I would like to begin my homily this morning by wishing all of you a very happy Second Day of Christmas. Did you know it was the second day of Christmas? You know, a lot of people mistakenly think that the 12 Days of Christmas that we sing about are the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but they're not. The 12 Days of Christmas are the days between Christmas and Epiphany, which is January 6, and which we're going to celebrate at next Sunday's service.
Now, even though Christmas Day has come and gone already, we are still in the Christmas season. And so the next two Sundays, we're going to keep singing Christmas songs. And we're going to keep enjoying these beautiful Christmas decorations, and a beautiful nativity set with the baby Jesus.
So it may seem very jarring for us that the reading from today's lectionary for the First Sunday after Christmas. In it, we find that Jesus is already 12 years old. He was just born yesterday! And now he's already an adolescent.
Now, most of us during Christmastime, we want to hear more stories about the baby. But the reason we don't is we simply don't have them. There are not a lot of stories in the Bible about Jesus's boyhood. If you read the Gospels, you'll see as you're reading he's born, and then the very next chapter, he's already 12.
So what was Jesus doing in those years, and what was happening in his life? Well, we simply don't know. And I have to tell you, I kind of like that we don't know. Because what that implies for me is that Jesus just led an ordinary childhood, just like us. Jesus didn't know he was the son of God as a little boy, he was just an ordinary kid.
And that's why Mary and Joseph are so shocked when they discover him at the temple. And they hear that, at the age of 12, he’s speaking to the rabbis. They've never seen that side of Jesus before. So we get to see that Jesus is growing in his spiritual understanding and maturity.
Now also between the ages of 12 and 30, we also don't have any stories in the Bible about Jesus. We have no idea what he was doing as a teenager, and we have no idea what he was doing in his 20s. The Bible simply doesn't tell us. You can read lots of speculation about what he was doing. But we can assume that during those years, he kept growing in his spiritual understanding and wisdom, and in his understanding of who God created him to be.
He was rising in consciousness, coming to understand his Christ consciousness. Now, my friends, if we are consciously walking the spiritual path, that should be happening for us, each and every year of our lives. We should be growing each and every year in spiritual understanding and wisdom. We should also be rising in consciousness of our Christ nature.
So today is the last Sunday of the year. And it's a time for us to reflect back on the past year and to ask, “How have I grown spiritually this year? How have I come to a deeper understanding of who I am, of who God created me to be, of my purpose? How have I come to a greater understanding of what it means to be alive?”
Now I know 2021 has been a very challenging year for all of us. And I know many people just want to kind of curse it, and put it away, and say”2021, good riddance!” But is it time for us to reflect and to ask, “What are the blessings that I received? How have I grown this year?”
That's where the burning bowl comes in. My homily today is going to be a little bit shorter than normal so that all of you who wish can take part in the burning bowl ceremony today.
The burning bowl is a very powerful end-of-year ritual. I love the word ritual, and I love that it's part of the word spiritual, because our ritual is our ritual that connects us with our spirit. And spiritual people throughout history have participated in ritual and ceremony. I mean, that's what Mary and Joseph were doing. In today's Gospel reading. We are told that every single year they had a ritual, a tradition. They went to Jerusalem for the Passover.
We at Douglas UCC have been participating in this end-of-year burning bowl ritual for eight years now. It's becoming part of our end-of-year tradition. And the purpose of the burning bowl is to burn away, to let go of all of the things that are no longer serving us that we don't want to bring into the new year. And the fire that is used in the burning bowl comes from the Christ candle, because it symbolizes the light of the Christ, and the fire of the Spirit.
If you remember, during Advent we heard about John the Baptist, and he said that he baptized with water, but someone was coming, greater than him, who is going to baptize us with fire. And so the fire is that light of the Christ, which has the power to heal and to transform.
Many of you may be familiar with a book called The Alchemist. It's by Paulo Coelho. It's become a modern day spiritual classic. But we hear that alchemists are people who take base metals and through the power of fire, transform those metals into precious ones, like silver and gold.
Jesus was an alchemist of sorts, he was able through the light of the Christ through the fire of the spirit, to transform the base, the lower into something higher. So he was able to turn water into wine, he was able to turn lack into abundance, he was able to turn disease into health. And he was able to turn death into new life.
And he said that we could do it too. We, my friends, do have the power to purify and to transform our lives and our beliefs through the power of the Christ. Now this is not some new age woowoo ceremony that someone dreamed up a few years ago. This is a very ancient ritual that people in various faith traditions have practiced over the centuries. But it is rooted in our Christian Scripture as well.
In the Bible, we hear several times about the power to transform our lives. In Second Corinthians 5, it says, “If anyone is in the light of Christ, old things are passed away. Behold, I am making all things new.” In Ephesians 4, it says, “Put away old ways of thinking and be renewed by the spirit of your mind.” And in Romans 12, it says something similar, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We, my friends, have the power to transform our lives by the renewing of our minds.
So my question for you on this last Sunday of the year is, what are the thoughts and beliefs that you wish to let go of and release, that you don't want to bring into the new year? Maybe they’re thoughts of lack and limitation, maybe it's worry and fear, maybe it's anger and resentment. What we're going to do is we're going to take the pieces of tissue paper that are in the pews and the pens that are there. And we're going to just take a moment to write down the thing that we want to release. For those of you watching from home you can do this at home. When you are ready, you're going to come up here to the burning bowl, and you're going to burn that tissue paper in the fire.
Now when you ignite your tissue paper, it's going to ignite very quickly, and we don't want anybody to burn their fingers. So when you light it immediately drop it into the bowl and then just take a moment before the bowl to look in and watch as your paper ignites and disintegrates and take a moment to just silently give thanks to God for the healing and the transformation that is taking place. For behold, old things are being passed away and all things are being made new. Let us begin…
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by by Syma Kharal
The end of the year is much more than a time of shopping, errands, and gatherings. It is a sacred time infused with light, holding the possibility for bright new beginnings as we consciously close the door to the past. It is a time when God gifts us with a bridge to leave behind what no longer serves us and to cross over onto a new and illuminated path. Before going forward, it is important to take this time to reflect on the ups and downs of the closing year. Give thanks for all the wonderful experiences that enriched your life and your soul. It’s time to also think about the relationships, situations, and patterns that gave you a lot of grief—whether that showed up as anger, resentment, judgment, scarcity, anxiety, or any other form of negativity. Whenever we let something go, we create room for something new to enter. After releasing old emotional baggage, we are now ready to consciously create a blissful beginning for the year ahead. Let us pray, “Loving God, I surrender to you all that no longer serves me for healing, cleansing, and purification. Align my vision that I may see everything from your enlightened perspective and move forward with wisdom, grace, strength, and love. Amen.”
What did you think?