Dec. 25, 2019
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you gave us your only Son to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light. By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Lessons and Carols: Unwrapping the Gift
We use the description of God’s gift to the world offered in Isaiah 9:6 to guide a meditation on exploring the gift that is Jesus the Christ.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
First Reading: AUTHORITY RESTS UPON HIS SHOULDERS
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Question Authority. That’s what t-shirts boldly stated in those years that followed the great crisis of the Watergate Affair.
Question Authority. That’s what the wise say as we watch time and time again leaders – elected or self-proclaimed, inherited or usurped – as they misuse, abuse, take advantage of, serve self with their authority.
But his authority, grounded in perfect compassion and wisdom, as expressed by Mary, is the ultimate questioning of all earthly authority. His authority subverts and inverts. Not for his sake, but for ours.
Wishing a world under his authority begins to sound like that Grown Up Christmas List in the song:
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end,
Oh, if only all authority rested upon his shoulders.
Yes, too much to ask for his authority over the world.
The world will continue looking to flawed authority it thinks will save it. Only to be left questioning it.
No, his unquestionable authority will never be embraced by the world.
Perhaps best to start by embracing it in our hearts.
Second Reading: Wonderful Counselor
17 [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
What power his words had. Not only did they tell of God’s mercy and love with stories about a forgiving Father, a searching shepherd, a determined woman, a helping enemy; but his words also healed the body. Yes, bodies, minds, and spirits found healing and comfort in his words. Found good news and relief in his words. A wonderful counselor, indeed, who comes to treat the whole self. Does not fall into the trap of treating the symptoms. No, he reaches in deep to the cause of our anxiety, of our fear, of our hurting.
And they reached out to merely touch him. To gain but a finger tip of what he offered, what he represented, what he promised, what he delivered, who he was.
And then he gave good counsel, wonderful support, of what was theirs beyond all that had driven them to him in the first place.
They could wish blessings on one another, but when he said it: Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you. It was more than words. It was a promise. It was hope. It was healing again. And again. And again.
Third Reading: MIGHTY GOD
(John 1:1-5, 10-14)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.
A mighty God indeed. Creator of all that is. Whether through big bang or intelligent design. All that was, that is, or that will be comes from this mighty God. Comes into being through the word of this mighty God. The word of God, whether spoken, thought, dreamed, laughed or sung – the word of God brings forth life, rings with love, comforts with compassion, ministers with mercy.
For ages the word came to humanity through dreams, heavenly voices, angels and prophets, natural phenomenon, even stillness and awe.
But now this mighty God, this creator, this possessor of all possibilities, has become a vulnerable part of creation. Mighty God is now fragile flesh. No invasion, no infiltration, nothing subversive or clandestine going on here.
Mighty God is now fragile flesh for loves sake. To communicate that word with an intimacy that has never been known in all those dreams and voices and angels and prophets.
Mighty God could have come as fully formed adult. Could have come as mighty ruler, mighty warrior, or mighty anything.
But mighty God comes as baby. The most fragile of fragile flesh.
In love, mighty God desires to live the fullness of our life – fragile and frightening as that might be, all so that we might live the fullness of God’s life.
A mighty God with a mighty love for us.
Fourth Reading: ETERNAL FATHER
[Jesus said] 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
A trigger word for many to be sure. Father. So many bad examples of Father. So much pain. So much abuse. So many stories, too many stories. So many damaged people. So much perpetuation of the pain and the damage by those who were damaged themselves. Some can’t eve say the word Father when speaking of God.
Use mother – probably as equally charged.
Use parent – if you didn’t have good ones that might not be much better.
Our limited and limiting language is all we’ve got.
How do we articulate and teach and preach and proclaim this one who is perfect love, when there is nothing and no one in our earthly experience who can compare?
Maybe it would be best to think of God as a verb rather than a noun. After all we know God through actions. Today it is about the giving of the gift of God’s self. Perhaps as God’s people it would be best to be known for our actions, and not a name we bear.
As for what to call God, we’ve got all of eternity to ponder that one. Because what or whoever God is, God and God’s love that inspires a self-giving like nothing we can imagine are everlasting.
Fifth Reading: PRINCE OF PEACE
36 While [the disciples] were talking about this, [the risen] Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
How the world needs peace makers. We seek them. We pray for them. We hope to raise them. We give them awards. How the world needs peace makers. But even once achieved, the peace they make is tenuous at best, too often fleeting, never perfect.
Jesus – the crucified and risen one – comes not as peace maker, but as prince of peace. He rules over peace. He possesses it and is empowered to share it with his subjects, his friends, his people.
Whether lying in that manger, hanging on the cross, standing in front of that empty tomb or dwelling in our midst – at his table or in our fellowship, Jesus brings the peace that is his to share. The peace that is beyond understanding because, try as we may, we just can’t completely imagine a life without end.
Peace be with you. For it is not up to our discernment or our imaginations, our theological treatises or our faith expressions. This peace is his. He won it. And he gives it to us. So Peace be with you. This day and forever.
The Rev. Mark Erson,