Sermon I Christmas Yr C

I Christmas Yr C, 31/12/2006

Col 3:12-17

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Christmas and New Year Virtues”


Well, here we are celebrating the season of Christmas and at the door of another new year. As I read the words in our second lesson today from Colossians, I wondered what they had to do with Christmas. Then, as I thought more about this passage, it came to me that these words are very appropriate for the Christmas season and the New Year. In fact, I would even suggest that an appropriate title for our second lesson is “Christmas and New Year Virtues.”

Discipleship is the Christmas (and New Year) follow-through. Back in the 17th century the German poet, Angelus Silesius (Johannes Scheffler) summed it all up. Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he’s not born in thee thy world is still forlorn. The cross on Golgotha will never save thy soul, the cross in thine own heart alone can make thee whole. [1]

The writer of Colossians, likely addressing newly baptized Christians, speaks of the new life in Christ by instructing Christians to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Such virtues are to be like clothes we wear—visible for others to see, in response to what God has done for us by sending his Jesus our Saviour. In the early Church, this image of clothing was a powerful and appropriate one, since in the practice of baptism, the candidate would shed their old clothes, and then be baptized, and the first act after baptism was to be clothed in new clothing to symbolize the new life in Christ through baptism.

The writer goes on to emphasise the solid foundation upon which these Christmas and New Year virtues are to be based, saying: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In short, the best way to celebrate the season of forgiveness and the best way to enter into the New Year is by practicing forgiveness and loving one another. Forgiveness and love are the foundation of all the other Christmas and New Year virtues in this passage from Colossians. Forgiveness and love are also the foundation of our life as individual disciples of Jesus; as a congregation, as a denomination; and as the Christian Church around the world. Forgiveness and love give birth to Christ in us each day. Forgiveness and love make the world go around.

In the British writer-physician A.J. Cronin’s autobiography, he describes being a doctor in the North of England when there was an outbreak of diphtheria. A little boy was brought in hardly able to breathe. As the Irish would say, “he had the dip,” and in those days that often meant the patient would die. The doctor performed a tracheotomy which allowed the child to breathe, and put him in the care of a young nurse who would watch him through the night hours. The doctor went off to bed.

In the small hours of the morning, a trembling nurse wakened him with the sad news that the little boy was dead. Exhausted herself, the nurse had slipped into sleep only to awaken and discover that the tube was blocked and the child dead. The physician was furious. He raged against the girl. He told her he would see to it that she would never nurse again. She stood before his wrath pitifully small, devastated by what had happened, and in a pathetic voice scarcely audible said, “Give me another chance.” He told her he would not, and having dismissed her, went back to bed.

Back in bed, but not to sleep. Her poor face haunted him, and so did her words, “give me another chance.” And the next morning, when he got up, he tore up the letter of condemnation he had written during the night.

Years later, Cronin tells, he met the young girl, now grown to womanhood, the matron of one of the largest children’s hospitals in England and known throughout the country for her commitment to her calling and her nursing skills. Acquittal had granted her “another chance.” [2]

Thanks to God made flesh in the person of Jesus we too are acquitted, forgiven, and given another chance—not merely one other chance, rather, chance after chance each and every day, since Christ’s forgiveness and love are endless, unconditional, and unlimited. So in this season of Christmas it is very appropriate that we celebrate the consequences of Christ’s birth for us and for the whole world. The following story, as told by Professor Bryan Aubrey, is certainly one practical example of how we can clothe ourselves in love for others.

Viewed from high on the Rimrock cliffs that run along the northern edge of Billings, Montana, the city presents an attractive sight, a thriving metropolis nestling within the great open spaces of the American West. Citizens of Billings say it’s a good, civilized place to live. They pride themselves on the quality of their schools and their strong family values.

So it came as a shock to many when in November 1995, a series of hate crimes took place against minority groups in the city.

Whoever was responsible for these acts must have thought that their victims would be easy targets. Billings is predominantly white; Native Americans, African Americans and Jews make up only a small percentage of the population. But there are just enough of them to frighten and harass—or so the haters must have thought.

They mounted a series of nasty attacks. Graves were overturned in a Jewish cemetery. Offensive words and a swastika were scrawled on the house of a Native American woman. People worshipping at a black church were intimidated. A brick was heaved through the window of a Jewish child who displayed a menorah there.

But the white supremacists, or whoever they were, had reckoned without the citizens of Billings, who had an answer for them—and it wasn’t what the hate-mongers were expecting. An alliance quickly emerged, spearheaded by churches, labor unions, the media and hundreds of local citizens.

The results were dramatic. Attendance at the black church rose steadily. People of many different ethnic backgrounds and faiths began to attend services there. Their message was clear: “We may be all different, but we are one also. Threaten any one of us and you threaten us all.”

A similar spirit propelled volunteers to come together and repaint the house of Dawn Fast Horse, the Native American woman. This happened at amazing speed. Dawn had awoken one morning to see that her house had been defaced. By the evening, after two hundred people showed up to help, the house had been repainted.

When it came to the incident of the brick being thrown through the window of the Jewish child, and interfaith group quickly had a creative idea. They recalled the example of the Danes during World War II. When the Nazis tried to round up Danish Jews into concentration camps for subsequent extermination, the Danish people worked quickly, within a two-week period, to transport almost every Danish Jew to safety in Sweden until the end of the war.

So the people of Billings organized, and a campaign began. Everyone pitched in, including the local newspaper, which printed a Hanukkah page, including a full-color representation of a menorah. Thousands of Billings residents cut the paper menorah out and displayed it in their windows. By late December, driving around Billings was a remarkable experience. Nearly ten thousand people were displaying those paper menorahs in their windows, and the menorahs remained in place throughout the eight days of Hanukkah. It was a brilliant answer to the hate-mongers: A town that had few Jews was saying with one collective voice, “We are all Jews now.”

The story of what happened in Billings quickly spread, inspiring a national movement called “Not in Our Town.” That Jewish child who had so innocently displayed her menorah in the window helped set in motion a chain of events that affirmed all over America the liberating principle of unity in diversity.

Not for nothing does a menorah have many candles flickering on a single stand. [3]

As Christians, we find our unity in diversity rooted in the love of Jesus: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” May Christ our Light shine in and through our hearts, minds and lives as we clothe ourselves with his love—and, being bound together in perfect harmony, share this love with all people this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. Amen.


[1] Citation from Emphasis, Vol. 23, No. 4, November-December 1993 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 62.

[2] Citation from Glendon Harris, Lection Aid.

[3] Bryan Aubrey, “We Are All Jews Now,” in Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc., 2001), pp. 149-151.