Sunday worship, December 27, 2020
Posted by FirstPresbyterian Regina on Sunday, December 27, 2020
Children’s Message: “In-person Visits”
Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all of you! I wish that we could be together in-person as we continue to celebrate Christmas today, but I’m glad that we’re at least together online.
I wonder… have you ever been far away from someone you loved at a special time like Christmas? Many of us had that experience this year because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, didn’t we? Maybe you sent Christmas cards to the people you couldn’t be with in-person this year, which is nice. Or maybe you talked on the phone, which is better.
Every year when my family members are far away at Christmas (which is pretty normal for me) I phone my parents and talk to everybody who is gathered at their house. But this year, everyone is in their own homes with no gatherings at all, so we had a Zoom video call on Christmas Day so that we could all connect from the different places where we live. It was really good, but not quite as good as actually being there – where you can see each other, and give each other hugs, and just spend time together.
Last year at Christmas, Nick and I went to visit some of his family in Winnipeg, and the year before my parents visited us here in Regina. I wonder if you remember any special visits at Christmas in the past? Think about some of the people who have come to visit you for Christmas other years.
Now… can you remember? When did you start to get excited about your visitors? Was it just when you got up on Christmas morning? Or was it the day your guests arrived? Or was it the day you found out they were coming? It was earlier, wasn’t it? Before they even arrived!
That reminds me of a passage from the bible – from the prophet Isaiah. He wrote it a long time before the time of Jesus. It was during a time when the People of Israel were feeling very lonely and sad. Some of their friends had been taken away to live in exile in a foreign land, and things back home just weren’t the same without them. The people felt so discouraged that they thought maybe God didn’t care about them anymore. They couldn’t imagine how God could let something like this happen!
But the prophet Isaiah knew better. He knew that God never abandons us, and he was sure that something good was going to happen soon – the exiles were going to come home.
This is what Isaiah wrote: (Isaiah 52:7-10) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
That Bible reading had some big words in it, but I hope you got the idea… A messenger is coming to announce the good news that God’s People are all coming home to be with their friends in Jerusalem. God has not left the people. God is helping them. And God is planning for a wonderful reunion. They can see the messenger coming with the good news! It’s almost time!
The people must have been so excited when they saw the messenger coming. Even before the messenger arrived, they were excited. They said, “Look at the beautiful feet of the messenger who is coming!” They were so excited about the good news he was bringing that they thought even the feet that carried him to them were beautiful.
Sometimes we have been fortunate to welcome visitors at Christmas, and we’ve enjoyed the excitement of joy of those visits. But even this year, without any visits at all, we’ve still been excited about Christmas itself, haven’t we?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes on Christmas Eve, I’m almost too excited to go to sleep. I lie awake thinking about all the special Xmas things – with Xmas carols running through my mind – and wondering about the special things that will happen on Xmas Day.
I hope your Christmas Day was still a great day, despite the Covid restrictions, and I hope that this whole Christmas Season will be filled with joy and blessings. And I hope that you’ll remember the best gift of all that we celebrate at Christmas. God’s people waited a long, long time for this special gift – for God to actually come and visit them IN PERSON. (Not just a message or a commandment.)
Jesus was born. And Jesus is God coming to be with us in person. Let’s celebrate this wonderful gift!
Reflection: “Beautiful Feet”
At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God. God is not just a good idea, or a kind thought. But God became a body – with hands and arms, feet and legs, head and heart.
As the author of the book of Hebrews explains it, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” God preached, and God instructed, God corrected, and God comforted. And God did all this with words.
But now, “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son.” “And the Word became flesh,” John’s Gospel proclaims so eloquently, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
We have all experienced the blessing of having someone we love come to visit us. Strangely, we don’t always have much to say when they come. After all, we’ve been communicating all along through letters or emails or texts or phone calls. But something is so different and so special when that person comes to visit us. We’re not alone. We’re at home. We can just BE together.
“How beautiful are the FEET of the messenger who announces peace and brings good news,” Isaiah proclaims. “But what is beautiful about feet?” we might ask. Not much, really. Feet are pretty funny-looking, when you think about it. They can certainly look pretty yucky, especially when they’re tired and sore, when they’re blistered or calloused… and they might not smell very nice either!
But what is beautiful about the feet is their coming. What is beautiful about the feet is the purpose they serve in carrying the messenger and his good news. What is beautiful about the feet is what they are doing – travelling the distance and climbing the mountains to get there.
How extraordinary is this good news that the messenger brings to the People of Israel? It is so good that the exiles rejoice even before it is achieved. They praise the very feet of the messenger who is bringing news to Zion that its citizens are on their way home; they break into singing when the sentinels send out word that the exiles can be seen in the distance; they are comforted even before they celebrate their reunions.
Biblical commentaries note that even the verb tenses in the passage play up the relationship between what has already happened, what is happening, and what has yet to happen. And there is excitement about all three!
God HAS COMFORTED his people, he HAS REDEEMED Jerusalem. The messenger IS ANNOUNCING peace, he IS BRINGING good news. And all the ends of the earth WILL SEE the salvation of our God.
This interplay of tenses is a normal part of our expression of faith as well. In Advent, we waited for the God who CAME to us in the form of a manger-born baby, and now we wait for God who WILL COME again.
At Christmas, we celebrate God’s redemption of the world through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. It is finished.
And yet, even as we celebrate what God has done, we have to notice that God is doing something right now. God is present with us, and God is coming to us in Word and Sacrament. God is comforting us in our sorrow, and rejoicing with us in our joy. God is forgiving us for our sins, and calling us to follow the way of Jesus with our lives. God is turning our lives upside down, just as God turned the world upside down so many years ago with the coming of the child.
What God has done for us in the past, and what God is doing in us, and among us, and between us today are beautifully intertwined. And they are also tied up with our hope for what God will one day complete.
For we look and wait for the day when Christ will come again to make all things new. We watch and we work for the day when the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled, when the earth is filled with the knowledge and love of God, as the waters cover the sea.
Even today, in this Christmas Season, we live between “the already” and “the not yet.” Jesus has been born, and lived, and ministered, died, and been raised. And we wait for him to come again.
And in our current circumstances, Covid-19 vaccines have been developed and tested and ordered, and some have even been delivered and administered. But we wait for the complete roll-out and the vaccination of most of the population.
Even now we rejoice at the coming, at the hope of a solution, at the thought of the end of this terrible sickness and all its impacts on so many vulnerable people, at the hope of gathering for worship, being with the people we love, and living relatively normal lives again.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news.” As we learn to see even the feet of the messenger as praiseworthy, we gain practice in praise for that day when the ends of the earth do see the salvation of our God, and praise is all that is left to do. Amen.