December 30, 2018

December 4th & January 4th People

1st Sunday of Christmas

First Lesson:  Hosea 11:1-7

Second Lesson:  Galatians 4:4-7

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Sermon Text:  Colossians 3:12-14


Some of you probably know this, but the days after Christmas used to be treated very differently than they are now.  For us, the holiday season goes from 1 second after Thanksgiving ends (if that) until one second after Christmas Day meal is over. Come December 26th, decorations start coming down, after Christmas sales start, and people begin counting days until they have to go back to work or school.  The way we do it, the Christmas season takes place before the holidays. That is not how it used to be. Advent was properly treated as the season that gets people ready to celebrate Jesus. The season truly started on Christmas Day. Then, for 12 days, that was the holiday season. That is what the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is about - time from Christmas Day to Epiphany.  Back then, Christmas was celebrated on and after the holiday.

Speaking of before and after, compare moods of people on December 4th and January 4th. They’re totally different.  December 4th people are happier people. They compassionately give to charities more than other times of the year.  They show kindness as they buy others gifts. They show humility when they talk about making the season great for a young child since it’s the 1st he’ll remember or for grandpa because his health is declining and he may not have many Christmases left.  

In crowded stores, many (not all) are more gentle – letting others take a parking spot, not fighting over the last beef tips, and giving a space to little ones at a Christmas parade. Some (not all) are more patient. They’ll wait a little longer while she gets all the items on her list or little Billy asks Santa for 10 things instead of 5. Many see pre-Christmas as a good time to bury the hatchet and mend relationships. Why else would Hallmark make 15 movies with that subplot every year?  

And there is something that fills the air as we get ready for the big days. Families travel far to be together.  People show up to sing at a stranger’s door and he actually listens and gives them cookies and cider. Song after song talks about the love that is practically flowing through peoples’ veins during the glorious December days. This is a Polly Annish way of viewing things, but you can’t deny that around December 4th, people are as kind, gentle, patient, and loving as they get.

And when asked why, when channel 12 has a reporter follow up on a good Samaritan, visit a food shelter, or just talk to people in the street, why do they do these things?  Why are they the way they are in the weeks up to Christmas?  They usually say something like this: “Because it is Christmas.  It is a time to help others.  It is a time to make the world a little better place, because it is a time of peace and joy.”  People say these things and for the most part, I believe them.

Contrast that to a January 4th person.  Compassionate?  Not to the sales clerk who is making the return of one gift an hour long battle. Kind? Not to the jerk who took “their” parking spot. Humble? After once again getting the lamest gifts ever? Hardly. Gentle? Not when traffic is at a crawl because ½ inch of snow fell overnight. Bearing with each other?  That might be possible if all the people lining the store aisles weren’t morons. Love?  Sometimes it seems like it is nowhere to be found.

Channel 12 doesn’t interview people after Christmas the way they do before Christmas, but if they did, if they found a guy who made an old lady walk 50 yards because he took a handicapped spot or talked to someone who cut in front of 10 people in the return line and asked them why they did it, what would they say?  Probably something like this: “Hey, got to take care of myself.  Got to look out for #1.  This world will run you over if you let it.  It’s a battle zone, and you have to come out swinging.”  I might be overexaggerating it, but if you have been outside lately, you understand more than just a little bit.

Why the huge change in 31 days? Because all the stuff that happened, all the good feelings people had, and all the nice things they did weren’t really grounded in anything real. Christmas spirit? That sounds more like a Yankee Candle scent than a real thing. Positive holiday energy?  If it exists, it quickly dissipates.  The overall goodness of mankind prior to Christmas?  The sinful heart is as sinful before December 25th as it is after December 25th.  So when the decorations are down, the parties are over, and the dullness of January hits, the good feelings, the “help others out” spirit, and the “magic of the season” doesn’t turn the page with the calendar and we are right back to where we started the day before Thanksgiving.

That’s how it is for people of the world. Should it be that way for us? Yes, we all, be it in a small way or a big way, take a dive after Christmas.  But all the things we talked about – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love – those are not one-month ideals for us we leave behind when January hits.  All those things, which are, incidentally, things Paul calls for in our text, are things, lifestyles a believer puts into practice December 4th, January 4th, May 4th, and July 4th.

