“I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow…”

Christmas II, Year A

Thus says the Lord:

Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;

proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,

among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.

With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,

I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;

for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,

says the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

So how are those New Years’ Resolutions working out? Have you been making it to the gym more like you planned? Now that the chocolate rations from stockings are running out and the parties are dying down has it been easier to resist beguiling temptation? I for one am grateful, as I am every year, for the Christmas miracle of calories not existing from December 25th until January 1st. It is shocking at how quickly they seem to spring back into action on New Years’ morning though… Depending on how you spent this liminal space we call the “holiday season” you may be relieved that all the traveling, planning, hosting, and all the extra responsibilities are finally over. The tree is down, the mall is no longer a madhouse, and we can finally have our entertainment without preachy platitudes about generosity (between commercial breaks of course). Maybe instead of relief you are excited! It’s a new decade! A fresh start, a time when the old has been wiped away, and now that the ceremony is done there is so much to look forward to ahead. The future is full of endless possibilities! Maybe there is a tinge of sadness in your heart that it is all said and done, the wonder and magic that makes this time of year so unique has been put away. For some of us school will be starting again soon, for those of us working, we can no longer hide from our email inbox [God help us], all the responsibilities and chores that we could sweep under the rug are crawling out and demanding our attention once again. The hopeful spirit of joy, giving, peace and goodwill for all mankind has been set out to the curb, put into the basement, hauled into the attic, tucked away between the ornaments and nativity until next year. The party is over, it was fun, but now it is time to return to the cold reality of winter, for better or worse, it’s time to go back to normal.

Only there is no “normal” for Christians. The reality of God entering the world through Jesus Christ is anything but normal, it is extraordinary. In Christmas, we celebrate that God became Incarnate and shattered any illusion of normalcy. In Easter, we celebrate that Jesus showed us grace by defeating death, by defeating “normalcy”. Thank God that there is no normal. Because when we look around and see the hate, mistrust, disillusionment, cynicism, greed, poverty, violence, and suffering that the world endures, we can see that it is not normal. It is not how it is supposed to be, and we can be brave enough to know that what is commonly called “normal” is the fatigued acceptance of lesser evils, but evil nonetheless. As Christians, we never stop celebrating Christmas, and we never stop celebrating Easter. We are always living in these two cycles. That is the gospel truth and the Good News! Whatever the calendar may say, whatever time or place, we have been given the spirit of revelation and hope that we do not have to accept things as they are, we have been made free to set things as they should be.

But before you set your Christmas tree back up and start hiding Easter eggs in Christmas stockings, celebration is only part of living in light of the Gospel revelation. As much as I wish it were otherwise, this is not merely a long-form persuasive argument as to why eggnog should be made and sold year-round. Though we never cease to celebrate the Christmas and Easter revelations, we divide the church year into different seasons for good reason. Broadly speaking, we mark two types of time: a time for preparation and training, and a time for acting. In short, we spend time hearing the Good News, then we are called to go and share the Good News. And I’ve got good news for you, we are finishing our first cycle of preparation.

The time that is rapidly encroaching upon us is designated liturgically as “ordinary time”; that is, time outside of the preparation cycles of Advent, Lent, and Easter. Do not let the name fool you, “ordinary” time is what the preparation is for. “Ordinary” is not a return to “normal”, there is no such thing as normal, “ordinary” is not so much a description of the boring return to routine after the holidays it is a reminder of what is expected of us now that we have been given the Gospel. “Ordinary” time for followers of Jesus is to continue His work: to continue in the breaking of the bread and the prayers, to persevere in resisting evil, to repent and return to the Lord, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, to respect the dignity of every human being. In short, we have seen the light of the world, now we are called to enlighten the world. That is why we call the first season of ordinary time of the year “Epiphany” or “the season of light”.

There is one more thing that you must be prepared for before we go out to fulfill our commission: we go out into a world living in exile. Exile is either being banished from your community, or in our case, being prevented from returning to where you belong. As modern people in a wealthy nation, we have trouble understanding what it means to live in exile. That is why we dress up our captivity in routine, we have kept ourselves in exile for so long we have fooled ourselves into thinking our captivity is “normal”. We have normalized evil for so long that we have ceased to see it as our captor. The Good News is that God has prepared for us a way to return home, to return to what God has intended for creation. It is our task as followers of the way to walk with our fellow captives back home.

The journey home is not easy. It is a long, steady road that is filled with singing as well as weeping. It is a difficult path that is filled with danger and temptation to return to captivity. Though the journey may be difficult remember that you do not walk the path alone. We are surrounded by the communion of saints who walk with us. Those who have come before, the saints among us and those who will come after us, we journey together. Like the magi from a distant land we are following the Light of the Gospel. If you worry, “I’m just one person, I am so small, what can I do?” remember that no act of goodness, of kindness, of love, is meaningless. To walk alongside even one person, even for a moment, can change the world. Let this be our New Year’s resolution: to hear the LORD when He calls.

Hear the LORD as He calls to a people in exile:

Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;

proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,

With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,

I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

says the Lord.”

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