Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sermon for Christmas Day 2007

The Orange of My Eye

Merry Christmas!!

Doesn’t it feel wonderful to say those words!!

The waiting days of Advent have passed
and here we are on Christmas Day.

The fact of Jesus’ birth is true.
Jesus was born is a fact both of history and revelation.
However, the exact date of his birth is not recorded in the Gospels
But then, the gospels were never intended as factual biographies.

In fact it wasn’t until the 4th century—over 300 years after Jesus’ birth—
that some Christians began to be interested in the details of Jesus’ life.

In Rome, in the year 336, the date of December 25
was selected and designated as the day the Church would celebrate
the birth of Jesus.
In many ways the date was already considered a sacred time
as it came during the winter solstice;
there was a festival that celebrated the birth of the
Unconquerable Sun (that’s spelled S-U-N).
So the Church decided that December 25 would be an excellent date
To celebrate the birth of the Unconquerable Son (that’s spelled S-O-N).

December 25 was set by the Church in Rome
as the date for the Nativity of Our Lord.
It was not until the twelfth century that the day became known as Christmas—
a contraction of the two words “Christ’s Mass”.

So before the 12th century we might have greeted one another on this day
with “Merry Nativity of Our Lord.”

The observance of the 25th of December as the day Christ was born
spread rapidly in the Western Church—the Church centered in Rome.
However, the Eastern Church, centered in Constantinople—
celebrated the birth of Christ on January 6.

Rather than get in a knock down drag out fight about a date
the Western and Eastern Churches made the entire season
from December 25th until January 6th
the season of Christmas.
Western and Eastern churches each celebrating the Nativity
on the date of their choosing
And all coming together to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6.

That period from December 25th to January 6th was—and is—known
as the 12 days of Christmas.

My mother, growing up as a child in rural Eastern North Carolina—
Lizard Lick, to be exact—
Told me stories of celebrating “Old Christmas” on January 6th.
She would receive gifts on December 25th
and then they would receive her stocking gifts on January 6th.

Many times she told me
How wonderful it was to receive each year on Old Christmas a few small gifts in her stocking and one very special treasure: an orange.

Today we live in a world where oranges are a dime a dozen.
Well, not literally.
But we live with such abundance now
that receiving an orange is hardly a treasure.
But it was to my mother.

She said it was the only time of the year that she got an orange.
You couldn’t grow oranges on a red dirt farm in Eastern NC.
An orange was store bought—or Santa brought!
An orange was exotic.
An orange was special.

Every year as a child, my brother, my sister and I
would always find an orange in the top of our stockings.
It would be years before I understood that connection
between our mother’s childhood Christmas and our own.

I tell you this story because one of the beautiful things about Christmas
is how it connects us.
We are like little dots all scattered across an immense page
through the world and through the centuries.
And certain times—certain communal celebrations—connect us,
draw us together.
Christmas is certainly one of those celebrations.

That continuous line that draws us together is the love of God.
The immense, the never failing love of God.

Life is not always a full and overflowing stocking.
Life is sometimes very hard.
But Christmas is a celebration that is here to remind us that God loves us.

Curtis Almquist writes in his marvelous little book—
which I high recommend to you—
Unwrapping the Gifts: The Twelve Days of Christmas:

God loves you. Who you are, what you are, how you’ve gotten to be where you are: God knows and loves all that…God has plans for a relationship with you that lasts forever…when you’re sleeping, God is dreaming up says to be with you. When you’re working or walking or weeping, God is catching up with you in the wind across your face, in the singing of a bird, in the free fall of laughter, in the soothing touch of a friend. You are the apple of God’s eye.

(Or my mother might say…You are the ORANGE of God’s eye!)

The beautiful prologue from the gospel of John
always sounds to me like a love letter from God.
These opening words from John’s gospel
are the penultimate good news—

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him
and without him not one thing came into being…

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

We live in challenging and often confusing world.
It is hard to know who to trust and who to believe.
We struggle to make ends meet and we struggle to do the right thing.
Yes, Christmas is a glorious day to celebrate.
But for many, just getting to this day has been a struggle.
Christmas is a glorious day
to lay down that struggle and just rest in God.

God offers us respite.
God offers us open arms to come and just collapse.
God offers us love that never ends.
God offers us this baby Jesus who came into the world
to show us love with a skin face.

Christmas Day is the beautiful messenger who comes to announce peace
and to bring us good news.

God loves you. God loves me.
We are all the oranges of God’s eye.

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