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    Jan 01, 2017

    An Extraordinary Gift

    An Extraordinary Gift

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Christmas

    Keywords: gift, jesus, love

    Thinking on the meaning of Jesus’ name brings the reminder that God is still in control. That peace does and will reign. That love came down at Christmas and the world is forever changed. The name Jesus carries within it the power of God’s saving love for us all. And after twelve days of pondering the incarnation in our hearts, we become ready to put away the Christmas glitter so that we can manifest God’s way of light to the world.

    As I walked around my neighborhood yesterday I saw that many of my neighbors have already brought their trees to the street. Silly people, I thought, for Christmas isn’t yet over. Christmas isn’t a day but a season, for we need more than one day to know how to celebrate God’s coming among us.

    But over the years, a lot of merry that had little to do with this humble church came into the twelve days of Christmas. The medieval church began to curb these. Then the protestant reformers came along and squelched most all. And so the one day event became the sole focus. But perhaps we need a little silliness and much more than a day, to take in what God has done.

    The church has given us these twelve days to ponder in our hearts the way that God chose to save the world, for God came not in the way we expect. Rather than through some almighty power of force, God’s almighty power was used to unite human nature with God’s nature in a very intimate way. The Word that is Love, becomes flesh. Divine and humanity become one. You can’t get any more intimate than that. And the world is changed forever by God’s action.

    This isn’t the way the world expected God then. What we can expect from God is something unexpected. We should take note of this. For even now when we speak of or imagine God’s coming again, we use words and images about a coming of great power and glory. Perhaps we should consider that God’s coming again might also be in a humble quiet way. But it may be too hard for us to conceive such a thought. For we experience change through great acts of power. Civilizations and leaders arise through power and force. Surely God would come in such a way. But God chose to come as a helpless little baby. SO for God’s great plan to work, God first needs to be loved and cared for by others before he could set out to show us another way.

    To know such a God is a struggle. The human drive for power and survival is strong. So to know such a God requires a great learning in us – we must learn to set aside the ways of our nature; to learn to set aside those human desires and take on the power found in God’s love and humility. To acquire such learning, we need more than one day of unwrapping to unwrap this extraordinary gift. Twelve days.

    Right off the bat we have three holy days, following that most holy birth day. On the first day of Christmas, we have the feast of Stephen. (are you singing?) Stephen, the first deacon of the church, charged to care for the widows, the orphans, the poor. Amidst all the gifts we have received, the very next day we are asked to take gifts to those on the margins of society. On the second day of Christmas we celebrate St. John and his mighty words: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." The third day of Christmas is the feast of the Holy Innocents – a very dark story follows the day that we celebrated the light that had come among us. What juxtaposition! Even with this beautiful extraordinary act of God, violence is lurking. What follows the rest of the Christmas season are days for saints who died on those dates. They represent the world – witnesses to Jesus from various nations and time periods, but all who found power in the name of Jesus for their lives. Except for the eighth day of Christmas, this is today. We remember the given law here in this Christmas season by honoring the day on which Jesus’ name was given.

    Jesus was born into a family that was an obedient family. We see this throughout the people of the Christmas story, they are obedient to the living law, making room for God’s fresh expressions. The Law of Moses requires that every male be circumcised on the eighth day from his birth (Lev. 12:3). This was a really happy and festive custom. Family and friends would be invited to become witnesses to the naming of the child. No one, except Mary and Joseph, knew this would be different, that this child’s name was not given by his father or mother, but brought to them by the messenger angel Gabriel –“You will name him Jesus.”

    Jesus. Yeshua. Joshua.

    Naming your child was very important to the Jewish people as well. Often the name reflected their tribe, their heritage. Or it might reflect something about the child’s relationship with God. As when Hannah names her son: “In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 1:20).”

    But "He was called Jesus…” Well, actually, that is the Latin form of the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” or “Joshua.” Joshua – you will remember, was the one who became the leader of that rag-tag group in the wilderness after the death of Moses. It was Joshua, not Moses, who led the people into the promised land. Yeshua. Joshua. Jesus. And the name means, “The Lord saves.” Or more literally, “Yahweh, God, is salvation.” What a fitting name for God when he becomes like us. God’s incarnation, God’s becoming-as-us. Here is our redemption, revealed not only in the flesh but also in the name: Yeshua. In Jesus, God enters the world and takes on the humanity we have distorted; and he takes on death, the ultimate distortion of God’s creation. In this new year of our Lord, we live, as Paul says, as slaves no more. From this child we also become a child of God. This child is God’s blessing - God’s blessing of flesh and blood.

    On this eighth day of Christmas we lift up the power that is found in the name of Jesus – the power of salvation. Now some of us may cringe at such words. For salvation may have been distorted for us by an abrupt question from another – “Are you saved?” But think on this name. There is great power, there is great freedom in this name, in the way of God’s saving. Are you saved? Yes you were. Yes you are. Yes you will be. Simply because God came to us in Jesus.

    Now this became a holy day in 567 to confront the many pagan rituals that had crept into the church. The Council of Tours looked to the story, to scripture, and lifted up this rite of giving name. We are again in such a time when the secular rules our season. And as did people of all time, we long to be free of the chains that bind us.

    Thinking on the meaning of Jesus’ name brings the reminder that God is still in control. That peace does and will reign. That love came down at Christmas and the world is forever changed. The name Jesus carries within it the power of God’s saving love for us all. Ponder this in your heart as we approach this season’s end this Friday on the day of The Epiphany.

    The Feast of the Epiphany, like all of our Holy Days, is more than remembering the Three Kings. After twelve days of pondering the incarnation in our hearts, we become ready to put away the Christmas glitter so that we can manifest God’s way of light to the world.

    My prayer for us all in this new year, that this be so. Amen.