The Spiritual Gifts of Christmas

December 30, 2018

Rev. Susan Bjork

Associate Minister

Colossians 3:12-17

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Gracious God, we thank you for this time together to continue the celebration of Christmas. May your precious gift of love and your abiding presence and peace be experienced in this time of worship, and may we have open hearts to receive and to be renewed in your Spirit. Amen.

Happy sixth day of Christmas! Though the big couple of Christmas days have come and gone for most of us, our church liturgical celebration of Christmas extends all the way through to Epiphany and today is the halfway mark.

So, I wonder, how are you feeling today at this halfway point? Good? Happy to continue the party? A little tired? A little sad that Christmas Day is past? Or maybe you are just glad that you just made it through another Christmas and are ready to move on? All of these are perfectly acceptable, of course.

Feelings of post-holiday decompression are real. As are feelings of decompression after vacations, travel, camp, weddings, other special events, entering into another new year, you name it. So if that’s what you are feeling, you are in good company.

I remember coming home from summer camp as a kid and always feeling a little sad and lonely. It was time to go back to being an only child (which usually felt like a big contrast after spending a week or two in community with a bunch of other kids). Sometimes I still feel a little sad coming home from camp – but the older I get, the more I look forward to sleeping on my own mattress again.

And, for me, it usually feels like a more laborious and slightly depressing chore to take down the Christmas decorations than to put them up (even though I often leave them up through Epiphany).

Sometimes these little transitions are easy and sometimes they’re harder. A lot of times, that depends on what else is going on in our lives. If we’re facing big transitions, or uncertainties, or dealing with grief, or illness, or something else, the holidays themselves can be tough and these little transitions can feel harder.

But no matter what we’re feeling today in this transitional time, one of the gifts of worship in community at any time is the opportunity to just rest in God’s presence for a little while. And so I invite all of us to take this time together and really relish in Sabbath today – it’s a casual Sunday and we’re keeping the pace relaxed. Let’s take this opportunity to be gentle with ourselves and with each other, let’s try to let go a little and give over to God in this time whatever it is we need to let go of, and let’s remember that God is here with us today. After all, as we know, that is what Christmas is really all about – God’s gift of presence.

And the great thing about God’s greatest Christmas gift of love incarnate in Jesus Christ is that it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s the gift that won’t break, that won’t run out of batteries, that won’t need to be upgraded in a year.

When we light those beautiful candles on Christmas Eve (and I tell you, it is always spectacular to look out over hundreds of candlelit faces), we light them as a testament and witness to the reality that God’s love shines on; that no darkness can overcome it; and that God’s love and light will be there to guide us every step of the way.

It’s an old, old image that goes back thousands of years in our tradition – the divine light that first illumined all of creation; the light of the burning bush; the light that inspired the writings of prophets who proclaimed its coming and its glory – the light that came to symbolize God’s very presence in creation, with God’s beloved.

Even though we have to extinguish our actual candles on Christmas Eve, I like to imagine that those flames don’t go out, but instead move into each heart, and glow from within, and go out from this building and into our community and into the world, and take that perpetual light of God’s love out into every place, into every relationship, into every step of life. This greatest gift of Christmas isn’t contained to one night. God’s light and love shine on in our lives, in us and through us.

I love this passage from Colossians that we heard this morning because it expresses many of the spiritual gifts that spring from the gift of God’s love, gifts that are made possible when we center our lives, our relationships, and our communities in God’s love. It’s beautifully put.

But I also had to laugh a bit when I read it as I was thinking about Christmas gifts because my grandmother always loved to give us clothes for Christmas. And as a kid I was not always thrilled about that, to be honest. I was a kid; I wanted toys more than clothes. And sometimes I really liked what she chose and wore it. But sometimes I had to put on a happy face while thinking, “I’m never going to wear that” or “there’s no way that’s going to fit me.”  She meant well though and she did it out of love, of course.

But I had to laugh when I chose this text because the writer of Colossians is giving us spiritual clothes for Christmas:  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

It seems that if we are to immerse ourselves fully into Christian community, centered in God’s love, then we need a new wardrobe. And these are all really great clothes! But, let’s be honest, they aren’t always easy to wear.

Compassion, for example, is not always a pleasant experience. Feeling deeply for another who is suffering and being present with another who is suffering is not always easy. But it is part of love. And compassion may well be a holy and sacred experience, even if it isn’t necessarily pleasant.

