Preached by the Rev’d Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Christmas Lessons & Carols – The Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2010
Welcome to St. Paul’s on the Green. I hope that you will peruse the other several opportunities in the announcement leaflet for celebrating this sacred and joyful season with us. Recognizing that for everyone, it may not be a stress-free nor particularly easy time of year, we offer this Thursday at 6 pm a Celtic Eucharist of Comfort, Healing & Hope to help you center yourself and prepare for Christmas. It includes music and prayers from the Christian tradition of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.
On Christmas Eve, we invite you to join us for any of our three worship service: at 3 pm, a brief service for young children and their parents; at 5:30—Festival Eucharist with our Choristers singing, preceded by prelude music at 5:15; at 11 pm— Festival Eucharist with our adult Choir singing, preceded by prelude music at 10:30. On Christmas Day, a festival Eucharist at 11 am with carols and vocal quartet. All are welcome in this church and that welcome extends from the church steps to the Communion Table.
Episcopal priest and author, Tom Ehrich, wrote a Christmas meditation on the text of the familiar Gospel which tells us the Christmas story we all love to hear. He suggests that what defines our age is fear—real causes of fear like terrorism, job loss, aging, gangs in our city, debt, loneliness, crime, inadequate retirement income, the fear that if we don’t buy loved ones expensive gifts, they will think us insensitive and unloving —and that these real fears lead to existential fears such as fear of others (especially those different from us), fear of self, of solitude, of life.
He says that every fear creates a market for predators like politicians and religious leaders who use our fears against us to divide us and to create greater and more insurmountable ones.
But listen again to the different kind of message the angel said to the shepherds on that first Christmas, “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
That is God’s word to us in this season, in this sacred place, in this time when our fears—rational and otherwise— may try to get the best of us. “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy.” Christmas means that God enters into time, that God not only acted in history, but entered history. To see the miracle in this we have to think small. How ironic that, in a culture where the norm is to be big, bold, and brash, we have to recondition ourselves to look for God in the small and unexpected—even in a tiny baby lying in a manger warmed by the breath of farm animals.
The real joy and excitement of Christmas is that God is seeking us, giving us the courage to live boldly, even in the midst of our fears, to be fully who we are, to give birth to the spirit of God living within us and, as Father Ehrich ends his Christmas meditation, “not allowing predators and polls to own us, trusting in God to make life worth living, even as fear tries to steal life from us.”
I hope that this splendid Festival of Christmas Lessons and Carols has given you a glimpse of the abundance of all that God continues to give us—samples of the beauty of worship that is a metaphor of God’s extraordinary love and grace all around us and within us.
God has empowered us with the good news we have heard today: ‘Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
For wherever the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the poor are cared for, the marginalized and outcast are welcomed, the abused are brought to safety, the disheartened are given hope, and people are reconciled with one another through God’s grace, the Messiah is born again and the light breaks through the darkness of our world.
As this is a time when we are moved to giving, and not just receiving, I ask your generosity now in the offering we take to support these kinds of wonderful events at St. Paul’s. We may appear to be a rich church because of our commitment to excellence, but the truth is that we struggle to keep doing what we do well and rely on the generosity of our guests and members to allow us to continue in our good work. Blessings on all of you as we begin this season of Christmas together. Please join us for a festive reception in the parish all below after the service and, if you are out and about later tonight, celebrate the Winter Solstice with us here at 9 pm.