Vladimirskaya Theotocos, Orthodox Icon, 12th Century
For Sunday, December 25, 2011
Nativity of the Lord, Proper 1
(Isaiah 9, Psalm 96, Luke 2, Titus 2)
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” So starts Isaiah 9:2. We Christians were once “people walking in darkness.” We were those “living in the land of deep darkness“. This latter phrase could also be translated “living in the land of the shadow of death.” But while this was true of us now a light has dawned. This is why we light up our homes at Christmas. As our exterior illumination dispels the darkness of December so does the presence of Jesus dispel the shadow of death that once reigned.
Christmas has always been a difficult time for me emotionally. It’s because of the trauma I lived through as a child as we struggled to cope with my Mom’s mental illness. I’ve come a long way in terms of being able to enjoy the holiday, but for me, the light has only dawned. We’re far from noontime. Yet this is okay. The important thing is that the light has dawned and will only get brighter as I continue on this journey with Jesus.
Psalm 96 encourages us to “worship the Lord in holy splendor.” What might “holy splendor” really look like in my local church? My mind immediately goes to the beautiful cathedrals I have experienced in both Russia and right here in Milwaukee. Yet the wise men who were with Jesus had no cathedral and yet certainly there was “holy splendor” in their worship of the baby Jesus, despite the straw all around. They brought frankincense and myrrh. Have you ever worshipped amidst the aroma of frankincense and myrrh? A personal confession: I burn these as incense at home and find them wonderfully calming, affirming, and stimulating. Bring some to your pastor. Enjoy some together: might this be a way to bring some holy splendor into your Christmas worship?
What a joy as well to read Luke 2 this week. I call this the Linus chapter, because having seen Charlie Brown’s Christmas so many times, I can’t seem to hear the words any other way. “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” No matter who is speaking them these are good words indeed, so Linus, thank you!
This week’s final reading, Titus 2, proclaims clearly and wonderfully what Christmas ought to mean for each of us who have come to the manger: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and wordly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.” What a far cry from the vision of the world, which might sound like this: “For Hollywood has appeared, calling us to live lives that are self-actualized, glamorous, and glitzy.” The problem: once the sugar high wears off all we’re left with is lives that are “self-indulgent, superficial, and vapid.” Are you ready for something different? Let the light of Jesus dawn.
Point to ponder:
You are standing by the manger. You look into the baby Jesus eyes. He looks back. In this moment, what is God saying to you? How can the light of Jesus grow a little brighter in your life this week?