Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Dec. 24, 2021

Posted by on Fri, Dec 24, 2021 in Christmas, Feast Days, Sermons

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Dec. 24, 2021

From Amanda Gorman’s new book, Call Us What We Carry.

As the world came apart,
We have come together. 
New meaning lapping 
Against us like mooned tides. …
Laden with what we’ve lost,
We are led
By what we love.

(From Essex II, pg 195. Viking Penguin Random House, NY 2021)

This, all of you, this is the Nativity scene come to life tonight. From a world which came apart, “we have come together.” We are all at different times Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the shepherds, and the angels. And if you tend to be a bit late to the scene, it must mean you’re the Magi this time. We embody these ordinary and remarkable folks who gathered in a Bethlehem stable so long ago; attentive, awe-struck, blessed. I suppose we can even be the animals present that night. Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill thought so; “Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born, and in their very manger He must be laid—and they will be the first to fall on their knees before Him.”(Incarnation and Childhood, in Light of Christ, Address given in Pleshey, England, May, 1932)

It’s the cover of your bulletin coming to life as the infant arm reaches out for you, for me. We are those gathered near enough to smell his milky breath or the sweetness of hay, and as we see the tiny hand stretching out we want to reach for it ourselves feeling the tiny fingers curl around our own. Tonight we celebrate Love Incarnate entering our world and which makes a home in us. When that happens, we are the Christ Child too, and we reach out with Christ’s hand to touch, to feel, to comfort, to give, to draw another near, and to love. You have paused everything we’ve been busy doing or working on or accomplishing, simply to bask in this infectious love. We are witnesses to the sacred presence of the infant Messiah — who does very little tonight. His great action is coming. Coming to us.

So what does it mean for Christ to be born within us and be part of our very selves? Tonight it is being present in awe, feeling filled with joy, and singing his praises and basking in the spiritual light. This is a beautiful part of Christ born within us, but only part. The other half is harder – though it lasts longer; letting the mystery bring forth our response and transform us. We aren’t really Christ-bearers, Christians, until we respond. 

Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” We don’t always recognize darkness as it falls around us. Remember playing outside and your dad or mum calling you in because it’s dark? We said of course, “It’s not dark yet, I can still see!” We couldn’t quite see it until we came into the house blinking in the brightness of the light. This has been such a time for so many people; not just the pandemic, also disasters around the world, outbursts of violence, heartbreak as differences divide us, increasing numbers of people without homes or jobs. We cannot honestly say “But it’s not dark yet.” We all know it is, and I don’t mean just metaphorically. Every one of us lives with the forces of pain, suffering, malevolence, evil, disaster, injustice, loss — those things that feel too heavy and impossible to see our way through. Tonight we come in from that darkness to find Christ’s light shining brilliantly, such that it enters in and changes us, and so that we may carry it out into the world with us. Many of you have been bringing light to the shadows of your pre-covid life, making choices to remove or reduce those obstacles which block the light of what is most important, what we most love. Or maybe this Christmastide light is renews those efforts.

A while back I took a class called Preaching the Verbs at Columbia Theological Seminary taught by Anna Carter Florence, professor of preaching there. She had us circle the verbs in assigned scriptures, excitedly telling us verbs are where the action is and where it becomes our story more fully. Not that we don’t treasure the nouns of our beautiful gospel tonight; Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Star, Stable, Manger, Angels, Sheep, Shepherds. Yet none of that was in my late grocery run last night, or last Thursday’s board meeting or hospital visit. They are just so—biblical—that occasionally we dismiss their relevance. Verbs we all share; register, go, engage, expecting, deliver, born, wrapping, laying, living, shining, watching, fearing, finding, telling, praising, pondering. These are your life and mine, and also in the long ago far away figures of our Nativity story. Transcending time and place, sharing them we can enter the mystery and it enters us. We are like God’s children being called into the light when darkness has fallen unnoticed. 

Dr. Carter Florence also had us list who the verbs ‘belonged to.’ Augustus only got to decree. Joseph goes to register. Mary does better; she is expecting, giving birth, wrapping, laying, and eventually treasuring and pondering. Shepherds, however, were the busiest; they live, keep watch, were terrified, went with haste, they find, they saw, heard, and spoke, they amazed, returned, glorified, praised, and made known. Those common working folk whose names we will never know, have biggest pile of verbs. They are the original action figures, these shepherds who slept outdoors, worked the longest hours, and probably smelled like sheep. They are the first invited to see the Christ Child, they are the first to share the news and amaze all who heard. With God’s grace, maybe we can become such responsive shepherds too. We are part of a chain reaction, a chain of action. Choosing to act on God’s call so each loving act leads to another, and in this way, Christ is forever coming within and among us.

So, what are some verbs to describe your response to the Christ who comes? Tonight is an excellent start; tonight you came! Some in person and some online, all equally beloved. Tonight we pray, sing, greet, give, welcome, celebrate, taste and become the Body of Christ. Then we are to “Go forth proclaiming the Good News that Jesus Christ is born. Alleluia!” With what verbs, actions, will you respond, and answer God’s angels, calling us like shepherds, to get up and go, to return, tell, and amaze? 

I hope we will go out filled with the joy and light of  Christ this night, and I pray responding to it sustains and transforms us, and our broken world. Please know this is not about being happy or pretending we have no pain. This infant Messiah’s coming means, no matter how dark things are, the light of Christ spills out to illumine all that is around us. 

As the world came apart,
We have come together. 
New meaning lapping 
Against us like mooned tides.
Laden with what we’ve lost,
We are led
By what we love.

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.