Is kindness an easy fit for you? Maybe. But even the kindest of people get stressed out or upset and do less than kind things from time to time. When that happens, how do we make amends and try again?

Are humility and meekness part of your regular wardrobe? Perhaps they are. If not, what might it be like to try them on for a while?

And what about patience? Does patience come easy? Perhaps sometimes it does. But there are also things we face in life that can make patience feel more like an irritating, scratchy wool sweater. Patience sounds nice, but it can become a trial of endurance sometimes.

These are all great spiritual gifts, grounded in the greatest gift of love. But they take work and commitment to put them into practice in our daily living.

So much of what the writer of Colossians is getting at in this passage is how this all plays out in the community of faith. Unlike us today (who have much more social and political power), many of the early pre-Constantine Christian communities didn’t feel like they had the power and influence to change the often hierarchical, violent, and unjust ways of the great power structure of their day, the Roman Empire. But what they did feel they could do is build up local church communities based on their understanding of God’s will for their life together, as illustrated in the Way of Jesus – a way of love, and fairness, and peace. They chose to live an alternative way of life that stood in contrast to the dominant culture.

And so the writer of Colossians instructs them (and us) in our community life to bear with one another, forgive each other (just as God has forgiven us), let the Peace of Christ rule our hearts (which means we won’t let other things rule us), and to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. For we are One Body.

And that’s the key, isn’t it? These spiritual gifts we are given, these spiritual clothes we’re invited to wear aren’t for us just as individuals. They are for us as One Body of Christ – as both a local church and as the church in the world. We’re invited to dress up the whole church in its Christmas best.

During Advent we talk about waiting for the incarnation of God’s love. And at Christmas we proclaim that what we have been waiting for has been born in the Christ Child. We’ve waited for Emmanuel and God has come to be with us.

And now in this Christmas season, and indeed into the New Year, and Epiphany, and beyond – we are invited to really ownthis precious gift of God’s love which has come to us – but not keep it to ourselves – instead, to pay it forward, to share it, to use it well, to wear it in until it fits us like a comfy old pair of jeans.

It’s true, we’re always trying to live in God’s love and share it. But I wonder if it might be a helpful exercise in this Christmas season and on the edge of a new year to treat this gift of God’s love with us as though it is brand new. To let ourselves get a little excited; to be awed and moved to wonder at the mystery of God who came to live as we live; to imagine the possibilities; to think about how we might be transformed and share this love in new ways.

Just before this passage we heard, the writer of Colossians said that, “Christ is all in all.”  What might it do for us to hold on to that truth? So that wherever we go and whatever we do in the coming year, we remember that we are clothed in and surrounded by God’s love and the Peace of Christ every step of the way.

Perhaps that might give us some courage and inspiration to go to some new places this year – places where God’s love is needed, places where forgiveness and reconciliation might need to be explored, places where a voice for peace might need to be heard, places where we might be needed as a witness for a more just way.

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. That might partly be because our culture tends to focus on resolutions that seem a little too superficial – like losing a few pounds to counteract holiday indulgences. But, more deeply, it might be because I am afraid I’ll fail to follow through, especially if I pick something too ambitious. I’ve failed before. But that’s part of life.

I may still pick a resolution for 2019, we’ll see. But what I have decided to do is to let “Christ is all in all” be my mantra for the coming year. I’m going to write it on every page of my old-fashioned paper calendar and perhaps I’ll have to find some other ways to remind myself too.

We’ll also be picking Epiphany words again next week, as we have for the past several years. It will be interesting to see how these two themes harmonize in the coming year. I have a feeling they will.

So, however you choose to mark the start of this New Year, I do pray that you’ll remember that the spiritual gifts of Christmas really are the gifts that keep on giving all year long – indeed, all life long.

And, wherever this year may take you, remember, as the writer of Colossians reminds us, that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Living with love, living with gratitude, centered in the Peace of Christ – this is God’s hope for us this year and all years; this is God’s dream for the world. Jesus showed us how. And, though it is challenging sometimes, this is all God asks of us – and, in grace, God gives us infinite chances to practice it and get it right.

So, Merry Christmas and may this new year bring you new experiences of joy, and wonder, and hope, new reminders of God’s presence in all of your life, and new opportunities for you to share God’s love in the ways only you can. Amen.

And now, we have plenty of time to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God (which is also something the writer of Colossians encouraged). And, in the words of Buddy the Elf, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”