There's an interesting variation
between the New International and New Revised Standard versions of Isaiah 63:9.
The NIV expresses quite beautifully that "the angel of his presence saved
them," while the NRSV contends that "it was no messenger or angel but his
presence that saved them." Both convey Isaiah's revelation that God does not
plan to redeem creation by force, by tinkering with free will, or from afar.
God redeems creation by becoming one of us, by drawing near to us and being
Today is December 26. It is still Christmas and it will be until January 6. My mother did not think so. On the evening of December 25 she tossed the tree, put away the decorations, fed the family the leftovers and announced it was 365 days until Christmas. For her the Depression stole Christmas, widening the gulf between those who have and those who do not.
One day thought’s Gethsemane Like some personal handicap Or guilt, will venerate the image Of its last nativity, will fold Its wings away and say, “The bird of doubt has gone today.”
And all the “how could I be So stupid” habit of the soul Will harden to a pigment Like raven’s feathers, painted And set on an ancient canvas, Giving up its foreground To a moment’s peace in that journey Of escape from Bethlehem of birth.
Just as in David’s “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” an angel having whispered Of slaughter, “You must leave, Joseph,” He, knocking walnuts from the tree, The donkey munching quietly some hay, His son reaching up for grapes, A young child’s suffering at play, Not thinking yet, “I must, they say.”
And Mary, seated on a rock, After long labor, serene as Nazareth, building her pyramid.
Time is being stretched in the gospel narrative. With several
allusions to the wise men, we look forward to next Sunday’s celebration
of Epiphany. With the several allusions to the Exodus we also look back
to the Israelites held in bondage in Egypt. With the future, the
present and the past seemingly all at hand, how do we draw out for our
congregations a message from the manger?
Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over.