Did you enjoy all the snow last weekend? For me it brought back memories of growing up in Northeast Ohio. As a teenage boy there were not many opportunities to make money, but when it snowed, well, those frozen water flakes falling from the sky might as well have been dollar bills. Even today I don’t mind shoveling snow because it brings back memories of fun and profitable times with friends.
Let me articulate St. Paul’s snow policy for Sunday mornings, or any weekday meeting or event. If it is snowing and you don’t feel comfortable driving, stay home. If you are scheduled to do something for the service on a snowy day, do not fret… we will work around you. Snow Sundays are “Plan B” events. And, if no one shows up, as was the case last Sunday, well… I’ll just walk back home, crawl into my warm bed, and take a rare Sunday morning nap.
Christmas and snow go well together, don’t they! Beyond all the sentimentality we associate with a white Christmas, this year I realized there is a metaphorical connection between the two. Twelve inches of snow has a way of covering the world with a pristine veneer of white. It transforms every aspect of our environment. Did you notice how many people posted pictures of their house or deck or tree in their yard? We were spellbound by the sight of what had always been there, and still was there, but now was different because of what was on top of it.
Christmas has a similar affect. We still have the same family and the same friends and the same home and the same challenges, but there is something about the message of God’s love made know in the birth of a child that brings hope for peace on earth. It is a message that resonates because it lays over everything in our lives and makes it different…
…for a while. But just as snow melts away revealing all the dirt and grim that it covered, so too Christmas cheer has a way of waning and we find again that we are back in the difficulties and grind of life. It may seem like it should not be this way, but you may be surprised to learn of one organization who encourages this very pattern – the Church.
We who follow the liturgical year, observe the feasts and fasts of the church, and read from the lectionary are led quickly from the joy of the Incarnation to the challenge of life. On December 26 we remember St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr in the Church. On December 27 we remember St. John, the only Apostle not to be martyred, but rather lived out his life in exile on the Island of Patmos. On December 28 we remember the Holy Innocents, those children of the Bethlehem region slaughtered by Herod’s decree. On December 29 we remember Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own cathedral by Henry II's hentchmen. And today we read of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt for safety. God’s child is born into the world and immediately becomes a refugee on the run from political persecution and tyranny.
It is a dark and vivid reminder of what John says in the prologue of his gospel:
In Him was life, and the life was the light for all people… The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not.
The Church reminds us what Scripture tells us; that Christmas is not some sappy, mushy, toothless message about “goodwill,” but God’s unflinching desire to engage the world’s darkness with divine, unceasing, holy light and love. And that engagement begins with each one of us individually. As the church year unfolds we will be led on a path which will help us better know the light of Christ; a light which will shine on the darkness of our own sin and shortcomings. We will be called time and again to repent and to amend our lives.
Last Wednesday’s poem on the Writer’s Almanac was titled A Short Testament by Anne Porter. It is a wonderful articulation of someone trying to move from the darkness into the light. Listen and see if it gives words to a prayer deep within your heart:
Whatever harm I may have done
in all my life in all your wide creation
if I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,
And then there are all the wounded
the poor the deaf the lonely and the old
whom I have roughly dismissed
as if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
and cannot make amends
I ask you
to comfort them to overflowing,
and where there are lives I may have withered round me,
or lives of strangers far or near
that I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
and if I cannot find them
or have no way to serve them,
remember them. I beg you to remember them
when winter is over
and all your unimaginable promises
burst into song on death’s bare branches.
The light of Christ exposes the darkness of the world and it reveals the darkness in our own lives. But to those who are open to it, the light of Christ also brings insight, healing, wisdom, and new life. John wrote about this when he said,
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… So to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.
Christmas begins a great journey in our spiritual lives. It begins when we allow the light to shine in the darkness. As we receive that light and are transformed by it, we become God’s children. As I said in my Christmas Eve sermon, even more that children we become heirs, and even more than heirs, God’s ambassadors; godly and goodly people whose every thought, our every word, and every deed are done in service to the One we represent.
And what does this mean for our parish? If you and I are God’s ambassadors, then St. Paul’s is not merely “our” church. It is God’s embassy in Suffolk. It is the place from which God’s light shines in the world. It is a place from which we call people to become God’s children. It is the place where we help them to live into the blessedness of being heirs. And it is the place where we train and equip people to be God’s ambassadors with us.
On this first Sunday of the new calendar year I look forward to the adventure on which we continue together; an adventure to live more fully, more completely, and more authentically as God’s light in this dark word; as God’ ambassadors in this land which does not yet know its Sovereign. But we know the Sovereign and are committed to knowing our Sovereign fully and to representing our Sovereign with fidelity.