The Adventurous Lectionary – December 27, 2020 – The First Sunday of Christmas
The season of Christmas is in mid-swing on this First Sunday of Christmas. It’s been the strangest Christmas ever for some of us. We hunkered down at home, didn’t travel to be with family, had small family dinners, and went to Christmas Eve services on Zoom, singing carols in our siloes rather than with friends. Still we are in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, although many of us have put away our Christmas CD’s and DVD’s and are beginning to contemplate taking down the Christmas tree.
The first Sunday of Christmas, often considered a “low Sunday” in spirit and attendance. Attendance may even go down on Zoom. Still, today’s readings continue the Christmas message of messy incarnation and hope when hope is nearly lost, and with COVID rates at record levels we are hanging on to hope, just barely. We need to hang on to Christmas spirituality, and speak for the presence of God in undramatic and unexpected moments of life and God’s dream of salvation for the whole earth, an end to injustice, poverty, and war by institutional powers.
Recently, in the midst of my online Christmas shopping, I noticed an interesting coffee company ad announcing, “Revelation in a cup.” Today’s readings speak of our ability to notice God in our midst, in the micro as well as the macro. God is abundantly revealing God’s presence, providing hints and revelations everywhere, but do we have senses to notice? If we can notice God in a Bethlehem baby, perhaps we can notice God in all things, and all things in God. Perhaps, if we train our senses to discover God’s presence, every cup of coffee will become, as Joyce Rupp suggests, “the cup of life.”
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a new age in which the people are clothed with garments of salvation. An order in which hope abounds and shouts of joy are the order of the day. The old order is passing and a new age of beauty and justice is upon us. There are hints of the “age of Aquarius” and the “new emergence” in today’s scriptures. Humankind is on the verge of a quantum leap in awareness, the prophet proclaims. Yet, though we have matured ethically in many ways, we still have a long way to go.
In fact, as we look at the “breaking news,” we observe our leaders going backwards, away from the prophet’s vision, in terms of their abandonment of the Earth and their preferential option for the wealthy. Or their total disregard of the economic and personal pain people are experiencing this time of pandemic. Or, as I just heard a physician say, a vaccine can’t cure selfishness or indifference.
Amid our national uncertainty, and our willful disregard of the common good at the highest levels, we wonder, “Will we ever experience this age of Shalom and wholeness? Will we ever as a society love justice more than power and profit? Will we ever privilege the vulnerable over the rich and powerful?”
Revelation in a cup! Revelation in the skies and seas, in the snow and the rain, in elders and infants! Psalm 148 rejoices in the discovery of a universe of praise. Imagine the Psalmist’s ecstasy. All things praise God; God’s energy flows through all things, inspiring them to praise. We live in an animated universe. There are no dead zones, no senseless regions. All things experience holiness – what process theologians have called panexperientialism or panpsychism – in the intricate interdependence of life. Psalm 148 is rounded out by the final words of the Psalms, from Psalm 150:6, Let everything that breathes praise God! Praise God!” And, that inspires us to ask, “What if every breath was a prayer? What if every breath was a blessing?” (For more on the mystic vision, see Bruce Epperly, “Mystics in Action: 12 Saints for Today,” “The Mystic in You: Finding a God-filled World” and “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.”)
In the midst of Paul’s critique of members of the Galatian church for returning to a legalistic understanding of faith, he describes God’s Spirit speaking within us the words, “Abba! Father!” God’s word comes in our hearts as well as a humble stable. These words join the Jewish and Hebraic language and suggest a faith for all humankind. They also suggest that God is constantly speaking within us, not as an external reality, but as our deepest personal wisdom and energy. Divine revelation is not alien and external but internal and relational and goes beyond the Christian community to encompass all humankind. The practices of faith and the acceptance of grace enable us to experience the love that animates all creation. Like the wind that Jesus describes in John 3, grace is always liberating, never legalistic, and animating all things, bursting through our limitations of doctrine, practice, and possibility.
The gospel reading describes two senior adults’ encounter with the baby Jesus. Simeon and Anna have waited decades for the anointed one, fasting and praying for insight to recognize God’s beloved. I suspect they were fixtures, such they were unnoticed by most temple visitors and given little consideration by the wealthy and powerful. When the baby Jesus enters the temple, carried by his parents, they see what everyone else misses, God’s vision incarnate in a little baby. No doubt many others see the parents and their child, but to them he was just another baby coming to be blessed by the temple priests. In contrast, Simeon and Anna see more than meets the eye. They see the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Their active waiting has given them a deeper vision; their practices of prayerful expectation enable them to recognize the Messiah in their midst. They see a child clothed in garments of salvation and divinity in a little baby.
Today’s passages remind us that the world is more wonderful than we can ever imagine. Noticing is the heart of today’s scriptures along with the recognition that each moment is God-filled and each situation pregnant with divine revelation. In the spirit of William Blake we can proclaim that “if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is – infinite.”
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books including, 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR GRANDPARENTS WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD, PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS, PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM, THIN PLACES EVERYWHERE: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS WITH CELTIC CHRISTIANITY, I WONDER AS I WANDER: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS WITH MADELEINE L’ENGLE, and THE WORK OF CHRISTMAS; 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS WITH HOWARD THURMAN.