Christmas Sermon 2015

The shepherds made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, ………He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We gather this night to hear the story we know so well, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” This passage of Scripture, the story of the birth of Christ touches our sacred memory. When we hear it I suspect many of us are transported back in time to Christmases past and the voices of those who read the story to us; a grandparent or a beloved member of the clergy. Many of my generation cannot hear it without hearing the voice of Linus on a Charlie Brown Christmas, the special now fifty years old from the time when specials where specials and not holiday classics. I suspect many of us could recite this passage of scripture just like so many of the addresses and poems we were required to memorize and recite in school.

We know, too, the richness of this text. If you have heard me or any other expository preacher unpack this text you know that to hear the Luke’s telling of the birth of the Messiah and through it gazing at the nativity of the newborn king is certainly more than a visit to see a newborn. Luke’s invitation to come to the Christmas crèche is an invitation to come and see scripture fulfilled, history rightly understood, Israel restored, and humanity’s purpose, call, and reason for being revealed. Luke historian and evangelist proclaims the birth of Christ in a manner that sets the record straight about who the true author of peace is, the one born in Bethlehem not the powerful one in Rome, the issuer of the decree that sent thousands to their ancestral homes. Luke proclaims to us the reversal of the condemnation of the prophet, Isaiah that God’s people do not know the manger of their Lord for the shepherds and the Holy family now do as they gaze on the child lying in a feeding trough now become crib and throne.

He shows us that the song Mary sang, which echoes the song of another mother, Hannah mother of the prophet Samuel, that the mighty have been cast down and the lowly have been raised up is fulfilled in the angelic message to the shepherds that to them a group of outcasts at the bottom tier of society the message of the birth of the Messiah is first proclaimed.

It is good for that we know these things. They along with so much else that can be found in Luke’s infancy narrative provide much fruit for meditation and reflection as we sing this night the hymns and carols we know so well.

But knowledge is not enough. We are called to be more than those who know the story. We are called to be more than hearers, more than those who sing, “O come let us adore him.” As the apostle James tells us, We are to be doers of the word, not hearers only. Our words must be enfleshed in our lives, our adoration of Christ shown by our actions.

To put it simply,

The Word was made flesh to cause the Word to become enfleshed in us and by us.

That enfleshing is God’s gift to us by grace through faith. The preacher and hymn writer Philips Brooks describes it in this way

How silently how silently the wondrous gift is given

So God imparts to human hears the blessings of his heaven

No ear may hear his coming but in this world of sin

Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.

This is God’s gift to us in the birth of Christ. He comes to us again this night to be received in bread and wine to remind us that we are living members of his body.

It is from this vantage point that we hear Paul’s words to us. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, ………He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

The Word was made flesh to cause the Word to become enfleshed in us and by us.

This poem by Howard Thurman entitled The Work of Christmas that has shaped my Christmas reflections this year

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the Kings and Princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins.

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry

To release the prisoner,

To teach the nations, To bring Christ to all,

To make music in the heart.

 

We are in that time. Like the shepherds we are to go forth from the manger praising God for all that we have heard and seen. This praise is to be not only with our lips but in our lives in humble service to the one who entered this world in all humility. That praise is made perfect when we join the angelic chorus by engaging the work which is ours as Jesus people find the lost, feeding the hungry, releasing the prisoner by bringing and being the Good news which is Jesus to everyone we encounter and by carrying this mission into every aspect of our lives.

Image what the world might look like if we engage this work. Dream with me. Together by grace pray it may be so on earth as in heaven.

Amen.

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One thought on “Christmas Sermon 2015

  1. Merry Christmas Bishop Steven,
    The words from Thurman’s poem remind us of the many ways in which we become doers. Infleshing Gods gift in ourselves is a good way to meet the New Year. Thanks!
    With love,
    Lois & Jacques

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