Happy 2024! I loved worshiping with you all in the tent on the final day of the year. We have stumbled into several Incarnation traditions for this first Sunday of Christmastide, which always falls on the threshold between the old year and the new.
For the past few years, Katie has preached an ancient Christmas sermon from the 4th century bishop John Chrysostom. You can read that sermon again here. And we've also prayed a special New Year's Examen at the Prayers of the People, inviting our reflection on the year past and the year ahead. If you missed it, you can read those prayers here.
Looking back: Advent Generosity
I am blown away by your generosity this past Advent:
You gave $800 in grocery gift cards for food-insecure families at Drew and Randolph Elementary.
You provided warm coats to needy Drew families through their Amazon Winter Wear drive.
You gave nearly $9000 to our special Advent offering for L'Arche Bethlehem. This is by far the largest Advent offering we've ever collected, and to be honest, I'm still kind of shocked! Every penny given will go straight to L'Arche Bethlehem.
And you gave very generously to Incarnation as well, about 20% over our budgeted revenue for December. I'm humbled and so incredibly grateful.
And you were generous in so many ways beyond financial — lending your stories, your gifts, your presence, and your service to our worship throughout the season. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Thank you!
Looking ahead: Epiphany
This Saturday, January 6, marks the end of the Christmas season with Epiphany. This is the day we remember the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. Epiphany means "revelation" and it names both the day (Jan 6) and the season that follows. During the season of Epiphany, we hear stories from scripture that slowly reveal who Jesus is, what he is like, and what kind of kingdom he came to establish. We will be preaching straight from the Sunday lectionary throughout Epiphany so we don't miss a word of this revelation.
Because Epiphany marks a visit to Jesus' home, it is also a traditional time for hospitality and home blessings. There is a very old Christian tradition of "chalking the doors" at Epiphany, using blessed chalk to write above the doorway a series of symbols like this:
20 + C + M + B + 24
These symbols are meant to remind us of Christ's blessing over the home:
The numbers at the start and end of the line designate the new year (2024)
The crosses between the numbers and letters represent the cross of Jesus
The letters ‘CMB’ have two meanings: they abbreviate the Latin prayer Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means “may Christ bless this house”; and they are the initials of the traditional (probably legend) names for the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
The inscription is made of dusty chalk, a product of clay, which reminds us of the humanity of Jesus
On Sunday, we'll provide blessed chalk and printed liturgies for praying a simple Epiphany blessing over your homes (no priest needed!).
This is, admittedly, a quirky little ritual. But tangible practices like this help connect us to the reality of the incarnation — that God inhabited his creation in the person of Jesus. For centuries, Christians have relied on everyday created things like chalk and beeswax and linen and bread and wine to mark the reality of God's presence in every aspect of our lives. So I encourage you to take some chalk and a liturgy this Sunday, invite your small group or your neighbors or a curious friend, and pray for God to bless your home and all who will enter in 2024.
One of my favorite poems — not just in Epiphany, but anytime — is T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi. I particularly love these lines:
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We'll echo that sentiment when we sing We Three Kings on Sunday, which includes the gloomiest line of any Christmas carol (also quite possibly my favorite): "Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb."
Jesus was born to die. Sometimes it feels like the deeper we go into his life, the more we find our own death. And in that death, we find a different sort of life. I've been meditating on that reality a lot throughout Advent and Christmas — it's been a hard one for many of us, and birth and death have felt as confusingly intermingled as in Eliot's poem. May this Epiphany season reveal the new sort of life that is ours in our sorrowing and sighing Lord.