First Sunday of Christmas – December 30, 2012

Reading 1: Reading 2: Reading 3: Reading 4: 
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26Psalm 148Colossians 3:12-17Luke 2:41-52

By Bruce G. Epperly

On the only Sunday in the Christmas season, we need to celebrate. Let’s sing hymns, share cookies and eggnog, and greet each other in the spirit of the Incarnation. Today, we celebrate glory – God’s glory and our own glory as God’s beloved children, awakened to the wonders of divine love and wisdom. We celebrate the glory of this good Earth as the foundational and ubiquitous revelation of God and icon inspiring the spiritual adventures. The early Christian teacher Iranaeus proclaimed, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.” Incarnation is here and now in our cells and our souls. The heavens declare the glories of God and so do the rippling waters, whispering winds, mountain meadows, and our immune, circulatory, and digestive systems. This Sunday, we respond to God’s bounty with the commitment to become “fully alive” to the holiness of ourselves and our companions of life’s journey.

On this one and only Sunday in Christmas, we might choose to greet each other with the words: “Have yourself a merry kataphatic Christmas!” Incarnational theology, process-relational theologizing, is profoundly kataphatic in its proclamation of the world as the “body of God.” While God is more than the world and can never be fully encompassed by human speech, all things are words of God (Eckhardt), inviting us to “cleave the wood,” “cut the bread,” or “sip the wine” and discover God is here.[1]

Christmas proclaims the fullness of human life and invites us to live large in God’s companionship. Earth is chock-full of God’s glory. We are counseled to make no small plans, but to live incarnationally, anticipating that God will provide us with more than we can ask or imagine. Young Samuel grows in stature and favor with God. “Stature” is an unusual word in today’s lexicon; it is seldom invoked of political leaders and a rare even among our descriptions of spiritual leaders. Stature involves zest, joy, fullness of life, and large spiritedness. Persons of stature are big people, who rise above us-them and in-out polarities. Persons of stature embrace the fullness of reality; their personal integrity enables them to see God in the large and small details of life and welcome otherness without abandoning their deepest beliefs.

Psalm 148 is the first of a trilogy of praise Psalms, describing God’s presence and movement in all creation. God’s glory evokes creation’s praise. God moves through all things, enabling them to rejoice and give glory. God’s glory is reflected in our hymns of praise, such that the Psalmist (Psalm 150:6) can confidently assert, “Let everything that breathes praise God.” “Everything” complements and includes not only angelic voices but the exclamations of sun and moon, stars and heavens, wild beasts and cattle, storms and winds. Humans are not alone in a godless universe; our praises emerge from a sacramental environment in which holiness grounds all creation. Our calling is to experience God’s glory as our own deepest reality, manifest in our cells as well as our souls. No one is lost; all have the opportunity to share in God’s ever-abundant incarnational adventure.

“Clothe yourselves” with love, compassion, kindness, humility, and patience, proclaims the Letter to the Colossians. Let God’s love rule your hearts; align yourselves with divine wisdom and charity. When we open to God’s presence in the various activities of life, God opens to us in new and surprising ways. New energies are released and new possibilities explored. Faithful communities are essential for growing in grace; worship and study are not optional or unimportant, but pathways to glory and holiness: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Sadly, we often expect too little from worship and study. Study is a form of prayer and worship should embrace head, heart, and hands. Worship connects us with dynamic realities in whom we live and move and have our being. There is nothing lackluster about worship or study when it is dedicated to God’s glory. Our hearts are warmed, minds enlivened, and hands energized. We gather to sing, pray, and study with great expectations and are rewarded with graces that are more than we can ask or imagine.

In the wake of the joy of Christmas Day, this Sunday provides an opportunity to explore the ongoing importance of worship and study in the Christian life. Both are incarnational, and essential to growing in wisdom and stature. With Colossians, we should sing a lot today; perhaps, a favorite carol sing is in order as we seek to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

The Gospel of Luke describes a moment from Jesus’ early life. His unique relationship to God evokes growth and not stasis. Being chosen is a call to adventure, whether we look at Jesus or our own many vocations. Jesus grows and matures just as we do and in his own commitment to study and dialogue inspires our own worship and study. Following the alternative translation of the NRSV, I prefer Jesus “increased [or grew] in wisdom and stature” to “wisdom and years.” Anyone can age; but largeness of spirit is a spiritual issue, the result of God’s call and our response and divine grace and human effort. What would it mean for your congregation to make a commitment to embodying God’s wisdom? What would it entail for your congregation to make growing in wisdom, becoming large souled, a priority in a world of polarization? What would it mean for your congregation to ask challenging questions, not to win a point, but advance the community’s awareness of God’s work in the world?

Becoming fully alive, that’s what Christmas is all about. As fully human, Jesus was fully alive and fully attuned to God’s mission for him. He invites us to that same possibility, but we can’t do it alone. Our full humanity emerges from a communion of saints, mentors, prophets, and healers who make a way for us when there is no way. There is no supernaturalism here, but love that repairs hearts and enlightens minds so that our full humanity might shine and give glory to 
God and all around. I wish you a merry and glory-filled Christmas!

[1] For more on kataphatic, process-oriented, world-revealing visions of Christianity, see Bruce Epperly, Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology in a Missional Age.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University.  Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.