Now at the beginning of the new calendar year, it might be good to remind ourselves that the Christmas season is twelve days long, as the old song says: twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, twelve days to ponder the mystery of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling with us. If you stop and think about it, that means that every year begins…and ends…with Christmas.
I kind of like that thought. God being born into our world bookends all our cycles of time. Perhaps it allows us both to look back on an old year and ahead to a new one with confidence that God will Always be With Us. Our “time” is always filled with a mixture of joy and sorrow. 2016 was no exception to that. For some, the year marked tragedy, grief for loved ones, or deep disappointment. For others, it brought the birth of a child, a graduation or the beginning of a new career.
When Christmas both begins and ends our years, it helps us to see that God is enfleshed with us in every one of those times. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That seems virtually impossible to do. How can we give thanks in difficult times? That’s when it seems God is farther away than ever!
For me, it has been helpful to remember that little word “in”. Give thanks IN all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances. The will of God is that were recognize Christ present in all things, even those things that grieve God as much as they do us. When accidents happen, when grief strikes, when disappointment or stress or anxiety rob us of joy, we can still give thanks. Not for the thing itself but rather for the promise that God Is With Us in the middle of it.
Christmas, and the seasons of the church year that follow, confess that the presence of God is more than just an idea or a story. It is real flesh and blood as the love of God lives within us through faith. When tragedy strikes or when joy needs sharing, there are real bodies to hug, real hands to hold, real words we hear spoken.
That changes things. That gives us hope and motivates us in this new year to live with a renewed sense of courage. We have real issues to grapple with. The planet continues to warm. Wars and violence continue to wreak havoc. Our politics continue to divide and misdirect. The vulnerable continue to be at risk. The confession of a people who follow a flesh and blood savior is that God cares about all of those things. The goal is not to escape this reality but to transform it! In all the many ways that will be happening this year at Saint Michael, I do give thanks and praise! May God help us to know, and to proclaim, that Christmas message this whole year long.