Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass 2008

God’s Surprises Earth With Heaven

Who would think that what was needed
To transform and save the earth
Might not be a plan or army,
Proud in purpose proved in worth!
Who would think, despite derision,
That a child should lead the way!
God surprises earth with heaven,
Coming here on Christmas Day!

Many of you know
that here at St. John’s
we have two services on Christmas Eve.
We have a service at 5 pm that includes our children’s Christmas pageant
and then we have this service
which begins with a choir concert at 10:30
and then at 11 pm
we begin the service of Holy Eucharist--
the Christmas midnight mass.

Last year after the pageant
one of the children asked me “What happens to Jesus now?”
I was somewhat taken a back.
How to answer this deep theological question
coming from the tiny mouth of a little girl just 7 years old?
I hesitated to try to gather my thoughts
on how best to explain to her “what happens to Jesus now”,
what happens after Christmas, after the nativity.

Fortunately before I could speak and begin my profound discourse
about Jesus and his life,
I was rescued by the child’s mother,
who said quite matter of factly,
“She wants to know what is going to happen to the doll.”

The doll?
Oh, right.
The doll.
Baby Jesus.

What happens to Jesus now?

“Well, we will pack Jesus away with the manger and the pageant costumes and put them over in the storage closet.”

She looked at me with horror.:
“You’re going to put the baby Jesus in a closet?”

(It sounded rather horrible to me as well!!)

Then I got it.
Then I understood what she was really asking me.

I picked up the baby Jesus and asked her,
“Would you be willing to take Jesus home with you?
Would you be willing to take care of the baby Jesus this year?”

Small hands reached out and took the baby from my arms.
“YES! I’ll take care of him all year.
I will.”

What’s happens to Jesus now?

It is a very good question
for all of us to ponder on this eve of Christmas.
We’re here—in church on Christmas Eve—
we showed up to celebrate Jesus arriving into the world.
What now?
What about the rest of the year?

How will we take Jesus home with us tonight?
Where will Jesus live the rest of the year?

Is tonight just a one night stand
and we’ll all go home and shut Jesus up in a closet,
leave him in the dark
so he doesn’t get in the way of our daily lives?
What happens to Jesus now?

Shepherds watch and wise men wonder,
Monarchs scorn and angels sing;
Such a place as none would reckon
Host a holy helpless thing;
Stabled beast and by-passed strangers
Watch a baby laid in hay;
God surprises earth with heaven
Coming here on Christmas Day.

What is being asked of us this night?

Ponder Mary’s story.
Mary was a teenager—literally a teenager.
Most likely 14 or 15 years old.
Teenagers are amazing because they stand on the edge—
the edge between the imagination of childhood
and the power of creating life as adults.
Just like the prophets
teenagers often challenge us and challenge our choices.
They are willing to risk new ideas, new looks, new visions.
Teenagers have the great audacity to bear new things into the world.
(You only have to look at our clothes, our language,
our social customs to see that is still true today)
So isn’t it perfect
that God chose a teenager to take the risk,
to bear the baby that would change everything?

What is being asked of us tonight?

In truth, God asks nothing of any of us--
other than to open our hearts and receive the love God offers.

It always astounds me how many people refuse that gift.
Some people make a conscious choice,
choosing apathy or skepticism or even hate over love.

It always baffles me how many people get upset
with some one or some thing in the church and walk away.
Trust me, I know the church is far from perfect.
But Church at it’s best is like a holy post-it note—
to remind us weekly of what really matters
to remind us that we—each and every one of us—
really matter to God.
That is the truth.
And we don’t hear that message many places in the world today.

Most of us are old enough to know that life is not all light.
There are times and places of deep darkness.
Our challenge is not to let the darkness overcome the light.

Think of the time we spend criticizing, complaining, judging and worrying.
Those seemingly harmless activities
place extra weight on the darkness side of the scale.
Do we try to place equal or more on the side of the scale
that brings light and love and life into the world?
Praise, joy, adoration, thanksgiving, laughter?
This is the real battle of the scale.
These are the true weights we need to watch.

We are the shepherds standing in the field, doing our work,
taking care of our families and our selves, paying the bills,
earning a living, trying to stay warm on a cold night.
And suddenly—as we stand there in the darkness--
suddenly—our whole world is overpowered by a brilliant light.

We see it—we can’t miss it—
and we are overwhelmed by its beauty and power.

But then our fears kick into high gear—
It is too too wonderful to be true.
It can’t last we start to murmur.
We shake out heads and say,
This joy and light and goodness--it won’t last.
How hard it is to trust light and hope and possibility.

What happens to Jesus now?

Look to Mary.
Look to the wise and risky and visionary teenager who says YES to God.
She treasures the words of good news, of hope, of possibility.
She holds on to them and ponders those tidings of great joy in her heart.

There are absolutely no guarantees that her life will be easy—
it certainly hasn’t been an easy beginning for her, has it?
Pregnant, unwed, no room in the Inn—
and we know there are horrors and heartbreak ahead.

But Mary does not live today in fear of what may come.
Mary does not live today as if the past was all her life can be.

Mary lives in the present.
because that is where God is.
On this night the present is right in front of her--and us--
in this baby.

What happens to Jesus now?
That is your question and my question to ponder in our hearts.

…While the human lot we ponder,
Lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven,
Coming here on Christmas Day.

+ + +
The song lyrics in italics are from the Iona Community’s Wild Goose Worship Group’s hymn “Who Would Think That What Was Needed” by John Bell and Graham Maule.

This image of Mary as a teenager was inspired by an advent reflection by my husband’s friend Heidi Clark who gave me permission to use this concept as part of my sermon. Thanks, Heidi. You rock!

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