Christmas in July 2021 Gospel Luke 2:1-20
Sermon on Hebrews 1:1-12
It may seem a bit strange celebrating Jesus’ birth at a time other than December 25th. But, what better way to remember that Jesus came to earth not just in a sweet sentimental Christmas-card holiday sense, but in a real, flesh-and-blood reality that lives and has significance on the whole of our lives, than to celebrate Christmas in July – or any other time of the year?
Because the Good News of the Gospel is this: Jesus is here, now. He is our Lord today, tomorrow, and forever. Jesus redeems us from the grave. He is God’s bonafide self, in human form, yet still divine.
Who is Jesus to you? How do you describe him? How do you share his goodness with others? How do you tell his story?
We just heard the beloved gospel from Luke which does a great job of telling the story of the coming of Jesus among us; the long trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem of the very pregnant Mary and her spouse, Joseph; the “no room at the inn” aspect of their lackluster welcome; the moment of truth as Jesus is born and the angels announce his arrival to the shepherds, and so on.
We just retold the story ourselves, all together, great practice for taking the story and sharing it with others. The witness we give or sharing we engage in gives others the chance to know this Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We know this holy nativity story and we love it as we have received it, a precious gift we cannot wait to unwrap, time and again. And yet, how do we move from the telling of that story to each other, to talking about Jesus, our God and King to the world?
Is Jesus the babe?
Is Jesus the crucified Savior?
What does either version mean for our day to day experience of him?
Is Jesus Lord of All – and what does that mean in an age when those titles are not part of our daily lexicon?
How do we understand the scope of his power and what does the “divinity of Jesus” mean for us?
Unless we have some sense of the answers to these questions, it is difficult if not impossible to share Jesus with our neighbors, and that is what the disciples of Jesus are supposed to do.
The letter establishes from the beginning that Jesus has always been present – the worlds were created through him, and God has used the prophets throughout history to describe and give the promise of his sending.
Jesus is the heir of all – the firstborn Son – the “reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being.” The significance of this statement is to highlight the power and majesty of Jesus, his godly status, his might, the divine revelation of the character, love, and mercy of God.
In the Scriptures, we find three classes of angels appearing at different times. One class of angels, the cherubim, are the ones we most often recognize, engaging with humans – they have been honored and glorified as messengers and heavenly beings from and in service to God.
Another class of angels, the seraphim, worship and glorify God. This is the heavenly chorus that gives us the words we sing at Communion, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory…”.
A third class of angels, the “living creatures,” sing praises to God around God’s throne, and they serve and worship him continually. They appeared in the Scriptures as creatures like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, representing various parts of God’s creation (wild beasts, domesticated animals, human beings, and birds). (Revelation 4:8)
Paul tells us that Jesus is above all these. In fact, he makes it clear that the angels serve Jesus just as they serve God, that Jesus is more powerful than and superior to them, and that in every way – inheritance, name, relationship to God, and the righteousness of his powerful scepter, Jesus is far greater that these, and anointed by God for great things.All of these details may seem mundane, but they were important to the community then as they are now. In fact, while Hebrews appears in the bible with Paul’s letters, it appears that it was more likely a sermon – written by an anonymous source to a community of Gentile and Jewish followers of the Christian movement.
Unlike many of the letters of Paul, the community seems to be experiencing a crisis not from the outside, like Christian persecution, but from the inside, a crisis of commitment among some in the church community. While formerly bold when facing rejection and scorn and other hardships, the passing of time has eroded the faithfulness and commitment of some who have begun to disassociate from the group, finding themselves “drifting away” for one reason or another.
The author’s agenda appears to be to both reign in the members of the community and to remind them the reason and purpose for their existence. He lifts up the real identity of the one they worship, the one they are called together to praise and serve. It is his aim to remind them of the importance of their ongoing response to God’s faithfulness and mercy in Jesus Christ.
Further on in the letter, the author leads the community to remember the importance of gratitude. And why should they be grateful?
It is no secret that in recent decades, the community of Christian churches has suffered from the complacency of its members and confusion of its mission. The church has experienced the drifting off of many who now eschew the Christian identity, practice, and worship.
I am not telling you anything when I say that the experiences of peoples in a pandemic world has also caused some to turn to the church, and many to further question the wisdom and even the existence of God.
Certainly, we have experienced the loss of commitment and the drifting away of those who have grown in their dissatisfaction with the church, or simply become comfortable with living lives of greater commitment to things other than God, or those whose commitment to Jesus Christ has shifted to a lower shelf in the closet than more popular causes because it is more convenient and more immediately gratuitous to follow other objects, persons, or movements than it is to follow Jesus.
This is why it is vital that we revive our own sense of faith, love, commitment, and gratitude to the God who has created all and our Savior, who has redeemed all.
It is vital that we remember the God who sent his Son to take on flesh, to take on sin, and to save us from the Evil One.
It is vital that we recall the beauty of Jesus’ story and the graciousness with which God has changed the course of history through the birth of the Christ Child.
Christmas is not just for the month of December. Even then, we find the Christian culture more impacted by the secular world and celebration and calendar, than the reality that in Jesus, God comes among us: how many of us spend more time shopping, cooking and cleaning for “our holiday”, than we do preparing, praying, worshipping, and acknowledging the significance of the Jesus who comes among us?
In less time than it takes to wrap the gifts we purchase, we accomplish our worship of the “newborn king” and move on. The day after Christmas, the stores are full of shoppers making exchanges and seeking the post-Christmas specials. The Christ Child is relegated again to the shelf in the attic or basement.
It is thrilling, therefore, to remember and celebrate the Christ who comes among us today, as God’s magnificent love and mercy for a fallen world now, in July, apart from the secular sentimentality that skews our observance of his power and glory. God comes among us in Jesus to save us, and claim us, forever.
The author of Hebrews writes, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands’. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.” (emphasis added)
Together, let us ever proclaim, “All glory be to God, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be. Amen.”