First Sunday of Christmas
October 29, 2019 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
December 29: Isaiah 63:7-9; Matthew 2:13-23
The living God of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Esther, David, Mary, Joseph, and all the matriarchs and patriarchs of the faith, fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ is both absolute and personal. Being absolute, the Lord is to be followed and obeyed because God is our Creator and we are not. Being personal, the Lord pursues us and comes to us so that our following and our obeying is done out of love, not out of fear, not out of wrath. As his children redeemed in Christ, we desire and delight in the ways and will of the Lord.
This first Sunday of Christmas, which means the last Sunday of this calendar year, gives us as texts Isaiah 63 and Matthew 2. Both Scripture passages demonstrate the intensely powerful and personal God who has the backs of his people, who says of Israel, “Surely, they are my people.” (63:8). The Lord displays that personal love of his people by redeeming, lifting, carrying them because of the abundance of his love. The response of the prophet and of the prophet’s community was to recount the Lord’s gracious deeds, and in recalling the Lord’s goodness, the prophet and Israel would inspire others to, likewise, love and serve the Lord. God of our matriarchs and patriarchs is powerful, which means the Lord is more than able to overcome any power or principality that seeks to frustrate God’s love for us and God’s righteous and just intentions for his creation. Being personal, God seeks us out. In fact, variations of 63:9a render that part as “in all their distress, he (the Lord) was distressed.” And the NRSV renders 63:9b as: “It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them.” The message is clear: the God of our matriarchs and patriarchs is aggrieved at our burdens and suffering, and the Lord personally sees to it that we are cared for and protected.
Matthew 2 showed our absolutely powerful and absolutely personal and loving Lord caring for the holy family. The Lord, through an angelic messenger, instructed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until the threat of Herod subsided; after the threat was gone, the Lord again instructed the holy family to return to the holy land, to Nazareth.
As we end this calendar year and are in the midst of Christmastide until Epiphany, let us join the affirmation and action of the prophet Isaiah and his community of recounting “the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us.” (63:7a). Worship, as we understand it in the Reformed traditions, is the human response to what God has done in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The human response is one marked by thanksgiving, joy, love, gladness, confession, commitment. Stewardship is an important act of worship for it is a tangible response to God first acting powerfully, decisively, and personally in loving us, in pursuing us, in having our backs not only this year but in every season.