The Christmas decorations are still up. At first blush it looks like the church forgot or thought you wouldn’t notice or thought you would notice but wouldn’t really care. Rest assured that this was on purpose. Today is 12th Night, the last day of the Christmas season, but it does feel at least a little weird for the garland to still be hung and the tree to still be adorned. It’s not because Christmas is twelve days, and we will not give into the pagan practice of moving on after the first of the year. Please. I mean, there are some rules. In my household it is apostasy to eat king cake before Epiphany, January 6th. It’s just wrong. It’s not about being smart or thumbing our nose at the world or being a goober in general, keeping the tree up is about living into a holy tension. On the one hand the calendar has changed and we are beginning a new chapter in our life, but on the other hand the church is saying, “Hold on. Don’t forget. It’s not that Jesus is the reason for the season; it’s that Jesus is. As you turn the page into a new year remember to continue to live in hope, fight the good fight for peace, learn to love, and be filled with joy. The Giver is the gift and that gift is alive today.”
Christianity is filled with holy tension. When we live in a kingdom that is here but not yet, when we live in a time between Christ’s resurrection and the end when heaven and earth will be one we live in the midst of tension. In chapter 2 of Ephesians Paul has just talked about how powerful God is in the person of Jesus and how Jesus abolishes hostility through the cross, yet the author is writing this letter from jail. How powerful if God if God is unable to keep the chief evangelist out of trouble? There is a in our story. It’s like walking into a sanctuary in which the tree is still up and we say, “I know how this looks, but hold on, let me explain.”
I’m a sucker for end of the year countdowns—top ten stories of 2014 or the top ten books of the last year or the top ten new species discovered in 2014. I’m not even sure how to rank these. A metal eating plant was discovered last year, and that was number 10! Looking at end of the year countdowns not only teach us about who we are as a culture, but it also leaves us with a sense of mystery for the future. Looking at the top ten new species of 2014 left me wondering what else might be out there. When we turn the page of a new, blank planner there is an excitement and maybe some fear about the mystery that’s out there. What will 2015 bring?
The author of Ephesians immediately starts to talk about mystery, and if we are people of hope as we’ve talked about during Advent, then by default we are also people of mystery. It makes little sense to hope for something certain, like an end to this post—It’s going to happen. Hope is faith in things unseen, so it is an exercise in mystery. I know what this looks like, but there is a mystery unfolding, so let us be hopeful, the author says.
Yesterday Christie and I had the opportunity to see Into the Woods, the movie adaptation of Stephen Soundheim’s 1986 musical. It is a fairy tale of many familiar characters such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. The first half of the movie is about these characters got what they wished for—Cinderella goes to the ball, Little Red gets to grandmother’s house, etc. The second half of the movie is about the fall out of getting exactly what you want. Everyone getting everything they desire leads to a giant problem—literally because there is a giant wreaking havoc in the kingdom. There is a scene near the end when the characters are lost, they don’t know what to do. They sing a song called “No one is alone.”
People make mistakes—Fathers, Mothers,
People make mistakes,
Holding to their own,
Thinking they’re alone.
Honor their mistakes
Fight for their mistakes
One another’s terrible mistakes.
Witches can be right, Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right you decide what’s good
Someone is on your side and Someone else is not
While we’re seeing our side
Maybe we forgot: they are not alone.
No one is alone.
Hard to see the light now.
Just don’t let it go
Things will come out right now.
We can make it so.
Ephesians talks about a mystery, and the mystery is that God is bringing people together in Christ–“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:5-6). God is bringing people together. God is fulfilling an ancient promise, but I know what it looks like. The top three stories last year were war in the Ukraine, the death of Robin Williams, and the violence in Ferguson Missouri. But have hope that the tension we see in the world, the tension which makes the mystery of this coming year difficult to bear, will be redeemed through Christ and the body of Christ working together.
“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12), or as the song says, “Things will come out right now. We can make it so.” We have a role to play in God’s unfolding mystery. We should be bold and confident in our faith, and put our faith into practice in the world. There’s a difference between asking, “What does God have in store for me this next year,” and the prayer we say at the end of every worship service at The Well–“Put me to what thou wilt. Rank me with whom thou wilt.” God’s mystery is that God is bringing people together so we ought to pray, “Rank me with whom thou wilt.” Put me to doing. Put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee—all to say, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Yes there is tension in the world, and God’s mystery of bringing all together into the unity of Christ is still unfolding, but we should be bold and confident in the working out of our faith so that our worship, study, fellowship, and service might be a vision of the coming Kingdom.
I know what it looks like. The Christmas decorations are still up. We are still called to sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” We come to sit in the uncomfortable tension of a world that has come but has not yet come into fruition. We hang on to the story of Emmanuel—God is with us, just a beat longer than the world expects so that we can proclaim that we are not alone, that no one is alone. I know what it looks like. It looks like a community ready to be used by God to change the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.