[Note: For some reason the Community of Christ worship office substituted the Year C scriptures for this first Sunday after Christmas (Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, Matthew 2:1-12/3:1-12 IV) instead of the Year B lectionary selections, as shown above. I’ll stick with the Year B scriptures.]
The first Sunday after Christmas can be challenging for both preachers and those sitting in the pews. It’s been a busy few weeks, filled with music and drama and story and memories. Now that’s over. But chances are church sanctuaries are still decorated by Christmas greenery and extra candles–maybe the seasonal nativity scene is still occupying a corner of the front of the room. Yet everybody knows that Christmas is past.
This year there’s an added burden: the first Sunday after Christmas is also New Year’s Day. And so there’s all that late-night partying on Saturday night that may, in one way or another, make it tough to focus in the light of Sunday morning. Let’s not forget there’s more than a little football on TV this afternoon and evening, too.
The Gospel lection for this Sunday centers on Jesus’ dutiful parents, with strong connections to Jewish law and the Temple. This is juxtaposed with Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians and what was, at that time, a primary issue facing the young and struggling fellowship of Jesus-believers: Must a gentile convert become Jewish first (circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc.)?
Today such a question would be absurd, but then we’ve had 2,000 years to think about that and work through the issues involved. Paul’s contemporaries were facing this issue for the first time.
Paul valued the law, certainly. (And here Paul is referring not only to the Mosaic Law but “law” covering everybody else.) However, he looked deep within it and yet at the same time above and beyond it to instruct the Galatians. Stop looking to biology as the way to get into God’s “family,” he advised. Instead, he looked at the bigger picture and argued for adoption as a route made possible by divine grace.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. –Galatians 4:4-7 NRSV
Paul looked back beyond Moses and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai to Abraham as the original actor in the story of how God was, is, and would be faithful to divine promises. And we can all become, by adoption, children of father Abraham.
Paul apparently had little if any concern for the Christmas stories we value so highly. He wrote of the “fullness of time” and God sending the “Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” This is an amazing and profound theological truth, worth pondering on any day but perhaps especially so on the first day of a calendar year. Look what God has done for us, by bringing us into the divine “family”!
Indeed, if that is so, then what are we doing in response?
- Time to Rejoice — Lectionary Reflection (bobcornwall.com)