Sunday, December 25, 2011

At Midnight, Christmas Eve

Propers for Christmas (III):
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Hebrews 1: 1-12; John 1: 1-14

Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Grant, O heavenly Father, that what we have sung with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and may always steadfastly fulfill. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace and peace to you this night, and we would all pray together that in the music that we hear and sing and in the words of Holy Scripture, in our prayers and in our silence and in the living presence that our Lord shares with us at the Holy Table we may know and experience blessing, peace and joy. That in a world and in lives that can be broken and full of anxiety and hurt there would be for us his gentle and tender embrace. For this midnight hour, and then in all the hours and days to come. In this place, and in all the corners of our lives. Home, work, neighborhood. The wide world. Grace and peace.

The text for my sermon this evening from the first verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, as we have just heard Ed read it: “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

The articulation of Christian faith can seem challenging at times. Theologians can fill libraries and artists and poets and preachers can do their part. Preachers and pastors and evangelists, Sunday by Sunday, in cathedrals and parish churches, in quiet conversations and in debate in the public square. Doctrines and dogma, Creeds and Confessions. All important, even essential to the life and work of the Church, to communicate the gospel far and wide and from one generation to another.

But all beginning here. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

The sun sets over the village. And something happens in the stable. Emmanuel. God with us. Another way of expressing what we have heard also tonight in the first chapter of St. John: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

It is, to use a word that we’ve heard a lot lately in other contexts, an occupation. St. John’s Greek is a word that means “to pitch a tent.” “To set up camp.” The Word became flesh. And pitched his tent. He doesn’t phone it in. No conference call. No virtual meeting. He comes himself. The banner in the sky: Occupy Bethlehem! And tonight all the world is Bethlehem.

Not by force, not with coercion. But in weakness. In emptiness. At the farthest edge, in the back, out of the way. Simply a child crying in the distance, in the night. And the quiet invitation. Come and see.

Everything is here, in him. All the news we’re going to need to hear.

And as we see him born this night we also walk with him and watch with him and travel all the way to the Cross with him. Following at a distance in heart and mind. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. In his weakness our strength. In his brokenness our healing. You shall call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. A transformational occupation. In his life, our life and our hope for this life, and for the life of the world to come. All beginning here.

In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. The brightness of his glory, the glory of the Father, the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had a great line in his Christmas message this year, about how “in the complete mess of the first Christmas , God says, ‘Don’t worry-I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you.’”

In the complete mess. The mess of our world. War and rumors of war. Economic and social and political turmoil. The mess of our lives. Our relationships. Our mixed feelings. Doubts. Hesitations. Things done and left undone. Miserable offenders. No health in us. We have only a glimpse into the turmoil of the lives of Mary and Joseph. The conflicts and struggles of their minds and hearts. We have no idea at all who those shepherds were. The challenges of their lives. Their hopes and fears, their questions.

And then--the sky is filled with angels.

Nobody in this story is ever really ready. I sometimes say, “I wish Christmas didn’t always happen at such a busy time of year. If only there weren’t so many things going on. If only we had more time.” And you should see the adventure of the St. Andrew’s Church Office in the week before Christmas. Not pretty.

Those of us who are poets or philosophers, thinkers, skeptics, inquirers, might find ourselves asking questions about what the meaning of Christmas might be. What’s the message? But of course the whole point is that there is no “what” to talk about, really. Just a knocking at the front door.

The question is and can only be about “who is the meaning of Christmas.” Who is the message?

In the first hour of creation God spoke the universe into being by a word. And in this hour he speaks by his living presence.

It’s all Jesus here tonight. Manger and Cross. The crowded stable. The Empty Tomb. The Scriptures. The sacred music. The Bread and Wine on the Table. All Jesus. As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever. Though not perhaps in the way we might have expected. While we are still weak, while we are still broken, while we are still wandering. More lost than we would care to admit.

Before we’ve got everything "sorted out perfectly." Because that’s never going to happen if we’re left to ourselves. Before we’re ready. Born for us. In Bethlehem. Behind that Traveler’s Inn. Lying there on the straw.

Sometimes it seems that we were so unready, that it’s not even that we didn’t know who we were waiting for, so much as that we didn’t even know that we were waiting, at all.

And then when there is this knocking at the door, when the invitation comes, it seems out of the blue. Unexpected, undeserved, unearned. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior. In these last days. This night. Any night. Every day and night. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. And here he is, for us.

Welcome, Lord Jesus.

May this night be a blessing for you. May his Word find a place to be received, to be welcomed, in our lives, our homes, our minds, our hearts. To be born in us.

And may it be for you, and for those you love, grace, peace, forgiveness, mercy, hope, and a Merry Christmas.

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