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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

From the Pastor...January 2008

Luke 2:19 "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."

In the 14th century Thomas Tusser wrote the following little rhyme:

"At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year."

Indeed it does. In fact, many of us would say, THANK GOD it does! But it is kind of wonderful. Then, like Cinderella, we know that when the clock strikes 12, it's back to the real world in which we live.

The post Christmas slump is not imaginary. Since Halloween, our whole lives have been oriented around Christmas. And once it's over, it's not always easy to put our lives back together. Scotch tape and ribbon won't do the trick. And so we go through a kind of withdrawal. There may be loneliness as family and friends depart for home. We discover that the problems we faced before Christmas are still there. Bills begin arriving in the mail. A kind of weariness sets in in the wake of high celebration.

But God in sending his Son did not intend to create a festival designed to propel us into the dumpers. God is not some cosmic Santa Claus who empties his bag of goodies and then departs for the North Pole. God in the person of his Son comes to stay. He comes to changes lives for the better.

Many preachers will tell their congregations to "keep the Christmas spirit" which amounts to moralizing--somehow by an act of will we will keep the spirit of charity and good will alive. But on our own we are quite incapable of doing so. How are we to spread good cheer when we our ourselves down in the dumps?

The answer is in the God who empowers us for living. The Christmas Gospel displays three personalities helpful to us in this matter.

The first personality is Mary, Mother of our Lord. At the departure of the shepherds, she is pictured contemplating all that has happened to her. We move quickly to Simeon, who seeing the Christ Child, embraces him and holds him close and declares him to be God's salvation; and Anna, the prophetess, who seeing the Child engages in the joyful task of telling others about his arrival.

The first antidote to the post Christmas slump is to, like Mary, treasure up what we have experienced and ponder these things in our heart. On Christmas eve, some tremendous things happened. The Good News of a Savior's birth was proclaimed. We learned of God's great love for us, the fact that we have a Savior who understands our deepest yearnings and feels our pain, who is stands ready and willing to hear our prayers, who comes to us through Word and Sacrament. Life will not be easy, any more than it was easy for the Holy Family who had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. But God will be with us and deliver us. There are times when our hearts will be pierced through with grief. But even then we are not alone, for God is truly with us: "Emmanuel."

The second antidote to the post Christmas slumpers is to, like Simeon, to go into the temple courts continuously, in order to recieve Christ. Simeon was in the habit of hanging around the house of God. We need to be found in God's house and recieve communioni regularly. And, like Simeon, we need to embrace and hold fast the Christ. Simeon took the holy Child in his arms held him close. We have the opportunity to do the same.

And finally, we see Anna the Prophetess, 84 years old. Having seen baby Jesus, she "gave thanks to God and spoke about him to all who were in Jersualem." Out of concern for others, she began to spread the good news. We avoid the slumpers and keep the spirit as we engage and remain active in the mission of the Church, within the context of the fellowship of believers.

Bill Rittenhouse in the Baptist record writes of an expeience that he had while driving in Kansas. He passed a station wagon with luggage on top of it. One of the pieces of luggage fell off. He stopped and opened it and the only clue to the owner's identity was a box with a rubber band around it that had a $20 gold piece between two layers of cotton. On one side of the gold piece were the words: "Twenty years of loyal and faithful service." On the other side it read: "Persented to Otis Simpson by Northwestern State Portland Cement Company." So Rittinghouse wrote 75 cities in the Northwest to find this person. And finally he got a letter back from Mr. Simpson.. The man told him to dispose of the suitcase and all the contents except the gold piece--for, he said, "this is my most precious possession."

And so Rittinghouse answered his letter and enclosed the gold piece, but he took the opportunity to tell him of his most precioius possession. He told him of how precious his family was to him, and how precious his life--he had survived prison camp in World War II. "But" he said,"whereas these things are extremely precious to me, my most precious possession is Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior." He dropped the letter in the mail.

About a year later at Christmas back came the little white box with the same $20 gold piece in it, with a letter attatched. It read: "Last week my wife and I were baptized in a little church in Colorado. We want you to carry the gold piece with you at all times now, for we are old people, 74 and 72 respectively. But YOU were the first one to tell us about Jesus Christ, and now he is our most precious possession."

Mary, Simeon, Anna, three personalities associated with the Christmas story. Three personalities placed in the narrative by God to help us avoid the post Christmas slumpers, that the joy of Christmas remain alive in us throughout the year.

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