Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Eve sermon--Draft 1

Well, this is something I've never done before and am a bit nervous about, but here goes--this is the first draft of my sermon for tomorrow afternoon. I will be reworking it tonight and probably cutting it back to an outline of some sort.

Comments and suggestions welcome!

Will you pray with me? God of light, God of love, be present with us now as we prepare to receive you into our hearts. May our spirits receive you with joy. Amen.

I don’t have to tell you that today is Christmas Eve. But actually, we’re not celebrating Christmas Eve this afternoon—that will come tonight at the 11 pm service. That’s because today is also the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we celebrate that first—and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

You see, just like in our scripture reading, Jesus isn’t here yet! Mary is praising God and all the things God will do—God will do, soon. But not yet. Mary is still journeying this afternoon, still on her way to that stable.

And I have to wonder—what is she thinking, this first time, young mother, as she and her husband Joseph search for a place to rest? What is going through her mind? Is she worried? Frightened? Excited? Curious? Or is she just tired, and hoping they will find a place to spend the night soon?

I know what I was feeling, eighteen years ago, when I was expecting my son. Like Mary, I had never had a baby before. Like Mary, I did not know what to expect. For those of you who are not parents, let me tell you that this can be very scary. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a baby—what kind of pain there would be, how I would feel about actually being a mother, once the baby was born, how it would all happen. I took a childbirth class, I talked to my mother, my sisters, my friends, to see what their experiences had been. It will come as no surprise to most of you that I read books, too—about being pregnant, about childbirth, about taking care of a baby. I just didn’t know what to expect.

I suspect Mary, too, felt some of those things. She probably talked to her mother or aunts, or the other women in the village about what it was like—and they probably gave her lots of advice, only about half of it really useful, just like the advice I got. And she probably felt some other things. Childbirth was a lot more dangerous in those days—many women died bearing children. So she was, maybe, more scared than I was. She may have wondered if she could take care of a baby. More than that, she knew who this child was that she carried—she knew this was the child of God. I wonder if that made it easier for her or more difficult, to know that she was carrying God’s own child in her body?

We’re waiting too, aren’t we? Waiting with Mary, for the birth, for the arrival of the Child of God, now at Christmas and sometime, when we don’t know, at the end of all times. We don’t know what that will be like—we wonder, we make up stories, we talk about it with each other. Some of us think it will happen one way—like the “Left Behind” series of books; and some of us another way. There are so many interpretations and predictions. But, just like the first time that Jesus arrived on the earth at Christmas, his return is going to be unpredictable, too. He tells us so—that no one knows the day or hour, only God. As I said a couple of weeks ago, God keeps promises, but loves surprises.

How will we know? What will it look like, when Jesus comes back? Will it be frightening or glorious? Will it be exciting or dangerous or very, very quiet?

God’s given us some clues, I think, in Mary’s song. The traditional name for this song that she sings to Elizabeth is the Magnificat, which is the Latin for the first words—“My soul magnifies God.” We heard the traditional translation this afternoon because it is so beautiful and familiar. But many of those words are difficult to understand, and so is the grammar. A very modern translation, from The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads,

“I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”

Well, the poetry isn’t there, but the meaning surely is!

When we see the world turned upside-down, when the ones who have the least suddenly have the most, when the homeless are given mansions, when the people who are pushed to the margins are made the centre of attention, when the poor become rich and the downtrodden stand upright—then we know God is very near to us. When gay men are elected to Parliament, when lesbians govern universities, when bisexual men and women are the police commanders, when transgendered men and women control huge corporations, then we will know that God is near.

But wait! Some of those things are happening now, aren’t they?

God is coming very close to us—very close. There’s a list of what journalists are supposed to cover in their stories—who, why, what, when, where, and how. We know the who—the God of all nations—and the why—because God’s love is for all God’s children—but not the rest. We don't know what it will look like, when it will be, where it will be or how it will happen. But we know God’s time is coming.

Like Mary, we’re getting anxious. We’re not sure what it’s going to be like, and we’re a bit nervous. But, again like Mary, we trust God, and say, “As you will it, God.” And we wait. For a baby, and for—what? We don’t know. But God keeps promises, and God loves surprises.

In the many names of the one creating God who is with us always, amen.

1 comment:

Sue said...

This is simply beautiful RP. I see God's promise shining through you and your ministry.

Merry Christmas!

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Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...