Sermon offered Christmas Day, December 25, 2012
Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20
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Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks to his holy Name . . .
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; Come let us adore him!
(I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .)
I have a question for you: think back – not too far back – just a few minutes ago. What was going through your mind as the Gospel was being read? It’s OK to be honest because it’s not confession time – just a call to awareness. Were you thinking about Christmas dinner – thinking about enjoying it with family and friends – or the joy of getting the dinner ready for family or friends? Or maybe for you that’s a chore … the cooking and the clean-up. And maybe there are also moments that seem like a chore in just being with – dealing with – family and friends. All this is a part of the everyday-ness of Christmas as we celebrate it. It’s a part of life as we live it.
But maybe you found yourself focused on the words of the Gospel. If you found yourself taking in the familiar words of Jesus’ very human birth – or if you felt sensually enclosed, held – even if you were just remembering the joys and warm fuzzy feelings of Christmases past and present and in all this feeling yourself surrounded by God’s love – then you were in a Holy Place.
However, I would suggest that no matter what you were thinking or feeling when the Gospel was read – no matter how you responded to the Gospel story, you all were here in a Holy Place. You were in a Holy Place – or on the very threshold of the Holy – because today in the words of the Holy Gospel – the Word becomes flesh and lives among us in our everyday world: Jesus Christ is born – Jesus is God revealed to us. Jesus Christ is born Emmanuel – The living God is with us. And whenever, wherever Jesus is born – we are in a Holy Place.
In fact quite often the place where God makes himself most dramatically present is in the ordinary place, or in the messiness of the ordinary – in the unglamorous, often painful, often chaotic circumstances of everyday life. And we know that no circumstance or difficult relationship, no matter how common or messy or ugly, is off limits to God. No place or borderland is so marginal, that is out of range of the Holy. As the Psalmist says: “If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.”
Since we actually seem to see God, see Holiness, so clearly in ordinary things, and we sometimes find God most pointedly in our pain – could it be that we know God most fully when we experience Holiness in opposition to the “absence” of holiness? Could it be that we see the light most powerfully in the darkness? The Psalmist writes: “Clouds and darkness are round about him” but “His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees it and is afraid.” Whenever we see God, then Jesus is born – and we are in a Holy Place.
Let’s think for a moment about Holiness: What is Holiness, where is it, how does it present itself, how do we know it when we see it, and how do we know when we enter into it? I know these are all rather abstract and subjective questions. But one thing we can definitively say about Holiness: Holiness is is a Mystery – so we can’t “pin it down,” we can’t control it and we can’t cling to it. Holiness just is …
A couple of other things we know and can say about the Holy: We experience Holiness as a power from outside – God as a Holy Other. And holiness is a place where God’s space and our space intersect – God’s time coming into our time – God’s divinity mingling/becoming one with our humanity. Holiness is also that place where God dwells, a place where we encounter Him. Holiness is where you see God and you know you’ve seen Him. It’s where God reveals Himself to us. And wherever God reveals Himself, Jesus is born – and we are in a Holy Place.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem – Mary and Joseph, the manger and the swaddling clothes … the shepherds and the choirs of the heavenly hosts – this beautiful and holy story is a story many of us are very familiar with, It’s so familiar that we may need to step away from it – look at it with new eyes, strip away the romantic idyll – in order see how ordinary, how unglamorous, how strangely earthy it really is. Strangely ordinary, strangely mundane, even messy . . . profane –yet strangely extraordinary, awesome . . . sacred.
Isn’t it strange that an unassuming, ordinary young woman named Mary is chosen to be the one to bear the Son of God into the world – and that a stranger, an angel, encounters her with this proposition. Isn’t it strange that in spite of the fear that she felt in this encounter she said “yes”?
Isn’t it strange that when Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph are away from home, with no place to stay, seeming to have no plan in mind for the birth of their child – facing the reality of the messiness of a birth scenario alone? Can you imagine yourself in this scene? Then again: Have you ever experienced that strange, unexplainable sense of holiness while holding a baby – looking into the eyes of a newborn? Babies speak the message of wonder and love – and holiness. Today Jesus is born and speaks as a baby – and whenever Jesus is born, we are in a Holy Place.
Changing the set of the story, moving on in the Gospel. isn’t it strange that shepherds are the first to get the message – and strange that God chooses shepherds to mingle with the heavenly hosts. Out in the field, a stranger, an angel, appears in the middle of their otherwise ordinary and rustic lives, in the messiness of tending to farm animals. Can you imagine the darkness of the night – and then – the Light? Here we encounter the Holy and we are terrified! The heavens open – the heavenly choirs sing Gloria – and we are in a Holy Place.
Then after the angels leave, imagine running off with the shepherds to see if this story is for real. On the way into town, do you find yourself wondering if that scene out there in the field was just a strange vision . . . or a dream . . . a twilight hallucination . . . or even a practical joke? But then we come upon Mary and Joseph. We stand and behold the baby. Jesus is born, born a Saviour – the Messiah, the Lord. He is born to us – and we are in a most Holy Place.
We leave the manger with the shepherds. Now we’re singing Gloria – telling everyone we meet about the holiness we’ve seen. We become the messengers, the missionaries, spreading the Good News that God is with us, the Good News of peace and goodwill. Others are amazed – and we are again in a Holy Place.
Later, and even now in quiet times alone, we stop – we remember and we treasure all these encounters; we relive the revelation; and we pray with all these things. As we ponder with Mary, we are in a Holy Place.
Strange, awesome, miraculous. And the most miraculous revelation is when we discover all this within ourselves – that Jesus Christ is born and dwells in the holy-of-holies within us. He is born again and again in our hearts; we bear him again and again into the world. And what does this mean? Even as we are in a Holy Place – the Holy Place is in us!
However Jesus is born – in us, among us, through us – and whenever Jesus is born again, we are in a Holy Place and we are holy people.
As Jesus was once historically, tangibly laid in a manger, today He is sacramentally and tangibly laid here on this altar. Jesus is truly and substantially Present. In this Holy Place, Jesus is born again – to us, for us: The Bread of life, the Cup of salvation.
And so: Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks to his holy Name . . .
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; Come let us adore him! AMEN.