Homily preached by Frank Tuchols, Pastoral Associate
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2012
While I was writing notes on my Christmas cards this past week I couldn’t help but be honest with distant friends about the situation here in our State of Connecticut.
My sense of our situation is one of sadness. Sadness over the tragedy of Newtown. At times even an appropriate angry sadness but certainly, sadness. How could you not feel sadness when the media shows the names and pictures of innocent children and their school personnel who were senselessly slain and now being buried?
And as I heard it said often, Christmas is just days away. Christmas – the joy of children and the child in us.
Today’s gospel lesson that we just heard proclaimed tells us of the visitation of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant and expecting a newborn infant conceived in an unexpected and miraculous manner. So Mary came to be with Elizabeth with the revelation of carrying an infant who was to be special. We’re told she came in haste and very thoughtfully.
She needed to be with someone who had some understanding of what was happening within her.
Elizabeth’s pregnancy, we are told, was further along and unexpected due to her age and the age of her husband Zechariah. She too understood that her child was special. He would become John the Baptizer, a prophet who would point to Jesus.
When they met, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” like he was dancing for joy.
Mary then sings the Magnificat. A familiar prayerful poem put to music so many times down through the ages.
This prayer tells us of the God servant of 2nd Isaiah to whom she would give birth. A servant gift of God who was God’s son. This is a prelude to our Christmas celebration which actually begins tomorrow. A foundation for all we will celebrate in the next twelve days of Christmas. All this as Newtown grieves and we with them.
I believe that our American version of Christmas, with all the commercialized emphasis on what to buy, crowds out the Christmas message we celebrate here at St Paul’s. It’s a message that is valuable to us especially in light of Newtown. A plain and clear message: OUR GOD IS WITH US. God is a part of and involved in our human life. God became one of us. God grieves with us, supports us in our tears and is with us through thick and thin. More than that, we are the body of Christ, Godly human people. Yes, a critically important and radical message.
And what is important for us to remember is that the Incarnation, God with us, is a central belief of our church, the Anglican Communion. Richard Schmidt in his book Glorious Companions says that the Incarnation “vibrates most strongly” from our church. Even more from us than other Christian denominations. The message that God was discovered and revealed in human flesh.
This is so important for us as we face the horror of Newtown. God is with us. The Body of Christ, the People of God have surrounded those who have suffered loss with their presence, their prayerful words, their support from close up to far away and even around the world. God is with and among us.
And regarding Christmas gift giving. I noted earlier that Mary’s Magnificat foretold Jesus, God with us, as a servant. The Magnificat relied heavily on 2nd Isaiah in the Jewish scriptures, Jesus, God with us, came to see himself as servant and as a servant he was a gift to us so we can be a true gift to each other in our service. We are servant-like in our care for each other. In servant-like care we live as gifts for each other. Not just during this season but all year long – Christmas and Incarnational gifts for each other day in and day out. And we here at St Paul’s are radical Christmas gifts as we open our doors and our table to all who join us.
As we celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation, God with us, may the servant-like gifts we are remind us that God is with us. Most of all in the sadness and loss of Newtown.
Yes, may we during this season to come be gifts be not so much in things we give but in who we are for each other and in this way say: Yes, God is with us!