28 December 2008

The First Sunday after Christmas

Christmas I
Dum medium silentium

(Year B RCL) Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

“Fast away the old year passes.” So goes the last verse of the old Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” For Christians, our celebration of Christmas is but three days old. We have nine more days, and would that we could have all the world join in; some will, but for many, once the tree is out with the trash, it’s time to move on.

The twelve days of Christmas are intended as days of celebration, but also for reflection. The majestic hymn that opens the Gospel of John sets the stage for a whole new order of life, forged in the beginning of Creation with the presence of the Word, now made flesh among us, full of grace and truth.

Once in awhile, people get a glimpse of what God is doing among us. Once in awhile the light shines so brightly in the darkness that nothing can dim it. Once in awhile people feel an upwelling of joy in their hearts, and they don’t even know where it comes from.

These days of Christmas call us to celebrate, to re-order and perhaps re-frame our lives so that we can live differently, not because it’s the time of New Year resolutions, but because Jesus has come to live among us to show us the way.

As this particular, some might say peculiar, year comes to a close, think about what has happened. The world economic engine has all but collapsed. We are officially in a recession in the U.S. We have a new president-elect who will take office amidst the ravages of war and terrorism and economic chaos. Some have lost their jobs, and more likely will. Others have seen much of their retirement disappear. Many of the things that we rely on for our security have vanished.

So, in the midst of our lowliness, in the time of our testing, the Lord appears among us. God enters our hearts with a love that cannot be extinguished. God offers us a guide to faith and salvation that no economic collapse can erode or cheapen. God takes our puzzlement and our failure and redeems them with new insight.

If the light truly shines in the darkness, then where have we been living? Some would say we have chosen darkness over the light. We have chosen to live on credit. We have chosen to live beyond our means as a nation and a people. We have forgotten that there is always a price to pay for greed – a price paid by all of us. And if we were honest, we would admit that deep down, we all knew this economic splurge would have to end; perhaps “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems.

But in that darkness comes the light of the Word made flesh. Within the darkness can always be found the seeds of light.

In a neighborhood shelter there was a financial crisis. Grant money that usually supported the shelter had dried up, and the place that many relied on for a daily meal was faced with imminent closure. A local rabbi came by to see the director and asked, “Why are you closing?”

“We’re out of money, rabbi,” she said.

“Well,” he replied, “then go get some!”

She looked at him oddly for a moment and then realized she hadn’t thought about any alternatives. In a month, with the rabbi’s help, seven churches and a synagogue had taken on support of the shelter. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So, how is it with you as the old year passes? Are you simply waiting to see when the other shoe will drop? Are you waiting for a new president to do something big and bold? Well, he doesn’t have any money either. It has all been committed to war and bailouts.

It is time to go to work, time to act like the gifted people God created us to be, time to be about God’s business in our churches, communities, and families – business that is committed to redemption, and business that brings graciousness to the lives of all people. That is what we should be doing, because that is what God has done for us.

“Fast away the old year passes;
“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.
“Sing we joyous all together;
“Heedless of the wind and weather.”

Welcome to the twelve hallowed days of Christmas. May they be days that you see the Word made flesh scatter the darkness from before your path and empower you to give light to others.

-- Ben Helmer will shortly complete an 18-month assignment as interim ministry developer with the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam). He and his wife, Jane, will be returning to their home in West Missouri. E-mail: bhelmer1247@msn.com.