Friday, December 26, 2014

Take the Word and the Light with You

Sermon preached at the early Christmas Eve Service, December 24, 2014, at St. Michael's Church, Geneseo.

          Contemplating this Service and watching it come together over the past few weeks, I was reminded by a quote from one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard,

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.[1]
          I think Annie would enjoy this service, not only because crash helmets might indeed have proven to be useful, but because she would observe that we are having a lot of fun, but, whether they intended to or not, our young people have brought out the dangerous side of Christmas.
          In trying to give us the perspective of all four of the Gospel writers (or, at least, their mothers), they have pushed us beyond the sentimentality of a familiar story.  They have pushed us beyond concerns about how the story is told, or who tells it.  They have pushed us into “why?”  And “why” is the dangerous question to ask this night.  It is dangerous enough that all four gospels end up in this place, albeit by very different roads.  The child was born, the Son of God came to live among us, in order to change our lives.
          Our young people were quite right, it is helpful to think about the entirety of this thing we call the incarnation by using the Gospel writer John’s images of Jesus as the Word which has been with God from the very beginning, and Jesus as the Light that ever shines in the darkness.
          It is possible to dismiss the Christmas story that seems to want to act like history, but it is impossible get the Word and the Light and not be different.
          If Jesus was the word with God from the very beginning, what was that word?  What are the first words God speaks in the Bible?  “Let there be….?” Which makes something, and then God says, “Good,” (Tov) when it has been made. “Let there be…good!”
          If those words are going to shape your life, you will never look at the world God has made the same.  And is not that word so vitally important right now?  Do we not have a responsibility to treat the world as the precious gift it is?  And given that we human creatures are part of this world, and a part over which God said in the beginning, “Very good,” there are consequences.  We are not responsible for choosing up sides in the latest political or social debate, but for finding new ways to do justice, love kindness, and day by day walk humbly with God?
          And if those dangerous messages get to you, can you carry the light with Jesus into a darkened world?  Blow your candle out after we have sung silent night, but do not dare to let the flame that this night lights inside of you die.
          The world needs good words and true lights these days, as much as it ever has.  It needs these things so bad that I beg you not to leave this place tonight without taking the word and the light with you.  I cannot promise you the world will change dramatically if you do carry them, but I can promise you that if you don’t, it is just going to be more of the same.  We owe it to our young people not to let that happen, and we might even let them speak and light the way.  Why not?  A child once did and still does.

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (Harper & Row, 1982),pp. 40-41.

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