Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past. This is the Word of God for the people of God. ALL: Thanks be to God!
Christmas is a time for family…We go out of our way to make time for family gatherings and we struggle when the whole family cannot be together for some reason. It is particularly hard for those of us whose families live in different cities…Often we must “share” parts of our family with another family – “the in-laws”…This can mean scheduling different days to celebrate Christmas so that each family gets “fair treatment”, even if this means starting the annual rotation of visits.
Our theme today is FAMILY. It is a theme that seems so natural for this time of year…After all, this is the season for families to be together…Yet we all know someone for whom this season means something very different from togetherness…We all know someone for whom Christmas is not going to be particularly “merry” this year for one reason or another…We all know them because they are part of our family…The Body of Christ.
Our text from Isaiah this morning is the same text Jesus quotes when he teaches in the synagogue at Nazareth…This is the text that Jesus says was fulfilled in their presence as he read to them…It is the text that ultimately got Jesus kicked out of his own hometown. It seems like an odd text to bring into the Christmas season…Yet, this is a perfect text to get us to step out of any boxes that attempt to contain our faith. The phrase, “bind up the brokenhearted,” gets at the heart of being the church…
Thinking outside the “church box” involves being in mission and being the ministry we claim to embrace…It’s not just about gathering with our own families to celebrate Christmas…It’s also about gathering God’s family into the celebration and binding up their hurts…It’s about re-defining who family really is and including them in the good news of Christmas.
While most of us may enjoy all the family aspects of the Christmas season – the gatherings, the holiday meals, the gifting, and the caroling, there are many others who become anxious about these same things. If we are going to take Christmas out of the box, then maybe we should also take “family” out of the box…Think of what family means to those whose families are no longer complete because of a loved one’s passing in the past year or two. Think of what family means to those who are sharing one of their family members with the military this season. What does family look like to a child with an incarcerated parent? How does family manage Christmas when there are parents and step-parents, and other non-traditional relationships? How welcome do families feel in church when their definition of “family” is different from ours? What does the season bring to those living alone, apart from family and friends? There are many people for whom Christmas is a heart-breaking time of year. How will God bind up those broken hearts? How will God use you to prepare the bandages?
Tonight our children will present their annual Christmas program. It’s not the typical Christmas pageant that many of us remember, but it is very good and worth the trip to come see it. It got me to thinking about those pageants of the past and how they sometimes brought out the worst in both children and parents. Each year when it came time to put the Christmas pageant together everyone wanted the leading roles. Every child saw themselves as Mary or Joseph or the Innkeeper or the lead angel…Every parent saw their child in those coveted roles as well…Then there were the shepherds…Who wants to be a shepherd? They don’t have any lines and they have to clean up after the sheep! They’re the cute little kids wearing their father’s bathrobes and standing off to the side…out of the way of the really important action…They’re sweet, but that’s where we put all the little kids we don’t have parts for…We can never have too many shepherds in the scene.
But, let’s take the shepherds out of the box…They are the only ones who are there because they have been specifically invited. In the real world, shepherds were looked down on in polite society…They had no homes, they lived outdoors with the animals, they didn’t own anything, and they worked cheap…They might be the equivalent of today’s transient drifters and street people…Yet, these were the people God invited to the very first Christmas celebration…He even sent an angel chorus out to deliver the invitation…This was the branch of God’s family most welcome at the birth of the Savior…That should change the way we think about what is most important during this season of the year. God has a special concern for the dispossessed, the marginalized, the poor, and the forgotten…We all know some of these “shepherds”…these people on the margins…Of course you do…they are part of the family… God’s family, our family.
Think about that for a moment…Who in your family, your church, your school, or your neighborhood are “forgotten people” this Christmas? Who has been pushed aside to the edges of society? Maybe for something they did or said; maybe because you don’t understand. Who do you see with less than you have? Who is simply being left out of Christmas? How will you respond? That really is the ultimate question for the followers of Christ who want to do his ministry…How will you respond to God’s call? What will you do when God brings these “shepherds” into your path? Are we willing to leave behind the comfortable and familiar to step outside of our boxes and into places that are new to us?
Christmas is a time for family…Taking Christmas out of the box involves really thinking about how God wants us to recognize “family.” We are supposed to be witnesses to God’s love, compassion, and concern…I think this witness begins in our own families. We are called to bear witness to Christ’s birth over and over again; again and again. Can our witness be effective if it is contained within the box we call “our family”? Christmas outside the box…it’s a challenge…We are called to realize this is a gift that will not be contained by our boxes…Remember this season that the shepherds…the “forgotten ones”…those people of “low regard” – they were God’s special, honored guests that first Christmas…God cares for a much bigger family than we imagine…We must do the same. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.