The Real Work of Christmas: Finding the Lost and Healing the Broken
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
January 17, 2016
Joel 2:1-17 New International Version (NIV): An Army of Locusts
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
Before them fire devours,
behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
behind them, a desert waste—
nothing escapes them.
They have the appearance of horses;
they gallop along like cavalry.
With a noise like that of chariots
they leap over the mountaintops,
like a crackling fire consuming stubble,
like a mighty army drawn up for battle.
At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
every face turns pale.
They charge like warriors;
they scale walls like soldiers.
They all march in line,
not swerving from their course.
They do not jostle each other;
each marches straight ahead.
They plunge through defenses
without breaking ranks.
They rush upon the city;
they run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
like thieves they enter through the windows.
Before them the earth shakes,
the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
The Lord thunders
at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
it is dreadful.
Who can endure it?
Rend Your Heart
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Howard Thurman’s The Real Work of Christmas
“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 flock,
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.”
The graphic picture of the locust plague speaks well to the understanding that God does not always come as that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a quiet and cute infant resting in a manger. God comes in the visitation of a natural phenomena that only occurs every seven years. Hence the holy visitation is special! It marks the time that God’s people need to repent and look deeply within themselves.
Thus repentance is the necessary act to avert the holy calamity. The prophet Joel is adamant that the people of God repent, and through the expressions of fasting, weeping, and mourning—all of which require an inward change of “all your heart,” according to the Hebrew. Joel’s language and element of hope that is personified in what he requires of God’s people is a passionate, deeply moving formula of God.
We begin our focus this morning on what we call “The Real Work of Christmas,” based on Howard Thurman’s poem. In this poem we see what is required of us as those who claim to be God’s people! We see them embodied in Thurman’s poem but also in the prophet Joel’s utterances to the people of God. So we must ask ourselves, “What is the real work of Christmas?” For both the prophet Joel and Howard Thurman, the real work of Christmas is to actively be in love with the divine and the children of the divine! As we approach the next three weeks and surveying the real work of Christmas, we will hear different parts of this text addressed and finally move into the role of action as we survey the need and actions for us to be a mission oriented people. We will culminate this series on January 31 with a Missions Fair here in the Gathering Space. Now, let us see what we need to do to set the platform to do the real work of Christmas.
You see, we as good humans—as hard as we strive to be good religious Christians—are like a deflated balloon after December 25. We find ourselves running back to the “return counter” with those items that don’t fit, toys and appliances we don’t want. We hustle to the nearest sale rack to pick up the wrapping paper that is marked down 50 percent and buy discounted chocolates!
We become a people who risk losing the real purpose of Christmas. We have spent four weeks preparing for the birth of the Christ child, one solid week celebrating his birth, a week finding a smart-mouthed teenage Jesus hiding in the Temple, and a week trying to figure out why Jesus needs to be baptized in the first place. Now we are just a couple of weeks away from Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. So, what happened after Christmas? Better yet, what is supposed to happen after Christmas? What is our purpose of working as Christians after Christmas?
We have a wonderful beloved expose that the prophet Joel places before us, and the wonderful words of Howard Thurman who sets the stage for us in a dramatic fashion, “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the king and the princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins.” Then with great prophetic utterance we receive the instructions on what we must do. “find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, release the prisoner, rebuild the nations, bring peace among the people, and lastly, to make music in the heart!”
We are given instructions both from the prophet Joel and from Thurman, but ultimately it comes from God. We spend an awful lot of time attempting to do this “work,” to finish what was given to us in the manger, but oftentimes we lose sight as how to accomplish it! We turn to politics, social programming, newfangled economic plans—all of which are part of the plan, but they must be driven by love!
Leonard Sweet, a prolific United Methodist minister and theologian who has preached numerous times in this church, says in his latest book, Me and We: God’s New Social Gospel, these empowering words, “And the solutions to our problems are not found in politics, the struggle of ‘means’ and ‘ends.’ Our problems cannot be wished away, whisked away, whisky’ed away, or whistled away. Only washed away!”
My friends, we are empowered by the blood of Jesus to do the real work of Christmas. It’s more than basking in the glow of “post-Christmas” relaxation. It’s movement to make a difference in the lives of those who are broken, hungry, and hurting. One of my favorite “pop” or “current” theologians, Paul David Hewson, reminds us, “We discover who we are in service to one another, not the self.” Of course, Paul’s words may carry a little more weight when we call him Bono!
My friends, when we do the real work of Christmas and seek to heal those who are broken, we must embody what Leonard Sweet reminds us by saying, “a ‘we first’ world requires a ‘me last’ imagination.”
When the wise men left the manger I have to believe that they knew what their work was to entail. When the shepherds returned to their flocks they went back with a story that they could share to all whom they met. And when the star left the night’s sky, it did not leave a dark world behind but a world that would be lit for eternity. It left a world that was enabled to find those who were lost and those who were broken, and to remind them that God had once again shared the greatest gift of all—God’s Son!—in order that we, as Christians, could change the world. Instead of bask in the post-Christmas glory and kick our heels up, we must put them to the ground and find those who are lost and offer healing to the broken.
Friends, the Christian year is an exciting journey. We are charged to do the real work of Christmas because soon we will be challenged to evaluate how well we do that work! The real work of Christmas never ends! It is always before us, and if we do the work, then we will make music in the heart of God and in those whom we find and heal!
AMEN and AMEN!!!