Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, First Sunday after Christmas, Year B
December 31, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people celebrate, give thanks, and generously share the good news that Jesus came into our world to make us part of God’s family—forever.
Key Scriptures: So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. -Galatians 4:7
There is an abundance of good news to celebrate in worship this Sunday! First of all, it’s still Christmas, only the seventh day, in fact. Many worshiping communities will offer some sort of Lessons and Carols service. That kind of service presents one more opportunity to sing Christmas carols and share the story of how Jesus slipped into human skin in the loveliest, strangest, and messiest of ways—as a human boy child to an unlikely betrothed couple, traveling and without proper lodging.
Other congregations will use the lessons appointed for the First Sunday after Christmas that recount the holy family taking Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem for the rite of purification, an ordinary and expected part of faithful family life. Yet, even this simple act evokes responses of praise, joy, and celebration as others recognize the Messiah in this tiny baby.
No matter the pattern of your liturgy for this Sunday, make sure that it abounds with joy and makes mention of the beautiful reality that we are part of God’s family, grafted into that long family line of misfits, scallywags, royalty, and other assorted characters through which God worked to enter into human life. This is one of the real miracles of Christmas. We are the unmerited recipients of a gift that keeps on giving, an amazing gift of love and grace. The gift of Emmanuel, God with us, is why we do what we do when we gather to worship, praise, and gather at Christ’s table.
Yes, while many are already packing away the Christmas decorations, returning the unwanted or ill-fitting gifts to retailers, and moving on to the next holiday or activity or simply life as usual, we who bear Christ’s name and family connection keep on singing the carols, continuing to tell the old, old story, and gladly holding out our empty hands for the crumb of bread and sip of wine that contains the Savior of the world.
We don’t know much at all about Jesus’ family life as a child or teenager. We have a few gospel glimpses, including this week’s gospel lesson, but not enough to flesh out that part of his life. Some authors — Anne Rice and Christopher Moore, to name two — have written fictional accounts that try to capture the essence of what it might have been like for the Bar-Joseph family, but Jesus’ childhood is clearly not the point of his walking-around-time with humankind. The point is so much bigger than a few years of awkward growing up. Jesus’ ministry and mission is all about gathering in the lost sheep, bringing us into the fold, and ensuring our eternal place. We are the family of God, a people named, claimed, and redeemed. Sure, we have our family dysfunctions and disagreements, but we are bound in the waters of baptism and given the common name of Christian (little Christ).
No matter whether you will be celebrating with lessons and carols or carrying on with worship as usual, it is certainly worth recalling and celebrating this holy family connection that each and every one of us is marked with in baptism. Jesus came to lay claim in each beloved one of us, making us co-heirs of the eternal family inheritance (i.e. life abundant and everlasting). It simply doesn’t get any better than this! Go proclaim it, friends, for this is very good news.
Remember this first Sunday of Christmas may bring some of the Christmas Eve visitors and occasional worshipers to your congregation seeking more connection with Jesus. Be sure to be prepared to welcome them and incorporate them into the community and Body of Christ/family of God in your context. Consider the kind of welcome you will offer before worship begins. Have a plan to follow up with a thank you note. Make it a point to learn their names and any congregational connections. Ask them if there are ways that you might pray for them. Above all, pray that God will bring in the people who need to be present in your particular setting and that you will have the wisdom, grace, and presence of mind to respond to them as they might need.
Pay particular attention to how you welcome children into worship. This Sunday’s gospel lesson is about Jesus’ first visit to the temple with his family. What a warm welcome the Holy Family received from Simeon and Anna. How are families welcomed to your gatherings?
How about embarking on an oral or video history faith project in your congregation? Invite your talented youth to go out two-by-two to interview congregation members about their faith development, their involvement in your congregation, and how they take faith into the world in their daily lives. Be sure to provide plenty of adult mentor support. Find ways to share the results throughout the year (website, social media, in worship). Be sure to include some prayer and study as part of your project, and above all, pray for your young people as they undertake this effort.
Psalm 148 is a great “physical” psalm for children. Use a simple translation (such as the Easy to Read Version) and create actions for each verse. Encourage the entire congregation to participate. Some actions by verse, for example, might include:
Verse 1: Stand up on your tiptoes and lift your hands as high as you can.
Verse 2: Use your arms as angel wings.
Verse 3: Hold up moon, sun, and star shapes.
Verse 4: Make motions like rain falling.
Verse 5: Make a broad sweep from the center with your hands (like you are creating)
Verse 6: Cross your arms in front of you in a strong motion.
Verse 7: Make wave motions.
Verse 8: Make a sound like a rushing wind.
Verse 9: Pretend you are a tree.
Verse 10: Pretend you are your favorite animal.
Verse 11: Bow as if you are bowing before a king.
Verse 12: Make a gesture including all the congregation, young and old, men and women.
Verses 13 and 14: Adopt various postures of praise (hands folded in prayer, hands lifted up, etc.) In unison—and loudly—let everyone say “Praise the LORD!”
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Savor these final days of Christmas, dear fellow steward! Spend time listening to carols, enjoying decorations and lights, writing thank you notes for gifts and kindnesses, and spending time with Jesus in scripture and prayer. Try to think of one small kindness you can do for someone else for each of the remaining 12 days of Christmas. Above all, give thanks to God for the amazing gift of Jesus, who came to show us how to live and be and who grafted us into God’s family tree.
Stewardship at Home
Our lesson from Galatians reminds us that we are adopted through Jesus into God’s family. Another way to look at this is that we have been “grafted” into God’s family. We are no longer separate but fully connected. Don’t know much about the science of grafting? Click here for an excellent explanation using apple trees. “A grafted tree is consistent and has a reliable history of characteristics. It has a track record,” says the website. Think about how Christians can be like these reliable grafted apple trees when we grow as disciples by praying, worshiping, reading scripture, serving, developing strong spiritual relationships, and giving generously.
Photos: sblezard, Ria Baeck, and Divine in the Daily, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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