Christmas Eve 2013
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Merry Christmas! Our Advent journey has ended and we have arrived at the manger to welcome the Christ Child. The Christmas preparations are done, whether we want them to be or not. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be. Let go and enjoy the beauty of the little child lying in the manger.
Christmas is a special time of year with the music and the baking and the drinks and the parties and the decorations and the traditions and the presents and... the stories. Oh the stories. We all have our favorite list: Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas. Whether on the big screen, the little screen, in a theater, or in a book, there are so many wonderful stories at this time of year.
And there are the family stories: like the time that Uncle Joe burned the roast, or the tree fell over and water ruined all of the presents (it was really only a couple of presents, but the story grows each year) or the time that Aunt Suzy returned from Afghanistan right in time for the holidays. I find that with each ornament I put on the tree,a story comes to mind - a story about the giver, or some special event or joy or tragedy related to that ornament.
And, of course, there is the most important story of all this season, the reason we celebrate tonight, the reason all of these other stories exist in the first place, the story we heard a snippet of a few minutes ago in the Gospel: the story of the birth of Jesus. "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." This is the greatest story of them all, as Linus reminds Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang every year. The story that trumps every story. This story shines brightly in the darkness of this winter, and in any darkness we find our lives. This story hushes briefly the fevered pace of our life, and has even been known to pause war, and cause the most bitter enemies to celebrate together.
The great writer Flannery O'Connor once wrote: "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected." (Mystery and Manners, 118). Think about that for a moment. "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected" This Christmas story is full of such moments, moments of grace, awaiting acceptance or rejection.
Mary, moving from the fear of meeting the angel to the humble acceptance: "Let it be with me according to your word." This unmarried, pregnant teenager, certainly a scandal to her family and her community, accepted the grace of giving birth to God. Joseph, afraid to take Mary as his wife, deciding to put her aside, quietly, as we heard in the Gospel reading this past Sunday, is confronted by the Angel telling him to go ahead and marry her. The innkeeper, unable to put them up for the night in the usual room, finds some space in the stable, and a manger to use for a bed. The shepherds in the field hearing the Good News from the angels. Was it a hallucination? Should they really go see if what they heard was true? Deciding to go with haste. And the Magi, traveling from afar because of an ancient prophecy about a star, finding a little child, bringing gifts, worshipping him, and avoiding Herod as they leave, to spare the boy's life.
Grace upon grace permeates this story of the greatest grace of all: the incarnation, the birth of Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus, the true embodiment of divine grace and love. Grace, that completely undeserved, often unbidden, gift. With each passing year, I realize more and more how important grace is. Everything we have and everything we are is pure grace.
And there is one more grace to be felt in this story, waiting to be accepted or rejected: ours. Do we accept the grace of the incarnation? And, as the continued Body of Christ in this world, do we share the grace of the incarnation with others? Do we live lives embodying the grace-filled and love-filled incarnation of God? Are we living lives worthy of the names Wonderful Counsellor and Prince of Peace? Are converting the blood soaked boots of the tramping warriors into fuel for the fire? Are we lifting the peoples' burdensome yokes, and the bar across their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressors Are we increasing the world's joy? Are we shining light into the world's deep darkness?As celebrate the birth of this child, we are challenged by this grace set before us. Accept it. Share it. Be a part of the story of God's peace, justice, joy, light, love, and grace this day and every day. Amen.