The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Second Sunday after Christmas
January 3, 2016
The best Christmas gifts are the unexpected ones. This year, I did not ask for much. Some new socks. A couple of scratch-off lottery tickets. But my mother-in-law, she knows me well and she wanted to get me something fun. So when we gathered for Christmas, much to my surprise, she had bought me a drone. Not a big drone, it doesn’t have a camera, if fits right into the palm of my hand. I flew that little drone for hours and hours. Inside and outside. Flying real high, skimming the ground. Doing flips and somersaults. It took me back to being a kid again. Until, I flew that little drone so much that I burned out the motor and it died. That was the day after I got it. It lasted just about twenty four hours. This was a Christmas gift that did not last. I was thrilled to open it, and heartbroken to throw it away so soon. Up we go with excitement for our new gifts and and then quickly down as they go to the landfill.
And you know, the Church does this to us as well. Think about it, we spent four weeks getting ready for Christmas. Dutifully lighting one more candle on the Advent wreath every Sunday as we got closer. Four weeks of anticipation, of expectation, of waiting for Jesus to be be born. And then the big gift of Christmas. We gathered here in the church to hear that ancient story and to sing all those great hymns. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are days of great joy in the life of the Church. I leave church on Christmas Day brimming with hope.
But then comes December 26. In the church calendar, December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen. St. Stephen was the first man ever killed because he believed in Jesus. He was stoned to death and we remember him just a day after we remember Jesus’ birth. Like my little drone that gave me so much joy and then so much disappointment in just a day’s time, so too the church takes us to joys of Christmas to the depths of sorrow. The gift of Christmas Day didn’t last long, did it?
And the Church doesn’t stop there. December 27 is the Feast of St. John. Though he wasn’t killed for his faith, legend has it that the Roman Empire banished him to die alone because he put his faith in Jesus. It is a tale of loneliness, that John was exiled because he was a Christian and we remember him just two days after the birth of Jesus. The gift of Christmas Day didn’t last long.
And the Church keeps going. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Holy Innocents were the children killed under King Herod’s orders because Herod was trying to kill baby Jesus. King Herod had heard about the birth of Jesus from the three wise men and was so scared, was so threatened by this new born king, that Herod ordered all children under two years old to be taken from their families and slaughtered. In a very real way, these infants died for Jesus. We remember them just three days after the joys of Christmas Day. The gift of of Christmas didn’t last long.
Because Christmas comes with a cost. And indeed, it cost the Holy Family – that’s who the church calls Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. An angel warns Joseph of Herod’s murderous plan, so Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt. Dwell on that for a moment – Jesus and his family were Middle Eastern refugees fleeing political persecution and certain death at the hands of a tyrant, seeking asylum in a foreign country. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That is the gospel reading for today and it is haunting. The sweet baby in the swaddling clothes seems so long ago. The images of Joseph and Mary reverently kneeling at the manger are a distant memory. Now we have Joseph, Mary, and Jesus running for their lives. The gift of Christmas did not last long.
The lie that we believe, and the lie that we perpetuate, is that Christmas is about home, and sentimentality, and Happy Birthday Jesus. Christmas is truly about the king of this world coming among us and costing us everything. For those of us who follow Jesus, Christmas comes with a cost. For Stephen, the cost was stone upon stone rained upon his head until he died. For John, the cost was loneliness and exile. For the Holy Innocents, the cost was being ripped from their mothers’ arms and massacred. For the Holy Family, the cost was fleeing to Egypt in terror. Christmas comes at a terrible cost. A terrible cost.
Christianity today has watered down this message because it might scare people off. Because that message might seem too liberal for some or too conservative for others. But I refuse to whitewash the gospel. The gospel is that, yes, abundant and eternal life is freely offered by Jesus Christ but it comes at a terrible cost. It costs us our whole lives.
So – what will it cost you? I stand here this morning to tell you one thing – this life with Jesus is not free. Fully grasping the magnificent gift of Christmas costs us everything. A life with Jesus means that when faced with the choice of buying yet another add-on for your cable tv subscription, or a brand new car, or the next iPhone, you need to seriously consider how much money you’re giving to the church. You’ve heard that old adage – time, talent, and treasure. Notice – it’s not time, talent, or treasure. That’s a convenient cop out, a way of keeping our money and giving lip service to Jesus. Believe me, if you really want to know what it’s like to live with Jesus, give so much money to the church that it makes you think twice about everything else.
A life with Jesus means that if you have time to mindlessly scroll through Facebook, you have time to pray. In fact, you’re too busy not to pray. A life with Jesus means that rain on a Sunday morning is no an excuse for skipping church and not hearing the Word and taking the Sacrament. I’m pretty sure that St. Stephen wouldn’t miss church because of the weather. A life with Jesus means that you have to represent Christ everywhere you go. And that might mean that there are some places you are going now, that you should not. I am not here to entice you with the benefits of Christianity. I am here to warn you – be careful what you pray for, be careful about opening this gift – because it will cost you everything.
Jesus is not calling you to an easy life, Jesus is calling you to life that matters and is difficult, and which may require your death – the death of selfishness, the death of greed, the death of ego. Christmas comes every year, but do not forget that it comes with a cost.
The Holy Family returns from their asylum in Egypt, and Joseph is warned by an angel to take his family to another town, to the town of Nazareth. Joseph was not from Nazareth, but Christmas changed all that. He had to settle down in a whole new town. Make friends with new people. Live in a new house. Because of Christmas, because of Jesus, Joseph had to start all over again. That is the image that I want to leave you with. We, including me, need to start all over again. Jesus has come to us, and now we need to pick up and move ourselves to a new place. To a new way of life. To a new way of being. We need to reassess everything that we’re doing and how we’re living. Because of Jesus, we need to put away the sins of the world and the treasures that charm us most. Yes, Christmas has come, but it has come at a terrible cost.
And if you don’t have the strength, or the will power, or the resolve to pay that cost – it’s okay. God does. When you choose to make the sacrificial step of following Jesus, God will give you what you need to make it work. God will provide you with what you need. I am not saying that my mother-in-law is God, but when she heard that my little drone had died, she bought me a new own.
Take this gift of Christmas, take the gift of Jesus, and use it like you mean it. If it all breaks down, don’t be afraid. God will provide you with what you need, whatever the cost.