Christmas Day 2014
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish, MD
Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
First of all I want to thank all of you for the warmest welcome that I have ever received - anywhere. Devin and I are deeply grateful for your love and support.
I also want to thank Mark and the Vestry for their faith in my ministry and the opportunity to serve alongside them here at Christ Church. My hope is that I will be with you all for a long time, and that together we will continue to carry out our mission as Christ’s disciples, lighting this, sometimes, very dark world, and inspiring hearts and lives with the love and compassion of Christ.
As I began to plan my sermon for today, I thought about stories and how stories shape our identity and our lives. I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more stories I have to tell – and, for the most part, my stories reflect who I am - who I have become over these many years – they form my identity.
I am quite proud of some of my stories. But, truth be told, I am not very proud of many of my stories. When I look back at all the stories that remain in my memory – the good and the bad – I see how impossible it is to live a life that is comprised of only “good” stories, and how easy it is to accumulate stories that lack any saving grace. Indeed, my good stories are few and far between, and, for the most part, came at a price. Perhaps you would all agree, good stories – stories that we are proud of – are rare and achieved only through hard work, sacrifice, persistence and courage.
This Christmas Day we hear a story that is, in every sense of the word, a good story. It is a story that far outdistances our various and meager life stories. It is the story of the birth of the Christ child- the baby Jesus –the overarching and ultimate story of all time. The Nativity story is the story that defines what all of our stories should look like. It is the story that provides the norms by which we should all live our lives. It is the story that encourages us all to regulate our way of life, according to the model provided by Jesus, as we proceed in our work as Christ’s disciples in our personal lives, in this community and in the larger world.
It is a story that both guides us and walks beside us, lovingly and compassionately, as we struggle with the challenges of a darkened world, personal difficulties, desolate grief, and the anxieties generated in the chaos of this post-modern world.
It is a story told year after year. It is a story that never changes. It is a story for each and every one of us. It is a story that we read and listen to with joy and great hope as, each year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
We have no way of knowing the historical accuracy of facts reported in Luke’s birth story. However, we do know that about 4 BCE Jesus was born somewhere in the Galilee area, and we do know that his parents were poor. These are salient historical facts, but more important than historical accuracy are the elements of the story.
Jesus is born to Mary, a virgin who had found favor with God and in whose womb a baby was conceived. A baby who God commanded would be named Jesus. This Son of God arrived not in a mansion; not in a comfortable place fit for a king. Jesus arrived in a cold and dirty manger, attended only by his mother Mary and his father Joseph. The first to learn of the birth were shepherds, the lowliest of the low. Asleep at night they were awakened by a terrifying light and an Angel who spoke to them. The angel informed these cold, dirty, and bedraggled shepherds that their Saviour had just been born. “Hurry along to pay him a visit,” commanded the angel. Off they went, in faith I might add, to see this miracle with their own eyes. Astounded by the power of their visit, they rushed back to their meadows, excitedly telling all whom they encountered of what they had seen and heard.
The Nativity story is indeed much more that a story based on historical fact. It is Luke’s way of alerting us to the fact that God is with us. The God who created the world and who has spent the rest of historical time wanting to heal and restore a broken creation, that it may become an organism of true reconciliation and peace, is with us in a very real and urgent way. For God so loved the world, that he sent his Son to be with us, to be among us, to experience the full range of human emotions and to be in dialogue with us – to show us the way, the light, the gate that will open our hearts and minds to the Kingdom of God.
Luke is telling us that the God of Creation has sent his Son, Jesus to be a player in the massive effort to restore creation. Jesus who will restore sight to the blind, who will heal the lame so that they may once again walk, who will heal the sick and restore hearing to the deaf, raise the dead and bring good news to the poor is among us. Jesus whose compassion will rock the world, refocusing attention and worship away from the empire ruled by Rome and return it to the Kingdom of God is here to show us the way, the truth and the light.
The story of the Nativity, or God’s involvement with the world, is a story that never changes. The gift of the baby born to a virgin somewhere in a cold, dark Galilee over two thousand years ago, is the same gift that we – you and I - have received, and will receive, from God each year. Each year the gift of Christ our Saviour remains the same, and the fact that this gift was meant for all remains the same. Our gift from God in the person of his Son Jesus, is our reminder that we are now and always will be in relationship with God.
What then does this mean for us and our personal stories? A great deal I believe. I believe that the Nativity gift of Jesus calls us to be terrified shepherds in the cold and dark field; to, in faith, follow the commands of the angels to visit the newborn child; to travel a difficult journey in order to see and to experience – to know - the Son of God; and then, to return to our communities and spread the good news of great joy to all.
In other words, our stories, if they are to be good stories, should reflect intentional efforts to receive the gift of Jesus in a way that allows us to know him, know him deep within our hearts and our souls. Our stories should be developed out of a dialogue with God, making every attempt to understand his will and not ours. Our stories should be uninhibited in their proclaiming the good news of great joy – news that informs the world of the need to reconcile and to heal. Our stories should make history and make faith possible for future generations.
Throughout Scripture we read, and experience, in one way or another, that we are all created in the image of God; that God dwells within us all – at the very center of our beings; that we are all holy, because God, the God within us, is holy; that we are all sacred beings called to servant hood – servant hood to God and to all God’s creation; that our ultimate duty is to do right and trust in God.
In this challenging time of violence, terrorism, political unrest, and economic uncertainly, let us, more fervently and prayerfully than ever, seek the holy within us; put on the armor of God; and go forth in faith in seeking ways to bring God’s creation back into right relationship with him. This is the dialogic response that God is seeking as acknowledgement of the gift of Jesus in the manger this Christmas morning. This is the template from which our stories should be formed.
It does not matter that Christ was born long ago in Bethlehem unless he is born in you today. (Meister Eckhart) AMEN.