Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, First Sunday after Christmas Day, Year B
Lessons: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that in Christ they are beloved children of God, and not just children but heirs of the promise.
Key Scripture: So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God – Galatians 4:7
Do you remember what it was like to be a child? What is your earliest memory? One of my earliest and most vivid memories was of swinging as high as my little legs could pump the backyard swing, of looking up at the sky through the tall pines and seeing the sun’s diamond-brilliant and dazzling rays. I remember an incredible sense of peace and wellbeing, of pure joy. It felt as if I could pump that swing straight into the cosmos. What I know now is that I was basking in the reality of being a beloved child of God, connected to all of creation and time and space. It didn’t last long, as I remember, but the memory itself has never faded from my mind and heart.
In these uncertain and difficult days, we could all do with a clear reminder of whose we are and just what that means. I hope that this year we all leave the decorations up until Epiphany (January 6) and celebrate the full Twelve days of Christmas joy and wonder. The world will move on as soon as December 26th rolls around, but we don’t have to fall in with the rhythms of the world. We can be a counterpoint that recognizes each person’s inner child, the child that has been redeemed and welcomed into God’s family as a full participant with all the rights, privileges, and promises of the Christ. We are not temporary inhabitants of God’s family but rather real children who have been adopted in love.
Celebrating Christmas fully and faithfully gives us 12 full days to let that inner child experience joy, wonder, and awe. We can let go of the pretensions and problems of “real life” for long enough to capture a glimpse of God’s reign, of what can (and will) be. Not every day, of course, will be filled with good things. Suffering, sorrow, and pain are very real. Most of us have experienced at least some level of these emotions in 2023. The key is to hang on to the knowledge that we are more than transient in God’s eyes. Every single one of us is worthy and beloved, precious in God’s sight. And there is such goodness and beauty in this world! Some days we just have to look and listen a little harder to find it.
Everyday discipleship is not always defined by moments of wonder and awe, although by nurturing our inner child we can certainly reclaim more joy, more wonder, more spontaneity and hope. Discipleship is more like a Holy Spirit roller coaster ride of highs, lows, and unpredictable moments. In between the highs and lows we get on with the business of daily living just as the Bar-Joseph family did. Our gospel lesson this week involves a mandated purification in the Jerusalem Temple (see Leviticus 12). All first-born male Jewish children were designated as holy to the Lord. A sacrifice was offered; for Joseph and Mary it was a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, the standard offering for those who could not afford a more expensive sacrifice. Even this expected step was not without its surprises. Mary and Joseph encounter Simeon and Anna who recognize the infant Jesus for who he is. Joseph and Mary are amazed by what they say about Jesus, and surely Mary has plenty to ponder in her heart. But then life continued as usual, and the family returned to Nazareth where the Christ child “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).
Whatever life brings us in 2024, as Christians we can remain connected to our inner child, the one God loves and has adopted into the divine family. We do this through daily prayer and study of scripture, attending worship regularly (even if it’s still online), developing deep relationships with others in the Body of Christ, and by serving and giving. Like children, we need structure and patterns to grow in our faith, and like children we can joyously share the good news of Jesus and God’s ever-expanding family. Blessings on your prophetic witness and faithful preaching and teaching.
The Sunday after Christmas is one of the lower attendance Sundays of the year. I suspect this pattern will be somewhat altered by digital worship. Most of us won’t be singing lessons and carols together, although you can have virtual choirs or use some of the excellent offerings on YouTube.
Invite worshipers to encounter their inner child during worship. Encourage them to draw, paint, sketch, blow bubbles, whatever will help keep worshipers open to their inner child. If you are worshiping via Facebook, invite folks to post pictures of their artwork or of them blowing bubbles or playing with homemade clay dough (recipe below in the With Children section).
Ask your youth when they celebrated their first “Gotcha Day” with God. If they seem confused, remind them that parents of adopted children often celebrate not only their child’s birthday, but their “Gotcha Day,” the day the adoption was finalized. Of course, as Christians, our “Gotcha Day” is our baptism day when God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and fully incorporates us into God’s big, raucous, holy family. Be sensitive to any youth who may not have been baptized, assuring them that God loves them and is ready to name and claim them as beloved children at any point in their life.
If you have a family in the parish that has experienced adoption, invite them to join you and to describe their child’s first “Gotcha Day” celebration. What was it like for the parents to be able to call this precious child (or children) their own, to fully incorporate them into the family? Do they have pictures to share? Imagine how much these parents love their child(ren). God loves each one of us with a love that will never let go. This is good news indeed.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 2:40: – The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We don’t know a lot about Jesus during his childhood. We know his parents took him to the Temple to dedicate him to the Lord. This was what faithful parents did with their firstborn male child. It’s what we do with all our children now when we bring them for baptism. We know Jesus got separated from his parents on a trip back to Jerusalem, but there’s not much else we know.
We can assume that Jesus was probably a pretty typical child for his time. He would have played with toys, just as you do, including games similar to hopscotch and jacks. Children in first century Palestine enjoyed whistles, rattles, toy animals on wheels, hoops, and spinning tops. Archaeologists have found some of these in their digs. Older children and adults also made time to play, mainly board games, including one similar to checkers. I suspect they also made some sort of modeling clay, too.
Here’s a recipe for salt clay you can make at home. I invite you to make some and create some animals or other sculptures. And remember, with clay you can always start over. It’s sort of like how God is with us—always loving us and giving us another chance and an opportunity to learn and grow.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for sending Jesus into our world (Thank you for sending Jesus into our world). Help us to grow in strength and wisdom like Jesus (Help us to grow in strength and wisdom like Jesus), and to find favor with you (and to find favor with you).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Mary and Joseph were faithful and observant Jews who brought Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord. Like them we are called to be faithful stewards, bringing our best gifts of time, talent, and resources to God. Thank you for the many ways you have supported our congregation’s and community’s ministries during this difficult and challenging year.
Stewardship at Home
This week consider doing an illustrated manuscript of the 148th psalm. There are 14 verses, so working with two each day will make the week easy to manage. If you have children in your home, consider letting them take a lead role in illustrating each verse. You can adapt the language to modern times, too. Consider using the Easy-to-Read version.
*This reflection was first published in 2020.
HERE ARE PREVIOUS REFLECTIONS FOR CHRISTMAS 1B
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/12/grafted-into-gods-family/
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/12/grafted-into-gods-family/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/12/sing-a-song-of-christmas-joy/
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/12/god-bless-the-child/
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