Happy New Year! This afternoon I shall turn on the television, watch the Steelers beat the Browns, and remove the ornaments from the tree, then the lights, and take the tree (which was one of the better ones we have ever had) to the tree lawn, where it will sit until Wednesday when it gets picked up for trash.
It is hard for me to see that tree on the tree lawn for three whole days – it reminds me of the fact that it was cut down in the first place, and then with such anticipation selected by Deanne and me, and then decorated to the strains of Handel’s Messiah and Christmas carols… and now it is waste… and we will be sweeping up tree needles for the next four months!
January. Everyone one goes back to school, the month is so packed for me, I don’t even want to think of it. And then Lent is on us in a month.
The words of the poet WH Auden come to mind:
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree.
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
. . . . Once again, as in previous years
We have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it….
. . . .
For the time being, here we all are…The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered . . .
I admit, the end of the Christmas season is a melancholy time for me.
And this year, there is the added weight (at least for me) of the fear that is all around us and, of course, the grand jury report about the officers who shot Tamir.
I, who love to dwell in the tensions of life, am feeling very squeezed and don’t know what to say.
And so what a refreshing, audacious, and wonderful thing it was to read the poetry of scripture for today.
First from John:
In the beginning was the Word…
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…
And we have seen his glory…
No melancholy here, just wonder at the mystery of this incarnation – of God becoming a human. This one faith statement separates us from all other faiths – it just does – God is in the midst of us and we are invited to come close to God’s heart.
That is an amazing claim. I can’t talk you into that – but if that catches your attention and invites you and incites you to dwell on what that is saying,well then, all sorts of things follow.
And as we peer into the new year and all that is before us – yes, congregational meetings and all of that, but also the summer Olympics and the elections, and all the issues that we get worked up over and all the things that will grab our attention in the upcoming year – I need to hear, I think we all need to hear, this amazing claim: God is here – and you and I who are in anyway drawn to this mystery are called to be the word made flesh to others. We have been to the manger, we have caught a glimpse of baby God.
And so you and I are God’s hands and feet. We have the privilege of showing God’s heart to others. Most of the world still doesn’t act as if it knows this God of love. Even many Christians seem to think that God is a judgmental, almost hateful, competitive, warlike, an “Us v. Them” kind of God.
So our challenge is to show the God we really believe in: loving, just, inclusive, sane, thoughtful, gentle, righteous, willing to stand up for those on the fringe: the hungry, the homeless. So we keep at the Pantry, and Labre, and we sign up for the Homeless Stand down, and we journey to uncomfortable places, and we question and wonder and we keep welcoming everybody. And even if it isn’t popular, we don’t blast Muslims, or blame immigrants, or react out of fear, even if there are things to be fearful of.
It is up to us to show the God we believe in and not give into the temptation to show the devilish side of humanity. We have that choice!
If we don’t show God – how are people going to know? If we don’t live the transformed life and keep trying to shape the “beloved community,” it will never come.
And then there are those words from Ephesians. They blow me away. They don’t need interpretation, just acceptance. If you want one passage to copy and put on your refrigerator to remind you of your calling in Christ; this is the one:
God chose (you) us, destined (you) us, to be blameless and holy, (you) we have obtained the inheritance, so live for the praise of God’s glory…
We are the beloved children of God
We have received grace upon grace
We have heard the word, been marked with the indelible sign
We are forgiven….
And all of this comes just because God wants it that way: ALL OUT OF THE GOOD PLEASURE OF GOD’S WILL.
Again, I can’t talk you into that. But if you chose to be chosen, what a difference it makes. Don’t worry about the Jew or Muslim or any of the other good and beloved children of God who express their faith in a different manner. For us to claim our heritage in God through Christ doesn’t diminish theirs. This isn’t a competition.
Don’t overthink it as we head into the new year. Be what you believe God to really be about: present, forgiving, graceful, generous, joyful. It will make all the difference in the world.
If we are really going to have any impact in 2016 then we have to become who we are, who God is! As God has welcomed and adopted us, so too do we welcome and adopt. Orienting ourselves on these promises will change us – and being changed we will change the world.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
We opened with poetry and so we will end with poetry and I ask you to read the words of theologian and activist Howard Thurman with me from your bulletin.
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.
Christmas isn’t over. It has just begun. And you and I get to spread the word and live the life, and show the kingdom and be the people. So let us eat the spiritual food and get ready for the new day; truly HAPPY NEW YEAR!