This sermon was preached last Christmas Eve at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Listen to the sermon here
The little fellow on our bulletin is my great-nephew, Sawyer in whom I continue to see the face of the Christ-Child! May we all see in everyone the face of Christ!
It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. On this night of nights, we gather together around a story that reveals the truth of our humanity. Together, on this holy night, we participate in the birth of a child. Tonight, we see in the image of a new born baby swaddled in our hopes and dreams. All our longings for love and peace rest in the images that live and breathe in this story that has been handed down to us. It is a story we know so well and yet, it is a story that we have barely begun to understand. Like all stories, we can simply listen to it, or read it, and respond with little more than a nostalgic nod to simpler times when hoped that someone or something out there or up there would come and save us from ourselves and our warring madness, and selfish greed or we can open ourselves to the transformative power of that some stories have and
We can dare to participate in the story, engage it, wrestle with it, and make it our own. If we let it, this story can open us to that which lives and breathes beyond the words of the story. The characters in this story can live and breathe and have their being in us.
Sadly, we all too often get bogged down in the words themselves, measuring them and testing them as we try to pinpoint the origins of the words and miss all together the many truths that this story can convey. Some folks never get past arguing about the history. They just can’t seem to understand the power of myth to convey truth. The ancient scribes, who passed this story on to us, knew well the wisdom using mythology to convey truth. So, on this holy night, in the presence of one another, let us seek the wisdom of the ages remembering that wisdom is a precarious treasure; a treasure that has the ability to enrich our lives.
At the heart of this story is a newborn baby. Each and every one of us is wise enough to know that there is nothing like a newborn baby to help you get to the very heart of reality. For who among us can hold a newborn in our arms and not wonder. Awe and wonder is the place where wisdom begins. A newborn baby positively oozes with the aura of the mystery that lies at the very core of reality. What is it? What is life? Who is this little creature? Where did it come from? How did get here? Who created it? What is it all about? For years and years and years, the questions about the nature of reality, about who we are, and what we are, who created us, and why have been stifled by answers given to us by others. For those of us who have long since felt stifled by the answers that have been provided, this story offers us the opportunity to look beyond the answers that fail to satisfy our longing to know more of what it means to be human.
So, let us for a moment try to set aside the answers that tend to trip off our tongues on Christmas Eve. Let us instead just look at the baby. The beautiful newborn baby; any newborn, and indeed every newborn can bring so much hope and joy into creation. Newborns embody the potential of what might be. Newborns are a vision of the power of LOVE to create something new. They are in and of themselves the hope of what love can become. The presence of a newborn is not without its demands; demands to be cared for, to be fed, to be housed, to be cleaned up after, and most of all to be loved. The sheer magnitude of the task is overwhelming, frightening, exciting and rewarding.
Tonight, all the potential of life itself is lying in a stable. In all that potential lie the hopes and dreams of all the earth. So, what are we to do with all that potential? What is to become of us?
I said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, rather than answer these questions, let me engage this story the way the ancient purveyors of wisdom often revealed truth in one story by laying down another story right beside it. The Jewish people call this midrash; the art of interpreting one story with another story. Once upon a time, there lived an old shoe maker who dreamed one Christmas Eve that Christ would come to visit him the next day. The dream was so real that he was convinced it would come true. So, the next morning he got up and went out and cut green boughs and decorated his little shoe store and got all ready for Christ to come and visit. He was so sure that Christ was going to come that he just sat down and waited for Christ to appear. The hours passed and Christ didn’t come. But an old man came. He came inside for a moment to get warm out of the winter cold. As the shoemaker talked with him he noticed the holes in the old man’s shoes, so he reached up on the shelf and got him a new pair of shoes. He made sure they fit and that his socks were dry and sent him on his way. Still he waited. But Christ didn’t come.
An old woman came. A woman who hadn’t had a decent meal in two days. They sat and visited for a while, and then the shoemaker prepared some food for her to eat. He gave her a nourishing meal and sent her on her way. Then he sat down again to wait for Christ. But Christ still didn’t come. Then he heard a little boy crying out in front of his shop. He went out and talked with the boy, and discovered that the boy had been separated from his parents and didn’t know how to get home. So, he put on his coat, took the boy by the hand and led him home. When he came back to his little shoe shop it was almost dark and the streets were emptied of people. Then in a moment of despair he lifted his voice to heaven and said, “Oh Christ, why didn’t you come?”
And then in a moment of silence he seemed to hear a voice saying, “Oh shoe maker, lift up your heart. I kept my word. Three times I knocked at your friendly door. Three times my shadow fell across your floor. I was the man with the bruised feet. I was the woman you gave to eat. I was the boy on the homeless street.” Christ had come. The shoemaker just didn’t realize it.
On this holy night, the mystery of new birth awakens the divinity that lives in all of us so that Christ can come again, and again. The awe and wonder inspired by the newborn laying on the straw, opens us to the infinite possibilities of LOVE. The peace that we long for tantalizes us with persuasive playfulness and suddenly we become childlike in our willingness to enter the dreams of our imagination.
Tonight, all the potential of life itself is lying in a stable. In all that potential lie the hopes and dreams of all the earth. Christ has come, enfleshed in every refugee that arrives in Canada and in each and every refugee that remains trapped in the camps. Christ is here, enfleshed in our indigenous sisters and brothers. Christ is here enfleshed in our neighbours’ need. Christ is here enfleshed in the longing of the lost and lonely ones who cross our path.
Will our hospitality be as indifferent as the folks who were caught up in the busyness of the season that required that they be registered? or as limited as the innkeeper’s, or worse yet as antagonistic as Herod’s? Can we enter into the magic of this holy night and engage the story and dare to be moved by the Christ-child to so that we can see the Divinity that lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us? Dare we let the Christ child open us so that we can be the LOVE that brings peace on earth and good will to all?
On this Holy night, let us embrace the newborn. Let the Christ-child find in us the praise of angels,