Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Jan. 1, 2023, at 10:30 AM

Posted by on Sun, Jan 1, 2023 in Christmas, Feast Days, Sermons

New Year’s Day:
Christmas Lessons & Carols

Jan. 1, 2023

As I hear people say how much they want to leave 2022 behind, how ready we are for this new year, it occurred to me that I heard the same thing — last year. And the year prior. Yes, there’s been more than a little ‘bad news’, even a sense of ongoing darkness these past few years on many different fronts, and yes we are more than ready for good news to happen, to ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and beyond. How fortunate that is what we celebrate in these twelve days of Christmas; the good and joyful news that Christ is born, ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ This is the news we happily share in greeting each other with Happy Christmas! 

This good news is better than we often realize because while Christ’s comes amidst darkness and all sorts of trials, he comes and sees us out of love. When you love someone deeply it’s how you see them. When one you love screws up or is in pain the truly loving don’t leave, they stay, even when things cannot be fixed. The closer we are to one another the more we find ourselves loving the whole person, disappointments, screw ups,  obnoxious differences, failings and all. This is the love of God who became one of us so to be that much closer and to redeem us. Whatever the past year or three have been that makes us ready to be done with them, Christ still comes. In his coming we are loved, forgiven, and made whole, renewed. 

As Paul tells the Galatians, in the fullness of time, God sent him, born of a woman as we are, “so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” In John we hear, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” 

What you may have heard is the news that this adoption in love, Christ’s answer to the heart’s cry, became flesh this past week—in Buffalo, New York. 

“I’m going to die” the man managed to whisper.
“Oh no, you’re not gonna die, we’re not even talking about that!” She said.

Over the howl of wind and thick snow in the early morning of Christmas Eve, Sha’Kyra Aughtry heard something outside; a wailing a voice crying out in agony. She went out into the blizzard (that had already claimed 39 lives) and found a man trapped in a snowdrift, completely disoriented. So she and her boyfriend carried him, Joey White, into their home.

Joey is 64, mentally disabled, and lives in a group home. Although he’d agreed to stay in, he went out and after walking for miles, got lost, confused, and dangerously cold. Sha’Kyra took him in and with her three boys (5, 6, and 13) and boyfriend tried to help. No emergency vehicles could get to them.

She had to use a hairdryer to peel off his clothing, which clung tightly to his body, shivering with extreme frostbite. She cut off his frozen socks and removed the remnants of a grocery store bag that were cemented to his hands, which were severely swollen and covered with sores and blisters from exposure. Finally Joe was able to tell her his sister Yvonne’s phone number which he’d memorized. 

“Hi. You don’t know me, but I have your brother,” a shaky voice said when Yvonne picked up.

“Sha’Kyra was telling me that he was literally frozen,” his sister said. “She covered him up, she did everything for this man. She washed his clothes, she bathed him, she fed him.”

The next day, Christmas Day, still unable to get medical help, she posted live on Facebook. 

“I’m asking for help from whoever! This man needs serious help.”

Then she says, “I’ve been very private and sensitive about this situation,” explaining that she had exhausted all options for getting medical help. “I have literally called everybody under the sun.”

Within half an hour, countless neighbors offered to help, several came to plow around their home. Others helped take Joey, wrapped in warm blankets, to the County Medical Center. Sha’Kyra rode with him, and you can hear her promise him, “It’s OK Joey, I’m right here. I’m right here, not going anywhere.” 

At the Medical Center they carry Joey in, and on the video you hear her, “This man could’ve died. I wasn’t gonna let that happen on my watch!”

I wasn’t gonna let that happen on my watch! She doesn’t blame anyone, she never makes it about herself. She hears this stranger in trouble and thinks —not who else could do it, not what trouble it was on Christmas Eve — but that it wasn’t gonna happen on her watch! 

Christ is born once again in the moment she lives her truth, that this is ‘her watch.’ 

Said another way, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

It’s hard to say who were the Magi in this story, who is the Christ child, or Mary, Joseph, or the shepherds. They were all out, in a place far away from home, seeking something—not all about themselves, but something greater than any one of them. What did they hope for?

The Magi came the farthest, and I imagine them “in the East” staring up to read a dark and starry sky. When they first saw that wild new star, his star, did they fear it was a bad sign? Did they know (or at least hope) it was a good one? By the time they get to Jerusalem it is momentous enough to tell Herod they are seeking “the child born king of the Jews” having “observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.” Herod did not think it good news at all, and fear of losing all sovereignty overtook him. The Magi weren’t looking to convert or to follow Jesus, they went to honor and worship, and to offer their gifts—unasked for and unanticipated. The shepherds hadn’t sought him for any gain or advantage either, but to be present to God’s glory, —after getting past their initial fear. Mary and Joseph, shepherds and Magi, they were witness to the miracle of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the very first time. 

Sha’Kyra and her family were not looking for praise or gain, they didn’t do it as a statement of racial justice or point out his skin color was different from theirs. Led by Sha’Kyra they offered their help and care and love for another human being, and in doing so became witnesses —and part of— the Christmas miracle too.

Whether you’re one who is glad to be past 2022 or not—it’s 2023 anyway, and we are still counting our lives and history from that first Christmas in Bethlehem. Yet at the time his birth would not have made the nightly news or gone viral online. The enduring story depends so much on what we do with it, what we make of it. We make the news, good or bad. We are the ones who can choose to be not just observers or passers by; we get to be bearers of light and hope. We know that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Some time this week, I invite you to light a candle and have it in a dark place while you ponder the way light changes darkness, and think of where you have seen transforming light in the past year, and more importantly decide how you will seek to bring that Light,  the love of Christ, into the year ahead. Consider how you’d most like to do so, and then challenge yourself by asking how or for whom you’d least like to. 

There’s no mention of Joseph frisking the shepherds for weapons or asking if they were good Jews, nothing about checking out just where exactly these Magi came from, what religion they were, or would they tell Herod, and whose political camp they favored. Not even a note about differences in clothing or appearance or unfamiliar expressions in ‘foreign’ languages, though every Nativity scene shows these. The Holy Family received them all, made room for these seekers, sanctioned their awe and honoring, welcomed their stories of angels and stars, —and so they went on their way as changed people. Because after holding the infant Christ near to your heart, none of the rest matters. Because experiencing the Holy One made flesh right before us, —well, none of us can ever be the same. 

Just ask Joey and Sha’Kyra.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.