It’s always a wonder to me the way Christmas unfolds each year. There is often a moment that seems to freeze in my mind and I think this is Christmas. And my mind is full of those scrapbook pages of moments, the ghosts of Christmas past. There are lots of them that have that picture-perfect quality. The laughter drenched party with friends. The silent, holy night of Christmas Eve worship. The quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow. But, the moments that seem to be surfacing most these days are the ones that are much less tidy. I might describe them as the descent into chaos. It’s when the shine has worn off, when has headache set in, when packages lie eviscerated in a pile of torn gift wrap on the floor. Sometimes I look around and I think “This is Christmas? This place is a mess! My mind is a mess! My heart is a mess!”
And there in that mess, I see the babe of Bethlehem, and it begins to makes sense.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:1)
We have partnered with TryTank – the experimental laboratory for church growth and innovation – to produce a new preaching resource aimed particularly at smaller congregations (those with an average Sunday attendance of 29 or fewer). That said, any congregation can use it. We have also paired it with an adult forum curriculum. From Christ the King Sunday to Christmas Day, we have six sermons each about 12 minutes long. They are based on the Sunday lectionary. The video sermons will be available on the web and can be played as a sermon during the service.
More information and to watch the video: https://www.trytank.org/vpmdec25.html
There is a reason we celebrate Christmas at the end of December, when the weather is cold, the days short, the nights long and dark. There is a reason we celebrate Christmas at the darkest, coldest time of the year. There is a reason we come out in the dark and cold, and make our way to churches, chapels, cathedrals and monasteries, all over the world.
Our ancestors in the faith knew why. They knew something about night, and about darkness. They who lived in a world lit only by fire, knew that the world, at least at this time of the year, was indeed a dark, cold place. They knew something about the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, how easy it is to get lost in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that there are indeed things to be afraid of in the dark. They knew, as we probably don’t, that danger lurked in the darkness of the night.
And so they looked for the light. Any light. While darkness represented cold and fear and death, light was the place of warmth, and love, and life. So they looked for the light. They paid attention to the light. They knew that moment in the night when darkness gave way to light; that time of the year when the light began to overcome the dark, if only by a minute.
“The Word was made flesh and lived among us.”
Amazing, wondrous flesh: a baby with bright eyes and smile, tiny fingers, a bundle of new living love. Fragile, frail flesh: reliant on others for food, warmth, provision. Whether child, youth, adult, or elder, even with great care, each will sicken and die. Connected, touching flesh: face-to-face baby and parents bond before and beyond words. Human bodies relate in families and communities both given and chosen. Looking at each other, faces light up and we know love. The Word became flesh—amazing, fragile, connected—and lived among us.
Disconnected this year, we long to be together in the flesh, to see and touch, hug and hold. Fragile and frail, we mourn the dead and dying, struggle to tend the sick, to care for each other, to make ends meet. We are weary from so much change and adaptation.
Being human is amazing. Remember the wonder of our breath, every movement we make, our capacity for imagination and discovery, for being playful and creative. Remember how skin and other organs work to protect from and then restore after injury. Remember the healing power of touch, listening, tears, and laughter.
God became human in Jesus, to live as one of us. “Pleased with us in flesh to dwell Jesus our Emmanuel.”[i] God was pleased to fully immerse into being human. The “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Mighty God, … Prince of Peace”[ii]came and still comes for, with, and as one of us. Jesus longs with us, mourns with us, and with a twinkling eye reminds us of amazing bodies and wondrous love.
Look at the Child of Bethlehem. We have hope. God still comes. Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. With one hand on your heart, reach out to another. This is a way to show and feel affection on Zoom. Though distant, we are still connected. Look to the glory embodied, and share the love. Merry Christmas!
[i] Charles Wesley, 1739, alt. “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” verse 2
[ii] Isaiah 9:6
What does true darkness look like? You might think this a peculiar way to begin a sermon for Christmas Day, but I think it is a valid question. From the Autumnal equinox we begin a journey into deep darkness as our days grow shorter and our nights grow longer. Many of us dread the end of Daylight-Saving Time when we set our clocks back an hour. Even though we enjoy some extra sleep that night, we find our Monday afternoon commute home after work disorienting because it looks and feels more like 9 pm rather than 5 pm. On this Christmas Day, we now find ourselves with a glint of hope in our eyes, having just passed the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. We can now count on our days to increase in length as we journey towards the light, yearning for those long summer evenings and the experience of watching the sunset at the end of a warm weekend day.
