Sunday After Christmas
Preacher: Rev. Carletta Aston
Message: "Preparing for the Work Ahead"
Scripture: Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3 and Luke 2: 22-40
One of the things I most enjoy when I am using my laptop is when it goes into screensaver mode. Whatever I have had on my screen disappears, and 26 of my favorite photos that I have selected glide slowly across the screen. They are mostly pictures of members of my family, my best friends and, of course, myself. During this 2020 holiday season, one picture that has grabbed my attention each time it glides by is of me between Christmas and New Year’s Day at the end of 1973. It is a full body side shot that shows me just a few days before I was to give birth to my twins, when I was carrying 16 pounds of babies.
What I start thinking about are the memories of the state of my mind during this time. I felt that I was existing in what is sometimes referred to as liminal time--a time of waiting, not knowing. Liminal time is characterized by ambivalence, a place of transition; when one is waiting, not knowing. On one hand I felt a giddy anticipation of meeting these two little souls. What would they look like? How big would they be? Would they have hair? What would we name them? Were they girls or boys? (This was before ultrasound was widely used.)
While having these delicious thoughts on the one hand, on the other hand, I was cranky and scared. Would these babies be healthy? Did I have what it took to do all the work that had to be done in the coming days, weeks, months, and years? And, of course, I was physically miserable.
The reason why I resonate to these memories is that I feel that we all are in a kind of liminal time. Right now. Two days ago we welcomed the entrance of the light of the Christ child into our world—ONCE AGAIN. Now we are existing in that liminal period between our celebration of the greatest miracle of our world and the coming New Year. We have come off of a “high” and we are waiting for the next chapter to begin. And we know that we have much work to do if we agree with the words of Howard Thurman, 20th century theologian--
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky will come and be gone on epiphany,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flock,
the work of Christmas begins.
In the Gospel lesson from the book of Luke this morning we hear about two older people, Simeon and Anna. They are both elated because they have lived long enough to witness the birth of the Savior, Christ the King. But from our vantage point 2020 years later, we all know the work that baby Jesus will have to do as an adult.
How should we think about our world in this liminal time? I gave up making new year’s resolutions a long ago as a bad bet. But after a lot of soul searching over the past 9 months, I decided to make some spiritual new year’s resolutions to help me prepare for and take into the New Year.
In our lives as Christians, and as the hands and feet of Jesus the Christ we must work in community. I like to think of this as the “Beloved Community” that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to. It may be our church, or a social service agency, or organizations with which we volunteer. But the point is that when we do the work of Christmas we must come together in community to deal with the lost, broken, hungry, and imprisoned to bring peace to our world.
However, as true as it is that we must work in community, each of us is an individual, with different points of view and varied backgrounds. Working together is sometimes difficult. But what I have recognized over almost 8 decades is that the better I understand and appreciate my own individuality, the better I become at recognizing and valuing the uniqueness of others and am better able to work productively in community. So I decided to do a bit of work on myself in the form of some highly personalized spiritual New Year’s resolutions in preparation for the work in community to come. Let me share my 3 areas of thought with you, in the event that they might be helpful for you.
Spiritual New Year’s resolution #1: Nourish your relationship with the divine.
By using the term “nourish” I am suggesting that, as you do those things that feed your soul, you keep in mind that you indeed have a one to one relationship with the divine, however you conceptualize and perceive the divine in your heart. There are so many ways that we commune with the divine: Through nature, music, art, raising children, caring for sick loved ones, volunteering—the list is endless. What I am thinking of here is that we so often get caught up in the five senses of our material world that we forget the divine aspect of what we are doing. This nourishing that I am talking about is not so much about doing anything differently. But rather it has to do with increasing awareness: A sharpening of focus, if you will, on the divine aspect of your life. So I am suggesting that you nourish your relationship with the divine in your everyday life.
Spiritual New Year’s resolution #2: Nourish your relationship with yourself.
What I mean by this is that you allow yourself to love yourself. Be compassionate with yourself, modify your expectations if need be. Forgive yourself when you fall short. So often we are our own most harsh and demanding critics. In informal parlance: “Lighten up and give yourself a break.” Nourish your relationship with yourself.
Spiritual New Year’s resolution #3: Nourish your relationship with everybody else.
Notice that I very pointedly said “everybody else.” Not just your family, friends, church community, not even just your country, but EVERYBODY. Okay. Maybe I sound delusional suggesting that we include everyone in nourishing of relationships. Well, here’s where I am coming from. In the Gospel of Luke 23:34 we have one of the things Jesus said as he hung on the cross. Picture it for a moment. Jesus is hanging up there looking down on those who have humiliated him and subjected him to what may be one of the most excruciating forms of execution. What did he say? What he said was: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Think about it! Perhaps I need to clarify a bit, the connection I make between Jesus’ command to forgive your enemies, which is what he is saying here. My interpretation of what Jesus is saying is not that you like your enemies. I don’t think he is implying that we let anyone get away with bad deeds. What he is saying is that we recognize that everyone is a child of God, just like each of us is. I recall an example that was Jesus like that happened over 30 years ago in my first church. We were taking prayer requests before a church council meeting. One woman spoke up and said that a young man had snatched her purse and that she was following up by taking him to court. Then she asked that we pray for his soul. That action seems to exemplify what Jesus meant. And that is why I suggest nourishing one’s relationship with everyone.
It may be obvious that I didn’t just pull these resolutions out of the air. They come from something that Jesus said, as recorded in the book of Matthew 22:37-40. In this chapter we hear that Jesus had been going about teaching and preaching, and he was really annoying some religious leaders who were trying to bait him and trip him up. One of them asked him: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus’ response is recorded in Matthew: What he said was:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In these 4 sentences Jesus summarized the 10 commandments and gave us the framework for preparing in this liminal time for the work we have to do in community.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. In our own community and around the world, so many are experiencing hunger, homelessness, illness, loss of loved ones, loneliness and despair. Some of us are consumed with fear and hatred and seem compelled to go on physical and psychological attack. I am thinking in particular about some of those who are unhappy about the outcome of the presidential election. As we transition to a new administration, we will be challenged to address every aspect of the human condition. No one community can focus on all of these problems. But I believe it is our work to earnestly do all we can to counter the ills of our society. I see our endgame as eventually ushering in a global, peaceful beloved community. So in conclusion let me just say: Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Now let’s get to work! Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - December 27, 2020
Sunday after Christmas - Believe this: Preparing for the Work Ahead
Prelude: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome & Opening Prayer - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Melani Gantes
Carol of Joy: “Angels from the Realms of Glory” UM Hymnal 220 - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Isaiah Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3 - Randall Miller
Children’s Message - Susan Jardin & Judy Kriege
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40 - Randall Miller
The Witness of Music (Anthem): “God Has Work for Us to Do” - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Message: “Preparing for the Work Ahead” - Rev. Carletta Aston
Carol of Response: “Love Came Down at Christmas” UMH #242- Rev. Jerry Asheim, Margot Hanson & Caroline Lee
Litany of Belief - Alina & Zach McVey
Prayers of the People - Orion Lacey
Special Music: “In the Stillness” - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes
Announcements & Offerings - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Doxology: “Believe with a Grateful Heart” - Judy Kriege
WE GO FORTH
Carol of Resistance: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” - Judy Kriege
Benediction: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Postlude: “We Shall Overcome” Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special thanks to:
Guest Preacher: Rev. Carletta Aston
Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Melani Gantes, Margot Hanson, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Orion Lacey, Caroline Lee, Alina & Zachary McVey, Randall Miller, and Rev. Kristin Stoneking.
Video producer: Tai Jokela
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt