Sermon from First Sunday After Christmas 1/1/2023

January 1, 2023
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Philippians 2:5-11; Saint Luke 2:15-21

In nomine Jesu!

It’s about time. No matter what lectionary readings are chosen for New Year’s Day –- and being an unreconstructed traditionalist I chose the oldest. On New Year’s Day in both the secular and sacred world, everyone’s mind is on time – past, present, and future; and woe be to the preacher who ignores this. it’s about time.

And time as counted in the Scriptures is somewhat different than time as we count it today.

In the first place, there are three categories of time in the Bible, as opposed to only two among us today. The two we have in common are

  • historical time (digital time today) – the minute, hour, day, month, and year when a unique event happened — August 4, 587 BCE, the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem’s First Temple; 11:00 a.m., November 11, 1918, CE, Armistice Day ending the First World War; and
  • solar/lunar time, , which I prefer to call chronological time with equinoxes, solstices, seasons, and times for planting and harvesting, time that repeats with earth’s every turn around the sun. Liturgical time for Jews and Christians. Only lunar time for Muslims, which is why Ramadan moves completely around the calendar. A calendar is one symbol of this; an analog clock with numbers and a sweep hand (you know the kind our grandchildren can’t read anymore) is even better. This as we just sang is “time like an ever-rolling stream.”

But it’s on that third kind biblical time that I want to focus today. I call this kairotic time, often expressed in translation as “the right time;” “the opportune time;” “the acceptable time,” when God acts, perceptively and decisively, for us. Examples of this kind of time in the Hebrew Scriptures are God’s call of Abraham, God’s deliverance of Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage; and the return from Babylonian exile. New Testament examples include the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. More broadly, every time God acted for people in both testaments, breaking into the ordinariness of life, interrupting, and transforming historic events – that’s kairotic time: God’s time of acting for God’s people, and for God’s whole creation.

More often than not and for a variety of reasons, we seldom think about this kind of time; we never expect it. Kairotic time doesn’t fit into our “scientific” construct. Frankly, in order to believe in kairotic time, we first must believe that God acts for us today.

God acts for us today. Given all that’s happened in our history over the last twenty or so years; given all that’s happened to this congregation’s history over the last 2, 3, or 5 years; given our hopes and dreams for this year, its crucial that we believe that God acts for us today and, more importantly, to expect, even to plan on that.

Planning on that — planning that God will always act for us — enables us to act with confidence and peace primarily because we know that our future does not depend solely on us. That doesn’t excuse us from doing the things that we know need to be done, but it does require us to ask ourselves whether what we do is in sync with the God who always acts for us, and it also means that we will endeavor to conform our actions to those of the God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul means by “having the same mind as Christ Jesus.” If you read today’s second reading carefully, you’ll see that “the mind of Christ” is about service, not domination; self-emptying, not self-aggrandizement. It applies not just to each of us as individuals, but to all of us together as the Body of Christ in this place.

To believe that God always acts for us is different from believing that God has a plan for us, a minutely detailed blueprint, tailored-made for each individual leaving us no freedom to make choices – and mistakes – on our own. The only plan God has for us is the one we see lived out in the birth, life, teaching, healing, all-embracing actions of Jesus Christ, a plan for all that has been executed and is already in place for all.

To believe God always acts for us does not mean that we will be exempt from pain. Today’s Gospel story of Jesus’ circumcision – hardly painless, even for an eight-day-old infant is evidence of that; as is his trial; as is his cross. Believing that God always acts for us simply means that pain – any kind of pain — is not an end in itself and never is God’s last word. Life is. Service is. Paul makes that clear to the Philippians and us too, applying Christ’s exaltation to all of us.

2023 is going to be an important year for us, with some of the most important decisions we will ever have to make together before us; and the best way for us to face this year and those decisions is to expect, to plan on, and to celebrate every time we see God acting for us. This is a kairotic time for Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, and (I think) for our nation, and (I think) for our world. Nourished by God at Christ’s table, filled by God with the gift of the Holy Spirit, keep your eyes open to see God acting for you, for us, now and in the days ahead. To help you do that, to help you see and celebrate the kairotic moments God has in store for us, I invite you to pray with me daily this short, faith-filled, thankful, expectant prayer:

For all that has been, thanks.

For all that will be, YES!

It’s about time for all of us to say YES to God’s YES. Amen.