Sermon for December 25, 2008
Christmas Day, 2008
Last night candles burn brightly, rekindling the hope in our hearts and illuminating memories moving through our minds. Last night familiar songs were sung, voicing a joy we feel and the faith we share with generations before us who have sung these songs with us. Now this morning we sit with others, a more intimate group, renewing bonds of family, friendship, and congregation upon which the fabric of life is woven and the rhythms of celebration are deepened. Today again in this quieter setting the story is recited, renewing the memory of a child born, shepherds, animals, and angelic songs.
Today, with song and with our friends and families, approaching the good news of great joy, we simply break bread and taste wine, recalling the forgiveness and love begun this morning long ago. As we do so, the blessings of heaven are imparted to all creation. On Christmas Day we remember that a child is born to us, a son is given. God is pleased as human to dwell with us. Through Jesus, God is with us. In Jesus, the veiled Godhead is among us. God enters our lives.
For some of us, this closeness of God, the nearness of the divine is now more visible than at any other time of the year. Christmas moves us into cyclical alignment with God. We feel God’s presence near. We pray that the glories streaming into our hearts will stay close by us forever as redeeming grace dawns in our hearts.
But for some of us “God with us” may seem an empty phrase depleted of joy by the cares of life. If joy is a faint song in your heart this Christmas, or much more fragile or difficult than you would like it to be, you may find support in the details of the story we have been reading.
The story of Christmas is a story of joy in struggle and of toil along the climbing way. The story speaks of an enforced census journey for tax purposes, no room at the inn, a government bent on the destruction of Bethlehem children, a Joseph wondering about how Mary became pregnant, no crib for a bed, and the humble praise of unsophisticated shepherds.
These details of this birth may rekindle the reminder that Jesus is among all who suffer and struggle. God is with us in dark streets and the shadows of our fears. God is with us even when the candles of hope flicker, when the song is a lament sung alone as we wrestle with our fears more than our hopes. God is with us as far as the curse is found. In the darker street shines an everlasting light sustained by our music floating still through this weary world.
Further, embedded in the story and our traditions are secrets to embracing joy even in harder times. Go out and look at the stars, tonight or any night. Feel again the depth and scope of the universe created by God. Find the star in your heart and follow it, as it guides you to the perfect light.
Joy grows when we remember that people came over for the first Christmas. Shepherds came to call, even as family and friends do today. Visiting brings joy. Enjoy some time with another. Make a phone call. Prolong those joyous shepherd strains.
Joy grows when we give a gift with the delight a child feels when a gift is received. See your life as a gift received and even still not fully unwrapped. Live with expectation again.
Rejoice that there was at least room in the stable if not the inn. It was difficult, but they found a place to stay. Hospitality prevailed, a virgin sings a lullaby, and this mean estate becomes the sacred manger of the believing heart. Straw becomes the bed of hope. Remember not only that sometimes things are difficult, but also that in the straw lies something good.
Ultimately the humble manger becomes the source of joy because the child born will raise each child of earth. The child was born to give us not only a second wind, but a second life. Recognize through all the celebrative swaddling cloth, not only a babe, but also the maker of all things, the underlying force for good sustaining the universe.
Today the creator of all is with us, calling to us in friendship to join in a new creation. Today, the word of God now appears in flesh. All heaven and all nature sing the chorus as earth receives this creator who comes as child.