Well, it’s been an interesting year for us as a country and for the world. Some of it has been comical. Some of it has been horrifying. There has been division everywhere and violence seems to be contained nowhere. And here, in this night when we come for a multitude reasons, we don’t want to hear about the state of the world. We want to hear a word of peace. We want to have some breathing room. We want to hear that the boots of the tramping warriors will be burned as fuel for the fire. We want to be reminded of beauty. We want to hear the angels sing.
Don’t worry; I mention that the times in which we live are interesting times because I want to acknowledge that Christianity was born in interesting times. Uncertainty and change are nothing new. War and political violence are nothing new. Hate and social conflict are nothing new. And the early church’s response to the interesting times in which they lived was to tell the story about who Jesus was and what happened to him.
The response of the Christian community to the “interesting times” in which they lived was to tell the story of Jesus. To speak about the blind eyes he opened. To speak about the withered hands he made whole. To speak about the unclean he made clean. To speak about the sinners he welcomed. To speak about the sins he forgave. To speak about his summons to live justice and mercy. To speak about his command to love not only your neighbor as yourself but to love your enemy. To speak about his teaching that we should forgive as we have been forgiven, that we should welcome the outcast and heal the sick and feed the hungry. To speak about the reign of God that Jesus made manifest among us: a world where the Spirit of God governs every heart, the world of which the prophet spoke when he declared:
All the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore
We are here tonight not just to sing the carols and see the pretty candles (although, I admit, when I was young that was why I came). We are here to tell the story.
Two Sundays ago we had our Christmas party with a very nice luncheon after worship and the Main Street Singers, from the High School, performing for us. They stayed for the lunch and a young man from the choir was sitting across from me. In the course of our conversation I mentioned that the young people in our parish had done the Christmas story in worship that morning. And he responded, “Oh, yeah? What story was that?” So I tried to give him a brief version of the story we read tonight.
He then asked me if there wasn’t something in the story about a boy with a drum (he was thinking of the song “The Little Drummer Boy” that was written in 1941 and became popular in the late 50’s). I mean no disrespect of this young man, I am certainly not making fun of him; he simply didn’t know the story.
And he is not alone. As a society, we don’t know the Biblical stories like we once did. We aren’t familiar with the sound of the scriptures. We often don’t understand the imagery. We take things literally that were never meant to be taken literally, and we ignore things that seem fanciful to us and miss their profound truth.
Since there are so many different religious opinions out there, and since it seems like the only Christians that we seem to see on TV are the crazy ones, we tend to look upon the whole religious enterprise as suspect.
But words don’t get remembered and written down and passed on for thousands of years unless they are exceptionally profound. They don’t get saved because someone said they were scripture; they become scripture because everybody saved them.
I want to say that again. These writings weren’t preserved because someone said they were scripture; they become scripture because everybody saved them.
And they made copies, and they passed them on to friends, and they translated them into different languages. These words are remembered and regarded as divine because they have power to affect us, because they ring with truth, because they speak to the deepest question of our lives.
This is why, in these interesting times, we tell the story. To whatever darkness there is in the world, to whatever shadows loom over our hearts, to whatever challenges stand before us, to whatever fears we face in these interesting times, we tell the story of the one who opened eyes and hearts and healed families and communities and refused violence and revenge, who did not yield to fear, in whom was no greed or selfishness, in whom was a perfect fidelity to God and neighbor, a pure love of God and others. All others.
We are here to tell the story:
6A child has been born for us,
a son given to us.
We are not alone in the world. There is a heartbeat to the universe. There is a song of love and life at the heart of all existence. It is a reality we don’t know how to describe except by calling it divine. Our confession as a community is quite simple: that heartbeat, that song, that spirit at the center of all things shines through the words of this book and takes on form in the life of this child of Bethlehem, in the life he lived, in the Spirit he breathed, in the death he died, and in life he yet lives.
In the work and words of this child is the truest expression of our humanity and the fullest expression of the divine. In the work and words of this child is the light for our darkness and the guide for our paths. In the work and words of this child is the life than cannot perish.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATumacacori12-11_016.JPG By Packbj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons