Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Isaiah 52.7-10; John 1.1-14
+ Last night was one of those magical nights. We had an overflow crowd here at St. Stephen’s for Christmas Eve Mass. And, of course, I LOVE that!
At that Mass last night, I shared how much I LOVE this Mass—the Christmas Day Mass. And I do. I think—though I’m not sure—I might even love it more than Christmas Eve.
We’re not overflow by any sense of the word today. And that’s just fine. I like that we’re not overflow today. I like that there’s balance.
Christmas Eve is beautiful in its way. But Christmas Day is just….so perfect in its own way. There really is something pristine and lovely about Christmas morning. If there was ever a holy moment, it is this morning.
Now, as we enter this holy day, I have to admit something. Some of you, in the midst of the craziness and hustle and bustle of these past few weeks have heard me make a confession I really didn’t want to make. In the midst of being exhausted and tired and overwhelmed by everything, I let slip my secret: Christmas is not one of my favorite seasons. I mean, the commercial Christmas.
I have tried. I have made every effort throughout the years to celebrate and enjoy this holiday. But it just has never really endeared itself to me.
Now, to be clear, I am not talking here about Jesus’ birth or Advent or anything of the spiritual things associated with this season. Rather, I have never been a big fan of all the Christmas trappings that go along with his holiday. OK, I do kind of like some of the glitz of the holiday. But only on a surface.
Still, despite my frustrations over the actual season, this morning I, like most of you, feel a little tinge of excitement on Christmas. I, like most of you, know that today is just a little more special than any other day. Something holy and beautiful is happening around us today.
This morning, at Morning Prayer, the verse we use for the Benedictus (we call this verse an antiphon) was particular beautiful and apt.
“While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of your royal throne.”
I love that! I love the image that arises in my mind when I hear. “you almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down…”
It’s so powerful and stunning. As wonderful as that image seems, it also seems to say to us that when God’s word—Jesus—leaps down in our midst, he will bring with him all the answers. When Jesus comes to us, our questions of life and death will be answered. Our enemies will be vanquished. All will be made right. And today, on this Christmas day, that prayer has been answered.
We realize that Jesus has truly leaped down among us. But what we find in his coming is that our questions about life and death have not been answered. We still don’t understand life and we still fear death. Our enemies have not been vanquished. In fact, sometimes, they seem to be triumphing all the more. And as we look around this world—at the mass murder of children, the violence, at the crime, at the war and injustice of this world, at the racism and homophobia and sexism that still exists—we realize all has not been made magically right. And what we expected in our Savior, our Redeemer our Messiah—what we thought would be the mighty warrior coming with sword in hand to shield us and vanquish the forces of evil—we instead find a Child. We find a vulnerable human baby, born of a teenage mother under mysterious and scandalous circumstances.
And still, despite all of that, somehow, on this evening, holiness shines through to us. The Word has leapt down to us and yet we know that although it has not been cataclysmic, something incredible still has happened.
As the great Archbishop of Canterbury (and probably the greatest of my personal heroes), Michael Ramsey once wrote: “Our Christmas is no less Christmas and our joy no less joyful because we are keeping Christmas with a very dark and troubled world around us…Our rejoicing at Christmas is not an escape from life’s grim realities into a fancy realm of religion and festivity. Rather is it a joy that, as we face and feel the world’s tragedy, we know that God has an answer: an answer for [hu]mankind to receive. In a word, this is a time of hope.”
This morning, on this crisp day, we celebrate that hope. While darkness still exists, we now see that in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light. It is dim at times. It doesn’t seem like much. But it is there. And as we strain into that darkness, we realize that hope comes to us as Light. We celebrate hope of that Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, we hold bask in the glory of those two emotions—the two emotions Christmas is all about—hope and joy. Hope—in our belief that what has come to us—Jesus—God made flesh—is here among us,
The Word of God has leaped down among us.
“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,” we hear the Prophet Isaiah tell us today, “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
We are experiencing joy at seeing this salvation of God in our midst. As we come forward today to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we remember and commemorate and make ours this day, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. This hope and joy we are experiencing this morning comes up from our very centers. We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a barn in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people.
Our lives are different because of what happened that evening. This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we feared and dreaded. When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we realize that yes, the Word of God has leaped down. And the salvation of God has appeared in our midst.
This is the source of true joy. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before. And that is what we are rejoicing in this glorious day.
Our true hope and true joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents under a decorated tree. Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. We know that our true hope and joy are not there because by Saturday, we’re going to see that what the rest of the society is celebrating in this Christmas season will be disposed of. By tomorrow, the wrapping paper and the boxes will be on the curbs and so will many of the trees.
Our true hope and joy is more powerful and more tangible than anything that is so disposable. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory. Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he comes to us, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence. Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about.
Our hope and joy is in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager under scandalous circumstances in a dusty third world land. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live. But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us.
So, yes, I guess maybe all our expectations of Jesus’ coming have, in fact, been fulfilled. Slowly, but surely, he does make all things right—eventually. This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful night. This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of happiness and excitement. This is why we are rushing toward our Savior who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.
Let this hope we feel today as Jesus comes to us stay with us now and always. Let the joy we feel today as Jesus comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.
Jesus is here. He is in our midst today. He is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. So, let us greet him today with all that we have within us and welcome him into the shelter of our hearts. Amen.