“Glory to God in the highest heaven…” Luke 2:14
Just this. Just now. Nothing else. Not the things left undone nor the things done. Just this. Just now. It’s more than enough, always has been, always will be. This. Now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Open your eyes and look around. See the light pushing back the night. Each little light shining, God’s light, your light. With another breath, solely for safety sake, blow out your candle while trusting that the light will always be with you even in the darkest of nights.
Just this. Just now. For it is Christmas. Now and then. A few moments ago, as fire was passed from one to another and the overhead lights were turned off, after the Crucifer, the one who carries the cross, two torch bearers and the book-bearer processed into the center of the congregation while we were singing the second verse of Silent Night, I leaned over and whispered to the book-bearer “You’re holding Christmas.” For she/for he was holding the heart of it — God’s love entering into the world through a tiny, little baby. From that birth comes everything else Christmas – the carols and creches, the trees and traditions, the pageants and parades, and even the Grinch down in Who-ville and Santa at the North Pole. Yes, Santa! He’s descended from Santa Nicholas, St. Nicholas – the third century bishop of Myra. St. Nick cared for the poor, especially children. He was at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. where along with the leaders of the church wrestled with putting into the words the nature of the relationship of God the Son with God the Father. The Council shaped the Nicene Creed giving us the beautiful language of eternally begotten, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God – poetry we will use tonight to profess faith in the tiny, little baby born in Bethlehem.
After finally getting to Bethlehem, after finding a place to rest, after the labor pains, after the birth – did the innkeeper’s wife help or were Mary and Joseph on their own? – after all this then, there was joy! Joy in their newborn son! Joy as they counted his ten fingers and ten tiny toes. Joy as they swaddled him wrapping him in a cocoon of love and protection. Joy as Mary fed him and Joseph looked on in wonderment. I know this to be true because I have witnessed such joy over and over again at the birth of so many of the children of St. John’s! At the heart of Christmas there is joy which you and I are invited to receive into our own hearts.
That’s why we’re here tonight. Martin Luther preached of this in a Christmas sermon asking, “Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens with joy, for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul.” So listen with joy. This child was born for us and that changes everything. Then becomes now. Jesus is ours as much as he is Mary’s and Joseph’s. What joy!
Some people radiate joy from the inside out. One of the most precious gifts of our life together as a congregation is that these joy-filled folks are all around us. They’re the angels who tell us not to be afraid when fear fills our souls. They’re the ones who say, “Let’s do it – whether it’s mission trip in Appalachia, supporting the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre in Tanzania or providing lunch for the hungry in Phoenixville.” Angels sing in the choir, give generously of time, talent and treasure and love out of God’s love for them. One of our angels introduced the practice of writing in a gratitude journal at our Wednesday evening Bible Study group. So that no matter what was happening in our lives, even in times great pain and sorrow, we would not be afraid but trust that God was with us. Last Wednesday, she read what we wrote a year ago, the first time we did the journal together and looking back we could see what God had done and it was surprising. If you are seeking a community of faith, a place of joy, know that you are welcome here and angels looking forward to greeting you.
Yet when trouble fills our hearts it can be so difficult to hear about joy and to believe that Christ was born for me, for you. Perhaps that’s where you are tonight. You remember the joy, but tonight you are just so, very. tired. Maybe this season has been anything but merry as grief envelops you or worry and anxiety takes root in your soul. You want to trust the joy, but dare not do so. Or possibly tonight finds you pulsating with anger about the current political situation, about the isms constantly rearing their ugly, violent, hate filled heads, about our nation’s inability to listen to one another let alone work together for the common good. Joy seems sorely inadequate.
Those of us with these feelings, we’re the shepherds in the story. They were the ultimate outsiders, almost invisible, considered unclean, the lowest of the low, underpaid and over taxed, doing dangerous, thank less work, struggling, grieving, making good and bad choices. Sometimes they stole to provide for their families. They were getting through life one minute, hour, day at a time. It’s to them the angels sing of great joy. Not to Caesar Augustus, not to Quirinius, governor of Syria. To them. To us
Wherever we are in our faith journey, we can take our place with the Shepherds to hear God saying, “I see you. I love you. I am making my home in you so you can find your home in me. And we don’t have to feel any which way. That’s the point; God is born for us no matter what we do or don’t do. Because God loves us, just as we are.
Just this. Just now. Tonight, we are in Bethlehem – the name means “house of bread.” From here, God feeds the world, including you and me. So, make of your hands a manger that Mary may place the Christ Child there. Wherever you are on your faith journey, this body, this blood, this child, this grace, this forgiveness, this hope, this peace, this joy, this Christmas – are all for you. This. Now. Amen.
Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, edited by John Nicholas Lenker, Volume 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, 149. And in thanksgiving for the Christmas 2018 sermon of Pastor Susan Ericcson.