And not only are we called to do those things, to have what the world calls “Christmas spirit” all year. Unlike the world, we do have an event on which that call is based.  That is what the last month has been about.  We’ve kind of alluded to our text, but let’s dig in.  Prior to encouraging Christians to show compassion, kindness, and all that good stuff, Paul addresses them and us with these words: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…” How does that ground you?  How do that give you every bit of motivation?  How can you be sure you are chosen, holy in God’s sight, and loved?

Again, go back to the previous 20 odd days.  We celebrated the birth of the Savior.  And while he is humanity’s Savior, he is your (singular) Savior.  If you were the only sinner in this world, Jesus would have come for you.  Doesn’t that reassure you that you are a chosen child of that, that he decided to do this for many, yes, but for you as an individual?  What about the holy part?  Remember what the angels said.  Because of Jesus, there is peace and goodwill between you and God.  Well, God is holy, and if you want to be on his good side, you’d better be holy too.  And even though that is something we couldn’t come close to attaining, we are holy.  Because the babe of Bethlehem grew up, marched to that cross, laid down his life, and took it up again, your sins are gone.  What do we call a lack of sin?  Holiness.  And if you are by faith in Christ holy, doesn’t that mean you are at peace with your Lord?  It absolutely does.

And how can we question the love part? Advent starts off the church year. We review the prophecies about how Jesus came into the world. Lately we’ve celebrated his birth. Next week we focus on him revealing himself as not just some great guy but as our Savior. Then comes Lent – a non-stop focus on the cross. Then we celebrate Easter.  The one who died for us rose again to prove his victory.  Then we celebrate Ascension, knowing his work is completed and in time he will take us to be with him.  Why would he do all this?  Why would he sacrifice what he sacrificed? And why would he do all this and ask nothing in return?  Because he dearly loves you.  He, passionately, deeply, intently, can’t have a heart bigger loves you.  

Isn’t all that what not only allows but encourages us to be all that Paul calls us to be here. Why be compassionate?  Because the one born for us is 100% compassion, and we know the results of that in our lives as we face hardships.  Why be kind?  Because the child of Bethlehem saw us at our sinful worst, and still did what he did with a kindness that will never be matched.  Why forgive others and not hold grievances against them? Paul clearly answers those questions. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Jesus came to forgive.  That is his gift to us.  And don’t we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?”  What we have received from Mary’s Son, we gladly share with others.

And the love thing.  Always comes back to that, doesn’t it?  A lot of our “love” at Christmas is reciprocal love.  We “love” because others “love” us.  We serve because others serve us.  We give because others give to us.  That is not what love is at its core.  That certainly isn’t what Jesus’ love is.  If that were the case, he’d show us no love because on our own, we have nothing to offer him in return.  His love is selfless and self-sacrificing.  People may attempt to show such love on December 4th because, well, it’s the Christmas thing to do.  But knowing that love covers us all year long, that is the love we will show all year long.  A love that serves without looking for payment.  A love that gives without expectation of reward.  A love that at its basest level is always about doing what is best for the other person as we put God’s will into practice.

Will this be easy? No. The gone for 11 months holiday spirit won’t give us a boost from now until next December. As we try to put all this into practice, we’ll face blowback from a post-Christmas, frustrated, angry world. And the sinner in us will either try to get us to believe we can never do these things are we shouldn’t do these things if no one else is doing them and there is nothing in it for us.  But that is when we must go back to our base, to our core, to our encourager and motivator.  We know how Jesus served us through his entire life and through our entire lives thus far.  We know the benefits of it.  And with a heart full of thanks, with a heart overflowing with proper Christmas spirit all year long, we will put God’s will into practice.

I want you to especially think about this since we are in the midst of what was, in the past, the real holiday season.  We are day 5 – the one with the golden rings.  When you wake up tomorrow – day 6 – remember the foundation of your Christmas joy.  And maybe leave the service folder out and read through Paul’s words again… “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  We thank God for making us December 4th people.  And we ask him to help us be such people every day of this new year as well.  Amen.