Christmas 1 Readings and Carols December 29, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

CHRISTMAS 1: READINGS AND CAROLS WITH EUCHARIST

Genesis 3:8-15, 20-22; Isaiah 40:1-11; Isaiah 61:10-62:3;

Matthew 1:18-23; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

The three days immediately following

Christmas Day

are Major Feast days of the Church . . .

 

Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr –

last Thursday,

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist –

last Friday,

The Holy Innocents –

yesterday.

 

If we pray the daily offices

of Morning and Evening Prayer

we marked them

with the readings and prayers

appointed for them,

 

or maybe we found

resources for keeping them

online:

 

 

for instance our very own

Christ Church Facebook page,

where church-year-round,

Father Torvend provides

for each Holy Day

an image, a prayer,

a link to a hymn or anthem,

and, occasionally, commentary.

 

 

But often

these feasts get lost

in the exhausted aftermath

of Christmas . . .

 

many parish communities,

including this one,

having given their all

to Christmas Eve and Day,

 

find it too much of a stretch

to attempt

three more days

of liturgical celebration.

 

Which is too bad,

for these three Holy Days

each, and taken together,

break open,

wonderfully and painfully,

the full meaning of Christmas.

 

 

I thought we might briefly

visit these three feasts

today,

the day after them all,

to see what they have

to say.

 

 

December 26th,

The Second Day of Christmas:

Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

[Acts 6-7]

 

In the early days

of the Jerusalem Church,

Stephen and six other men

were chosen to organize

the distribution of food to

the community’s widows and orphans.

 

(The seven would later be known

as the first deacons,

from the Greek diakonos,

“one who serves.”)

 

The author

of the Acts of the Apostles

tells us that Stephen,

“full of grace and power,

did great wonders and signs

among the people . . .”

 

 

For this,

he was brought before

the high Priest and Council,

accused of being a follower of Jesus,

an enemy

of established

religious teaching and tradition.

 

His long and eloquent defense

served only to infuriate his hearers,

who dragged him out of the city

to stone him.

 

As the stones battered his body,

Stephen cried out,

as Jesus had cried out from the cross,

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

 

 

The very first day after Christmas

commemorates the very first Christian martyr . . .

 

Witness

to the reality

that the message

about the child in the manger

is not all sweetness and light . . .

 

Witness

to the conviction

that the infant born in Bethlehem,

the man crucified outside Jerusalem,

was worth following

even to the point of death . . .

Witness

to the confidence that

for his followers,

death is not the end of life.

 

For as the fury of his accusers

engulfed him,

Stephen saw the heavens opened

and the risen Christ standing in glory

at the right hand of God,

arms extended to receive him.

 

 

December 27th

The Third Day of Christmas:

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

 

John,

follower of Jesus,

author and “beloved disciple”

of John’s gospel,

 

the gospel whose prologue,

which we proclaimed today,

gives us

not the down-to-earth

stable and donkey,

shepherds and sheep,

exultant angels

of Luke’s Gospel,

 

 

but the

Great Mystery of Incarnation:

the One present with God

from the very beginning of Creation,

come into the world

to bring about a new beginning . . .

a new Creation.

 

John gives us

a theology of the Incarnation,

and a “high” Christology

of the infant in a manger:

 

God’s Word made flesh.

 

John’s Jesus,

is the fully self-aware man/God

who knows and asserts

his intimacy, his oneness with the God

he calls Father:

 

“Believe me that I am in the Father

and the Father is in me.    [John 14.11]

“If you know me you will know

my Father also.

From now on you do know him

and have seen him.”  [John 14.7]

 

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,

the Father and I are one.” [John 14.9b; 10.30]

 

 

That intimacy with God

is given us in Jesus,

who says to his followers:

 

“I do not call you servants any longer . . .

but I have called you friends . . .”  [John 15.15]

and

“. . . I am in my Father,

and you in me,

and I in you.”    [John 14.20]

 

“This is the gospel of the primal light,”

writes Anglican poet and priest Malcolm Guite:

 

This is the gospel of the primal light,

The first beginning, and the fruitful end,

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight,

The quiet touch of a beloved friend.

