Christmas Eve Sermon 2009
Sermon Date:December 24, 2009
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Liturgy Calendar: Christmas
Recently, a friend of mine sent me a whimsical children’s book called If
The book is full of odd juxtapositions, beautifully illustrated.
You can imagine what some of the illustrations look like….
What if the moon were square?
What if zebras had stripes and stars?
One of my favorites…..
What if caterpillars were toothpaste?
A lovely green caterpillar with white stripes wriggles out of a toothpaste tube onto a blue toothbrush.
Out of all these entertaining illustrations, one is completely riveting.
What if music could be held?
Now, I’ve never even given a thought to what music might look like,
much less thought about holding it!
One of the entrancing qualities of music is that, with its last vibration,
it’s gone, lingering in the ear for only a moment,
as its vibrations drift away into the air.
Even if I hear that same piece of music again and again,
the sound will be different every time,
because I’m in a state of constant change myself.
So, I can’t imagine what it would be like to hold music.
Because, ultimately, music is a mystery.
If we open ourselves to them,
we’ll find that our lives are full of mysteries,
snatches of sound, melody,
mere glimmers of possibility,
just waiting to be caught.
Did you ever chase fireflies when you were little? Chasing mystery is like that—
Quick! Over there! There it is! OK! Oh, I missed it! It flew too high! There it goes!
And finally, you catch the firefly and hold it gently in your hands,
being careful not to squeeze , so that you don’t squish it—
And if you wait just a minute,
suddenly you’ll find your hands full of light and you can see,
through those slivers of space between your fingers,
the radiant light of the firefly
And then you open your hand, and watch the trail of light fly away into the darkness.
If it’s a good summer, full of fireflies,
you can catch enough to put in a quart jar.
You can watch the fireflies as they flicker on and off for hours.
But—there comes a time, when their lights grow dim,
that you have to open the jar and let them out—
Or they’ll die—
No more magical light,
Just a bunch of dead bugs in the bottom of a jar.
Inspiration is like this—each of our lives being open to mystery, catching and holding its radiance,
learning from it, letting it go before it dies in the hands,
so that the inspiration can be caught all over again another day,
shared with others
more mysterious, transforming and revelatory than ever before.
The shepherds certainly experienced mystery.
But they weren’t chasing mystery.
Instead, mystery caught them!
There they were, a whole group of them, on the night shift—
keeping an eye on the flocks of sheep,
constantly peering into the shadows ,
making sure that no predators were lurking and waiting to grab their sheep,
all of the shepherds were snatched up,
captured in the mystery of God’s very glory.
“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid!”
What must it feel like to be snatched up and held in this light, held as if in pulsing radiant hands!
No wonder the shepherds were afraid!
And their fear seeped through the fingers of that radiance
so the angel called out to them—
“Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!
Which shall be to ALL people! “
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior,
which is CHRIST the LORD!
And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger!
And as if they were not already almost dead from the shock, fear and amazement of being held in this much glory, now the radiance grew even brighter, and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing!
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward those whom God favors!
And then the pulsing radiant hands opened,
and the vibrations of the music of the heavenly host drifted away on the night air,
and the shepherds, now released from one mystery, were free to chase another.
“Let us go now, even unto Bethlehem,
and see this thing which has come to pass,
which the Lord hath made known to us. “
No longer thinking of their flocks, they chased that mystery together,
went with haste, and found for themselves the biggest mystery of all—a baby, lying in a manger—the Savior, Christ the Lord.
Luke does not tell us about what happened then.
But I imagine that the first shepherd there,
so recently held captive in those pulsing radiant hands of light,
just had to hold this tiny baby, to hold in his own hands this radiant mystery,
to feel this baby’s heart pulsing against his own.
And in hearing and feeling that heart beating against his,
that shepherd just HAD to share this mystery with his companions,
to let that tiny one go into the arms of another,
finding, that in having held and released this mystery,
the shepherd had been completely transformed,
his heart and soul opened to God, and to all of those around him—
all of the shepherds so transformed
that they just had to make known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
This child we held in our arms—
This child is the Savior
which is Christ the Lord.
For us the years go by.
Maybe this incredible what if,
this mystery of God himself,
this tiny baby lying in a manger,
has become just another pretty Christmas card,
or the nativity set that we get out every year and then pack away again.
Maybe this story has become like a fairy tale that we read with a pleasurable sigh,
and then shut the book, forgetting the story for long stretches at a time.
And yet, we, this Christian community,
gather here tonight for a reason.
Most of us have heard this story over and over,
and even if we have never been snatched up in radiant hands of light,
because of this story
we have seen, even if only dimly,
somewhere deep in the darkest places of our souls,
in the darkest places of our life together as a church,
We have seen
the shimmering light of God’s glory.
We have heard, even if only the faintest of melodies,
the vibrations of the music of the heavenly host,
whispering across the eons,
bringing us good tidings of great joy.
And we can’t resist.
Once again, we find ourselves chasing the mystery,
and we come here year after year with haste and gather together,
hoping to hold for ourselves once again this mystery of God,
to hear again the music of God’s very heart beating against ours,
to share this joy with one another,
and to be so transformed in the process that we too,
like the shepherds, want share this news with the world.
This child that we long to hold,
This child that we want to share
IS the Savior,
which is Christ the Lord.