First Sunday in Christmas 2015:
1 Sam. 2:18-20, 26, Col. 3:12-17, Lk. 2:41-52
When Jesus was born, He was wrapped in swaddling cloths. These indicate that even though He was God, He was an ordinary baby, and that He was cared for and loved. The lessons today are all about clothing, family, and calling. Christmas is the announcement that God’s word has become flesh and come to dwell with us and in us so that His peace might rule in our hearts and we might be clothed with His grace.
Remember that Samuel was adopted by God when he was dedicated by his parents to the service of the tabernacle under the care of Eli (1 Sam. 1:21-28). Samuel performed his ministry clothed with a linen ephod, the uniform of a priest (1 Sam. 2:18). His biological mother and father visited him at least once a year and brought him a robe, at the annual sacrifice (probably Passover) (1 Sam. 2:18). As Samuel grew up in wisdom and stature (1 Sam. 2:26), he had to learn to distinguish between the voice of Eli and God (1 Sam. 3:1-10). Luke echoes the description of Samuel in his description of Jesus (Lk. 2:52), and it comes in a similar context of multiple parental voices. Like Samuel’s family, Mary and Joseph were accustomed to go up to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover every year (Lk. 2:41). Only this time, when they had departed a day’s journey, Jesus was missing (Lk. 2:43-45). They finally found him in the temple, sitting with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Lk. 2:46). While everyone was astonished at Jesus, His mother was more astonished at His apparent disregard for His parents (Lk. 2:48). But Jesus asked them why they didn’t know that He would be in His Father’s house (Lk. 2:49). This is a gracious insistence that God is His Father, and the temple is His true home. Like Samuel, Jesus has begun hearing the voice of God and knows that He has a priestly/levitical future. He is called to ministry in the temple (like Samuel). Jesus does return with Mary and Joseph in obedience to them, but the implication is that His growth in wisdom and favor is a growing understanding of His relationship to God and His family and others (Lk. 2:52). Samuel and Jesus both learn that while they have earthly fathers in various senses, God is their Father preeminently. And for Jesus, this is not merely by adoption.
As God’s Chosen Ones
At Christmas, in the incarnation, God clothed Himself in human flesh in order that we might be clothed in His divine life. In other words, God has come to call all people to be sons in His house, to be adopted into His family. This is what the priestly/levitical ministry always pointed toward. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9). Paul speaks of Christians as people who have put off one uniform and put on another. In Col. 3:12, Paul says “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” Paul says that Christians are those chosen by God as His “holy and beloved” ones to wear this uniform, to be His family, to be His sons.
Let Him Rule
These lists of virtues are deceptively easy to skim without letting them cut you the way they should. It’s easy to think that you have compassion because you feel bad for the pictures of poor people. It’s easy to think you are kind and patient because you don’t blow up at your wife at church. But do you have compassion for your wife when she is tired or stressed? Do you bear with your boss and forgive your father, as the Lord has forgiven you? Do you clothe yourself with love? Do you put it on and wear it all day long every day? It was comparatively easy and simplistic in the older covenants to put a priestly uniform on and carry out the prescribed duties. Our priestly duties require far more vigilance and diligence. How do you wear love constantly? How can you never lose your patience? How can you always forgive like you have been forgiven? Paul anticipates our questions with the answer: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Col. 3:15). This is wonderful in at least two ways. First, while we are commanded to clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness, this command comes in the third person, which implies that someone else is the primary actor and our job is to let it happen, to not resist. The only way Christians can stay clothed with the love of Christ is to have His peace ruling in their hearts. But the implication is that we are tempted to resist it; we don’t want to let it. Why? Because it would mean being compassionate to people when we don’t feel like. It would mean being patient when we don’t want to. It would mean forgiving those who hurt us the most. But this leads to the second wonderful thing: His peace is pursuing us. It’s not that we must get the peace of Christ. The command is that we must let His peace rule in our hearts. His peace is not far off and difficult to find. It’s already here ready to rule. He was born, died, and rose again. Let Him rule.
Let Him Speak
Letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts can still seem a bit abstract. How do you do that? The next three commands are practical steps in letting His peace rule in your hearts. First, be thankful. Literally, be eucharists. Be thankful ones; be thanksgivers. Second, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, abundantly. And you do that by teaching and counseling one another in all wisdom and singing Psalms to God. How can you let the peace of Christ rule? How can you clothe yourself with compassion and kindness? By letting the word of Christ live inside you like a decadent Christmas dinner, like gifts stacked high. How do you do that? By reading it. By writing it. By singing it. By sharing it. The word for “admonish” is literally the word to counsel. What should you say when your friend needs counsel? Load them with Scripture. Read the Bible to them and with them. Sing psalms. That is the wisdom you need and they need. Scripture is your gold and silver and priceless wisdom. And when you let the Word of Christ live inside you like that, you are letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart. When you let Christ speak, you are letting Him rule. Do not be distracted by the various voices. Learn to say with young Samuel: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Stay close to your Father’s house.