December 23, 2019
Once in royal David's city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor and meek and lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #269]
The assigned lectionary readings for December 29, 2019, The First Sunday of Christmas, are as follows:
This is Christmas week, but for the sake of space, I'm only listing the readings for the First Sunday of Christmas. My Christmas message to congregations will appear elsewhere.
The joy of this year in particular is that there are two Sundays after Christmas, according to our liturgical calendar. That means you have seven more days to enjoy saying Merry Christmas to each other. You have seven more days to enjoy singing Christmas carols and Christmas hymns. The Christmas season lasts until Epiphany.
But for some people, Christmas is over as soon as the presents are unwrapped and the kids are gone. We fail to see the wonder and joy of what the season really means. Church traditions are partially at fault because we have so over sentimentalized the season of Christmas that we fail to see the humanity in the divine Jesus.
If you really pay attention to the Christmas carols that we sing, you will notice that Jesus, unlike the photo seen here or on a Hallmark greeting card, was born in a stable, in a manger full of straw, with the smell of real, live animals in the barn. God chose the common and the natural, the humble and the ordinary, to express God's love for us.
Jesus' birth is an event that happens in the real world. A place where people's lives are haunted by tyranny, pain and poverty; a place not so different from the one that you and I inhabit.
Jesus enters the world like each one of us, dependent upon others for survival. He is vulnerable to hunger and thirst, to cold and stress, to infection and accident and mishap. Mary and Joseph are entrusted with this precious baby's life.
In fact, the Gospel reading for this First Sunday of Christmas, from the second chapter of Matthew, tells of the young children slaughtered by the insecure King Herod, after he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men, who had assured him they would tell him the whereabouts of a new king that had been born in Bethlehem. [Matt. 2:16]
Jesus escaped the massacre because an angel appeared to his earthly father, Joseph, in a dream, and told Joseph to take the child and the child's mother, Mary, and flee to Egypt. I f not for the protective love of his parents, Herod's armies would have found him after his birth and killed him. They lived in Egypt until after Herod died, when the angel again appears to tell him it is safe to return.
Amid the Christmas specials and the happy songs, all we have to do is watch the evening news to know that the world is all too often still a dark and violent place. However, many of us go about our daily routines in relative safety, without fear of violence, war, hunger or oppression. We most likely give little thought to those who find themselves in those situations.
During the Advent and Christmas season over the past few years I've been reading The Mood of Christmas, by Howard Thurman, as a supplemental devotional. One of the most popular poems from that book is titled "The Work of Christmas", which goes like this:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.
The Christmas story is about how God so loved - and loves - us that God asks us to be partners in loving the world. That is our challenge as modern Christians. Every time we reach out with God's love and care to the lonely, hurting and broken ones around us, the light of Christmas shines a little brighter. The love we give and the light we share allows others to see that they too are valued as God's daughters and sons. They too, have received the best gift that God had to give.
Our offices are closed this week and next. We will reopen on Monday, January 6, 2020.
On Christmas Eve, I will be with the people of God at Grace Lutheran Church in East Palestine. I look forward to celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord with them. The service begins at 7:00 p.m.
This week and always, may the Spirit of Christmas fill your hearts with peace, hope, joy and love.
+Bishop Abraham Allende