Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Christmas Story -- Get It?!

Most of us, as children, have had the experience of someone telling a joke or a story, ending with the words: “Get it?!” The fact is that sometimes people don’t “get it”, the punch line or the point of the story, for any number of reasons. We simply may not understand, and need a moment to think about it. Perhaps we weren’t really paying much attention. We may even have been unreceptive. Maybe the person telling the joke or story didn’t communicate it clearly. Sometimes the joke or story needs to be repeated.

How much more does this all apply to the Christmas story: the message which we call the Incarnation, the good news about God’s Son coming among us as a human being. Do you and I “get it”? The Church, at least, seems sensitive to the fact that we might not. Have you noticed how she repeats the Prologue to John’s Gospel both in the third liturgy for Christmas Day and again on the First Sunday after Christmas (though not in the RCL)? Sometimes a story needs to be repeated so that it becomes part of us.

This Christmas story, in which Jesus is the main character, teaches us three things: 1) to praise and glorify the Father, giving us reasons why we should; 2) to learn, to receive the light-giving and life-giving Word and Wisdom who is Jesus; and 3) to bring, to convey, the reality of this story to others in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Put more simply, the Christmas story teaches us to worship, to learn, and to serve. These are simple tasks, available to and within the capability of each of us who make up the Church. The reason we gather here each week is to share this story and ours, and to become skilled in how to worship, to learn, and to serve. The Book of Common Prayer’s Collect for Christmas 1 acknowledges that God has “poured upon us the new light” of the Incarnate Word, and it prays that “this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives…

In Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 Paul reminds the Galatians that, prior to Jesus’ coming, they were bound up, “imprisoned”, in slavery, “subject to a disciplinarian”, i.e., the Mosaic Law. In taking on our humanity, Jesus released them, set them free, enabled them to set their hearts on Jesus and to “receive adoption as [God’s] children”. Through Jesus the Father sends the Spirit to us who enables us to cry out: “Abba!”, the approximate literal meaning of which is “Daddy!”, and all that that implies. It’s a grateful exclamation, full of thanks and gratitude for our Father’s completely undeserved grace. Our weekly sharing of the Eucharist is simply an outward, communal continuation of our daily personal outpourings of appreciation for all of our releases from “slavery” during the week, and for all our continual graces.

John’s moving and majestic Prologue to the Gospel (1:1-18) is a rich theological statement which the Church seems hardly able to restrain herself from repeating over and over. John’s words impress on us the reality of God’s Son who is both divine and human, the Source of life and light, yet one of us. “Of his fullness”, it says, we’ve received a sort of cascading flow of “grace upon grace”, countless times in our lives. It acknowledges that “grace and truth” come only through Jesus the Christ, God’s Anointed One, and it emphasizes the urgency of our responsibility as followers of Jesus. As the Father makes Jesus known to us (the story), so you and I are to make Jesus known (HISstory and ours).

And as with stories generally, mentioned above, we shouldn’t be surprised that some people are unreceptive or unwilling to accept it, that some don’t understand it, are confused or challenged by it, that some don’t “get it”. Yet others do: “ all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” Our job as bearers of his story is not necessarily to succeed, but only to be faithful, to make sure that we know the story, that we’ve learned it well, and to communicate it as clearly and as simply as we know how.

The nature and reality of what Jesus taught us by his words and example is such that it simply has to express itself by being shared, by being given, in service, to others. Take Isaiah 61:10-62:3, for example, and notice the “action” words which Isaiah uses:

- “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations
- “...I will not keep silent.
- “...her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
- “...The nations shall see your vindication…

The fire of God’s Holy Spirit within us makes us fairly explode in crying out “Abba, Father!” in praise, and enlightens our hearts and teaches us, leads us into all truth. That same Spirit refashions and renews us from within, sending us out to share the fruits of grace with others who are so desperately needy for it.

To worship, to learn, to serve: that’s the essence of the Christmas story. It puts our entire church life into true perspective. To worship: we realize, isn’t just ceremony and ritual. It leads us to ask how do we praise and glorify God? Are our music, words, gestures, etc. genuine vehicles of praise? Do we prepare well for praising God? Are we able to cultivate inward silence as an aid to our worship?

To learn: Are our Bible studies, quiet days, and our other ways of exploring the Word just “programs”, something which nice church folks are supposed to do? What motivates us to learn? Or do we run on “empty” most of the time? Are we courageous enough to ask hard questions of ourselves, of God, and of the Church? Are we then willing to find ways to resolve them?

To serve: Are we knowledgeable enough and excited enough about Jesus‘ story to share it with someone else? You don’t have to answer this, but how many people, in the past year, have you and I at least invited to hear and know more about Jesus? Do we have any sort of plan in order to address the needs of others?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God...And the Word was made flesh and lived among us...full of grace and truth...we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son...From his fullness we have all received…

The story of Christmas. The story of the Church. Your story and my story.

Get it?!

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