a sermon preached on 6 January 2019 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. +In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is a God of old things, of maturing things, of ever-living things. As such, God has an intended purpose for all things, and it is to God’s intended purpose all things must go. This is without exception. We ought not to think for a moment there will be on thing, at the end of the ages, which was left abandoned, unconsidered, unfulfilled. There is neither a character, a setting, or a theme in God’s play, in all of reality, which will not be brought to its final act, pointing us to that great and eternal truth: that God is the greatest good and worthy to be praised.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Isaiah 60:1-9. I would like to read for us today’s passage.
There is a hard truth today we all must face: Christmas has ended. This is true for all of us. It would be strange thing a week from now to hear someone in the grocery store wish us a “Merry Christmas!” This is the case for all of us, despite what we believe about Christmas or why we celebrate it in the first place. “Christmas must come to an end” is something to which we all adhere. This is not where the great difference lies. The great difference, and indeed the greatest thing we can say about Christmas, is not that it ends but why it ends.
Some say Christmas ends because that is what the department stores have told us. Just last week I was in a local medical clinic, standing in line to check in, and they were taking down the Christmas decorations. Many stores did the same thing last week, perhaps even the week before. In these instances, the marketing strategy worked; the customers got their jollies, and now it’s time to move to a different sales pitch.
Some say Christmas ends because we must now get on with real life, as if Christmas was a dream-state, a winter wonderland which was not a part of this world. We had our fill of family, food, and festivities, and now the real world—work, school, preparing for tax season, spring—all take center stage. In these instances, Christmas was a nice and warm fictional hiatus from the real story. Now it’s time to leave Narnia and head back to the big city of London, back to where the war is happening.
And still, some say Christmas must end because, as they say, “All good things must come to an end.” But it is not true that all good things must come to an end. It is actually the case that the best things do not come to an end. And it is true that the very best thing, the Triune God, has neither a beginning nor an end. Instead of the sad assumption that all good things come to an end, what we find is that the very best things actually grow better with time, maturing from one form to another, more delightful, pleasing, virtuous, efficacious, nourishing, even aromatic than what it had ever been.
No, Christmas does not come to an end because capitalism says so. Christmas does not come to an end because we must go back into the real world. Christmas does not come to an end because it is just another good thing among many which must end. Christmas comes to an end because the world needs Easter.
If you look at the Church calendar, and that means looking at the life of Christ, the next two months after Epiphany, which is today, is generally ordinary time. That means until Lent, which is a season of preparation for Easter, there is nothing in particular we commemorate with our liturgical imaginations. And this is why Christmas must end, to make a way for Easter. Consider for a moment all that Christmas represents:
A season of feasting
A new Genesis
A celebration of the King’s birth
A submission to God’s Incarnate Word
Israel’s hope come down
The turning point of the world’s story
All of these are matters of birth. Christmas is, as I said last week, a new Genesis, and this means it is a great birth. Advent was a season of being in a womb, and Christmas is the birth of that promise. God’s promises, however, never stay in infant form. They never remain in their state of birth. One thing we must see and appreciate throughout the entirety of the Scriptures is that God is not content with simply bringing things into existence. God plans, for all things in existence, to complete his work, for all things to come to their fullness, to be brought up, to mature, to grow in holiness and stature, to find their fulfillment, to reach their intended end. Christmas must end because God’s promises must be fulfilled. God’s promises must be steeped in the fullness of his everlasting and glorious plan. This what our Isaiah passage is about today. It is about the future glory of Israel, the glory which was to be born among her and mature within her, so that she, and therefore we, would not be left in our adolescent rebellion and youthful idolatry. The Isaiah passage today is about coming of age, about growing up.
This is a hard truth for us today. This is a hard truth because we live in a culture which is content with remaining in an adolescent state of mind, an adolescent state of language, and even an adolescent state of relationships. “Forever young,” Rod Steward sang. And our culture has made this its montra. But while God wants us to have child-like faith, he does not want us to remain children in our virtues, our faith, or our capacities. It is one thing for a man to be brought to Jesus Christ, to be given new life; it is quite another for him to grow up into that faith, into Christ who is the head, as a mature and wise man. Just as Jesus could not remain in his state of infancy, so we cannot remain in Christmas. And we cannot remain infants in our faith.
I am afraid there are, even among our churches in Baton Rouge, many who have come to Christ, who have spent decades in the church, and who have grown in neither knowledge nor holiness in all those days. Discipleship is lacking. Education is waning. We are distracted with lesser goods. And though a man has come to saving faith, he has remained a spiritual babe. He has remained forever young. Christmas must end because God desires the Gospel to bear fruit, in our lives and on this earth. Christmas must end because we cannot glorify God by remaining forever young. Christmas must end because God bids us come and die.
But in quite another sense, Christmas will always continue. It will always be with us, because we have the presence of God in our life together and we have this table. In Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas present is an unforgettable character, described as “a jolly giant.” When Scrooge first encounters him, the ghost invites him in with “Come in, and know me better, man.” The jolly spirit is surrounded by a great feast. This is the Ghost of Christmas present. This is the spirit of a weekly Christmas, which will never leave the Church and is most especially present each Lord’s Day we gather and partake of the bread and the wine, the Lord’s feast. Spread before us each Sunday is a great feast, this table, the Lord’s table, and in it is always the spirit of Christmas. This table is where the Lord invites us to come in, and know him better. So while Christmas must end, the spirit of Christmas must mature in us each day, especially into the new year and especially in our life together around this glorious table, which will one day be glorified and consummated in heaven.
Please hear and consider a poem by John Keble.
"The Epiphany” by John Keble
Star of the East, how sweet art Thou,
Seen in life's early morning sky,
Ere yet a cloud has dimmed the brow,
While yet we gaze with childish eye;
When father, mother, nursing friend,
Most dearly loved, and loving best,
First bid us from their arms ascend,
Pointing to Thee, in Thy sure rest.
Too soon the glare of earthly day
Buries, to us, Thy brightness keen,
And we are left to find our way
By faith and hope in Thee unseen.
What matter? if the waymarks sure
On every side are round us set,
Soon overleaped, but not obscure?
'Tis ours to mark them or forget.
What matter? if in calm old age
Our childhood's star again arise,
Crowning our lonely pilgrimage
With all that cheers a wanderer's eyes?
Ne'er may we lose it from our sight,
Till all our hopes and thoughts are led
To where it stays its lucid flight
Over our Saviour's lowly bed.
There, swathed in humblest poverty,
On Chastity's meek lap enshrined,
With breathless Reverence waiting by,
When we our Sovereign Master find,
Will not the long-forgotten glow
Of mingled joy and awe return,
When stars above or flowers below
First made our infant spirits burn?
Look on us, Lord, and take our parts
E'en on Thy throne of purity!
From these our proud yet grovelling hearts
Hide not Thy mild forgiving eye.
Did not the Gentile Church find grace,
Our mother dear, this favoured day?
With gold and myrrh she sought Thy face;
Nor didst Thou turn Thy face away.
She too, in earlier, purer days,
Had watched thee gleaming faint and far -
But wandering in self-chosen ways
She lost Thee quite, Thou lovely star.
Yet had her Father's finger turned
To Thee her first inquiring glance:
The deeper shame within her burned,
When wakened from her wilful trance.
Behold, her wisest throng Thy gate,
Their richest, sweetest, purest store,
(Yet owned too worthless and too late,)
They lavish on Thy cottage-floor.
They give their best--O tenfold shame
On us their fallen progeny,
Who sacrifice the blind and lame -
Who will not wake or fast with Thee!