Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

"Red: The Colors of Christmas" - Matthew 22:34-40

Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

When Pastor Aaron came up with this idea for a Midweek sermon series that was going to focus on “The Colors of Christmas,” I was all for it, and I thought of two things right away. I thought about one of those personality tests I had recently taken, by way of Facebook, that pretended to describe and define and diagnose my personality as a color. Have you seen that one yet?  You answer a bunch of questions and choose a few pictures and animals and color schemes that appeal to you and you are given a color to describe your personality. I think I was BLUE, but I don’t remember or have any idea about what that meant or why. For some reason that stuff is interesting to me, but I give it as much credence and credibility as my astrological sign.

And the other thing I thought about right away was Taylor Swift. For a pop superstar, I think she’s kind of a genius and a musical phenom - if you believe all the hype about how young she was when she started writing all the music she's produced. Well, she has this song called “RED,” where she cleverly uses colors to describe feelings and emotions, all of which, for Tay-Tay, of course, have to do with her latest, or current, lost love or crush or boyfriend, or whatever.

Anyway, for example, she says that loving this particular guy is RED, like ‘driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street, faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly;’ And she says ‘losing him was BLUE, like she’s never known,’ and ‘missing him was DARK GRAY, all alone.’

But loving him, for Tay-Tay, was like RED, and sometimes, even, “burning” RED.

Well, I’d bet all of Taylor Swift’s money she wasn’t thinking about Advent sermons when she wrote that little ditty, but it made me think about the color RED, some, and about how a poet or a songwriter can give legs to the emotions and feelings and sensibility of something as simple as a primary color. And RED - as a color for Christmas – is as complex for old preachers like me as RED – as a color for young love – can be for a pop-princess like Taylor Swift.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times more than anything this time around, but the RED I think about first is the RED of anger and hatred and fear that seems to be burning its way through the world these days. Of course we see it in the streets of Paris and in San Bernardino. And this kind of RED is alive and well in the ways and places where people are fighting their wars and terrorizing their neighbors and fleeing from the war and terror that threatens their lives. And I see this kind of RED – and I feel this kind of RED, frankly – when I listen to too many people feeding it and using it and taking advantage of it and preying upon it to perpetuate even more of it – fear and hostility and hatred, I mean.

And it’s not all that big, this kind of RED. It’s not all newsworthy, of course. I caught a glimpse of RED, on a smaller scale, from a parent at a basketball game last Saturday. (You know that just-below-the-surface, keep-it-under-wraps, road-rage kind of RED?) And I see that kind of RED on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, too. The RED of anger and hostility that can be tapped out on a keyboard and posted for all to see with very little regard for consequences and no real danger of repercussions.

So if any of us were to take one of those online personality inventories that assigned us a “color for our faith,” based on the state of our souls, I think we all might come out RED, in some way, on some days, thanks to the sins – large and small – which we can’t escape or seem to change for ourselves, or forgive in each other, for that matter, either.

So all of that makes me think about the RED of the cross and the blood that was spilled there for the sake of the world and as a means to end and to forgive and to transform all of the above ugliness. I think God took on the RED of the world’s ugly, angry, hatred, violence and evil, and let it be drained by and covered over with and drowned in the blood of God’s very own self, in Jesus.

And, again, this feels like bad news and bah humbug, I know. But there’s hope in here, of course. To me, the RED of that blood seems like a cosmic mix of what else the RED of Christmas might represent: which is the undying, passionate love of God for the world, come down in Jesus Christ.

God’s love, so passionate, so complete, so devoted, that it could be spilled and poured out, blood-RED for the sake of the world. The blood-RED love of God, spilled by violence and hatred and sin on the cross, but transformed by love and compassion and grace and forgiveness, all at the same time.

And so we wait on and we pray for and we hope to God that the latter will be born anew, again, in these days before Christmas. The blood-RED transforming love and compassion, grace and forgiveness, I mean.

Which reminds me that it wasn’t first spilled at Calvary’s cross, this blood. The blood-RED love of God first showed up in that lonely, messy, stable’s manger in Bethlehem. The first RED of Christmas came from the spent womb of a mother’s love. Mixed with tears, no doubt, and sweat, I’m sure, and who knows what else. It likely wasn’t pretty and we don’t need to pretend that it was or is or will be, this Christmas good news.

But, let’s let the RED of this Christmas be one that serves as nothing less than our own life-blood, like that coming from the womb of a mother, full of grace and mercy and tenderness and hope. Let’s let the RED of this Christmas be one that has been poured out, like so much wine, for the forgiveness of sins – ours and the sins of our enemies. Let’s let the RED of Christmas be a life-giving, life-changing RED for us – one that’s about passion and sacrifice, one that bears the love of God and one that brings with it new life for each of us, and for the sake of the world.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.