A Sermon about Lingering in (ALL) the Holy Days of Christmas

For those playing along at home, this is sermon catch-up post #3 of 4! It also inches ever closer to bringing us up to the present day. The sermon below, for the First Sunday of Christmas, is the first sermon I preached at the Cross of Life campus of Unity Lutheran Church, a two-campus worshipping community in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where I began serving as associate pastor on December 10, 2018.

The Cross of Life campus also has the ability to video record sermons – link embedded below. Enjoy!

Unity Lutheran Church + Cross of Life Campus
30 December 2018 + First Sunday of Christmas
Luke 2.41-52
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

It’s beginning to look a lot like… well, not Christmas. 12:01am on December 26th, and the nonstop holiday radio suddenly morphs back into pre-holiday music. Even the week before Christmas, I spotted all the holiday decor and supplies already on clearance at Target. And soon, if not already, stores once packed with holiday shoppers seeking out the “perfect” gift… will be filled with the recipients of those gifts… that weren’t quite all that “perfect” after all.

While so much of the world moves on so quickly from the festivities of the holiday, we know that Christmas is a season, right? After all, this is the First Sunday of Christmas, on the fifth (sixth) day of the twelve days of this season. Christmas is barely halfway over!

So keep the tree up a few more days! Keep listening to your favorite holiday tunes! Keep celebrating the season!

LINGER in these holy days!

It’s appropriate that we get this short story of the pre-teen Jesus lingering in the temple on this First Sunday of Christmas. The big festival is over. The temple is empty. Except… for Jesus.

Jesus teaches us to LINGER in the temple, even after the commotion has settled. Jesus stays behind with an inquisitive curiosity to learn more from the teachers of his faith. And time and again, Jesus will return to the temple throughout his ministry as the center of his teaching.

But in all of this… notice Mary, too. Twice in Luke’s gospel so far, Mary is noted to treasure all that is happening around her. When the shepherds come with haste and excitement to find the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary treasures their words and ponders them in her heart. Here again, after nearly losing her son in the big city, Mary treasures all these things in her heart.

Mary gets it. Mary lingers at the manger. Mary lingers with what has just happened in the temple, even if she doesn’t completely understand it. Mary lingers without rushing to the next thing on her calendar. Mary savors what happens at Christmas, and she invites us to join her to make space for contemplation, for stillness, for quiet… for even thirty seconds without checking what it was that made our phone vibrate in our pocket.

Mary lingers and invites us to linger with her because… This is a big thing that has just happened at Christmas! This is a major faith event that should give us cause for recalibration, for reorientation, or at the very least, for wondering about what all this this means… After all, let’s recap: In the span of nine-ish months, an angel has appeared to Mary to tell her she’s going to have a son who will be great and called the Son of the Most High; Mary sings a song of great and defiant joy about the thing God is about to do through her son by scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry; and then, even more angels announce to a group of ragtag shepherds on the outskirts of the middle of nowhere that a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord, has been born for them and all people.

This is no small thing! This warrants our attention… for more than just one day. Christmas is a season that invites to LINGER in these wondrous things, this good news of great joy for all people.

We linger with Mary and with the boy Jesus, and we linger with each other… On Christmas Eve, at the very last service, when we all had our candles lit and had sung “Silent Night,” Pr. Muriel invited us to pause, to look down at our candles, and to reflect on everything that this past year has brought us, for better or for worse, and to give thanks.

This lingering is a practice we can take with us beyond just one silent, holy night. Christmas invites us to linger just a little while longer while the world rushes on. We linger and we gather in this place to hear the good news and to feast at this table. We linger and we are grounded in the present moment around these central things, Word and Sacrament, that are life-changing and life-saving and life-sustaining. We linger here to remember who we are and whose we are.

For a little while, before I was Lutheran, I went to a Methodist church. In that tradition, oftentimes on New Year’s Eve, churches gather to hold a “Watch Night Service.” I was able to attend one of these services a few years ago, and the center of that service is to remember and renew our covenant with God in response to God’s grace — sort of like a holy new year’s resolution.

We don’t have to be Methodist or attend a Watch Night service, though, to call to mind the covenant God makes with us in our baptism, giving us our identity as God’s holy and beloved children. It’s fitting that our community gathers this weekend to linger in these baptismal promises — to call to mind that baptismal identity as we join with Emily and her parents and sponsors to make promises with her and welcome her into God’s family. And again, just (this/yesterday) morning, our siblings at the Christ the King campus gathered to call to mind those same promises Judy Paradowski made in her baptism as we entrust her to the care of God with whom she now rests.

Consider this day, this First Sunday of Christmas, as an invitation to linger, to remember who we are in Christ. With Jesus in the temple, we linger to grow in our faith, to grow in the wisdom of God in order to be the justice of God in the world. With Mary, we linger to treasure and ponder the good news of great, liberating joy for all people.

We linger because Christmas is just beginning, as the great African-American theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman writes:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

We linger to pause and reflect and ground ourselves in the things that matter: the grace and love of God who calls us God’s own fiercely beloved children. We linger in order to be strengthened and renewed for the journey… to be sent forth to do the work of Christmas.

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