The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.
This sounds like what Jesus read in the synagogue. At that time, men volunteered to read, and chose the reading. There was no set schedule. Any man could read or give a sermon and it was decided before the service. Jesus probably chose that passage to read and preach from, so it would have been important to him.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant. He purposely stopped reading at that point. What he Didn’t include was the line after ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ which was ‘and the day of vengeance of our God.”
That is not how Jesus sees God. There is no vengeance associated with it. God is about giving good news to people, releasing them from whatever holds them captive. ‘To proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.’ We know Jesus physically healed people, and the Gospels are full of examples of that. But we know that he was about Much More than that. When people couldn’t see God’s involvement in their lives, he showed them. When people’s minds were closed to new possibilities or other ways of seeing things, he opened them. When people were trapped in thinking their lives could only be one thing, or go one way, he expanded their vision.
He showed that women were to be taken seriously, because he ate with them, visited with them and taught them. He took them seriously. He showed that children and people who were disabled were just as important, or more important than adults with good health. He broke down the walls between women and men, adults and children, the poor and rich, the healthy and those with disabilities. He broke down the walls between ethnic groups and different cultures and different classes. No one was less important, and instead, all were extremely important.
There’s more than one way to be imprisoned. We can be trapped in our own minds thinking that the way we have known is the only way. Jesus broke down barriers, and freed everybody. Along with physical blindness, he also healed blindness in our ways of thinking and in our ways of seeing one another.
Every fifty years in Israel, a year of Jubilee was declared. Historically, the year Jesus preached might have been the year of Jubilee. In that year, creation itself was given a rest. Fields were allowed to go fallow, so that they would be reinvigorated for future crops. Debts were forgiven. Debtors and indentured servants, were allowed to go home, and slaves were set free.
Jesus uses this as a symbol for God. This is how God treats us, and will treat us continuously. When Jesus used the term, “Today this scripture ‘has been’ fulfilled in your hearing, the ‘has been,’ is more correctly translated as ‘is now, and will continue to be.’ “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled for all time.” All of those things experienced in a year of Jubilee are how God will treat us all the time. We are free. We can let go of any prisons in our minds, any thoughts or mindsets that imprison us, and we can go home. We don’t need to worry about what we owe, we can go home. We can rest easy.
Then, I love our reading from Corinthians. We all have different parts to play in the body of Christ, and no part is more important than the others. We need everyone. Jesus spent his life bringing good news, healing, teaching, comforting, freeing, encouraging, and opening people’s minds to the presence of God in each other and the world, and so can we. The hands, the feet, the mouths, the arms, we each have different gifts and play different roles in the Body of Christ.
A friend of mine sent me this reading from a book written by Frederick Buechner, an author and retired Presbyterian minister. (Peculiar Treasures and Beyond Words). (adapted)
When you came right down to it, what was God up to, for God's sweet sake, sending them all out—prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, the whole tattered bunch—to beat their gums and work themselves into an early grave?
God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody … who looked as if they might just possibly do. God was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, God put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got that person to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better.
And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become real human beings at last…until we all make it to where we're like Jesus… (Ephesians 4:11-13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that.
“Today, and every day, this scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.”. Amen.