The Work of Christmas

Dear Friends,
 
Today marks one month beyond our glorious celebration of Jesus’ birth.
 
This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – a day when we will be reminded in worship of the work that Jesus was sent among us to accomplish as we hear what has been referred to as “Jesus’ inaugural address”.
 
In this address (which are his first words in the gospel of Luke) Jesus introduces and lays out the foundation of his purpose and mission for coming to earth. It is a clear announcement of his mission and an apparent description of the kingdom of God. It is a message of good news as he refers to and announces the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s vision. Speaking boldly, Jesus says,
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-21)
 
This was the work and mission Jesus was sent to accomplish. It is important work. It is challenging work. It is our work.
 
This time of year marks the usual time for presidential inaugurations following a presidential election. In typical inaugural addresses a newly elected president will introduce and lay out the foundation of their hopes and goals as an administration. Americans are invited, encouraged, and challenged to join the administration in accomplishing those goals. We, the people, have a responsibility to work together for the sake of our country.
 
Jesus’ inaugural address is significantly different, however. In it, He is inviting, encouraging, and challenging all people to join Him in accomplishing the prophet’s vision on behalf of the world – on behalf of a Higher Authority – whom God so loved, that He sent Jesus to die for it.
 
You and I are invited to part of God’s fulfillment of God’s promises. Today. Tomorrow. And the next day. I think we will all agree that such an invitation is daunting and leads immediately to a whole variety of self-doubting questions: Me? Us? Our congregation? Our community? Our nation? Really, Jesus? Your mission seems a little aggressive. Have you been paying attention? The challenges you lay out for us seem overwhelmingly out of reach. The problems are just so big!
 
I’m reminded of the young college student who was struggling in many areas of his life. He spent a great deal of his time feeling angry and frustrated. When he could stand it no longer, he went to the dim and seldom-used chapel on campus. He paced up and down the aisles, slapping the back of the empty pews. He yelled, he cried, and he raged at God. “God you created the world … what could you possibly have been thinking? Look at the problems people face. Look at the pain, suffering, and hunger. Look at the neglect, the waste, the abuse. Everywhere I look, I see messed-up people, hurting people, lonely people!” The young man ranted and raved on and on. Finally, exhausted, he sat int he front pew and looked hopelessly at the cross. Its tarnished surface reflected the dusty sunlight filtering in through the stained glass windows. “It’s all such a mess! This world you created is nothing but a terrible mess! Why, even I could make a world better than this one!” And then the young man heard a voice in the silence of that dusty chapel that made his eyes open wide and his jaw drop. “And that is exactly what I want you to do.”
(Wayne Rice, More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks: 100 More Attention-Getting Stories, Parables, and Anecdotes(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 1996), 174-75.)
 
It’s easy to identify problems that exist all around us. Sometimes we too, wonder why God doesn’t solve them all for us. But that’s why God created the Church. That’s why God put you and me here – at this particular time and place. God has gifted us and given us the power to make a difference in the world – to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world. We can do this!
 
So, how about instead of hearing Jesus’ invitation as daunting, we hear it as empowering. Me? Us? Our congregation? Our community? Our nation? Really, Jesus? You really think I/we can make a difference? You mean the small things we do really do matter? You really are at work in our lives and relationships for the sake of the world? Sign me up!
 
For further reflection on this daunting and rewarding mission, and our role in it, I encourage you to view Matthew West’s video of his song, “Do Something.”
 
Yes, today does mark one month beyond Christmas, however, the work of Christmas has just begun. You and I have been called and commissioned to do this work.
 
Howard Thurman wrote this wonderfully challenging and equally empowering poem “The Work of Christmas.” The poem calls us to something that, if taken seriously, is daunting. But it is simultaneously empowering, calling us to something worthwhile and at the same time giving us the confidence that we can do it. Which is the way, when you think about it, the Gospel pretty much always works. Here is the poem.
 
“The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman
 
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 flocks,
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 the people,
to make music in the heart.
“The Work of Christmas,” p 23, from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations, Howard Thurman.
 
Let’s get to work!
 
Grace and peace … 
 
Pr. Dale