December 24, 2007 Christmas Eve
Isa. 52: 7-10, Heb. 1: 1-12; John 1: 1-14
Again this evening, this holy night, grace and peace. To you and to those whom you love, whether they are with you at this time of year, or are far away, old and young, both the living and those who have entered greater life and who are present with us now on a distant shore in the companionship of the Holy Spirit and in the rich and meaningful and tender reflections of our memory.
Grace and peace. To our neighborhood and our city and all our communities, to the nation, to the wide world, in the midst of storms and strife, war and rumors of war, a world full of hopes and of disappointments, over and over again. Grace and peace.
This night of shepherds and angels, a new star appearing high above the ancient village. And the Child is born, wrapped in a blanket, laid in the straw of a manger bed. An eternal moment, slipping away from us but then returning. Never far away. The music of a familiar song gathering around us and lifting us once again, in spite of everything, all the battles we fight, day after day, year after year . . . lifting us once again into the mystery and sacrament of Christmas. In such a deep sense for us, a homecoming. Finding our true and lasting home. The home we have known from the beginning of all creation. The home that is for us this night fresh and new. The Word made flesh, and we behold his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father. Grace and peace to you.
Thank you for sharing this hour of worship here at St. Andrew’s. May the gift that we receive here this evening, the tokens of this sacred mystery, his Body and Blood, his life with us—may this gift, of all the gifts of the night and of the season, remain with us to nourish us and then to be carried out by us and through us and with us, in wider and wider circles of blessing. Jesus is born, the savior of the world. Our forgiveness, our reconciliation, our healing.
He is born. That’s the big news. What the world needs and what the world yearns for, the deepest prayer of all our hearts, some knowing his name and his face, but all are his, in this world and in every forgotten corner of the created universe, across all the far reaches of time and space, whether knowing or not, the Desire of Nations. He is born for us, for us, that we might know him, that we might live in him, that with his life and in his death and by way of his Cross we might through him be lifted up with him to life eternal. Grace and peace, to you, this Christmas and always. May the tender mercy of our God and his kindness and his quiet presence down deep be a healing and restoring presence for you this night and as we go out this night into the wide world of our lives.
I love each of the readings appointed for this service, as we hear them year after year through all the stages of our lives, in our youth and as we get older and older. They become more familiar, but never too familiar, like the best poetry, offering something new each time we turn to them. And I would commend them all to you, from Isaiah and the Letter to the Hebrews and the beautiful lines from Psalm 98, and of course always this magnificent opening to St. John’s Gospel. The Word became flesh and came to dwell with us. Literally from the Greek, came to “pitch his tent” with us.
But what I would highlight for us in this moment this evening, as we would continue our worship, is a phrase that I find especially beautiful and meaningful not in the appointed lessons, but in the Collect for Christmas, as we prayed that together at the beginning of this service this evening. The prayer begins as a call to God, who in the miracle of Christ’s birth breaks through the deep darkness of the world with a new light, the “true light.” And then we are invited to continue to pray, “that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven.”
I think this struck me in these past few days because I’ve been thinking about heaven. About what we mean by the word, what the scriptures and traditions say and don’t say. About what we fear. About what we hope for. Reaching beyond the boundaries and borders and limits of what we think we know about where we are and who we are now.
And simply to say, if we perhaps catch a glimpse of it here and now, in Christmas. Perhaps in a moment of music tonight. In the morsel of bread and the taste of wine at the altar. In the greeting of a friend. The soft and sad tenderness of a memory of someone we have loved but see no longer. If there is something rich and sweet and good for us tonight, it is only a hint of what he has in mind for us, of what he has prepared for us. Of what we will enjoy perfectly in him. What that looks like, sounds like, tastes like—heaven only knows. Heaven only knows. But it is for our perfect enjoyment, in him. Reconciliation. Finding again what we thought was lost and gone forever. Healing and peace. Mercy and kindness.
So let this night be a foretaste for you, for us, of heaven’s victory, and our eternal home, the hope and dream and destiny God has for us, better than we could imagine or pray for. The sky is dark over the village. The weary travelers have found shelter. The story again, angels and shepherds, ancient Bethlehem tonight the center of the world and of the universe, all time and all space bending to this moment, this hour. What was and is and is to be, the same song being sung in earth and in heaven, all our voices together. Come adore Christ the Lord, the newborn King.