Christmas 1 B 2014 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.+
The Pointer Sisters famously sang, “I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” That’s a bit how the Scripture readings make me feel about this Christmas season in which we are now gathered, here on the fourth day of Christmas. The halls are decked with boughs of holly, the trees and windows with sparkling strings of lights. Good will bubbles in many hearts and the recent giving of gifts and the celebration of holiday meals has gladdened many. The church has done its duty and hailed the coming of the newborn king, and gathers again today on this First Sunday of Christmas to continue to give thanks.
Isaiah’s song is as infectious as that of the Pointer Sisters, full of joy. And Saint Paul rejoices with God’s Spirit in a song of joy about the liberating power of the incarnation. And John the Divine sums it all up in his glorious hymn that celebrates the new creation that came about when God’s holy Word — which was from the beginning with God and was God — came to what was his own, the world God created and the people whom God chose.
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Ah, yes. Come he did. But then John give us a harsh reminder. It is harsh reminder from John to us, echoing down even to this day: “He came to what was own, and his own people did not receive him.” The light of God shines forth, but it does so in the darkness; and even though the darkness does not overcome it, the darkness remains dark to all who do not heed that light and word and believe.
And the situation is the same for Isaiah and Paul. That wonderful wedding song that Isaiah sings, the great rejoicing that is so exciting he just can’t hide it, like a bride or a groom on their wedding day — this joyful song is proclaimed in the midst of a low point in Israel’s history, the aftermath of their captivity in Babylon. Zion is yet to be raised from the dust and restored to its place of vindication, and Isaiah’s prophecy is just that: a fervent and poignant hope and promise for the future.
As is Saint Paul’s encouragement to the Galatians. It is true the faith has come and been revealed in Christ, and that they have eagerly accepted this good news, but their congregation is still being troubled by nay-sayers who are telling them they can’t really be saved unless they submit themselves to the controlling disciplines of the Law. Saint Paul reassures them in this controversy that the discipline of the Law has had its day, and its day is done; for in the fullness of time, Christ has come, born to redeem those under the law, and “redeem” here means literally posting bond to get them out of jail! These Galatians have been rescued, adopted into the household of God not because their obedience to the law, but by the price of the blood of Christ. It was a costly redemption, made good on the cross.
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So it is that all this excitement and joy from all three Scripture passages emerge from times of suffering and struggle. And is it any different for us? Are our Christmas celebrations taking place in a time more blessed than the end of the Babylonian Captivity, or the first century domination of the world by Roman legions, or the cantankerous and contentious early days of the church?
When we look closely at our own time, what do we see? The boughs of imitation holly and the sparkling Christmas lights are in all likelihood produced by underpaid workers toiling in unsafe conditions in Bangladesh or Shanghai. Talk of things being infectious is likely not about the Christmas spirit or the upbeat songs of pop and rock, but of Ebola, or Dengue Fever, or those old standbys: influenza and HIV. War rages on in the Middle East, and in the hearts of our own cities unarmed men are strangled or shot by the very people charged with protecting the populace from danger.
But I will tell you something. I am excited. I just can’t hide it. I’m not sure I’m about to lose control, but I will be so bold as to echo Isaiah, and Saint Paul and Saint John and say: As dark as the days may seem, as awful as they no doubt are, still the light shines in that darkness, and that darkness will never overcome it. For God in Christ has come to his own and we — his own by adoption — have received him. We have been released from prison and entered into God’s own transition plan
to get us back into life — but not just the old life that got us into trouble, when we were put upon by disciplinarians and lawyers, and were judged by our foes and abandoned by our friends. We are transitioning into the new life, the life of a child of God, redeemed by God and adopted by God. It is time to dress for the occasion with jewels and garlands, to rejoice like a garden in spring, to shine forth in the blazing light of dawn, to cry out to our God, “Abba! Father!” For we are no longer in slavery but, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last!
And this, my friends, is the message of Christmas. No matter how dark the day or night may be, there is a beacon of joy to be found in the light of Christ. This is something to be excited about, so excited that we just can’t hide it. Nor should we hide it, for this is a message too great to hide, news too good not to share.
We really do need to lose control — and I think I like that: for the message does not belong to us. The message of salvation has been given to us to share, to spread, to sing and tell of this great joy and freedom that we now celebrate in Christ. For our own sake we had best not keep silent, had best not hide this light under a bushel or put it under the bedstead. This light is greater than we can control; it is a light to lighten all peoples, a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not ever overcome it.
So let us, not just today or for the remaining eight days of Christmas, continue to sing of the joy and excitement that we know in our hearts. Let us give thanks through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit poured out upon us, in the knowledge of the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem of long ago, and born anew each day in our hearts. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God!” And I’m so excited that I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control — and I think I like it!+