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St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"The Game of Life": Sermon for the First Sunday After Christmas, Year B

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

This past week we drove about 1,600 miles going to see family for Christmas. It was a lot of time on the road... But it was worth it. Our families can share with us the love, the traditions, the laughter  and memories--both happy and sad--that usually no one else can fulfill.

When we visit my family, one of our favorite past times is to play board games. We love a wide variety of games and often add new ones each year. Mom usually trounces us all in Scrabble. My brother, Dolph, loves playing a game called "Apples to Apples," because he's very good at guessing the right card on his turn. Overall, the joy of these games is in being together and laughing and having time with each other. 

As I think about time with extended family and holidays and laughter and love, I do realize my great fortune in this area. I know that not everyone has good  relationships with their family members. Not everyone has happy memories of their childhood.

That's why it's important to be clear when we look at the scripture we hear today from Paul as he writes to the Galatians. He says: "because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God."

Paul sees being a child here as wonderful news. He is using metaphorical language to describe us all being taken out of slavery and being adopted as children of God.

But what does that look like? How should we feel about being God's children?

I guess it all depends on our view of God, right?

If we see God as a strict, disciplinarian, judgmental, abusive Father... then moving from "slavery" to being a "child of God" may not look too different.

And, perhaps, that's the problem with this metaphor in much of modern Christianity.

Many modern Christians uphold a view of God as if God is just waiting for us to do something wrong so God can be the strict disciplinarian, ready to condemn us or punish us or do something else dastardly because we somehow deserve it!

But that view simply does not mesh with a theology of God AS LOVE.

And I don't mean simply that God is "loving"...

Which, that is certainly true too.

I mean God IS love.

Here in Christmastide, we are celebrating the very incarnation--Emmanuel--"God with us."

God loves.

SO, one of the questions we might ask is, what could Paul mean when he talks about "slavery"? In what ways are we "slaves"?

Many things can enslave us: anxiety... depression...the hardship of broken relationships...the abject panic that accompanies financial troubles... greed... jealousy ... pettiness... the reality of heartache.

We are held in slavery to these things, and perhaps, many others. We are servants to these things. These things can become our masters. They can control our lives, our decisions, our hopes, and our dreams.

But what Jesus--God incarnate-- What Jesus offers, out of LOVE for us--is freedom from that slavery. FREEDOM is a major component of the Good News.

When Jesus was a baby and it came time for the purification according to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem. This presentation at the temple was part of the Torah that all faithful Jews followed--and Mary and Joseph were faithful.

One of the beautiful parts of this story from the Gospel of Luke is that of Simeon. He is described as "righteous and devout" and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.

So when he saw Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus into the temple for the presentation, Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God. His moment had come.

He said: "Master you are now dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Simeon was no longer a slave to his anxieties. He was a servant to fear no more. "You are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word," he proclaimed to all.

These words of Simeon's may sound familiar to us in a different context. They are part of the Nunc dimittis, or "The Song of Simeon" that we say every time we recite Evening Prayer or chant Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer. It's on page 120 of the Prayer book.

I think this past week as my family rolled the dice and shuffled the cards and turned over the timer and advanced the game pieces and laughed and reminisced and laughed and told stories and laughed... we were witnessing the baby Jesus being held aloft by Simeon over and over again. It is in the presentation of the Christ that we find release from our slavery.

It occurs to me that the presentation of the Christ happens for us here at St. Andrew's every time we gather. It happens when we come together in the Eucharist. It happens when we support each others' ministries. It happens when we break bread together. It happens when we love one another, pray for one another, serve one another, and support one another. This is how we are set free from those things that keep us from truly living. This is how we are set free from slavery. This is how we know we are the children of a God who IS love.

And remember, the best way to be free from this slavery in the "Game of Life," is to give Christ a "Monopoly" on your heart. Don't "Risk" letting your anxieties and fears sidetrack your spirit into "Trivial Pursuits." Here's a "Clue"... If your heart feels "Boggled" or "Scrabbled," just say "Sorry!" God's love and forgiveness is always there. We come together to be set free-- this whole "Operation"-- is not a "Solitaire-y" endeavor.

Amen.

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