The Adventurous Lectionary – The First Sunday after Christmas Day – December 26, 2021
I Samuel 2:18-20, 26
The day after Christmas – low Sunday – is often a time for pastors to slip away from their pulpits or push the easy button and have a carol sing. All these are good ideas, and pastors need a little Miller Time after the Covid Christmas slam! But today’s scriptures raise important issues Christologically, cosmically, and spiritually. The scriptures speak of God calling through young adults and the non-human world. We live in a world of praise that embraces every aspect of our lives.
This Sunday the key words are found in the descriptions of Jesus’ “growing in wisdom and stature.” As Christ’s followers, these words are also addressed to us. We too need to grow larger more inclusive selves to more fully follow Jesus’ way in the world. We need to remember, as Iranaeus asserted, “the glory of God is a fully alive human.” As I ponder today’s passages, I am reminded of one of my teachers Bernard Loomer’s notion that S-I-Z-E is an essential theological concept. According to Loomer:
“By size I mean the stature of a person’s soul, the range and depth of his love, his capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness.”
Loomer believed that if a public policy, cultural or spiritual practice, or theological position, regardless of how articulate, lacked size, it was not worth considering. We see theologies of small stature influencing many of today’s conservative Christians whose theologies extend no further than gaining political power to eliminate Roe v. Wade, while acquiescing to immorality and dishonesty at the highest levels of government and placing greed above planetary health and anti-science above persons’ safety, as well as politicians succumbing to xenophobia in their response to potential refugees, Muslims, and immigrants at our nation’s borders. Such xenophobic approaches betray the spirit of Christmas and the realities of two refugee parents who fled to Egypt seeking asylum to protect their young child Jesus.
Loved by his parents, and yet dedicated to the Temple, Samuel grows in wisdom and stature. Surely this didn’t happen accidentally but from his willingness to pay attention to his mentor Eli. In his faithful attentiveness, he is unconsciously preparing for a nocturnal visitation from the Holy One and his response, “Speak, God, your servant is listening.”
God is still speaking, as the UCC motto says, and that means that God may be speaking to us. Like Samuel, we need to listen for God’s presence – sense for God’s presence – in obvious as well as likely places and in obvious as well as unlikely person.
Psalm 148 describes a world of praise. Stature and praise is not restricted to humankind, but is found in non-human creatures and world around. The universe is chockfull of divinity. All creatures are voices of God, each in their own way praising God. The interdependent non-human world praises God simply by being itself in all its diversity. In the spirit of Romans 8, the creation not only groans, it rejoices. Every moment can be holy in this magical world. There is a point of contact between the wisdom of the Jewish and Christian sages and the earth-oriented, pagan, religions of our time, and that point of contact is the recognition that Spirit dwells in all things. Praise leads to political action. If a creature can praise, it deserves ethical consideration. Our politics needs to take us from self-interest to care for the earth and its creatures.
The panentheistic vision, championed by the process theologians and creation mystics, affirms “God in all things and all things in God.” Or, as the Christ of the Gospel Thomas asserts, “Cleave a piece of wood and I am there; lift the stone, and I am there.” (For more on process theology, see Bruce Epperly, “Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.”)
The reading from Colossians lifts up a practical mysticism, joining the inner and outer dimensions of life. Let God’s wisdom and word dwell richly in you. Let your life become a prayer, chanting psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Out of that inner life, you will clothe yourself in Christ – in love, patience, joy, healing, and compassion. You will be Christ to one another, mediating God’s Spirit in your daily life. This is stature, the willingness to open to God’s voice in your voice and support the presence of God by your action in everyone you meet.
At the end of the Christmas season, people ask, “Why can’t we celebrate Christmas every day?” Colossians provides a template for a perpetual Christmas, for the birthing of Christ all year long. Open to God’s wisdom flowing through us, we grow in stature and sensitivity, and make a commitment to embody Christ in every season of life: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (For more on celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, see Bruce Epperly “The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman,” “I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle,” and “Thin Places Everywhere: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Celtic Christianity.”
The passage from Luke’s gospel reveals a bit of adolescent spiritual rebellion. Confronted by his anxious parents, Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus’ response confounds his parents. They just don’t understand – and understandably so – that their son has just crossed a spiritual threshold, claiming his rabbinical vocation. He asks and he answers, and he learns and he grows. Many modern translations note that Jesus grew in “wisdom and years.” I prefer the alternative, “wisdom and stature.” You can grow older and not grow in spirit; there is no guarantee that spiritual maturity comes with age. Just look at the cramped souls of some of our political and religious leaders. Their doubling down on ethically questionable positions reduces their compassion and insight to a glimmer of what we are called to experience. In contrast, “stature” encompasses our whole being, takes us beyond self-interest to world loyalty, and describes Jesus’ growing attunement with God’s vision for his life. This young man, who will become our healer, teacher, and savior, will experience divine wisdom – the sense of holiness in the quotidian events of life – and divine stature – openness to the image of God in unexpected and contrasting places.
We need big spirited persons and big spirited churches to share God’s good news in a divided, endangered, and pluralistic world.
Congregants need to have the opportunity to discover practices that enlarge our spirits and ethical consideration. To that end, in the weeks ahead, church leaders would do well to offer seminars in spiritual practices for the new year, introductions to meditation, breath and walking prayers, imaginative approaches to scripture, and holistic health techniques.
Yes, stature is what we need in church and in the body politic. We need large visions and the ability to see divinity in contrasting places. We need to go beyond parochialism to embrace divinity in its many manifestations. We need to move from self-interest to world loyalty and nationalism to globalism, and care for the good Earth. In every moment, God’s spirit urges us “grow, grow,” become a large soul, and let God’s sight guide your path in ways that welcome the world in all its wondrous diversity.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books including MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY, PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM, and WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM as well as the three books in the Anamchara Books twelve days of Christmas series, focusing on Howard Thurman, Madeleine L’Engle, and Celtic Christianity.