Delivered at Ames UCC on December 24, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.
For the last few weeks I’ve been asking people what they need to hear tonight. Not just what they want to hear, like the Christmas scripture, but what they need. What you all might need.
Over and over the response was hope, peace, and love.
I wasn’t surprised and I’m sure neither are you. We all know the social, political, and personal pains at hand. So instead of detailing those, let me assure you right away: There is yet hope, peace, and love in this world.
Tonight’s story, and our presence here, tells us so.
Mary and Joseph had a rough start as a married couple. She was pregnant before they were wed and apparently not by her faithful fiancé. Then they are forced to make a trip by an oppressive state that cares not a bit for their well-being or that of their child. Labor pains come on just as housing comes up short. The son, fragile and new, takes his first breath in a stinky barn.
Then they are visited. Nobody who knew Mary and Joseph knew where they were. But these strangers find them. And not as a happy accident.
No, the shepherds say they were out tending their flocks, a most lonely and lowly task. Angels of the most high appeared suddenly, shockingly: A star is born on Earth and its light will show you the way!
The shepherd’s initial terror soon turns to inspiration. Let’s go! Let go worry about our charges, these sheep! We have been blessed and called to be a blessing—we nobodies will proclaim comfort and joy!
Poverty, exhaustion, powerlessness, and pain. There is not one thing we may experience that the divine in Mary and Joseph has not experienced, too. And there is not one person that the divine cannot move into the boldness, joy, community, and witness, of the shepherds.
In the journey to Bethlehem and the manger, God is immersed in the common struggles of humanity. Including our struggles today. And from within that shared experience, God invites common people into uncommon acts.
God in Christmas knows our fears and surrounds us with people, even strangers, who hold us dear.
THEY ARE US
Like the very first Noël, this is a beautiful and remarkable night. I mean, it is ordinary, for a Christmas Eve. We have our regular hymns and scripture and candles. No big surprises or innovations tonight.
But it is remarkable because despite all of the reasons the kingdoms of humanity have given us to look askance at each other, to close the doors of the inns that are our hearts, we are here.
Like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we find ourselves among people both familiar and new. We welcome each other fully into our lives because, like the shepherds, we have heeded the call of our better angels.
In response to my question about tonight’s service, my best friend wrote that he needs to be reminded that although “the world is odd and scary and loud and harsh…at times it can be wondrous and amazing and quiet and warm.”
Our choice tonight to be here as Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds were so long ago is that reminder.
Hope, peace, and love are all around us. Through God, they are us.