Christmas Sunday: Shadows and Light

By Sandra Hasenauer

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Isaiah 9:2: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Luke 2:9-13 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

It’s Christmas! And it’s Sunday! What a wonderful concurrence of worshipful events! Both days celebrate an end to anticipation and a beginning of a new life with Christ. Both give us the opportunity to give thanks for the gift of reconciliation, mercy, and grace that we are given through the infant born and the man crucified and raised again.

But it’s important to remember that this in-breaking of lightness into darkness (to use biblical terms) doesn’t mean God is only present in the light. No, indeed. Our very hope in Christ comes from the fact that we are able to trust God in the shadow as much as we trust God in the light. We are able to give over our worrisome circumstances, our troublesome situations, our fears, disappointments, and all of those other things shadowing our hearts and minds over to God, because we have the promise of the baby born. The Luke passage reminds us that the glory of the Lord comes in the midst of fear–that we are assured God’s presence will ultimately bring justice, comfort, and peace.

There is a lot to be worried about in the United States and in Puerto Rico right now–civil difficulties, economic fears, walls rather than bridges, harsh rhetoric, anger, separation. But our God is Immanuel–God with us–the divine come as a human baby, vulnerable and born to a vulnerable people. Immanuel–God with us–who walked on human feet and wore human clothing and spent every waking moment with humans, knowing what it means to be hurt, to be disappointed, to be living in this world. Immanuel–God with us–calling us and walking with us in both shadow and light.

The light brings us hope, but the shadow brings us a call to be partners with God in building Beloved Community in our world. We feel God’s calling in our hearts, alongside the outpouring of grace and mercy we need to heed that call.

This isn’t a traditional Christmas carol, but it sums up our hope in Christmas day.

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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Christmas: The Time Is… Now! (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy, 2012, used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy, 2012, used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

By Virginia Holmstrom

Isaiah 9:2-7

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah, whose birth made real God’s kingdom on earth. I ponder the Scripture’s mixture of tenses that describe the fullness of God’s reign on earth. Isaiah 9:2-7 is a good example of this. I read Isaiah 9 as a prophetic proclamation of the coming of God’s reign someday. But verse 6 tells me that a child has been born for us, and his authority brings justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. So, again I ask, “When is the Kingdom of God coming?” For those who heard Isaiah’s voice in 700 B.C., would it come with the birth of the Messiah? For Christians today, will it happen one day when Christ comes again? Has it already begun? My question is the same question asked by the Pharisee in Luke 17:20-21: “When is the kingdom of God coming?” Jesus answered him, “The kingdom of God is among you.” Now.

With Christ in my life, and in community with others who follow Christ, then what shall be my role as a citizen of God’s reign on earth? I am startled as my eyes instantly fill with tears. The promises associated with the coming of God’s reign on earth feel so distant from the reality of life today. In the kingdom of God there is endless peace. There is justice and righteousness. There is equity for the poor. And the list goes on; Jesus frequently talked about the kingdom of God in the stories recorded by the Gospel writers.

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved November 4, 2015].

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved November 4, 2015].

I straddle an uneasy gap between a righteous and holy realm that has already come, but not yet come. I recall the words to a Christian song from the Taizé community: “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in me the gates of your kingdom.” There is a call in those words that I cannot ignore. I cannot turn away with resignation that God will rein on earth someday in the sweet by and by.

My ministry with women and girls is dedicated to empowering women and girls to live into God’s purpose for their lives. Can you visualize with me how God’s kingdom on earth will be when women and girls in our churches, our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world are encouraged and empowered to fully and freely exercise their gifts. . . of leadership? . . . contributing their voices at peace treaty tables? . . . preaching the Gospel of Christ? . . . serving God’s people in every capacity? The time is now. Unto you, this day, a child has been born! The kingdom of God is here. Now!

Oh, God, open in us the gates of your kingdom. Amen.

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as the executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

 

Sunday after Christmas: Needing You This Christmas Season

By Jenn Leneus

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11 For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word]. For Zion’s sake will I [Isaiah] not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her imputed righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, and her salvation radiates as does a burning torch.And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice—not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10–62:3, AMP)

Christmas time is a season of celebration and of praise. It is a season of remembrance and appreciation; for even before we were of existence, before we had breath in our bodies, God saw fit to save us from a world of destruction. He provided a way before we even knew we needed direction. Christ left his throne of glory, and became human for our sake. He came for men and women alike; not differentiating between sexes, color, age, or religion, making one of more importance. He came to provide life to the lifeless.

We are called to walk in the image of Christ and to see as he sees. As women, we are beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. We ought to teach other women their worth and self-value. In this day and time where human trafficking is at an all-time high, but is being kept low-key as if it is not an issue, women all around the world are being degraded and treated as less than human. Are we any better than them? Do they deserve the life that they are given? Of course not! I believe we have certain issues in our environment so that we are able to grow as one in the body. For the body has many members, but each member has a specific task to complete (1st Corinthians 12:12). If there is an open wound in the body, the heart picks up its pace and pumps more blood to accommodate for the loss. In the same manner, we ought to go out and reach out to our sisters that are suffering, whether it is through missions, outreach, or simply prayer. We are commissioned to go out to the four corners of the earth to introduce Christ to others (Matthew 28:19).

In the spirit of Christmas, let us remember our sisters in prayer. Lift them up before God so that God may hear our cries and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s give them the assurance of being fearfully and wonderfully made. Together we can make a difference. Let us take this time to make a resolution to empower and uplift a woman, a young lady, or a little girl at least once a week. Who are we without each other? We are just one part of a body that needs our other parts in order to be fully functional!

Jenn LeneusJennifer Leneus serves as coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries (2014-2017) on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. A member of Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, New Jersey, Jenn served as secretary of the Youth Federation Committee for the Haitian Alliance of ABCUSA for three years. Jenn has helped plan several national events for young adult women sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She is a graduated practical nursing student and is working towards her Bachelors in Nursing.