First Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This is not an ordinary Sunday. The Queen City Jazz Band has come and have played their music. This is not how respectable Lutheran people worship!! We don’t clap our hands and move our hips. (Most of us are too old for that!!) But I think I saw a bunch of that already, and even more to come. Lutherans saying Amen and Hallelujah? What has happened around here?
This is not a normal Sunday. I’ll tell you what a normal Sunday the Sunday after Christmas is – it’s dead, lifeless, boring. No one comes. Pastors usually decide that God wants them to minister to people on some warm beach the Sunday after Christmas.
After seeing 650 people on Christmas Eve, with all of its enthusiasm and joy, the Sunday after Christmas has nothing left. No crowds, no enthusiasm, no fun. That is a normal Sunday right after Christmas.
So…this is not normal. We brought in the enthusiasm and the caffeine. But God is the one that brings in a life that is not ordinary, ever.
It was almost eight years ago that these folks were here. But if you find them out of place here today you would have been shocked to find them coming here in the middle of the week in February of 2010. They played at a funeral!! Funerals are for quiet and contemplation and slow music, and they were loud and happy. Mary Lawrence was as quiet as our wonderful singer, Wendy, is loud!! But her service was a joyous send-off, it captured the joy of living, the triumph of dying and the promise of eternal celebrations, all because of Jesus Christ and his victory.
Ordinary? Life with God in it is never ordinary. Go back to the changing of an ordinary life for Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist. They were old, barren, impotent, child-less and the angel came and said that all that would change. And it did. The child that they were going to have would be the voice to call God’s people back to Him. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Ordinary? Not for Zechariah and Elizabeth and not for John. And His work and message would not be ordinary. It actually would be quite challenging to the hearts of those whose lives were so far from the ways that God had established.
Ordinary? Mary and Gabriel? Not even close!! When Mary couldn’t quite fathom having this child, she was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative is going to have a child I her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)
Ordinary? Joseph and Gabriel? I don’t think so. Joseph, after learning that Mary was pregnant, and not knowing of this miraculous work, was going to divorce her and begin a new life with someone else. But God, who is never ordinary, sent word, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20b-21)
There was nothing ordinary about all the events that led up to His birth or the events of the night He was born. Thousands of angels filled the sky and sang and shouted and caught the attention of anyone who would hear, “Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
But our reading for today is quite ordinary. The angels had all left. Everything became quiet. On the 8th day He had to be circumcised. Quite ordinary (and painful) for that little boy. On the 40th day, Mary had to be purified and Jesus had to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was even ordinary in the type of gift they could give. Wealthy people would give a lamb when their children were born, Mary and Joseph could only afford a couple of little birds.
Life has to be ordinary at times. William Willimon, a Methodist who preached at the amazingly beautiful chapel on Duke University, had these words about the necessity of the ordinary, “Show me a church where everything is happy, upbeat, joyous every Sunday and I’ll show you a place out of touch with life…Life is a rhythm. If your religion is only a faith of Christmas eve and Easter Sunday, it isn’t much, because life has a lot of low times, too. Religion, at least the Christian one, is not simply about warm spontaneous feelings surging up within you, or about miracles that stupefy the imagination and overwhelm us with their strangeness. It is also about keeping the faith, about the habit of prayer, of Bible reading, of doing what you are supposed to do, like Simeon and Anna, of quiet waiting.” (Pulpit Resource, December, 1996, Pg. 53)
After Simeon praised God for seeing Jesus before he died, “Let your servant depart in peace…” he actually gave some very troubling words to Mary, “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will piece your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) What happened to the sky with angels and everyone excited about His birth? Within 40 days of that great night you have such words spoken. The ordinary is over. The real world took over. “Mary, your son is going to be rejected, even despised by many people.” “Mary, he is going to get a little too close to some and will upset their life and their ways – and the result will be deadly.” “Mary, the pain and hurt isn’t just his – it will be yours.” But the brutally ordinary life, the darkest moments would never be ordinary.
I get a newsletter from Greg Holz. Some of you who have connections with Shepherd of the Hills might know him. Greg ministers through a group called Crossing Cambodia. The work he does is hard work – he works among the street children – those who have been abandoned by families and have no place to stay. They bring the kids in, house them, cloth them, feed them, teach them. Greg and his ministry invest everything into these kids. They send pictures of big events, kids smiling and much joy. But Greg said that this October his life crashed – he had an emotional breakdown. 3 kids who they loved left the program. He wrote, “This year we’ve had 3 children drop out of our program, one of whom I was especially close to, and one other who I saw start down a bad path from which few young boys ever escape.”
Can you imagine? I bet you can. You put your whole self into a person and you fail and they fail and you don’t know how it got so bad. You weren’t indifferent but it didn’t work out. And such a thing just eats at you. Life isn’t always Christmas Eve sometimes it is the Sunday after, the return to reality, the ordinary, the days when “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
But I want to tell you that life is never ordinary with God. Greg Holz after speaking of his deep grief says, “Often in our low points in life we feel furthest from God. There are certainly times in the past few months I’ve felt like that. We wrestle with everything that happens and wonder how we will keep on going. And that is when we need to celebrate Christmas, because what sets our God apart from all others is how much he longs for us to be with Him and that He is willing to humble Himself in an extreme to come down and be with us, even in our lowest places. He didn’t come part the way down or to the level of a king and expect us to come at least part of the way to Him. Nor did He reach His hand out to help us the rest of the way up. He came all the way down to the very bottom level in order to be with us and walk alongside us as He leads us on a path to be redeemed and to be with God.”
Life is never ordinary. It can be painful and weary and difficult. Jesus knew that. Mary knew that. You know that.
But in the greatest sense, the most hopeful sense, Life is never ordinary because God is never ordinary!! He wasn’t ordinary on Christmas Eve with all of its majesty. And He isn’t ordinary on the days following Christmas, even on the Sunday after Christmas. He is still Immanuel – God with us. He is still Jesus – God saves. He is still the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. And we are still His. We are under His care. We are loved by Him. We are forgiven by Him. We are strengthened by Him.
Life is never ordinary. Our troubles and sins tell us that. But our God is never ordinary, as well. His hand will allow us to live a life that is not ordinary. Amen!!