Keeping this in mind, I would like to return to my original question: What does true darkness look like? I suspect most of us will have a different answer for this question. The condition of your eyesight and how well you see might determine how you experience darkness. Some might think of darkness metaphorically, especially those of us who have experienced depression, addiction, or know what it feels like to receive a distressing medical diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one. Perhaps it depends on the places we have traveled to or have lived in our life. If you have had the chance to live in Alaska, you might have a different perspective on darkness where there are places that go dark for about two months. Those of us who live in a city like Boston might have to create darkness in order to sleep, covering our eyes at night with a mask to block out the artificial light of the city that penetrates our curtains and blinds.
Isaiah 52:7-10 & John 1:1-14
We are here to celebrate Christ, to rejoice and revel in the revelation of the Word made Flesh, to fall headlong into belief for the first time, or the five-thousandth time. You are here, probably, to listen – for the first or the five-thousandth time, to “hear the good news of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,” in the words of Isaiah. But, probably, you are also drawn to see. To see and exclaim, even before hearing, How beautiful. How beautiful: the messenger’s feet upon the mountains. How beautiful: the holy arm which the Lord has bared. My God, how beautiful: this Child we have sought with the eyes of our hearts for so long.
Christmas, for Christians in the West, is the foremost opportunity to re-embrace the Medieval impulse to look and to touch; to show things of great meaning first, then to tell as commentary on the showing. As the faith of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America remains to this day, the faith of the Medieval West was unabashedly sensory. Looking and touching and tasting were essential to believing, and they are even more so today.
Isaiah 52:7-10 / Psalm 98 / Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) / John 1:1-14
It’s Christmas Day. I love Christmas – and I love singing at Christmas! Christmas is a time for singing: everyone and everything seems to be singing. Have you noticed when you are in a really good mood, or at a birthday, or you’ve just heard a wonderful piece of news, you want to sing, or ring bells, or jump up and down – you can’t help it – it’s just joy! Particularly at Christmas, the Scriptures are full of singing. Our Psalm today: “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things – lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.” And not just people, but the whole of creation: “Shout for joy all you lands, lift up your voice, rejoice and sing … let the sea make a noise, let the rivers clap their hands … let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96) At Christmas, it is as if the whole of creation is singing with joy!
Isaiah 52:7-10/Psalm 98/Hebrews 1:1-4/John 1:1-14
A very good morning to you all, a very good Christmas morning. We are delighted that you have joined us for this festive occasion. This happy morning we join the multitude of the heavenly host in the great proclamation: “…to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill among all people.” [Luke: 2:11, 14]
I’ve been pondering lately what I’d like to have written on my tombstone. We don’t do epitaphs on tombstones, and I don’t expect to need one any time soon, but if we did and if I did, I think I’ve settled on what I’d like to have, just three words: “He loved well.” He loved well…
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
A Christmas story – not from Dickens, but from Kierkegaard:
Once upon a time, there was a powerful and wise king who fell in love with a beautiful maiden who lived in his kingdom. The king’s problem was this: how to tell her of his love? He called for the best and brightest of his consultants and asked their advice. He wanted to do this in the best and most proper way – and, of course, he hoped his love would be cherished by the maiden and returned. But when all of his advisors had had their say, the king was left disappointed. For every one of them had counseled him in the same way. “Show up at the maiden’s house,” they said, “dressed in all your royal finery. Dazzle her with the power of your presence and with your riches. Overwhelm her with expensive gifts. What girl could resist? Who would reject such an opportunity, or turn away from such an honor? Who would possibly refuse a king? And if need be,” they added, “you can always command her to become your wife.”
If you have paid close attention yesterday and today you may have noticed, as Brother David told us in his homily yesterday, that something is missing, or perhaps I should say, someone is missing, and you would be right. We have all been waiting a long time, and suddenly the day has come and gone, and now there is no sign of him.
If you have paid close attention you may have noticed that something is missing this morning, or perhaps I should say, someone is missing, and you would be right. We have all been waiting a long time for his arrival, and suddenly the day has come, and there is no sign of him.
At least there is no sign of him in the way we might expect. In a flash, the stable and manger have disappeared, and with them the donkey and cow and sheep. Everything has been swept clean and there is no sign of star or shepherds or angels or even of Mary and Joseph. Except for passing references in the hymns this morning, and the shrine at the back of the chapel, the baby is gone.
So here we find ourselves on Christmas morning and the very thing we have all come to see, a baby in a manger, is missing. Only the vague memory of his birth lingers like those baby pictures we have seen of our parents and grandparents. Like them, we know he must have been a baby at one time, but even on the day we celebrate his birth the memory of the baby is fleeting at best.