* a sermon given at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on December 24, 2015 *
Text: Luke 1:1-20
Merry Christmas, y’all!
Please pray with me, as we ponder this mysterious gift we’ve been given:
Holy God, you’ve given us a tremendous gift,
you’ve given us yourself.
As the Light shatters the darkness,
break into our lives once again.
So, church…I have a confession I need to make to you all tonight. I am a terrible gift-giver. It’s true, I am. And the person I need to apologize most to for this character flaw is my mom. See, there was a span of about 3 years where this unfortunate personality trait comes to my mind most vividly. In a span of 3 years, these were the Christmas gifts I gave to my mother, not kidding. The first was a foot spa; talk about a fungal tragedy waiting to happen. The second was a little single-bottle wine chiller; most of you already have one of these without purchasing one, they’re called refrigerators. And the third was this clunky electric back massager; you could throw out your back just trying to lift it over your shoulders.
Gifts are great and everything, but they’re not the point, are they? We’ve all heard this before. “Christmas is about giving.” “The gift is in the giving.” “It’s better to give than to receive.” Kids, that’s a basic rundown of what your parents are trying to tell you around this time of year, so there you go.
And adults, we know these maxims, don’t we? We’ve heard these over and over from an early age. And we’re also receptive to the gifts from others. We receive these gifts well, these pristinely-wrapped-tied-with-a-bow presents we may or may not need. It’s not about the gift, is it? It’s not so much about the surprise as it is sitting around with loved ones, recapping the year, forecasting on what the next 365 days might bring…
The gift is in the giving…
But what about the gifts we don’t want? The gift we didn’t know we needed? How’s our receptivity to that? We might dislike the gift, or even hate it. Maybe the gift wasn’t what we were hoping for, or not the right kind, or is ugly… We might reject the gift outright. Like Mary and Joseph experienced, we refuse to find room for these gifts.
I think Jesus is the gift the world didn’t know it needed. Certainly not the gift we were expecting. Coming in the most unlikely of ways. We expected that the Messiah would be a great warrior-king that would vanquish God’s enemies and establish God’s rule over the entire earth.
The Messiah we got was a naked, helpless, crying child in a barn. And this infant would grow up to proclaim God’s reign over all the earth, but instead of a reign of violence and conquest and occupation, he proclaimed a counter-cultural rule of peace and justice and hope.
That hope is birthed tonight. In you. In me. In all of us.
Maybe this season has been painful or difficult for you. Or maybe you find yourself in a brand new place tonight; a place, a church you never thought you’d step foot in. Maybe you’ve been here since you were born, literally been here your entire life.
This hope…is for you. For all. No matter who are.
What a gift…
We use lots of words and phrases when we talk about this child, this Jesus of Nazareth: the Christ, the Messiah, Emmanuel, the Word made flesh, Prince of Peace… Probably my most favorite way of talking about Jesus is as Light. Particularly at Christmastime, when we’ve just days ago marked the longest night of the year in the winter solstice, and now have moved from growing nights to lengthening days. As Isaiah tells it, Light…has been born into the darkness.
A week and a half ago, the Quest Theatre Ensemble performed their work ‘Blue Nativity’ in this space. Some of you were here and remember; 10-foot larger-than-life characters, angelic carols, camels and sheep wandering up and down the center aisle… It was truly a remarkable sight. The most memorable moment of that afternoon for me came toward the end of the play. During the song What Child is This?, this spectacular, dazzling, blinding light erupted out of this very manger. It was the most striking visual representation of the birth of Christ that I’ve ever seen. And it also felt the most true to me.
Tonight, the gift of light ruptures through the darkness of our world again.
On the 24th of each month, a group of people from this faith community, and others from around the city, gather here, at Luther Memorial, and hold a Vigil for Peace. We sing songs of hope, we sit in silence, we pray for peace and justice, and we light candles…
As you’re probably figuring out, tonight is the 24th of the month. This…is our Vigil for Peace. Our prayer is one for justice. We’ll light candles in a little while and sing a song of hope that God would bring stillness and silence to our tumultuous nights.
We implore the Prince of Peace to be born in our world again. We plead for the Word to speak a word of hope to us when things seem bleak. We beseech the Light to come and banish the darkness forever.
This hope…this Light…is born for all of us…and in all of us…tonight.
Carry this gift with you as you leave this place tonight. Bear this gift into a world that so desperately longs for it.