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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
It was a few days after Christmas and a woman was out with the masses at the local mall returning unwanted gifts and exchanging clothes that didn’t fit. Only a week before she had been at this same mall with this same mass of people Christmas shopping with her two children. She had spent hours looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, along with hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves.
As she made her way through the crowded mall, she remembered how overwhelmed she had been feeling during this holiday season--overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every house-warming, baking (and tasting) all the holiday food and treats, as well as getting that perfect gift for every single person on her list. Of course, she was also mindful not to forget anyone on her card list, along with the pressure of making sure she responded to everyone who sent her a card, and getting them all off into the mail in ample time. It had been chaotic then.. and it was chaotic now.
When she had completed her last exchange – after waiting in line for over half and hour.. she finally made it to the elevator in the mall that would take her to the lower level parking lot where she knew there would be a line of cars just trying to get out of this madness… the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd inside, but she pushed her way in along with all her bags of stuff. When the doors closed, she couldn't take it anymore and stated to no-one, yet everyone, "Whoever started this whole Christmas business should be strung up and shot!"
From the back of the elevator, everyone heard a quiet, calm voice respond, "Don't worry – we’ve already crucified Him."… For the rest of the trip down the elevator, it was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop.
The holidays.. they have a tendency to make us crazy. We can’t wait for them to get here and.. so often.. we can’t wait for them to be over… just for the record and so that you might plan ahead.. there are only 358 days until next Christmas.. and Santa is already checking his list.
In the midst of it all, we can forget what it was really all about… that ceramic baby Jesus in our nativity set becomes just one more thing we have to clean up, no longer representing the Son of God… No longer reminding us that the baby will grow up, only to be crucified thirty-three years later.
Coming directly on the heels of this celebration of the birth of our Savior is the big New Year’s celebration… New Year’s Day is the day we like to wipe the slate clean and give ourselves a fresh start… That fresh start often comes in the form of New Year’s resolutions... “Be it resolved that I will lose an additional twenty pounds this year.”… “Be it resolved that I will quit smoking this year.”… stop procrastinating… be more conscientious of the needs of others… learn to paint… take a trip… spend more time with my family… etc… etc… etc…But here is a question, “How badly do you really want to keep those resolutions?... How resolved are you?”
The great philosopher Plato’s mentor was Socrates. Plato thought Socrates was the wisest person of his time and he passionately desired to learn all of Socrates’ wisdom.
Legend has it that one day Socrates and Plato were walking down the beach deep in conversation and Plato had expressed to Socrates his desire to gain the wisdom and knowledge that Socrates had. Socrates didn’t answer him, but instead said, “Walk with me into the ocean.” So, they turned and walked into the sea together.
Now, in your imagination, picture that happening: Student and teacher, two of the greatest philosophers of history, striding into the surf side by side.
The water started out around their ankles, then rose up to their knees. As the water got higher Plato wondered to himself, “What is the lesson my master is trying to teach me?”
When the water was about shoulder height, Socrates asked Plato, “What is it exactly you want from me?”… “Knowledge,” Plato answered, at which point Socrates abruptly grabbed Plato’s head and pushed him down under the water… After a half a minute or so Socrates let Plato up and asked him again, “What is it you want?”… “Knowledge,” was Plato’s answer again.. at which point Socrates shoved him back down under the water…
After a time, when Plato ran out of air, he began to struggle to get his head above water. He punched and kicked and grabbed to get free, but Socrates was a strong man and held him down… at the last moment before Plato blacked out Socrates let him up again and asked that same simple question, “What is you want?”… Plato coughed and spluttered finally responded, “Air… I need air!”… Socrates calmly stated, “When you desire knowledge as much as you desired a breath of air, then you shall have it.”
We make our resolutions, but really.. how badly do we want them?... I suppose that Plato could have made a resolution… “Be it resolved that I will gain true knowledge this year,” but as Socrates so politely pointed out to him.. resolving to do something or having something is quite a bit more than saying you want it… In truth.. it’s really not a matter of wanting it – who doesn’t want to lose weight or be a better a person – Instead, its a matter of how badly do you want it… In the case of Plato and the knowledge he was seeking, in order to truly have it, Socrates said that he had to want it as much as he wanted air to breathe… as much as he wanted life itself… So how badly to you want to fulfill your resolutions?
And I wonder… if you make a resolution to live healthier.. regularly balance the checkbook.. quit swearing… and all that.. have you ever made a resolution to God? “Be it resolved that I will love the Lord my God more deeply?” “Be it resolved that my life will be a witness to His love.” “Be it resolved that I will work to fulfill by Baptismal Covenant.” “Be it resolved that I will accept His forgiveness.”… and if you make these resolutions to God, then how badly do you want them?
I resolve to love God.. as long as it’s convenient? As long as it doesn’t really cost me anything? I resolve to forgive others as I have been forgiven, except… except you know who! I will seek to serve Christ in all persons.. as long as they are like me. I resolve to faithfully continue in the fellowship and the breaking of bread.. as long as it fits in with my schedule… Or… do you want these things as much as you want air to breathe.. as much as you desire your very life?
The woman on the elevator who wanted to string up and shoot whoever came up with this Christmas business.. well we sometimes get that same attitude about this “Christian” business… It becomes just one more thing we have to do. Church on Sunday.. Bible Study.. prayer.... fellowship.. it can all become hectic.. too much.. overwhelming.. we stand along side her in the elevator and say, “whoever came up with all this Christmas business?.. heck whoever came up with all this “Christian” business needs to be strung up and shot.”.. We get so busy that we forget… we get to thinking that its all about pot luck dinners.. vestry meetings.. choir practice.. youth programs.. etc.. etc.. etc… We get so busy that we forget that its about Jesus… about the baby in the manger… about His death on the cross for our salvation. We forget that its about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul.. and loving our neighbors as ourselves… we forget.. and you know, that’s OK.. but we must recall to ourselves what its really all about… we must wipe the slate clean and start over… we must resolve to once again live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ… and you know.. that’s not something you do once a year… it is something you do every day.
Make your resolutions to lose weight and all that, but make your resolutions to God as well.. and desire to fulfill them as much as you desire air to breathe.. as much as Jesus desires you.
Let us pray… O sacred and adorable Trinity, hear our prayers on behalf of our Bishop, our clergy, and for all that are in authority over us. Bless, we beseech You, during the coming year, the whole Church; convert heretics and unbelievers; soften the hearts of sinners so that they may return to Your friendship; give prosperity to our country and peace among the nations of the world; pour down Your blessings upon our friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and upon our enemies, if we have any; assist the poor and the sick; have pity on the souls of those whom this year has taken from us; and do Lord be merciful to those who during the coming year will be summoned before Your judgment seat. May all our actions be preceded by Your inspirations and carried on by Your assistance, so that all our prayers and works, having been begun in You, may likewise be ended through You. Through the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in the Name of Your Son, Jesus, we ask these things. Amen.