Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 12-31-23  “The After Christmas”

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Luke 2:22-40; Galatians 4:4-7; Isaiah 61:1-62:3

For over a little more than a month already as part of Advent, I have been sharing with you the meaning of Christmas. If I must summarize the message of the five previous Sundays, this message will be “God is with us, he came to stay and brought with him hope, peace faith, and love.”

In today’s scripture, Luke presents Jesus when he was 40-days old. In the previous verse, Jesus is only 8 days old. After verse 40, Jesus is 12 years old and in chapter 3, he introduces John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. Looks to me that Luke is in a hurry to present Jesus as an adult. Seems to me Luke is trying to tell us, brothers and sisters, yes, the baby Jesus is cute, and Christmas scenes are attractive, but we must go on and remember the reason why God left his throne of glory and came down the build his tent among us.

The end of Christmas season, all its beauty, all our celebration and good wishes face us with some serious questions, those questions are, what will we do with the transforming and hopeful message of Christmas? What will we do now that we know, Jesus is our hope, now that we know He is our light; now that we know that angels announced Him; wise men and angels witnessed His birth and Anna and Simeon testified of who He is. What are we going to do now?

For over a month, we went through the Christmas’ story. A story full of emotions. In it we find good news from God brought by angels to Zachariah, Mary, and the shepherds; we find uncertainty and conviction in Mary; we find doubt in Zachariah and Joseph, who later changed his mind. In Christmas we also find fear in Herod, despair in Joseph and Mary who soon will give birth to her firstborn, and they do not have a place to stay. But we also find God’s faithfulness in the testimony of Anna and Simeon who waited their whole life to see what it was promised to them. We even find death, sorrow, and persecution. In Matthew’s account of Christmas, Herod killed innocent children to get rid of the newborn king. Mary and Joseph are forced to flee into Egypt to save their son of certain death. Simeon is ready to die because his eyes have seen the Messiah, the Savior promised to Israel.

I was asking myself, if Christmas is filled with death, uncertainty, despair and fear, why is so attractive? I believe the reason for that is that the good news brought by the angels, underlines God’s plan and purpose; underlines God’s love and faithfulness; underline His presence and help during uncertainty, doubts, despair, and death. Christmas is attractive because is a song of victory amid darkness; Christmas is the assurance that the darkness of this world has been overtaken by the light of God.

Christmas is attractive regardless the reality of life, because gives us hope for all we will face or are facing in our lives. When Mary had to run away to save her baby’s life, -even when the gospel does not say it- I know, she remembered what the angel Gabriel told her “You are favored… the Lord is with you.” And because God’s faithfulness, she was able to continue. When Joseph faced doubts about Mary, he remembered the message the angel gave him in his dream and was obedient. When Mary and Joseph faced despair in Bethlehem, when every inn in town closed the door, they trusted God, and He opened a door. Trusting God is also a part of the Christmas’ message and that is what makes Christmas so beautiful even during the reality of life.

I said before that in this post- Christmas season, God is asking us, what will we do now? What will we do with the message of Christmas? What are we going to do now that we have heard the message? What are we going to do with the message of love and grace God has remind us once again?

Charles Dickens in his novella, A Christmas Carroll says, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” And this is what we should also do. Honor the message of love by loving our neighbor and our enemies as Jesus asked us to do; honor the message of hope by bringing hope to those who need hope, we should honor the message of peace, by promoting peace and by being agents of peace; through the whole year, we should honor the message of joy even amid of the chaos of this world.

Today, when we are preparing to receive a new year, this is what I would like to propose to all of you to do: do not hide or mute this great message, let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive and active every single day of the New Year that will begin tomorrow; let’s follow Charles Dickens advice; let us follow the examples of Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon, Elizabeth and Zachariah and let us live a holy and obedient life before our God, every day of 2024. Let’s keep the flame of Advent burning; the joy of Christmas going; let’s keep the angelic hymn of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” always in our lips; let’s keep our eyes and ears ready to see and hear what God is doing and saying… and most of all let us be ready because as God did with Zachariah and Mary he can interrupt our daily routine and calls us to do his will at any moment and any day.

My sisters and brothers, the joy and the message of Christmas does not end the day after Christmas, continues everyday of our lives because Christmas is Christ and Christ our Emmanuel has made his dwelling among us. Jesus came to stay.

Tomorrow, a new year will begin and an old one will stay behind. This past year was full of the reality of Christmas. In our personal and communal life, we have experienced uncertainty, fear, doubt, and even death in some of our families, and in 2024 we might be as well. That is why is important to always keep the message of Christmas alive in our hearts. The message God wants us to keep in mind this new year is, I am the one you can trust, I am the One who does not fail you, I am the one who never leaves you alone, I will always fulfill my promises.

Through Jesus, my brothers, and sisters we have become God’s children and as his children we are heirs of all His promises. Therefore, when uncertainty comes into your life, remember God’s faithfulness with Mary and as He did with her God has also favored you; God is with you, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

The season of Christmas is over, and again the question is: and now what? What will we do now? I invite you to keep on trusting God and the power of His arm; trust Jesus and His faithfulness; trust the one who is victorious, the One who will fight for you and with you. Trust in the message that has transformed this world, the message of peace and love, message of unity and reconciliation.

Remember, Jesus did not come down to the world just to leave us alone. He came to be with us; He came to be part of our history. He came to be our salvation. Simeon reminds us that; when he saw the child in the temple he said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation,” My brothers and sisters my prayer for you in this new year is that in the midst of your struggles, in the midst of your despair, in the midst of your grief, in the midst of every of your celebrations may God help you to see his salvation, to feel His presence; may His hope, peace, joy and love underline everything else that come to your life in 2024. 

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