Dec. 25, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Wed, Dec 25, 2019 in Christmas, Sermons

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Christmas Day

December 25, 2019

Last night was vibrantly glorious, God’s house was filled with noise and friends, hearty voices by the scores singing out, the children’s pageant excitement was palpable, as were many loving homecomings for college students, grandparents and old friends. We crowded into this place filling it with raucous glad tidings! Like a box of it stuffed and filled until it bursts open with happy fanfare. This morning is quieter, deeper, and still our hearts are overwhelmed by the beauty of this good news of great joy which has come, once again. This is the Word incarnate that runs deep into the ground of our being, taking root in the crevasses of our souls and saying once again, ah, this is what we’ve waited for, this is what the Christ-seeking heart hopes to find. 

We all know people who miss this though, maybe even someone you love. Frederick Buechner writes that “part of us that knows there is something bigger, more significant than the numbing routines of life. What we want is always missing,” he wrote. “The only way we can be sure that it exists at all is that we miss it, that we are born with a longing for it in our hearts.”  He continues, “Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough, but peace, love, joy, are only from God.” (Secrets in the Dark, Harper, San Francisco, 2007).

Today that longing is fulfilled, even if it cannot stay so readily present for very long. Today we get the calm certainty of the Word made flesh among us, with us, for us. In a sense this gospel of John’s telling of Jesus’ beginning is even larger than all of the stories with rich visuals like swaddling clothes and heavenly hosts, images of a star coming to rest, a rustic manger, the entourage of the magi. There is an expansiveness about John’s incarnation story; it is more like the mountaintop where you can look out and see for miles and miles in all directions, see the dawning of God’s word rising at the horizon somehow all the way around.

Christmas might hold wonderful holiday parties, family traditions and decorations, carols and loving gift-giving—and sadly sometimes the high of that can leave people with the post-Christmas slump. What we hope overarches those wonderful aspects of this holy day is to keep with us the knowledge that we have been blessed and enlivened by the coming of the Prince of Peace, or to hear, as Isaiah says, the footfall of “the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.”

It is my prayer that we remain anchored in what this day is about, as John says, the joy of the “Word made flesh” who lived among us. Otherwise would be like beautifully wrapping—an empty box.

John’s gospel announces God’s filling of our souls with what is missing, filling us with God’s exquisite Word made human flesh, and in that moment of realization is great joy. I don’t mean happiness, though that may be too, but rather joy.

Happiness and joy share some commonalities, and this holy day brings both at once for many of us, and yet they are not the same. We find happiness can elude us when times are dark, when we struggle in pain and loss. Even in our suffering though, we can see moments of joy glinting as if behind a door let slightly ajar even in our darkest times.

We can and do go after the happiness we want to experience, but that’s the problem; it is constantly wanting our desires fulfilled that drives our pursuit of happiness. Happiness being personal always—what makes me happy—means it is enormously subjective. Each of us defines it differently and so our going after it is equally individualistic. This also limits happiness; it being dependent on our subjectivity and to some extent dependent on external circumstances. One colleague lamented how often we have to learn and relearn that truth that we cannot make someone else happy! Yet personally I know to finally learn this truth is to be freed from an impossible task. We might be able to elicit happiness in particular responses, like when you find exactly the right gift for someone you love, but even so we cannot control how they receive it, how they respond. (The spouse who keeps saying they need a new vacuum cleaner may not be thrilled to find one under the tree if what they really wanted was cashmere sweater!) Yes, “wanting” is a huge part of how we define what we think will make us happy, but joy goes so much deeper!

Joy isn’t dependent on getting something, and it’s not anything we can go after or make happen. That’s what too much of the world misses about Christmas, and how while a happy time, that find it ultimately unfulfilling.

Again, from Buechner, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to–a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the One who bequeaths it. One would expect joy at a wedding; but it can be equally palpable at a funeral. One would hope for joy on the perfect Christmas morning. Yet it can also come to us in the loneliness of imperfection, when nothing turned out the way we hoped it would, after an argument, and in a hospital bed, even in a jail cell.”  This is because Joy is God’s gift to give. It comes filling us with that deep sense of being in God’s light and love in the brokenness of the world or the anxiety of a fearful time. Although it is not a constant state for us, when we experience joy, don’t we have the sense that it has been drawn for us from an inexhaustible well?

The deep and inexhaustible spring bubbles up and we drink from it, whether we expected it or not, and whether we deserve it or not – it has nothing whatsoever to do with deserving this gift from God, this “true light, which enlightens everyone” and is “coming into the world.”

Each year I eagerly greet you with the apparently more British words, “Happy Christmas!” I truly hope it to be true for you, even though some years it is not within our power to make it so. So this morning I hope for you a Joyous Christmas, not one we can go after, wrap up, and bring back, nor tame or schedule. Joyous Christmastide, because God can grant us joy whether this is a happy time or not, for this is God’s way, God’s gift to give. God doesn’t wait to see if we are good enough for it or have sought it or are ready for it; joy is simply given —and depends only our openness to receive it. It is given us right where we are, no matter the state of the world, no matter how faithful you are, joy is offered to us. For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

I want to close with words from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says in his Christmas message this morning, as he notes that in John’s gospel there are no Angels or shepherds, no Bethlehem barn or manger, no traveling wise men.

In John it is a poetry of new possibility, born of the reality of God. when God breaks into the world. I don’t think it’s an accident that long ago, followers of Jesus began to commemorate his coming into the world when the world seemed to be at its darkest…Undoubtedly, these ancient Christians who began to celebrate the coming of God into the world, they knew very well that this Jesus, his teachings, his message, his spirit, his example, his life points us to the way of life itself, a way of life, where we take care of each other. A way of life, where we care for God’s world. A way of life, where we are in a loving relationship with our God, and with each other as children of the one God, who has created us all…It’s not an accident that long ago, followers of Jesus began to commemorate his birth, his coming into the world when the world seemed darkest. When hope seemed to be dashed on the altar of reality. It is not an accident that we too, commemorate his coming, when things do not always look right in this world.

But there is a God. And there is Jesus. And even in the darkest night. That light once shined and will shine still.  His way of love is the way of life. It is the light of the world. And the light of that love shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome it.

God love you. God bless you and may you have a Merry Christmas, and may this world be blessed. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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