Homily preached for a joint service with Community of Faith and Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the First Sunday of Christmas.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And 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.
When Sharon and I first thought of this combined service, I was so excited that I’ll admit my brain went straight to dreaming and planning mode. I didn’t really stop to think about why I was excited until someone asked me straight out.
Why worship together? Why change the weekly routine? Why add extra logistics for a service on a holiday weekend?
In my heart, the answer was so simple: because it is the holidays, and, if you can, you spend holidays with your family.
Most of us probably did that literally this past week. I’ve been in Virginia myself, catching up with my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. But that’s not my only family. Some of y’all are right here, and I wanted to hang out.
I was blessed to be raised in the church, which meant I’ve always known I had family members who didn’t share my last name or DNA. By the numbers, I think I had about 200 grandparents, 75 parents, and 50 siblings. They taught me and played with me and loved me and raised me. I knew my church was my family too.
What I didn’t know was that there were other churches full of my other family I hadn’t met yet.
One of the great gifts of seminary was introducing me to more of these long-lost family members, in churches in Richmond and Warrenton and Henderson and now Kentucky. I’m wearing a stole today that has many of my family members’ names written on it, from folks all around the country, from the scribbles of kids still learning their names to a few folks in their nineties. Every time I wear it, I remember how just not-alone I am, in this thing called faith. I walk hand in hand with millions who are trying their best to be Christlike in this world.
I think I would call the church a family even if the Bible never did. It just rings so true, so right, as an image. We love like family and fight like family, we have each others backs like family and, on our best days, we gather round the dinner table like family does.
But the Bible does say that we as Christians are family, repeatedly so. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds the fledgling church that they are not just Christ’s servants, Christ’s followers, Christ’s hangers-on, but Christ’s siblings. This just didn’t happen in the ancient world. There were plenty of gods looking for slaves and followers and toadies. But not for siblings. Not for family. Yet Paul assures the Galatians that one of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to show us just what it looks like to be God’s child, and to remind us that we are all God’s children.
It can be easy to feel isolated, in our sanctuaries, in our faith. Easy to feel like no one quite gets why we work so hard to be loving, to be compassionate, to be merciful, to be giving. Easy to feel like the world is running the other direction and leaving us behind. And that’s why it’s so important to check in with our family, to remember that we are not alone, that we have family in every corner of this earth, that we have family in every generation, that no matter how scattered we are or how far we wander from home, that we are always held in God’s heart.
The work of living as Christians is hard, but it does not have to be lonely. I smile when I remember that I have family at Community of Faith who are working alongside me to show Christ’s love to the world. Family at Lakeside, and Ft. Thomas, and Union, and all through Cincinnati, in Virginia and Utah and South Dakota, in Mexico and Ghana and the Ukraine, family too numerous to count.
And all of us following the lead of our big brother, Jesus Christ, who came to earth, to a mother and father, to brothers and sisters, to Anna and Simeon, so that everyone who met him would know without a doubt that they were part of something bigger.
Part of God’s own family. God’s big, boisterous, beloved family.
Thanks be to God. Amen.