Psalm 84; Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a;
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
Good morning and welcome all, and Happy New Year 2010, and Happy Tenth day of Christmas.
[And I would this morning simply say a word of thanks for the good thoughts and prayers so many have added in my direction following my bout this past week with a kidney stone. What I guess I’ll say at this point simply a most memorable addition to the holiday season, but not necessarily one I’d want to repeat.]
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Ten pipers piping, Nine drummers drumming, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five gold rings, Four colly birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Footnote Wikipedia: A version considered by many to be the authoritative, traditional version of the chant in England appears in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, as follows:
The twelfth day of Christmas, | My true love sent to me | Twelve lords a-leaping, | Eleven ladies dancing, | Ten pipers piping, | Nine drummers drumming, | Eight maids a-milking, | Seven swans a-swimming, | Six geese a-laying, | Five gold rings, | Four colly birds, | Three French hens, | Two turtle doves, and | A partridge in a pear tree.
All we have left are eleven ladies dancing, which should be fun, and twelve lords a-leaping. And then the Feast of the Epiphany will arrive and our Persian Magi, and we will move along into phase two of this great season of the celebration of the Incarnation of Our Lord. A season that will last through the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on February 2nd. So 40 days, after which we will turn to the great pre-Lent Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves here, where it’s still just right to wish each other a Merry Christmas! Christ the Savior is born—born for us in Bethlehem. Born for us.
A wonderful set of readings proper to this Sunday. The gospel as we’ve just heard carrying on the St. Matthew Nativity narrative. I remember Ruth Cover told the story some years ago of children in Sunday School doing some artwork during Christmas time, and one of the little boys drawing a picture of a jet airplane, with one face distinguishable at the cockpit window. “What’s this?” asked the teacher. The boy replies, “The flight into Egypt.” “Oh,” replied the teacher. “And who is this at the front of the plane?” “That’s Pontius,” the boy said. “Pontius the Pilot.”
--In any case: with a smile, to say that this story is a rich and perhaps not often appreciated detail in the larger Christmas pageant. A continuation of the stories of the dreams God gives to Joseph to inspire his care and protection of the child and his mother through this precarious moment. As we’re about to hear of Herod’s ruthless efforts to escape God’s judgment and to cut short the great story of redemption in his Massacre of the Innocents of Bethlehem. But God has the right people involved here, with Mary and Joseph, and the right discernment. And so with all the drama, the baby is safe and sound.
And of course the story also for Matthew is a sign and confirmation that the birth of this child is precisely what God has had in mind from the beginning, and a fulfillment of the hopes of Israel, with the echo of the line from the Prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” This great thematic convergence: just as the people of the Hebrews in ancient days found their true identity and life as the Chosen People of God in the Exodus from Egypt and the Journey through Sinai to the Promised Land, so God’s very Son would bring salvation in a life story that would include as well the symbolic journey from Egypt to Nazareth in days to come.
The story of salvation. The Collect we prayed together this morning reminds us, if we need reminding, of what the point of the Christmas story is.
. . . that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity . . . .
The Incarnation not simply some miraculous event long ago and far away, but an act of God to set in motion the healing of creation and the restoration of our human family to the fullness of the communion we shared with God when Adam and God first walked together through the Garden in the cool of the evening. In the theological language of Eastern Christianity the word for this is “deification.” Not that human beings become gods, but that through the work of Christ we as human beings are drawn into that “divine life.” He comes down from heaven, so that we may be lifted up into heaven. The Cross at the very center of the stable. So that we may live even now sacramentally, within the sacrament of his Body, the Church, in the courts of heaven.
Which is why Psalm 84 is right for this Sunday:
How amiable to me are thy dwellings, thou LORD of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing t enter into the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God . . . . Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be always praising thee.
And then of course this rich poetry of the Prophet Jeremiah, and his vision of God’s triumphant and generous and graceful and loving intention to restore what was lost, to heal the broken, to bring his people home again.
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob . . . . See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back.
His birthday, but we who receive the gifts. His birthday, but we who are given a new name, a new family, a new identity, a new purpose. His birthday, but we who come to the Table to feast this morning. So Paul to the Church at Ephesus:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children, through Jesus Christ.
May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace and brighten your heart with the light of his holiness, now and always.
And again, Merry Christmas!