Christmas Day 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid…”
This is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture. It so vividly describes the terror of the shepherds as they witness the arrival of the angel of the Lord. In just a few words the story powerfully describes the miracle that has occurred … a child has arrived. A child who will become a savior, for all who are known to him, has been born.
The angel commands the shepherds to, “Go…find this child wrapped in bands of cloth…cast your eyes upon this infant lying in a manger…be amazed…and then, go and tell the world - shout it out - “Glory to God in the highest…the Messiah, the Lord has been born.” He is among us…he is with us.
Luke in 20 short verses encapsulates the message that we thousands of years later are still struggling to understand. A message that we are still struggling to integrate as an essential part of our “self.” A message that we are still struggling to convey to others who are so like those lonely shepherds in the cold, dark fields of Bethlehem.
Thinking about it, it all seems so very simple doesn’t it? Jesus is there waiting for us - just like the baby in the manger awaited the shepherds. And, the Spirit, just like the angel who appeared that cold dark night in Bethlehem, is urging us to go and visit…take a look…say “hello” to Jesus… and to be amazed…to accept this incredible gift from God…to adopt Jesus as our way, our light, our life.
And today, Christmas Day, we are once again witness to this incredible event - the birth of Jesus. Today we, once again, have the astounding opportunity to visit the child in his manger crib; to be amazed; to renew our relationship with Jesus; and, to reinvigorate our call as Disciples of Christ.
On the first Sunday in Advent, when I last preached, I spoke of the challenges that we have faced over the course of this past year. 2015 has not been an easy year for many, if not most, of us; and, we have no assurance that 2016 will be significantly different.
The painful realities of a world besieged by gun violence and terrorism; political turmoil at home and abroad; a continuation of the humanitarian crisis posed by the ever increasing number of refugees throughout the world; and, increasing changes and challenges in our environment pose painful distractions in our lives and the lives of in the lives of our loved ones.
These complicated realities will continue to be a part of world events in 2016 and beyond. They and a myriad of other events will continue to play a significant role in our everyday lives both nationally and locally. Distractions that pull us in many different directions will, no doubt, abound for most of us.
Our church, nationwide, faces significant challenges, as well. A continual growth of the “nones,” - those who claim that they do not believe in God, coupled with changes on the lifestyles of young people and their families, has resulted in the shrinking of both congregation size and annual pledges.
At both the local and the national level the church is struggling to re-imagine itself. Conversations that focus on “How can we become relevant to this new world” are heard in parishes throughout the country. Hearts and minds committed to and united with Christ ponder and pray - hoping that a new way - a new energy - to make God relevant will make itself known. Despite these challenges, like the saints who have gone before, those of us who remain committed to the church continue our journey as bearers of the Good News - seeking to touch as many hearts as possible.
I would imagine that during these past four weeks of Advent many of you have taken the time to prayerfully discern your relationship with Jesus and with the Christ Church community. Perhaps you have pondered such questions as, “What does my relationship with Jesus really mean to me?” or “How can I help to strengthen the Christ Church community?” Or maybe, “How can I live a life that is less focused on the distractions of this world and more focused on further opening my heart and my mind to Jesus and his commandment to ‘Follow me…Follow me and do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, for I am with you to the end of the age.’ ”
I know that I have given these same questions, and many others, much prayerful attention. I have struggled with the tough, and very humbling, reality that despite my commitment to the church - to Jesus - I have such limited effectiveness in spreading the Good News; such a small, indeed infinitesimal, presence as I engage in my efforts to be a partner in the work of keeping the church alive and well.
And yet, despite the turmoil of the past year, as I reflected on the approach of the Nativity, I became increasingly excited - increasingly hopeful. Just like most of the Christian world I found myself eagerly anticipating the arrival of the angel’s command to “go and see”, the trip to Bethlehem, the visit to the child in the manger, the thrill of knowing that Jesus was so very present – so very much with us, and the return to the world refreshed, renewed, reinvigorated in my faith - filled with hope and the knowledge that God’s love manifested through the incredible gift of this infant in the manger – this baby Jesus - is still so very present with us.
In my heart I know that this Christmas gift is all that I really need to press on and to carry out, no matter how difficult, the work that I have been given to do.
This Christmas Day, I pray that you also will be thrilled by the presence of the angel of the Lord. I pray that the command to “go and see” will ring loud in your ears and that you will, with the eyes of your heart, visit Bethlehem and experience the joy and hope of gazing at the infant child – the baby Jesus. I pray that you will be re-invigorated – re-energized – in your call as a member of the Christ Church community to go into the world and to spread the Good News.
I pray that as members of this blessed community, the light of Christ will shine so brightly in our lives that we will be led to good and wise decisions in the coming year, and that we will together muster the strength and the courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart despite the challenging distractions that fill our everyday lives.
I pray that individually, and as a community, we will hear and heed Jesus’ commandment to, “Follow me…Follow me and do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, for I am with you to the end of the age.”
I pray that the refrain from the familiar Christmas carol, “O Holy Night” will ring in your ears throughout this day and in the days to follow, and that it will bring you a sense of blessed peace and fill you with the love and compassion that was Jesus’ gift to us.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night divine.