Saturday, December 12, 2020

Hope in the Age of Darkness: Gifts of the Incarnation

Acts 1:1-11

My grandchildren have learned the art of surprise. When they have something they have prepared and then created the scene for an unveiling, they will say, “Wait for it. Wait for it.” Often they draw it out dramatically saying, “Waaaait for iiiiiiiiiiitt!” And then when whatever they are unveiling finally comes into view, they turn their eyes fully expecting to see a surprised, happy smile come across our faces. They have all figured out at an early age that a part of the revelation of something of great value is in the drama of waiting.

A text that is about the ascension of Jesus, as we have in Acts 1, is hardly what we think would go with Advent and Christmas, but the question we would be wise to ask is, “What does the end of the story have to say about the beginning of the story?”

What does Jesus’s departure have to do with his arrival?

This is where the incarnation becomes a bigger, more important part of what Christmas is all about. As I have lived through a lot of Christmases, I have discovered upon reflection that most of them are defined more by culture than by gospel. I love listening to the music of the season, but most of the music I hear is based on romanticized notions of time with family, gathering around the Christmas tree, roasting chestnuts on an open fire (which rarely is a thing in Texas), and giving gifts to one another. The gospel story of the birth of Christ is in there, but it is often pretty covered up with our cultural customs of this holiday.

Please know that I am not a harsh critic of the secularization of Christmas, and I am not out shouting to “put Christ back into Christmas.” I’m just pointing out that there is greater gift that we miss when we keep Jesus as the precious little (harmless) baby in the nativity sets. We often fail to see the true gift of his coming as Emmanuel … God with us!

The gift of this incarnation, you see, is that it is shared with each of you. As disciples of the living Christ, we are challenged to own that it is the Spirit of God that dwells in us. If we truly see ourselves as the Body of Christ, then we must see that we ourselves embody this incarnate God in ourselves. Luke tells us in Acts, that the disciples had gone out with the resurrected Jesus to the place where he told them that they would receive the power to be witnesses … to be the Body of Christ … to bear Christ to the world in tangible, radical ways.

And as they watched him ascend, they suddenly were joined by two men in white robes who asked, “Why do stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus whom you saw leave will come back to you in the same way.” In other words, Christ hasn’t left you. Christ will come back to you and dwell in you as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

This Christ who is born to us at Christmas is the Christ that is enlivened and awakened in each of us!

So wait for it! Wait for it!

Now open your eyes! God’s incarnate spirit is born in us!

God of Holy Surprises: We find it so easy to let the power you give us be encased or enshrined or put away when Christmas is over. But we hear you calling us to wait for the greater gift … the gift of your incarnate presence embodied even in us. Amen.

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