mystery of God made flesh.
Yes, the main event of the Incarnation can get lost in noise and lights and sentimentality of our celebration. It’s like the crowd at a baseball game getting so involved in doing the wave that they miss an unassisted triple play on the field.
the Word became flesh and tented among us.”(Reynolds Price, Three Gospels)
The core of that main event, that unassisted triple play, that Incarnation we remember and celebrate today, is summarized in those few words;
the Word became flesh and “made his home among us,” “tented among us,” “lived among us,” (NRSV), “moved into the neighborhood” (Eugene Peterson, The Message)
But why? Why did “the Word,” the Christ, the Son of God, do this?
What is this Incarnation all about, and what does it mean for us?
Years ago, in the 1840’s, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian writer, created a parable to help us understand this. It is called “The King and the Maiden.” (Parables of Kierkegaard, T. Oden, ed.)
Kierkegaard tells the story of a king who was in love with poor peasant girl. She did not know him personally; he saw her from afar and wanted her for his bride.
At first the king thought he would do what kings normally did; he would send for her, announce his attention to marry her, she would accept and be eternally grateful that he had rescued her from her poor village, etc.
Then the King thought;” I do not want her to love me like that. I want a real love,
a real marriage, a real relationship. I want her to love me for me!”
So, the king thought, in order to win his beloved’s hand, he would cover his royalty with a beggar’s cloak and go forth to woo her.
But then he realized that this was a ruse, a trick, and love can only be love if it is completely honest and true. He not only had to appear to be a beggar, he had to really be a beggar.
American writer Phillip Yancey summarizes the conclusion of Kierkegaard’s parable like this:
The king, convinced that he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to DESCEND. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her cottage incognito, with a worn cloak fluttering loosely about him. It was no mere disguise, but a new identity he took on. He renounced the throne to win her hand. (DIAPPOINTMENT WITH GOD, 1988, p.110)
This is what Christ did. The Word renounced the throne to win the hand of the Bride of Christ; which is the church; which is us.
Philippians 2: 6-8 is a hymn, one of the first Christian hymns, and it is a hymn rejoicing in the Incarnation. Listen;
“who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God,
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas; the love of a God who could have forced our loyalty and obedience through a simple act of the divine will; who could have enticed us to give our worship and admiration through displays of splendor and magnificence; but who instead chose to come and live among us, to crawl into our tent, to move into our neighborhood, to let go of all privilege and power; and come into our midst as one of us, as one of the lowest of the low; a tiny baby, born of peasant parents in a stable with a feeding trough for a bed.
Our God did this so that we would fall in love with the holy,
so that we would see and know God’s love as real,and so that our love for God would be real and not forced.
In the midst of all the noise and lights and distractions of the season,
let us turn our attention to the main event and rejoice with quiet and loving hearts;
the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
To show us the quietly tender love of God.
Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — This First Sunday after Christmas

  1. Thank you for the reminder of what lies beyond the noise and distraction, which I feel like I can finally focus on, now that most of that noise has ended. I especially love the image of falling in love with the holy.

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