Sermon Archives

Saturday, December 24, 2016
The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord 24 December 2016
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
God's Hope and God's Way

O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you,
the Life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you:
Help us, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you,
whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (A pray of Saint Augustine)

We all know something of Christmas hope, don’t we?  Close your eyes for just a moment and think back to your childhood, to that confident expectation that something wonderful was about to happen.  It wasn’t certain, of course, but all the signs were good.  The tree was decorated and the stockings were hung, presents, even, had appeared under the tree.  Sure, the cookies hadn’t been eaten, but in all likelihood they would be, because Christmas was definitely on its way.

Just a few hours ago this nave was overflowing with the giddy hope of Christmas – girls and boys dressed in their finest Christmas attire couldn’t wait to get home to see the tree again and to get to bed, because the sooner they were in bed, the sooner Christmas morn would come with all its joy and wonder.

It doesn’t take long, however, for us to realize that this isn’t the whole story of Christmas hope.  The child’s joy and wonder on Christmas Eve is wonderful, of course, but we have all lived long enough to know that there is more to Christmas hope than just toys and bobbles under the tree. 

If we go back a bit further tonight, if we go all the way back with Saint Luke, in fact, to that first Christmas, we will begin to see again that Christmas hope that gave birth to Jesus so long ago.

Where shall we begin?

There is of course, that hope that Mary and Joseph have born all those long miles.  For days they have journeyed along the dusty path form their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem, hoping to find a warm reception from distant relatives who share their blood and their name, but perhaps no more.  They will be traveling all this way unannounced, placing their hope in the hospitality of others.  And to make matters worse, theirs is not an ordinary marriage.  How will they be received?  Will a door be open?

There is, no doubt as well, that they bear the same intrinsic hope that all parents hold for their children – hope for their child’s safety and life, not only in birth but into adulthood and beyond.  This is a hope that every parent bears still today – rich or poor, American or Kenyan, Christian or Muslim, a parent bears a natural hope for her child, that the tiny gift born through labor and love will know something of joy and peace in life.

For some parents, however, and for Mary and Joseph on this first Christmas, the hope would go even further.  You see, for some still hope for a more basic security.  Mary and Joseph would have known that hope, too.  For them, this day would begin in uncertainty.  They would have begun this final day’s journey without knowing exactly where and how it would end.  They would have begun today with a most basic hope – hope for a simple and secure dwelling not only to rest themselves, but to welcome their new child, their greatest gift, into the world.

There is, also, the hope of those shepherds living in the fields surrounding Bethlehem.  Like everyone in Judea, they would have known something of lords.  There was, of course, Emperor Augustus – whose titles would also include:  Son of God, God from God, Lord, Saviour of the World.  And there was Herod, King of the Jews who had lapsed already into instability and cruelty, under whom the innocents of Bethlehem would eventually be slaughtered.  They would have known the pressing demands that these political lords had placed upon them, and they would have known, too, of the hope for a new type of king, a new type of Lord, that would promise joy not only for the powerful, but for all.

And finally, of course, we cannot overlook the hope born by God this night.  While it is natural for for us to hope for ourselves and those dearest to us, the angels of Saint Luke’s telling remind us that God’s hope is for all people – that the great joy which God dreams up is not merely for some but for all the people.  This is the ancient hope of God proclaimed first through the prophets and tonight by a heavenly chorus.

But tonight’s story isn’t only a story of hope.  It is also the beginning of a story of fulfillment; that is, a story of this remarkable hope of God is to come to its fulfillment.  Already, by this time in human history, the most common means of fulfilling the audacious hopes of the human and divine heart had been tried – power and wealth and might . . . and all had been found wanting.  Even the great Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus was merely a lull in time, eventually to be replaced by regular outbreaks of rebellion and war. 

No, the means by which this long-hoped for peace would be would have to be something new, something unlike all that had come before it.  And so, in the squalor of stable, a child is born and a new King is proclaimed.  And in him we will see a new way come to life. 

This new way begins, of course, with the gift of humility. 

It is in humility that God comes to us; shedding all the presumptions of the Godhead to dwell among and within us.  In humility, God immerses himself in the human drama, subjecting himself to our sin and brokenness, in order that he might show us a new way of life.

It is on account of his great humility that a second gift is born:  the gift of compassion.  The One who deserves all love, instead takes up love for us, broken as we are.  In Jesus, we see God’s heart overflow with compassion not only for the wounded and dispossessed in our world – for a young woman caught in adultery, for paralytic and a leper cast off from society, but also for the friend who betrayed him, the disciple who abandoned him, and the authorities who condemned him to death. 

The One who humbled himself to first take our nature upon him, takes up love for us as well, subjecting himself, even, to limits of our love.

And from such compassion flows the final and most life-changing gift of all:  the gift of self-sacrifice.  The hope of God proclaimed by angels, is bound up in the life of the child born in a stable.  The way of Jesus begins tonight.  The way of peace proclaimed by the multitude of the heavenly host, becomes none other than the way of the Cross, the way of sacrificial love not only for the “other” whom we love, but for all, the stranger, yes, and even the despised among us. 

Peace is God’s hope, ever and always.

Humility.  Compassion.  Sacrifice.  These are God’s way.  May God dwell in us tonight.