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Christmas is a lot of things: memories, celebrations, family, friends, food, hope, childhood, and also the blues, regret, longing, sadness, loneliness. It’s the end of the year. I’m always struck by the long build up to Christmas and then the sudden mad dash to New Years once the goose is cooked and the gifts opened. What do we do with that? How can something so big – celebrating the birth of the Messiah – God come to us in weakness – be so quickly regulated to, last week? I love this picture by Norman Rockwell, entitled “Twas the Day after Christmas” – it captures perfectly the post-holiday rush. But how do we live that in terms of faith and our daily spirituality? Is it just a feast to recover from…or something more?
The passage from Luke 2
This passage jumps ahead in the life of Jesus. In fact in the canonical gospels (the one’s admitted into the cannon, or our Bible) it’s the only one talking of Jesus during his childhood. In other writings not deemed orthodox by the early church, the boy Jesus does miracles raising a dead boy, giving life to a toy clay pigeon. Here in Luke’s retelling of Jesus he is miraculous but less on doing magical or mysterious deeds, than on having an unexpected depth of knowledge and reason in terms of talking of and about God. The text implies that Joseph and Mary were just as dumbstruck and surprised by the actions of their son as were the teachers of the law – the religious leaders, scholars and “experts” of the day. The reply of Jesus in verse 49 points to the paradox that even those that knew him best, didn’t know him. It seems to be the theological source for the last lyrical line of the carol “Mary Did You Know?” …. “Did you know that the baby you were holding was the great I AM?” It doesn’t seem so. By extension then, if they – his care-giving parents – didn’t know him completely, can we? How do you hear this theological discussion of his omnipotence, identity and purpose? Do find it discouraging…that no one can no him, or do you find it encouraging….that he lets himself be known?
The selected portions of the passage from Romans 12
This is the great climactic chapter in Paul’s pastoral letter (or epistle) to the church in Ancient Rome. Until this point he’s been explaining the need we all have for Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, and how God comes to us to save us not by works our because we deserve it, but rather in and through grace. Rather than ending on a note of despair and hopelessness that none of us can know God, Paul builds his theological discussion to this existential and revolutionary invitation to radical living.
In my online research I came across this comical riff on the often familiar allegory for how God is present with us, and how we don’t realize it from the poem “Footprints.” Paul writes the opposite of the ironic point made in this funny. It points to the challenge of how we experience knowing, doing and following the Will of God. I see it as a visualization of the two ways we can understand our relationship with God, in particular in response to the story of Christmas, the mystery of “God with us”. Our principal ways of understanding lie between two poles: either we suspect that we can never discern the will of God and choose it by our own volition, or we can know it, do it and become it in the world. The poem advances the former viewpoint, whereas Paul seems to argue that we can know – be daily renewed and do what God wants for us – summed up in his interpretation of what we now call the Golden Rule – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil cling to good. Do not be overcome by evil, but be overcome with good.”
Christmas isn’t the end, but rather the beginning – and invitation to live in and from the mysterious good news that God is with us, and angelic proclamation of goodwill to all on Earth.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in these texts? Why? How?
2. How do you struggle with knowing God, or with knowing God’s will for you, for us?
3. How have you heard or glimpsed God to be acting, and speaking in this Advent/Christmas season? What invitation is the Spirit of God giving you? How might you already be doing God’s will, or know it – and not realize it or want to do it?
4. As we end 2012 how do you hope that God will grow you and/or heal you in the coming year?