I am the one whose love overcomes you, already with you when you think to call my name. Amen.
I believe that this is the most weighted Christmas sermon I have had to preach in my ten years. By weighted I mean that when I was trying to write my sermon, I kept thinking about who might be coming to church tonight. I got caught up in what I imagined people might be feeling and seeking and felt that the community might be carrying a deeper longing, desire, and need. A longing for hope, light, and grace. A desire for peace, truth, and good news. A need for new beginnings. I found it almost impossible to put pen to paper until I realized that the longing, desire, or need I imagined you might have, was in fact my own and that the weight I feel is the weight of my own need to be reminded that God is with us.
I had a very different idea of how this year was going to go for me and my family when we started out in January. I had a three month sabbatical that included fantastic trips and travels, time for rest and relaxation, and plans for renewal upon re-entry for both myself and the congregation. Well, I don’t think I am the only one who experienced 2016 as a year in which things didn’t quite go as planned. There were unexpected struggles, deaths, and stresses that I found to be very overwhelming. So in anticipation of this night, in reflecting on the story of how God broke into this world to be with us, I wanted to look back on the year to lift up the moments of light and celebrate the occurrences of joy and it felt strangely challenging – like I needed permission, permission to feel joy.
This feeling found some merit when I was reading Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark. She writes, “Part of the Puritan legacy is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia. Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited. The great human rights activist and Irish nationalist Roger Casement investigated horrific torture and genocide in South America’s Putamayo rainforest a century ago and campaigned to end it. While on this somber task, his journal reveals, he found time to admire handsome local men and to chase brilliantly colored local butterflies. Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”
This is our night to remember that even when things do not go as planned, God still came into the world. Did you know that the hymn Silent Night was a poem written by an associate priest in Austria who gave it to the church organist two nights before Christmas Eve when the organ had broken down and they would depend on the guitar for their musical accompaniment? The organist created a tune almost overnight and in 1818, Silent Night was sung for the first time at St. Nicholas church with a guitar. This is our night to remember that even as Mary and Joseph faced signs of ‘no vacancy’, Jesus was born. I was thinking about the 25 Spanish books of common prayer that will be arriving to Merida, Mexico for Christmas to Padre Jose who befriended us on my sabbatical. When he was asked to leave the Catholic church for allowing a woman to be with him at the altar, he formed a new community in the Anglican body and is bringing messages of inclusion and unconditional love to the people there. This is our night to remember that in the midst of violent turmoil and uncertainty, an angel of the Lord told the shepherds not to be afraid. I remember sitting in my office with James the Sunday morning we had heard about the shooting in Orlando. I remember the beauty of being in prayer together and readying ourselves to be present to the congregation and hearing James share a piece of the kingdom of God he knows and understands and has experienced in his life.
This is our night to remember that in the clash between the power of empire and the power of God, a multitude of the heavenly host is praising God. Jesus was born. On the margins, in the cold, with no room at the inn, joy breaks into the world. And he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.
We, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth – that’s us. That we who have known light, that have known hope, that have known joy will let it spill out from ourselves and be the leading voice in the world. The voice the world needs.
So yes, this is our night. This is our night to gather up all the tiny specks of light and see that it can create a room full of a glow that can guide us into the new year. This is our night where we feel that joy will find its way into our lives and be the very thing that gives us the strength and courage to fulfill our deepest longing, desire, and need. For it will not be our despair, but our joy, our dancing, our songs, our love that will create the change we seek in the world.