Sermon for Saturday, December 24, 2011 || Christmas Eve || Isaiah 9: 2-7; Titus 2: 11 -14; Luke 2: 1-20
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord….”
I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I’m willing to bet that in this age of “occupy” this and “occupy” that—amidst staggering statistics that mirror the misery of so many— well, I’m willing to bet that there are more than a few people occupying the pews here tonight who are wondering what difference it could possibly make to us that a really long time ago, in really far away place, a baby was born who many came to believe was their long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the World.
And I just want to say that it’s perfectly okay if you’re one of those pew-occupying wonderers. Really! In fact, it’s more than okay. Because one of the most beautiful things about the Episcopal Church is that we genuinely welcome everyone to worship with us, regardless of where they are on their faith journey. As they said in the last parish I served, “We welcome the faithful, the seeker and the doubter—because God’s embrace is wide and God’s Good News is for all.” And it just so happens that one of the most beautiful things about St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in particular is that we place a very high value on wondering—our entire church school curriculum is rooted in the fine art of wondering. It’s called “Godly Play.” So welcome—welcome to everyone on this crisp Christmas Eve—and especially to you skeptics and wonderers!
That being said, I do want to be clear that for me the birth of a man named Jesus 2,000 years ago is a somewhat different source of wonder– one that I think most decidedly does make a difference to us today—or at least one that can. One that can, in fact, make all the difference in the world.
But then, I happen to believe that God was the original “occupier,” that God actually occupied our planet in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, with the specific goal of saving us from ourselves and of reconciling us to Him. And every Christmas I get to remember with complete astonishment how he has done that in my little life, over and over again.
So you see, I believe that the child we remember tonight–born lo’ those 2,000 years ago— was and still is our Savior. An unlikely Savior to be sure—but our Savior nonetheless. A Savior who occupied a creche instead of a cradle, and a cross instead of a throne; a savior whose entire life was a protest against the forces of oppression—whether political or economic, spiritual or psychological; a savior who protested fearlessly against every sort of injustice by setting people free: free from illness and evil, free from money and materialism, free from sin and self-interest, free from corruption and cold-heartedness. A savior who occupied our world so he might occupy our hearts, so that –in the words of the letter to Titus, he “might …purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
Now that’s good news of great joy indeed: A people of his own who are zealous for good deeds…
Like the members of our church whose hearts were stirred when they learned that a number of our brothers and sisters in Cohasset were so devastated by the economy that their children had no Christmas presents last year. So this year, in addition to Christmas dinners, they collected 1500 dollars worth of gift cards for 80-some clients of the Cohasset Food Pantry so every child in this town will have at least one Christmas present.
A people of his own who are zealous for good deeds…
Like the young mother with four kids in our church school program, who was inspired to start an outreach ministry for children this year. Something stirred in her heart, and next thing we knew our youngest members were visiting a local nursing home and making friends with their frail—and often lonely–elderly residents, having holiday parties, sharing stories, and singing songs.
…A people of his own who are zealous for good deeds…
Like the folks who stood on the front steps of our church after one of our Wednesday morning Eucharists last fall, to sing happy birthday at the top of their lungs, all the way across Main Street and into the open window of their much-loved sister in Christ who lay dying of cancer—causing her to smile ear–to-ear, raise her arms in the air, and say, “Praise God!”
…A people of his own who are zealous for good deeds…
Like the family man I bumped into one Sunday afternoon when I was visiting a parishioner at Mass General who was recovering from heart surgery. “Oh I didn’t know you guys knew each that well,” I said in surprise. “We don’t,” said the family man as we stood in the lobby, “I just thought he might like a visitor.” A long way to drive on a Sunday afternoon for someone you don’t even know that well.
…A people of his own who are zealous for good deeds….
Like the parishioners who make sure our members who no longer drive get to and from church every Sunday; like the families who feed the homeless every month; like the women who cook for the hungry every week and the teens who bake the cookies. Like the gentleman who visits the elderly with his therapy dog and the retired nurse who visits hospice patients…the attorney who does pro bono work for immigrants and the doctor who does it for those without health care.
You know, sometimes our world looks pretty darned bleak. Right now is probably as bad as it’s been in my lifetime. Back in the third century, a man named Cyprian described the darkness he saw in his world in a letter to his friend Donatus. He wrote:
“…if I could ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see… armies fighting, cities burning…selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.”
But Cyprian’s letter continues…
“I have discovered in the midst of [this bad world] a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not…These people, Donatus, are the Christians–and I am one of them.”
So my message to you tonight is this: ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people…To you is born this day a Savior—a Savior who occupied a crèche and a cross so that he might one day occupy your heart. May he find there a place of welcome and wonder, and may he make it a place zealous for good deeds. Because it really can make a difference. In fact, it can make all the difference in the world. Amen.