Merry Christmas! Hey – I can say it until January 5, and I fully intend to. So there! For Christmas I, the Episcopal Church uses the old BCP lectionary rather than the RCL, so our readings for this coming Sunday are:
Well, dear ones, we have finally arrived. After that long stretch of Ordinary Time, after the “Repent!” from John the Baptist during Advent, after the pain of birth and the dirt and noise and stink of doing this in a stable, after having to be reminded over and over to be not afraid, we know that Jesus is here, among us. And we’re given these twelve days to relax, to be comforted by our Emmanuel, to enjoy the presence of Christ.
Well, you know, except for all the pesky martyrs who have feast days this week – Stephen, deacon and first martyr; the Holy Innocents – the infants and toddlers living in Bethlehem whom Herod ordered slain; Thomas Becket. And when the secular world is celebrating the New Year, we are celebrating the Holy Name of Jesus, which is called this because Anglicans are too prim and proper to celebrate anybody’s circumcision, not even that of the Messiah.
But for Sunday, we don’t have to think about these things. The RCL gospel tells the story of the slaughter of the children by Herod, but the BCP readings are joyful, delightful, even sweet. Isaiah tells us that we are wrapped in God’s love, like a bride in her beautiful garlands; that God is making us grow and bloom like a beautiful garden; that God holds us in God’s hands like a beautiful crown. The psalm reminds us that God knows the name of every star in the universe, that God heals our broken hearts, that God strengthens us and protects us and blesses us, that God gives us rain and winds so that the grains and the green plants will grow and so that all the birds and animals can be nourished just as we are. The letter to Galatians gives us comfort in the knowledge that God has adopted us as God’s children; that God hears us when we cry out “Abba! Daddy!” to God; and that as God’s children, we will inherit God’s kingdom. And the gospel reading from John is simply one of the most beautiful scripture passages in the entire bible.
We are enveloped this Sunday in light and beauty and comfort. So enjoy it!
Of course, there is homework. Our world is just broken enough that we have a hard time believing we can be accepted and wanted and loved as much as God loves us. We have a hard time even imagining how much God accepts and wants and loves us. When we see ourselves as God’s children, we become aware of our failures to live up to our parents’ expectations of us, and of our memories of their disappointment in us, either expressed directly or interpreted from words or actions or facial expressions. I know I can only imagine that God – who is so much more in every way than my earthly parents – must be so much more disappointed in me. Why shouldn’t God leave me to make my own way? Why shouldn’t God turn God’s back on me? Why shouldn’t God abandon me?
Well, because that’s just not God’s way. And the proof? Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. And we are reassured that not only does God love us, not only will God never abandon us, but God treasures us. God holds us in God’s hands like a crown of beauty, like a royal diadem. God gives us light in the darkness, healing when we are broken, water when we are parched.
So the homework is simple – though I will not ever claim it is easy. The homework is this. For just a moment, close your eyes and imagine what it means to be loved and treasured completely and utterly. Not for anything you’ve ever said or done. Not for your job or your children or your parents or your school or your church. Not for your clothes or your house or your car. Not for the Christmas lights on your porch. Not for the gifts you bought your loved ones or for the charitable donations you have made. Just for you, you beautiful child of God, you!
The advanced homework is a little less simple. It is to take this feeling – this overwhelming, complete, and perfect love – and to try to carry it with you for more than just that moment. Treasure it. Ponder it in your heart, like Mary. Become familiar with it, even intimate. Remember that you did not earn it, and that nothing – no thing that ever was or ever will be – can take it away from you. This is a gift. It is grace. It is God’s love, not human love.
And then, rejoice. Sing Hallelujah. Because you, my friend, you are the royal diadem in the hand of your God.