Sermon preached by the Rev’d Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord – December 24, 2011
In the name of God Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier who gathers us together and comes to us this night. Amen.
A little boy wanted to be Joseph in the Christmas Pageant at church but, to his great dismay, he was cast as the innkeeper. He objected loudly yet to no avail. He would be the landlord of the inn. The pageant began and Mary and Joseph knocked on the door inquiring if he had any room for them. The boy smiled mischievously and announced, “Yes, of course, lots of room. Come on in!”
It is my joy as rector of St. Paul’s on the Green to welcome you all on this Christmas Eve and to echo the invitation of that clever boy: There’s lots of room here for everyone and our
doors are open every day as a sign of that radical hospitality for all people without exception. And when space is a little tight, we just add another service as we did this year.
I know that many of you come because you know that you will enjoy exquisite music. I hope that you come as well because of our reputation for diversity and our celebration of and deep gratitude for all the wonderful expressions of it that you will find here.
Most likely, when we think about diversity the things that come to mind are race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, educational and socioeconomic status and the like. Tonight, however, there is another example of the diversity which is represented in this congregation. It is the broad gamut of emotions with which you have come here on this Christmas Eve. Some have come with child-like wonder and joy because Christmas is an exciting time for them. Some are just deeply grateful for the blessing of family and friends with whom they will spend the feast.
Some may come with frustration because they did not accomplish all the things they hoped they would in these last weeks of preparation. Others come with a heavy heart because they dearly miss a loved one who is not with them this Christmas. Some may be fighting depression because an important relationship has ended or they are unemployed and have been unsuccessful finding a job.
Still others may be here just anxiously anticipating the New Year because 2011 was not very kind to them. The list of possibilities of what we bring in our hearts tonight is endless.
Our response to holiday cheer, the carols and decorations, the wishes for a “Merry Christmas” may be utter delight. It may on the other hand, be a mixed bag of sentiments. It may even be “Bah hum bug!” Yes, we come here from many different places—not just geographically but in terms of the circumstances of our lives, what has transpired in the last year or month or even in the hours leading up to this service. And we come with different perspectives of belief and amounts of faith.
If we tune in to the scene in Bethlehem, we find much the same scenario. People had journeyed from various places to their home towns in order to fulfill the requirements of the census ordered by the Emperor. I am certain that they came with a large array of personal life situations and circumstances that led to as many reactions to this hard journey. Among them, a very pregnant, uncomfortable Mary and very perplexed yet faithful Joseph. The story that unfolded there has been told again and again every Christmas throughout the ages and there is diversity in this story as well both in the characters and in their response to the good news it offers the world.
There are angels singing in the sky and then there are shepherds living in the fields and in the original Greek from which we take our modern translations of the New Testament, the word employed for shepherd referred to nomadic herdsmen who were usually very poor and often prone to criminal behavior. Now there’s some diversity we may not have been aware of.
All of the characters in the story react to the events of that night in different ways. The angels were full of joyful praise in song, the shepherds at first were terrified, Mary reflected and pondered on it all, those who received the good news from eye witnesses were just amazed and the shepherds themselves, once over their fear, glorified and praised God.
So however you have come here tonight, with whatever is in your heart, with assurance or reservation, hope or disappointment, in whatever way you react to the Christmas Story we have told, know that God loves you just as you are and does not judge you on your feelings or your faith or your doubts. You have a place here and a place in Christmas.
What we can all take away from this holy night is the reassurance of the angels who first addressed the frightened shepherds with the words so often found in the Scripture: “Do not be afraid!” It seems that we have entered a time in history in which the tone that some religious, economic, and political leaders have tried to set and amplify is fear, panic, and anxiety. Listen again to the angel: “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people—all people.”
There is no question that our story as humankind is changing. There is a shift in the axis of our world as we have known it and we don’t really know where it is going or how it will unfold. The one thread that runs deep through the fabric of our soul is the God-given gift of hope. Sincnning of time God hasassured us that no matter how overwhelming the darkness may seem to us, there will be light and that light will overcome it. God who introduced the greatest miracle of history on this night so long ago is not finished with us yet. There is much more good news to come.That is the mystery we encounter tonight.
It is a sacred night, an enchanted night, a night of miracles. What are the hopes you have for your life, your loved ones, and for the world? Carry them from the manger of your heart to the manger of the new born Messiah, the Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting God, and Prince of Peace.
Then take some time to ponder. Lay aside the expectations you had about this Christmas you did not succeed in meeting. Stifle the urge to list the things you wish you had done before this night arrived. Suppress the tendency to be disturbed by those who want fill you with fear. Let God’s holy peace subdue the anxiety you may have about tomorrow and the days to come.
Like the gentle, mother of the newborn child, simply treasure—treasure and savor and cherish and delight in all the good things in your life—those you love and who love you, the blessings that have filled your life in the past year and times when the light broke through the darkness. And be thankful—maybe even returning to your homes glorifying and praising God for all you have heard and seen.