Time to Go to Work

Time to Go to Work 
Ephesians 1:3-14John 1:1-18

Christian Community Presbyterian Church
Bowie, Maryland
January 1, 2023

I was always on task for Christmas Eve and in some years Christmas Day, too. Our family was never not home for Christmas. When our children were still school-age, we would pack up on the day after Christmas to travel to the grandparents’ home for a second Christmas. We often wended through small towns, where, on December 26th, there were once homed and now homeless Christmas trees huddled at street curbs seeking shelter from the elements.

    Nothing packs up and leaves town quicker than Christmas. The world is worn out celebrating Christmas. It’s been almost two months since Halloween witches and goblins were pushed off the stage by Santa’s reindeer. Poinsettias and holly are already replaced by Valentine hearts (any maybe even Patrick’s shamrocks). Once-welcomed carols and songs have been muzaked too many times. The child in the manger is probably walking by now. We ask ourselves, Why? Why the tinsel and bells, why the parties and presents, why the carols and cards? There must be something more. Yet after the interminable build up, the discards appear instantaneously and unceremoniously.

    Yes, there is much more. God is beginning (or has begun) to make clear to us the divine purpose of the world: the plan of the ages and how we are part of it. God has not thrown us out with the abandoned Christmas trees. We are not left to our own devices or without meaning and direction for our lives.

    To get to God’s meaning and direction for our lives, we have to wrestle the tree back into its holder, we have to let the carols and hymns keep playing past midnight on the 25th of December all the way to Epiphany, which was possibly the earliest natal celebration. We have to go back to the manger, back to the child.

    As Pastor Caroline has been sharing stories since Advent began, let me offer one which an internet colleague, Frank Fisher, tells:

Once there was a special Child who loved most particularly working in the workshop where only wondrous things were ever made. Every day the Child’s Parent, the Master Worker, would have the Child help, letting him place his little hands on the tools as the Worker’s big hands guided the tools across the wood. Shavings and sawdust would fill the air as shapes began to form under their joined fingers.

    As the shapes became more defined the Child would gasp with wonder. For the tools produced things like planets and stars that the Worker flung joyfully into the heavens. And things like flowing oceans, and towering mountains. But the most marvelous part of all came when the Worker guided the Child’s hands to make the shapes of beautiful creatures. They became even more beautiful when the worker blew gently into them, giving to them the precious gift of life.

    The Child loved those creatures, especially the ones the Worker named human beings. The Child and the Worker made human beings in the Worker’s image. The Worker gave them a special, life-giving breath so they would one day come back to the workshop, and live there forever.

One day the Worker said to the Child, “I have a task you must do alone to carry on our creation of human beings. I want you to go away from the workshop for awhile. I want you to go, and live among these people whom you love so much. Go to them. Tell them and show them how very, very, very much We love them.”

    The Child smiled and immediately nodded yes. But the Worker cautioned, “This will be painful and fear-filled work. I have one gift for you before you go; it will show you just how fearful this task will be.” The Worker handed the Child a cup. “Look into the cup and you will see all the things you must drink to show humans the depths of our love.”

    Peering into the cup, the Child burst out laughing with delight. For in it was a bubbling, leaping, and dancing drink. The Child could tell it was made up of joy and faith, and it was saturated with the Worker’s love. “Why should I fear this drink?” the Child asked. The Worker replied, “Look again.” Puzzled, the Child looked again into the cup and saw another mixture. This one seemed a marvelous drink. It looked as smooth as the purest cream. In it the Child saw healing, peace and salvation, mixed liberally with an endless measure of the Worker’s grace. The Child said more strongly, “Why should I fear this drink?”

    With eyes filled with tears the Worker said, “Look into the cup one more time.” The Child looked into the cup and gasped. It almost slipped from that little hand as the Child screamed, “No! Please take this away. I can’t drink this.” For this time the mixture in the cup seethed and stank. The liquid appeared to come alive, for it was made up of every possible evil, every possible sin, and every possible pain, all mixed together with countless streams of eternal death.

    The Child gasped, “Why must I drink this cup?” With a look of sadness the Worker looked steadily into the Child’s eyes. “You may choose to not drink this cup. But if that’s your choice, the human beings you love will drink it. They will drown in its pain and suffocate in its sin and evil. If you do not drink it they will die. And it will be a forever death. They will never come back here to share this workshop with us again.”

    The Child with eyes shining with love said, “I can’t do that. I care too much for them. I could never let my people drink this cup.” And reaching out toward the Master Worker the Child cried out, “Hold my hand, please. I will drink it for them.” Then the Child lifted the evil cup toward those Child-like lips and instantly was in another place.

Instead of being in the workshop, the Child was in a trough surrounded by animals. Looking down at the Child’s face were two of those people the Child, and the Worker, loved so much. There was a woman named Mary, and a man named Joseph. In the Child’s ears sounded a wondrous song. In the sky above, angels danced and twirled as they sang songs of joy at the incredible news of the Child’s special love.

    That love, so very long ago, willingly chose to enter a tomb; that love forever snatched from our lips the cup of sin and eternal death; that love appeared when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the quiet place named Bethlehem.(1)

How can you and I put that love away so quickly, so unceremoniously? Where is the savoring that is needed to relish the vastness of this gift from God whose birth we are marking? You and I are alive for more than our own comfort and pleasure. We are part of God’s great enterprise of redemption and reconciliation. God has called us for the healing of a broken world, the world God so lovingly created.

    To that end the gospel-writer John celebrated the Word, which Eugene Peterson so marvelously paraphrased, saying, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Not just any neighborhood, but our neighborhood.

    In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul broke out in an exultant doxology in praise of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing necessary for obedient faithfulness. As Paul says, Christ and his people are one. That means we are linked to Christ. You and I are like the hyperlinks on an internet web page. Click on us and we should take the viewer to Christ. Are you a direct link to Christ? Or are you a broken link, that takes us to that dreaded 404 browser page that says, “The page you are seeking appears to be a broken link. Either it has been removed from the server or its address has been changed.”

    Let’s pray that your link to Christ has not been broken or removed from the server. That’s not what Christ’s birth is about. We have a place in God’s scheme of things. We are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. The incarnation – the Word becoming flesh, being born from Mary – was the beginning on God’s part. His arrival was witnessed by shepherds and innkeepers, tax-collectors and soldiers, majesties and magi. What is more, we are included among his witnesses.

    Our relationship to Christ involves our whole lives, not just what we do within these four walls, but also, more importantly, what we do outside of them. God’s purpose for the church, for you and me, is no longer hidden. The now very public purpose is to bring the whole universe into unity in Christ – heaven and earth – friend and foe – everyone regardless of the categories people divide them into. If we see our mission as any less than this, we are not fulfilling God’s purpose for us, we are not using the gift of Christ which we are celebrating.

    So like Ebenezer Scrooge, we are supposed to keep Christmas all year through. It’s the first day of a new calendar year and time’s a-wasting. God’s work is calling. No one is going to do it, except God’s people – you and me. The factory whistle has sounded, the bell has rung, the workday has begun. Let’s get working.

    (1) Edited from Frank Fisher, f.fisher.obl.osb@comcast.net, from midrash@joinhands.com, Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 12:47 PM.


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