Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 31, 2017
The 1st Sunday of Christmas (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Why Twelve Days of Christmas

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It always strikes me as a bit odd that there are twelve days of Christmas, at least for us in the American Church.  Yes, there are still communities that joyfully observe the twelve days of Christmas, but, by-and-large, they are forgotten here at home.  With all our attention paid to Christmas Eve and Day, and the great unwrapping of presents and merry-making they entail – and the deal-finding that ensues, Already, “Merry Christmas” seems an out of sync greeting, for Christmas is long since forgotten by New Year’s Eve, let alone by January 5th. 

Yet, here we are, only half-way into the great season of joy!  Which begs a simple question, why?  Why do we set apart these twelve days for Christmas celebration when all we really seem to need is one?

Miroslav Volf, in his 2006 Archbishop of Canterbury Lenten Book Free of Charge, notes with simple clarity that every gift has two participants with two important, though distinct, responsibilities.  First, there is the gift giver, the one who carefully chooses a unique gift and then attentively prepares the gift for another to un-wrap and enjoy.  Of course, in the context of Christmas, at least the religious part, this is God, for it is God who prepares his beloved son, Jesus, for the world, inviting Mary to be his mother, calling Joseph to be his father, and surrounding him with wise ones from his birth.

But the gift giving is only a part of the gift exchange, Volf notes; for there is the recipient who also has a responsibility to see to in order for a gift to be completely given.  At the very least, the recipient must receive the gift, that is, she or he must unwrap and open whatever gift is presented for the thing given to become a gift . . .  Until it’s opened, that beautifully wrapped gift is just a nicely decorated box sitting beneath a tree!

But, whereas the gift-giver’s responsibility largely ends with the giving, the recipient’s responsibility only begins with the receiving, for as recipients we have an additional responsibility that come with receiving a gift:  we are charged with giving thanks.  However formally or informally we may choose to say it, it is our task, and ours alone to give thanks to the giver. 

We do this, of course in two primary ways.  For one, we offer our thanks through words of appreciation and gratitude, recognizing both the giver and gift for who and what they are.  But that, we know, is only the beginning, for the real responsibility of the recipient of any gift is to put the gift to good use within our life.  It is our task not only to unwrap a gift but to use it well.  And it is this latter part, ironically, that brings the greatest joy to the giver herself – to see her gift used and to know there-in our appreciation and gratitude.

So why do we have twelve days of Christmas – perhaps because we, the recipients of God’s in-breaking love, need time ourselves to fully appreciate the gift and to put it to use.  We need to time, first to appreciate the gift for what it is – hope in a dark world, blessing within a broken life.  We need time, as well, to become bearers of God’s blessing and light to others.  And so, even as we stand her in the very midst of Christmas, I invite you to consider what God’s presences means again for you, personally.  Perhaps it is a reminder of your complete blessedness, if so, consider then how you can help others to know and receive that same blessedness that you have come to know.  Perhaps it is mercy, a mercy that binds up the hurts we have caused others and casts our sins into utter darkness.  If that is God’s gift to you, then consider how you can help others to know that same mercy and forgiveness that you so wonderfully know.  Or perhaps God gift is simple and steady light in otherwise dark and dreary world.  And if that is the beautiful gift you have received, then, please let your light shine.  Let the world see and know the hope you know, that in God there is no darkness at all, and that his light shall never be overcome.

For whatever gift you have received, let us together give thanks.  And together, let us put the gifts of God to use in the world.