Well, another Christmas has come and gone. Some of us who are really organized may be on top of things enough to start putting decorations away. The rest of us know we will get to it sometime in January. The Savior has been born again! Now time to get back to our real lives.
The Christmas spirit warms our hearts and helps us to keep each other in mind. It softens our responses to each other. But when Christmas is over we go back to normal. Sometimes we use the New Year to make resolution and change things we don’t like about ourselves, but rarely do we let the birth of the Savior, the Word made flesh have an impact on our lives for longer than the holiday season.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul talks about a different way. He talks about a way to make the sense of compassion last longer than a few weeks. Paul describes a life lived with compassion and kindness, humility and patience. That is the way Christians should learn to live with each other. That is how we are the family of God.
As people who are set apart for God and dearly loved by him and entrusted with an awesome privilege, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. If you look at those qualities, you are looking at a picture of Jesus Christ.
We hear the words compassion and kindness and we say, “Well of course.” But that’s only through the influence of 2000 years of Christian teaching and influence on our culture. Prior to the coming of Jesus Christ and the spread of Christianity, compassion wasn’t something that was valued that highly.
William Barclay wrote, ‘If there was one thing the ancient world needed it was mercy. The sufferings of animals were nothing to it. The maimed and the sickly went to the wall. There was no provision for the aged. The treatment of the mentally handicapped was unfeeling. Christianity brought mercy into this world. It is not too much to say that everything that has been done for the aged, the sick, the weak in body and in mind, the animal, the child, the woman, has been done under the inspiration of Christianity.’
It isn’t just a sometimes way to live. It isn’t just a holiday spirit or a Sunday morning attitude. Verse 17 couldn’t be more comprehensive: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The special celebrations of the Incarnation can support a mindset that continues all year. Because the Word put on flesh, because Jesus came down to live as a simple human being we too can clothe ourselves with his qualities and not just at Christmas. In the community, at home, and with ourselves.
You are God’s chosen people. You are God’s holy people. You are God’s beloved people. Recognize who you are and recognize what God has done for you. We so easily forget who we are. We see ourselves through the lens of our occupation or our relationships. Paul says that you are God’s chosen people, holy and beloved.
We are as a community and as individuals to “bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.” Forgive any complaint. Bearing with each other through everything. What would the church as a whole be like if we did this? What might the world be like? Or our families? Christians are to remember that “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
In our gospel lesson for today, I think Mary is an excellent example of the qualities Paul is talking about here. They are leaving a crowded city after a festival, when she realizes her 12 year old son has disappeared. It takes them three whole days to locate him—it took one day just to get back to Jerusalem (they probably had to wait until first light the next day to head back) but that still meant there were two whole days of panic, 48 hours of further anxiety. It must have about done Mary in. Fifteen minutes of this kind of panic can feel like a lifetime, let alone three days.
She looks everywhere, frantic as any parent would be, searching for her boy. And when she finally does locate him he’s sitting at the temple, teaching calmly. I think her response at this point is about as nice as one could hope from a mother. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Where on earth have you been? Pretty reasonable question when you kid disappears for a half a week.
Instead of apologizing for worrying them, Jesus turns around and says “Why on earth were you looking? You should have known where I was at.”
Now. I don’t know about you, but if I had answered my parents like that after leaving for days, I would have been grounded for months. Yelling would have been assured. Admittedly, I don’t have the argument ‘I was doing God’s work.” Even if I was, I think I would have been in for a severe scolding on telling my parents where I was going. And I have some very nice parents. But Mary on the other hand, pondered his
words and “treasured them in her heart.”
She turns to compassion and humility, knowing that she does not understand this miracle child she has been given. And instead of lashing out at Jesus, she takes him home, where he is again his obedient self.
Imagine if we turned compassion on our own families like that. I’m not saying that we respond to runaway children with a simple “Well, if you had something important to do.” But instead if we listen to what people had to say when they upset us. If we ponder their words instead of responding to our hurt feelings. If we do our best to act with kindness and patience with one another. Especially with our own families.
Keith Miller tells about his early struggles to develop a prayer life. Waking early to pray he stumbled around disturbing everyone in the house. His young daughter came to him as he knelt in prayer.
“What are you doing, Daddy?”
“Don’t bother me, Honey, I’m trying to pray.”
She persisted, “What are you doing, Daddy?”
“Go on, Honey, Daddy’s busy.”
“Let’s play, Daddy.”
Exasperated, Miller yelled, “Will you leave me alone. I’m trying to pray!” She ran crying to her mother, now also awake and preparing breakfast.
“What’s wrong with Daddy?” the daughter asked.
“Leave Daddy alone, Honey,” her mother replied. “Daddy’s got to pray so he can be a Christian to the people downtown.
Do we put on Paul’s clothes at home too? Or is that attitude one we only carry to the outside world? Studies have shown that the person we are most likely to be rude to, are our own spouses. The people we should be closest to are the ones that bear the full weight of our bad days. We are more likely to be rude or short or abrupt with those we are closest to than those on the street, because we know our families will forgive us. We’d never think about losing our temper and throwing sarcasm around at work the way we do at home when we’ve had a bad day.
And yet, the reverse is also true. We are more likely to help struggling family members out than people we don’t know. We are more likely to open our hearts and wallets to those we care about to strangers, even if the stranger’s need is bigger.
Here’s the thing, Jesus says we can’t pick and choose. We have to act just as compassionate with the stranger as with our families. And we have to be just as patient with our family members as we are to the rest of the world. Being Christian means living differently, because Christ has been born. Jesus showed us how to live: with compassion, kindness, mercy, humility, patience and above all these things Love.
But, some of us are thinking, what about that person I really don’t like? The one that just rubs me the wrong way. Everyone has someone in their lives like that, right? And all of us are that person to someone else. When it comes to that person we can’t just feel those things. How are we supposed to be Christian then?
By putting on the clothes Paul talks about. We don’t necessarily have to feel good about every person we meet, because let’s face it, we won’t. But we are called to put on compassionate and patient attitudes regardless. Even if we don’t feel merciful or kind, we can act that way. And the longer we act, the longer we put on these Christian clothes over our own, sometimes less than kind feelings, the less it is an act. Our hearts and minds actually will change to the way we act. Instead of putting on a Christian attitude, we will have one.
Everyone knows Charles Dickinson’s classic “A Christmas Carol” where the hard heart of Ebenezer Scrooge is changed in just one night. After the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future have each paid him a visit, Scrooge makes this vow, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” In this new year, will you try to wear the new clothes Paul talks about? Will you let Christmas change more than just a couple of weeks of your life? Will whatever you do, in word or deed, be in the name of the Lord Jesus? It is up to you. Amen.