A Brief Sermon Seeds Christmas Reflection: Salvation

Sunday, December 25, 2023
Christmas Day | Year B
(Liturgical Color: White)

Lectionary Citations
Isaiah 62:6-12 • Psalm 97 • Titus 3:4-7 • Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20

Focus Scripture: Isaiah 62:6-12
Focus Theme: Salvation
Series: Proclaimed (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Isaiah 62 is a text proclaimed in reflection. The prophet speaks toward the future in contrast to the conditions of the past. Exile has come to an end, and the future holds promise. The people are reminded that God is with them and has been throughout their struggle. The Holy One has posted guards to watch over the walls and gates to warn and protect. All that the Creator did or allowed to happen to them will no longer be permissible. The people will be able to rest even as they are given permission to disturb the rest of their God until Jerusalem is re-established.

The text raises an interesting question about salvation. For the exiled community, salvation meant going home, finding it in good and inhabitable condition, and being secure in their reunited state. Salvation was a return to a life not abandoned but taken by displacement. It included freedom from enemies but also flourishing of their harvest. Salvation involves not only removal of the diminishing and destroying, it also welcomes the elements and ingredients that help us to thrive.

Where is salvation in the world today? The text from the Hebrew Scriptures does not seek an individual salvation through the pardoning of sins or confession of faith. They sought a reversal of their fortunes as a nation. Salvation, as they understood it, is communal. Freedom is found in the collective not the individual.

Today, as we commemorate and give thanks for the coming of Christ into the world, Christian siblings living in occupied lands surely hear these words differently. Those surrounded by war recognize that they have not reached this point in the journey. The sentinels are not holding watch, they wield weapons and wage havoc on other humans equally beloved of God. Christians living in Palestine and Israel have widely decided to cancel Christmas celebrations. How can we take delight in God with Us when human kin determinedly refuse to be with one another? How can we sing songs of praise toward Jesus while allowing children to be the casualties of war on our watch?

Maybe, we’re the ones God is sending in this age to stand on the watchtowers? Perhaps, the liberation of the world begins with those of us living with a measure of freedom refusing to allow anyone to live without the full fruits of liberty. We hear the words of the prophet in verse 10:

Go through, go through the gates,
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
clear it of stones,
lift up an ensign over the peoples.

Jesus has done his work; let Christmas remind us that Christ continues to come into the world through those who claim kinship, allegiance, and believe in Emmanuel. No longer as a tender, vulnerable baby born of Mary, Love comes into the world when we say yes to delivering the message of hope, peace, joy, and love enfleshed.

In the words from Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas…”

I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.

Jesus, after all, comes in solidarity with the human condition. He enters with humility and without distinction. Even the homage and honor paid to him first by shepherds and much later by the wise ones occurs at an age when he would not have remembered the experience. He would have surely heard the stories told to him by Mary and Joseph. But Jesus never embraced that life. He embraced the leper and the lonely, the tax collector and the their, the widowed and the weary. His ministry was never about wiping anyone out; he invited everyone in.

So while our siblings in Palestine and Israel have suspended Christmas rituals and traditions, they have not canceled Christmas. They have embodied Christmas. They have positioned themselves like the sentinels on the wall…watching and standing in the name of the Holy One, living in solidarity with those desperately seeking liberation, bearing witness to a love that transcends violence and war, and calling humans shaped in the Imago Dei to account. Their candles burn bright. May their flame reach candles around the world for true and abiding peace with a fire that may never be extinguished.

That is the path for salvation of the world that God loves so much. May our prayers for peace bombard heaven. May our ministry and witness change earth. Our hope rests in where they meet. That is Christmas. We are Christmas.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
During the Advent and Christmas Seasons, invite the congregation to respond (with a word of two shared in the gathered community, comments/chat shared in online platforms, or by journalling) to the question, “What do you discern the Holy Spirit still speaking about salvation today?”

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.