25 December 2016

Christmas Eve/Day 2016

Sermon by H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, On (Diocese of Niagara)
24/25 December 2016
Photo Credit: Loci Lenar on Flickr.com

Christmas Eve/Day 2016
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:  11-14
Luke 2: 1-20

Once again, we have actually made it through the busy, noisy, celebratory and distracting season which is our commercial lead up to this holy day, and have found ourselves in this holy space listening to the story of Christmas and remembering what it really is about for us.

Of course all the other distracting elements that have been going on around us really had their beginnings in the celebration of holy things: so much of our Christmas decorations, our Christmas lights remind us of the triumph of light over darkness at this darkest time of the year. The gift-giving in celebration of God’s great gift so freely given to us.

Even Santa is, of course, a take on St. Nicholas who generously, and secretly, gave money to three poor girls whose family would never have been able to afford a dowry. Without the dowry the three girls future would have been very bleak.

It’s a little harder to find the holy meaning in elves, reindeer and the myriad of other characters which have firmly entered into our Christmas traditions. But more modern Christmas stories which have become our tradition including everything from the Grinch that stole Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge are all stories of the transformation which can happen in the human (or Grinch) hearts through the miracle of Christmas.

This year, I sent out on facebook a drawing of scrooge being approached by different kind of a ghost: The caption says:
“I am the ghost of Christmas Future Imperfect Conditional”, said the Spirit, “I bring news of what would have been going to happen if you were not to have been going to change your ways.”

In any case, most of the traditions and stories of Christmas time are stories about transformation: from darkness to light, from poverty and fear to abundance and security, from distrust and enmity to sharing and love. They are stories about relationship which come about because of the transformation which happens within.

This is what our Christmas lessons are about as well.

Isaiah speaks to a people in a dark time. War and the threat of war are nigh. But Isaiah tells King Ahaz to open his eyes and to see a light which is shining in the midst of the darkness. And the realization of this light will be in the birth of a child through whom God’s Kingdom shall reign.

Of course, we don’t have to look far to see a similar reality to what King Ahaz was experiencing. In the Middle East (Ahaz’s part of the world) there certainly is war and rumours of war today. It is a dark time in our world, too, just as it was for the people of Isaiah’s time.

We are desperately in need of some of this transformation from a time of darkness, fear, poverty and enmity to light, security, sharing and love.

But a wonderful secret of which Paul writes to Titus is that through Christ, God’s grace has arrived and the transformation in this means that we can the agents of God’s grace, living lives of goodness and grace and, in turn, transforming the world as we build new relationships of sharing and love.

That’s what the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke is about as well. The most surprising things about the story of Jesus’ birth is that it happened in such a poor and quiet way. It was only the shepherds – the most humble of folk who were out in the fields outside of Bethlehem who got the glorious vision. The regular upstanding townsfolk of Bethlehem itself are completely unaware of the miracle that is taking place in the midst of them. And not only is the author of the universe being born into human flesh, he is being born in the most humble of ways.

What could be the meaning in this? God, in choosing to become human, chose not the great entry of a King, but chose to come as the least of us. He was born in a barn. Is there anybody here who was born in a barn? Jesus’ birth was humbler than any of ours, to show us that absolutely no one is excluded from his knowledge and experience. Jesus, the King of the universe, is born as least to show that his love is for everyone in between. No one is left out.

God, in becoming human chooses to enter into our experience: into the joys and the sorrows, into the messiness of life and even into the experience of death in order to defeat its grip upon us and to transform it into eternal life.

At the same time, God, in choosing to become human shows us that our humanity matters. That it is honoured and that it can be transformed into something divine even. Jesus became human not just to save us. He came to transform us, so that we can be engaged in the transforming grace of God in acts that show light in the darkness, love and sharing in situations of desperation and enmity.

Nine days ago several of us drove to the airport and waited with growing excitement as the Syrian family we have sponsored was going through the final immigration process to allow them entry into Canada. We had been planning for this moment for well over a year. And many hundreds of people had been involved in preparing a house for them and raising the funds that we will need to support them for their first year in Canada.

After a four hour wait our family,  Said and Wisal (Dad and Mom) and children: Ahmad, Rayan, Maria and Omar walked through the gates: very happy and very tired. In those nine days we have seen already how lives have been transformed. They had been refugees in Lebanon for five years. But not only their lives have been transformed: all of us who have been working for this have experienced transformation as well. Even the lady in the supermarket (just another customer), who, when she realized that this was a Syrian family who had just arrived, was transformed. Not knowing what to do: she welcomed them with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face and gave the two girls $5 each. The girls received it with thanks, not really realizing at first what it was (though they figured it out pretty soon!)

Three days ago, we had a special Community Lunch. We do one every 1st 3rd and 5th Wednesday of most months, but this was our “Christmas” version. We had so many more people there and we sat and ate roast beef together and listened to a volunteer band of buskers singing to the music of violins, guitars, mandolins, drums and more. We brought together poor people and not so poor, lonely people and groups of friends, old and young. Some of the people who were there wouldn’t have very many opportunities to have a celebratory meal over the holidays. Tomorrow some of our own volunteers will assist at the Christmas Day dinner at East Plaines United Church which we also support financially. Once again there will be transformative experiences in which God’s grace will flow through the work of very human hands.

Four days ago, it being a Tuesday, it was our Food for Life day, as we give out free groceries to any who need them. It was special because we also gave out turkeys. In addition, many of our parishioners filled bags full of stocking stuffers for either adults or children. Many going to families who would never be able to afford to buy them for their own children. Once again stories of some people who have been reaching out with God’s grace to transform the lives of others. These are only a few stories, and stories like these continue throughout the whole year. But it is what God enables through us as God’s grace transforms our own hearts. It’s what the essence of Christmas is all about.

And it’s what being human is all about because of Christ’s birth. God choosing to be human means that the words “I’m only human” are nonsensical. To be human means so much more than to be “only” human. It means God is absolutely committed to you being you. So be you, as only you can be, transformed by the miracle of Christmas to be an agent of God’s transforming grace active in human lives. A joyous Christmas to you. Amen.

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