Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 24, 2010

There is a wonderful component regarding the season of Christmas that somehow transcends most others. I’m not talking about Santa Claus or the giving and receiving of gifts. It doesn’t really have to do with Christmas trees nor does it pertain to the delectable treats that usually appear during this particular time of year. There’s something magical, something special about the notion of home, or being at home, or going home at Christmas.

We’ve all heard the traditional rendering of the popular song made famous by Bing Crosby, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Perry Como sang the wonderful tune (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays in the 1950’s. For so many people, there’s something about the memories of home and Christmas that seem to go hand-in-hand. For those who are returning to Moultrie this time of year, and grew up here, and in this church, there are perhaps some grand traditions and comforts in returning to the parish of your youth and seeing the church decorated as you remember it for this service. You perhaps look forward to singing Silent Night at the close of tonight’s liturgy, just as it’s always been done. You can probably call to mind the sights and smells of Mom and Dad’s house that I hope conjure up wonderful memories from childhood.

I don’t mean to sound sappy, or sentimental, or maudlin here, but I hope to make a link between our longing for home, and its importance for this night.

We come again to the celebration of the Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We hear again the traditional reading from Luke Chapter 2 that seems to tell the story that we all anticipate hearing. However, let’s look again at what we just heard.

First of all, Joseph and Mary his betrothed, are forced to leave their home by order of the Emperor Augustus. This man is so self-inflated that he wants to know how many people he actually rules over. Literally, he wants to know the population of the entire world, the home he has built for himself. So, Joseph and Mary set off toward Bethlehem, the ancestral home of his forefather David. We have no idea if they know anyone there. Do they have any distant relatives who might welcome them in, give them lodging, and show them some hospitality as they venture into an unknown future?

As we know from our story there is no room for them. No one will take in a stranger from Nazareth and his very pregnant spouse. They are without a home. There are no familiar sights or sounds around them to welcome their firstborn child into this world. It is most likely that Mary gave birth in some cave out behind the city, and we really have no idea if anyone was there other than Joseph and God. And yet, this is what we celebrate this night – the birth of a child, born miles away from home.

It’s easy to think about what Joseph and Mary gave up in order to follow the Angel’s message and continue on this dangerous journey, and the command of the secular authorities to travel to Bethlehem. We can somewhat picture what they laid aside to carry out God’s will. We’ve had to do some of the same things in our own lives. We’ve perhaps left a job and ventured off into unknown territory ourselves. Many have sent children off to college or seen them get married and wondered how things were going to work out. I know for some it’s been a question of how to make ends meet. We may not be able to comprehend the depth and profundity of what they forsook, but there is the human element that we can at least relate to.

What did Jesus give up?

Jesus gave up a home that we can only attempt to comprehend and long for. The Creator became a part of the very creation that He spoke into existence, and lived, breathed, and died as one of us. He gave up Heaven so that one day we might experience it for all eternity, in His glorious and wonderful presence.

Yes, it’s most certainly good to be home for the holidays. It’s great to be with family and friends at this time of year. As we gather together this evening, to celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation and Nativity, as some of us have come home for the holidays, let us remember the home that our Lord left in order to redeem mankind, and the home that awaits us. Our Lord said in John’s Gospel, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” This is what our Lord left, in order that we might one day share it again with him.

In talking with one of my seminary classmates about my sermon idea for tonight, Fr. Rhoades, who many of you met at my institution as rector, suggested the following lyrics as possibly being applicable for this theme of Jesus leaving his home out of love for us. The group DOWNHERE wrote a song in 2007 entitled How Many Kings that I believe summarizes the point I’ve feebly attempted to make, and speaks quite clearly about this night. Here are their words:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?
It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

All for me
All for you
All for me
All for you

Only one King, one Lord, one Great, one God gave it all away in order for us to have it all, and to have it abundantly. Jesus Christ, the babe King did it all out of love, and He bids us to repeat His actions in the world. Let us with a glad and joyful heart receive Him once again, so that He might have a home to rule as our King, our Lord, and our God.

Merry Christmas, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and welcome home!

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