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10 January 2015

Doing the Work of Christmas (First Sunday after Epiphany)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

These words, written by Howard Thurman (1899-1981), author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, do not just fit into the season; they also seem a good way to introduce Romans 12:1-3, one of the texts assigned to the First Sunday after Epiphany in the six year German lectionary.

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice- alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God- what is good and well- pleasing and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.

The Apostle Paul presents us with a definition of worship most are not familiar with. According to this text, worship ought to take place everywhere we are, and at all times. As we stop letting ourselves be conformed to the ways of the world, as we surrender every moment of our everyday life to God, our entire life is being transformed into worship.

Worship in everyday life -- that's doing the Work of Christmas Howard Thurman talks about. But how can we make such big a step? Isn't that beyond our power?

Look back to the first verse. Paul speaks of mercies, God's compassion for our struggles. This is how J.B. Phillips translates V.1: "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him."

One commentary suggests that the Greek word for mercies, οικτιρμός, literally means having the stomach to witness someone's suffering. God, my friends, has the stomach to witness our everyday struggles. We are called to serve God in everyday life, and we can do so because our eyes are "wide open to the mercies of God".

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