Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Eve Sermon

The word ‘grace’ can have a number of different meanings.
We speak of the fluid beauty of a dancer’s steps,
or the effortless ease by which some people
adroitly handle themselves in public.
Someone is ‘gracious,’
they overlook other people’s faults,
and take us by surprise with kindness.
We have a ‘grace period,’
in which we are able to make up
what should have been done earlier.
Our worship space today is ‘graced’
with the greenery and the candles and the poinsettias.
We are graced with the music of the organ and the choir.

Despite this plethora of meanings,
or perhaps because of them,
the word ‘grace’ eludes easy definition.
It is a quality that can be sensed more easily
than it can be described.
The word ‘grace’ carries with it
the sense of beauty,
and an unexpected beauty,
a freedom, a playfulness, a surprise.
Something that could never have been demanded,
but something that is simply there as a gift.

Perhaps this is why Christmas means so much to us.
There is a grace about Christmas;
no matter how much work and preparation goes into it,
there are moments when it catches us unawares
and draws us into its story.
No matter how far back the traditions go,
there is still a sense of anticipation of newness
even though all may be the same.

Every late December, we approach the church as if we had never been here before,
to see and smell the greenery and the candles
and to delight in the red and pink and white of the poinsettias,
to hear the Word and kneel at the altar and sing the carols
as they were all new to us.
For we have developed a taste for grace,
for the simple given-ness of Christmas.

The grace of God has appeared,
writes the apostle to Titus,
bringing salvation to all.
In Jesus Christ,
we have the grace of God,
appearing seemingly from nowhere,
unexpected beauty
coming silently into our world.
In the birth of this child,
we have a sense of the freedom of God,
who comes as a surprise to us.
Here in the manger lies the grace of God,
the very essence of God’s given-ness and giving-ness.

In the manger is the one
who will bring in the kingdom-not-of-this-world;
the kingdom of grace.
In the manger is the one
who is the Savior of Israel,
the Savior of the world.

Here in the manger is the one
to whom humanity may go to find the grace of God.
We need make no sacrifices in a temple,
we need not make a pilgrimage to a shrine,
we come without works of our hands
or accomplishments in our lives.
We come with our brokenness
and our in-completeness
and our illness and pain and suffering,
as if we were poor, cold, aching-back second-shift shepherds
having nothing with which to commend ourselves,
who are simply told, go to this one.

Go to this one
and look and see with what weakness
God the Almighty One comes into the world.
Go to this one and hear him teach you about
God’s forgiveness and mercy, about purity and holiness.
Go to this one and see him heal the sick
and cast out demons and eat with sinners
and expose the hypocrisy and violence of the world.
Go to this one and confess your sins
and hear his Word of Pardon,
for he speaks for his Father.

Go to this one and receive the bread and wine
in which he gives you the work of his Passion.
Go to this one’s grave and find it empty,
for he is going ahead of you into the world;
there you will see him, just as he told you.

In simply coming to the manger,
the shepherds could not possibly
have discerned the teaching of the adult Jesus
or have anticipated the Passion and the Resurrection.
They had no inkling of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
They would not have begun to fathom
that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
But in approaching the woman and the man and the child,
seeing the confirmation of the angel’s message,
they would have sensed what they could not define,
the ineffable beauty of God,
unpredictable and free,
breathtaking in weakness,
full of glory.

If you can approach him tonight
and sense that undefinable beauty,
if even for a fleeting moment,
then perhaps God also calls you,
broken and incomplete and with dying faith.
And even if you approach
and cannot sense anything,
in the Christ in the manger God has come to you;
calling out to you and inviting you to participate in joy,
to learn again or for the first time
to sing with the angels
and run with the shepherds
and ponder with the Virgin.
Whether we approach for the first or thousandth time,
whether this is old hat or new experience,
there is surprise here,
the unexpected in the expected,
the grace of God appearing bringing salvation
in the One who is born the Savior.

Merry Christmas!