Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7; Luke 2:1-20
I began this morning’s sermon wondering, in this unusual year, with the fourth Sunday of Advent this morning on the 24th of December, and now Christmas Eve Candlelight worship tonight, and Christmas morning Holy Communion tomorrow, all within these 25 hours, if we can uniquely see the connectedness of these stories, or this one story of God’s wonderful, mysterious, gritty, gracious joining with humanity and creation to save us all.
I said, I was not sure if I was preparing one sermon in three parts or three sermons that are all of one part.
– Part 1/sermon 1, Mary, Gabriel, Mary’s willingness and song of hope in God’s overcoming and overturning the world;
– Part 2/sermon 2, Mary, Joseph, the birth of Jesus; angels, shepherds and the good news of great joy in God’s saviour child
– Part 3/sermon 3, Word of/with God, light and life, with John the witness and all who believe children of God, in Word made flesh living among us as God’s glorious child, full of grace and truth.
What does each part or the whole together tell us, God’s unfolding plan to mend the universe, mysterious and impossible as it is, is made possible by the openness and willingness of ordinary people to follow their hearts and seek God’s desire in the one who is grace and truth in the flesh, here, now, always.
The ordinary people in tonight’s story are first Mary and Joseph. (An emperor and governor are named, but they are just background.) The peasant couple traveling to fulfill the requirements of a census, while Mary nears the end of her pregnancy, are in circumstances not unlike peasant and refugee and poor families in our world today. They seek shelter where it can be found. Pregnancy and birth takes place in harsh and risky circumstances with little support. But strength and resilience defines life, and for most, hearts that see God present and active, and faith that trusts in God’s hopeful future.
And there are shepherds, tending their flocks, working poor, whose task keeps them separate, dirty and unclean to some, but whose animals are precious and in need of care, to clothe and feed others, and themselves and their families.
And as the prophets of old spoke, as God is the Good Shepherd caring for God’s flock, so they follow God’s way. These poor shepherds encountered by angels leads them to find the new born child and honour him and his parents for all his tiny life holds for the world as the angels told them, and returning glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.
Ordinary people, the extraordinary unfolding of God’s plan to mend the universe, mysterious and impossible as it is, made possible by their openness and willingness to follow their hearts and seek God’s desire in the one who is grace and truth, born in the flesh, here, now, always.
And so also for us, ordinary people, though for many but not all of us, in circumstances of much greater comfort and security, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, privileged and oppressed, drawn into this story and God’s extraordinary plan to save the world from itself through this God child and his life for the world.
In a story titled “Cider with Rosie,” Laurie Lee writes of this ordinary, extraordinary encounter for ordinary people in every Christmas time. She writes:
(pages 47-48, in Fill My Stocking by A. Titchmarsh, BBC, 2005)
We understand the connection to this ancient story, and our being drawn into its wonderful, mysterious, gritty, gracious joining of God with humanity and all creation to birth new life.
We’ve watched a few episodes of the BBC series, “Call the Midwife.” Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth in a book by the same title, it is set in the 1950’s in London’s East End. An eclectic and eccentric group of nuns work with a group of young midwives to assist women and families through child birth and family life as they work through their own life challenges and life together. They are heartwarming and beautifully told and pictured stories of lives and connections to one another and to the gifts of kindness and care, relationships and faith, hope and love, with assisting women in the sacred act of childbirth at the centre of the stories. How the women are taught by the elder sisters, and learn themselves that all this and every and all life is sacred is told and shown with tenderness, grit and grace. The show itself is a midwife of kindness, goodness, faith and hope born anew for humanity, in a time of more darkness than light.
It feels like the Nativity story told again and again through ordinary lives and extraordinary acts of care and kindness that brings new life and light into the world, and that we all have this capacity within us, to let this light shine.
This Christmas Eve night we again light candles and sing the song of this silent and holy night, proclaiming this holy birth of light and life for the world in the grace of God. There have been many candlelight vigils over this year, often marking the tragedy of loss, the terror of violence, the longing for safe homecoming, hope over despair, love over hate, peace over violence. They hold solidarity and protest, strength and peace for those who hold candles and those who witness them. It is a light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
Maybe this brief Christmas candlelight worship/vigil tonight is all that too, holds this hope too, like ordinary lives and extraordinary acts of God through them, before us and for us, so we too hold this light, are midwives of this hope, tonight, in the God child Jesus born anew, for God to so love and heal and bless this world and our lives and every life together. Blessed Christmas! Peace on earth and goodwill to all. Amen.