Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Preach One: Christmas Day

Preached at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral, Jackson, MS.

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen...

And that's where Luke leaves us on Christmas night, although of course we cannot be certain whether the shepherds found their fields and flocks again by morning light instead of starlight.  It came upon a midnight clear, wrote the Rev. Edmund Sears, imagining that glorious song of old ringing out when the night was darkest and the cold at its most deep.

They went with haste, the story goes, perhaps with echoes of angels and glorias still sounding when they arrived and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger.  How many minutes old was he?  Hours, at the most?

Good news...great joy...a Savior...the Messiah... The shepherds made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed.  But even if their account of angels took a while to tell; even if some among them asked if they could hold the baby; even if they tried to sing him some of the heavenly song they had heard; they would not have stayed long, mindful of Mary's weariness.  And so, Luke writes, they returned, glorifying and praising God.

Watching them go, Mary and Joseph surely slipped into such a fitful sleep as a baby and a barnful of animals would allow.  When they awoke...well, we only have the story of Christmas night.  What happened on Christmas day?

The night, I suspect, though holy, had been anything but silent with cows lowing and sheep bleating and Mary laboring and midwives instructing and at long last a baby crying.  When Christmas day dawned, it might have been quiet for the first time since they settled in the night before, exhausted already, and sore, from their journey just ended.

Did they wonder, still somewhere between waking and sleeping, whether it had all been just a dream?  The angels, the singing, the shepherds, the swaddling clothes?  And then the baby stirred and sighed, and the morning sun shone through the stable door, and Mary and Joseph saw that it had not been a dream but wonderfully and amazingly real.  Reaching for Jesus, they held love in their arms, even if they only understood it at the time to be the love of a parent for a child.

And yet, those midnight glorias in harmony with Mary's own magnificat proclaimed this child was not just beloved but Love, not just God-given but very God of very God.  By his birth those things of which Mary sang were already coming to light, the mighty being cast down, the lowly being lifted up, the hungry being filled with good things...

It is Christmas day, no longer night, for those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.  The light of Jesus Christ would reveal once and for all the love of God, and would show us how to live in that love.  Howard Thurman reflected on that way of living, that way of loving, in the words offered as our final blessing this morning:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to all,
To make music in the heart.

It is Christmas day, when the work of Christmas begins.  Perhaps, though, we who are weary, we who are sore, we who have had long days or nights, whether from work or study or sorrow or sickness or grief or loneliness or lovelessness or lifelessness...perhaps, like Mary and Joseph in the quiet of Christmas day, we would do well to pause first.  To find, for the first time in a long while, some silence.  To take love in our arms, even if we only understand it at the time to be love for a person or a memory or a story or a song.  For the one Mary and Joseph hold today is the one who would one day hold us all in his own outstretched arms, with love, for love, as Love, that we might be with Love for ever.  Amen.

1 comment:

Gari said...

Wonderful how you conveyed your sermon and your blog. Closing it with those wonderful quoted words by Howard Thurman and then your own words about how the work of Christians begins on Christmas day and all the days after... Beautiful!