This is the gospel of our transformation,

Water to wine and grain to living bread,

Blindness to sight and sorrow to elation,

And Lazarus himself back from the dead!

This is the gospel of all inner meaning,

The heart of heaven opened to the earth,

A gentle friend on Jesus’ bosom leaning,

And Nicodemus offered a new birth.

No need to search the heavens high above,

Come close with John, and feel the pulse of Love.

[© lcolm Guite 2012, Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press, Norwich U.K.]

On the Third Day of Christmas,

John shares with us

the glory, majesty, power

and Mystery

of the God who in Jesus

is intimately

with us and among us . . .

 

the light that is God

shining in our darkness

and the darkness did not,

cannot,

will not,

overcome it.

 

 

December 28th

The Fourth Day of Christmas:

The Holy Innocents

 

How could Christmas lead to this . . .

 

childrens’ agony and death,

mothers’ anguished grief.

 

We know the brutal story of terror

from Matthew’s Gospel. [Matthew 2]

 

 

King Herod,

insecure, cowardly, vicious,

learning of the birth

of one called “King of the Jews”

 

ordered the massacre

of all children in Bethlehem

age two and under

 

certain in this way

to eliminate a perceived threat

to his position and power.

 

While Mary and Joseph

fled in the darkness of night

to safety in Egypt,

 

Herod’s soldiers rampaged

through the little town of Bethlehem

obeying what were, after all,

their orders . . .

 

slaughtering every child they could find,

 

we call it collateral damage . . .

 

 

 

The Fourth Day of Christmas

reminds us that tragedy continues

in this world

 

as the new creation,

the Kingdom

that Jesus came to inaugurate,

struggles into being.

 

Here’s what Father Torvend

has to say about this Holy Day

on our Facebook page:

 

“The collect or prayer [for the feast]

in The Book of Common Prayer

invites all Christians to be mindful of

‘all innocent victims,’

asks God to ‘frustrate the designs of tyrants’

and ‘establish the rule of justice, love, and peace.’

We need look no farther than

the shelters for abused women and children,

the thousands of children

separated from their parents at the U.S. border,

and the children of the world

living in abject poverty and food insecurity

whose futures are ended before their births.

“Every liturgical commemoration

is a clear invitation to action,

in this case

on behalf of children who suffer among us,”

 

 

 

Jesus was born

into a cruel and wounded world,

 

not at all the world God imagined at Creation . . .

 

Jesus was born

to renew that world.

 

The renewal would be

excruciatingly costly.

 

And its work continues.

 

For when all Good came into the

world at Christmas,

all Evil rose up in fear and hatred

to stamp it out.

 

The message

about the child in the manger

is not all sweetness and light . . .

 

Three feasts . . .

presenting the fullness

of the message and challenge of Christmas –

 

love, hope, beauty, innocence,

sacrifice, awe, glory, Mystery

 

fear, terror, violence, cowardice,

cruelty, arrogance, grief, degradation

 

Christ was born for this,

for all of this . . .

 

“Every liturgical commemoration

is a clear invitation to action,”

Father Torvend reminds us.

 

Our celebrations of Christmas

have invited us to action –

 

action that is made clear

by the Feasts of

Stephen, Deacon and Martyr,

John, Apostle and Evangelist,

and

The Holy Innocents.

 

May the light of Christmas

enkindled in our hearts

shine forth in our lives . . .

not only in word,

but in deed.

 

May we be

inspired by

the complete devotion of Stephen,

strengthened and challenged by

the intimacy with God in Christ

we have come to know through John,

that we may resist and overcome

the evil powers of this world

that corrupt and destroy

all innocent children and creatures of God.

 

 

The light shines in the darkness

and the darkness did not overcome it,

cannot overcome it,

will never overcome it

 

as long as Jesus

has followers in this world.

 

 

 

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