Many of us were baptized as infants, so our only “memories” of that day consist of photos and stories told to us by those who love us. Regardless of when we were baptized, we are to live each day in the joy and gratitude of the newly baptized. In baptism we are claimed, forever promised inclusion and welcome as a child of God. To emphasize the eternal strength of this claim, God makes the same claim for the Son, Jesus: ‘You are mine forever, and I am proud of you.’ – What more do we need to hear? May we know assuredly that we are loved.
In today’s luminous reading from the Gospel of John, we encounter God’s ultimate promise kept: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The psalmist invites us to praise God as one who keeps promises to heal and make whole. God in Christ invites us to become the bearers of light as we engage with our communities and world. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can see God in the neighbor and join in praising God’s gift of love.
In the gospel reading from Luke, the boy Jesus can also be found in the temple, after a frantic search by his parents. Mary and Joseph do not understand why he would be in the temple, and Jesus does not understand why his parents did not think to look there first: he is, after all, in his Father’s house because of obedience to his life’s work. Far from being the fun-spoiler, obedience leads us to praise. When we let our words and actions point toward God, we find reasons for praise on every side. May the peace of Christ dwell in you richly.
In winter’s deepest night, we welcome the light of the Christ Child. Isaiah declares that the light of the long-promised king will illuminate the world and bring endless peace and justice. Paul reminds us that the grace of God through Jesus Christ brings salvation to all people. The angels declare that Jesus’ birth is good and joyful news for everyone, including lowly shepherds. Filled with the light that shines in our lives, we go forth to share the light of Christ with the whole world. Merry Christmas!
Blessed are those who believe. Mary favors Elizabeth with a visit. Together Mary and Elizabeth become examples of God’s blessing for the lowly. A barren old woman and an unmarried young woman each are favored by God. Each expresses praise for what God is fulfilling in their life. Their experiences remind us that knowing God is with us, and even that we have received God’s favor, does not mean our lives will be without hardship. In the midst of struggles and challenges, we can and do experience joy. May joy be in our bones and praise on our lips.
One can imagine the sense of anticipation of those who arrive to hear John in the wilderness. Maybe even a sense of hope, awe and even fear. However, John made it clear that while he baptized them for repentance, the one coming would bring something totally different. In Christ, God’s love is enduring and eternal. Sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the sign of the cross forever, the baptized are invited to remember this promise daily and the good news it brings. So, maybe instead of asking “What should we do?” we act with grace and love.
We have been experiencing life in the wilderness of a pandemic. We also see the wilderness of a messy world where some have wealth and status while others experience food insecurity, injustice and homelessness. It is into this wilderness that today, John the Baptist proclaims that one is coming through whom “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). John points us to the Promised One and to the salvation Jesus offers. We are called to bear witness to the promise that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, who leads us to life.
Our final theme of our Fall Stewardship emphasis for today is “Fearless Giving.” Jesus spent more time on teaching about the subject of money and possessions than anything else. If we are going to be “fearless disciples,” we need to put away the fear and apprehension of talking about money and giving. Today we compare two of the stories Jesus tells. Both stories are in Luke’s Gospel. One is about a rich young ruler; the other is about a poor, old widow. The young ruler had it all; the old woman had nothing. Which of the two practiced fearless giving? Can we be bold as she? Might we experience this as Henri Nouwen says in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.”
Today, our Fall Stewardship emphasis theme is “Fearless Sowing.” We explore Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4. Are we the seed? Are we the ground? Are we the productive harvest or the one that never gets out of the ground? Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that we have it all backward. “What if,” she asks, “it is not about us at all, but about the Sower?” The sower is not fazed by the negativity or all the problems, rather the Sower just flings the seed everywhere with holy abandon. The sower covers the creation with fertile seed, good news.