Sunday 27 December 2020: First Sunday of Christmas
Our celebrations are not yet over
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 (NIV)
Context: an African Caribbean congregation in the north of England comprising four generations from the Windrush generation epoch
Aim: to remind believers that our celebration transcends the world’s celebration of Christmas and continues after their party has ended
What a jubilant portion of scripture to read a week after the gaiety, hustle and bustle and frivolity of Christmas when many folks are worn out and tired due to the long days and long nights of overindulgence on food and alcohol, and days where little structure has kept them in order. Many are now ready to return to work for a rest!
That space between Christmas and the New Year can be a strange time where often a lull in events occurs before we pluck up new energy and courage to begin a New Year.
For many, the one whom we allegedly celebrated is now almost a mist in their memories after a near two weeks frenzied build-up. The prophet, through the power of vivid and dynamic words, captures our attention and our imagination through our many senses. He stirs us up to remember the one we have just celebrated. The time of jubilee is not yet over. The Christ, the Son of God, is with us and he calls us to rejoice and worship. The party has only just begun. You have not seen anything yet!
The world goes on as usual but rejoicing of another sort finds expression in another space and in another realm. As one studies the words of this pericope, there is such beauty in being in the presence of the King. It almost feels as though the earth, being dry for so long, is overjoyed having waited for this precious moment.
In the prophet’s description of the Messiah who is now with us he draws from marriage rites and adornment. He draws from the world of nature showing how things grow, to depict that this new King is not about keeping things dead. He is about transformation and growth. When we see plants beginning to emerge from the darkness of the soil, when we see plants beginning to grow and flowers open up in full bloom, what a vivid description of nature bowing before the heavenly King in adoration and extending their leaves and petals in worship!
Reflecting on this scripture reminds me of the joy and exclamation of one who has found the beloved Christ. They, though life may have been good for them, until they met the new and living King had no idea of the joy and rejoicing of one clothing us in a garment of righteousness.
I recall my years as a pastor and the numerous testimonies of individuals who, after years of resisting the call of the Holy Spirit, finally submitted to experience the love of God in a personal way. The joy they experienced was unexplainable. The love they felt from God was immeasurable and many felt brand new. It is as though the Lord, in his glorious compassion, has ‘clothed them with garments of salvation and arrayed them in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’ One of the distinctive features of one who has found faith is the compulsion in wanting to share with everyone this newfound love. They cannot remain silent, even if they try to.
The overwhelming love of God reminds me of those beautiful words found in the great Psalm 23. ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’ It is not possible for one to contain the love of God within the limitations of our human frame, hence God’s love overspills, drenching things in our path if we allow it to happen. Listen keenly. The prophet’s portrayal of Jesus does not end there. Not only does he clothe us with fine raiment, he gives us a new name.
Names are important as they have important meaning and, in some cultures, that links to one’s identity. I am thinking of biblical and African cultures. In the Bible, the name given to a person generally had a bearing on their personality, character, and destiny. Similarly, within African cultures traditional names given to children have, somewhere within their definition, a distinctive aspect referring to the nature of God. The Lord gives us a new name which gives us a new identity. How great is that?
For those who have found new faith in Christ, and for all believers in Christ (especially those who, at this time, feel as though their backs are against the wall), the new clothes, the call of righteousness, the celebratory joy, the blessings of salvation and your new name happen so that you are a royal diadem, a badge of loyalty, in the palm of God’s hands. That is simply awesome.
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