Lectionary blog for Dec. 27, 2015
The First Sunday after Christmas Day
Text: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148;
Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
Above all, clothe yourselves with love … (Colossians 3:14).
My daddy’s name was Lowell, and he was born in 1923 in Surry County, North Carolina. He grew up there during the Great Depression, living on a tobacco farm out in the country. The house wasn’t finished until 1948, and the half they lived in was heated by two fireplaces, the light at night was an oil lantern, the water was carried into the house in buckets from a spring, and we won’t even talk about going to the bathroom.
The family consisted of Lowell and his parents and his sister. They didn’t have much, and they worked hard for that. Most of Lowell’s clothes were hand-me-downs from relatives – coats, pants and shirts that were ill-fitting and had worn through or were torn up and then patched and sewn back together. Most boys in that time and that place wouldn’t have minded much, but Lowell did. He longed to dress nicely, to wear something new and stylish that fitted well and looked good.
One day in the fall when Lowell was about 8 or 9 years old, his father went to the city to sell the tobacco crop. He was gone for several days because they went the 80 mile round trip in a wagon pulled by mules. Little Lowell sat on the porch waiting for his father to return, and when he saw the wagon coming up the road, he leaped down and ran out into the yard, rushing to meet his father.
Running alongside the wagon, he yelled up, “Papa did you get me anything?” His father smiled, threw down a bag with some fruit and some candy and then said, “Yep, sure did. I got you a suit of clothes. It’s a Christmas present from your mama and me.”
Oh, Lowell was so excited. He was beside himself with pleasure. “A suit of clothes. Wow!” He imagined himself with a pair of wing-tip shoes and a four-in-hand tie, just like the people he saw in the pictures in the magazines. My, he thought, I will be the best-dressed boy at Slate Mountain Church on Christmas Day, that’s for sure. He was so excited he could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve. He got up at the break of dawn on Christmas Day and ignored the slingshot and the yo-yo Santa Claus had brought him and immediately ripped open the package from his parents. And as he looked down at the bib overalls and denim jacket in his lap, he began to softly cry. He got up and went back to bed while his father stared after him dumbfounded. Papa had meant no harm with his little, silly play on words. But, little Lowell was crushed.
Years later, when grown-up Lowell, my daddy, told me that story, he said “I know Papa was just playing around with words and meant no harm, but I had so built up the idea of having a fancy dress suit to wear that nothing else was good enough. If he had not said, ‘I got you a suit of clothes,’ I would have been very happy with the bib overalls and the denim jacket.” Instead of being thankful for what he got, little Lowell was upset about what he wanted and did not receive.
Often we grown-up Christians are a bit like little Lowell – we build up a picture of an ideal Christmas that no real Christmas can meet. We want a perfect day, with a perfect dinner, with perfect family members behaving perfectly in the midst of perfect weather. And it never happens. For most of us, it never comes close. And instead of celebrating God’s gift of the Christ child, we find ourselves a little depressed and mildly disappointed because we didn’t get what we wanted for Christmas.
When Paul said to the people in Colossae, “And be thankful. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God” it is doubtful that he meant: “Well, do those things; be grateful, only if your plans work out and you get what you want from God.” No, Paul tells the people in that little church, in a poor place in the middle of nowhere, to be grateful to God for the one very important thing out of which all true joy and gratefulness flow. Paul reminds them three times in this text, “Be grateful to God for Jesus Christ and all for that Christ has done for us and will do through us.”
We have to be careful not to be grateful only if things are going our way. We have to be careful not to be grateful only if we get that nice suit of clothes that we think God promised us. We have to be careful not to be grateful only if we think God is treating us the way we want and think we deserve to be treated.
But rather we have to be careful to be grateful for Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have to be careful to be grateful that on the cross our sins were forgiven and our souls were saved. We have to be careful to be grateful that the peace of Christ now rules in our hearts, and in our lives, and in our families, and in our workplaces, and in our schools, and in our churches, and in our communities.
This is what Paul meant when he reminded us to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, which are all much better to wear than a new suit of clothes. This is what Paul means when he tells us to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
True gratitude is born out of the fact that God has forgiven us all our faults and failures. God has healed our many sins and sorrows, and just as importantly, in Christ, God has given us the ability to forgive and to heal one another.
And so, as Paul reminds us to do, we this day lift up our voices together with, “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in (our) hearts,” for what God has done in Christ, coming into the world to make possible our life of love together.
Amen and amen.