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6th Sunday after epiphany 2019

Luke 6:17-23, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Deacon Nancy Slavin

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. 

I will begin this morning by telling you a bit about myself.  I like to imagine.  And mostly, I like to imagine myself in the various Bible scenarios, as if I was there.  Sometimes I picture myself as a servant girl, just observing Jesus as he is baptized by John.  In the birth story, I like to imagine what it would have been like if I were a midwife, encouraging Mary in the birthing of her son. What would I say to her?  And sometimes I’m just me, sitting quietly with the Jesus during trying times. I try to imagine what is he saying to me. Because of this, you will notice that I will occasionally ask you also to imagine being present in events described in the scriptures.  Now you have been warned 😊

The Gospel message from Luke, that we just heard, gives us a good glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  In it we find Jesus telling us, and modeling for us, what we can experience in God’s Kingdom.  And I believe that by hearing this account, we are invited to ask ourselves tough questions about what we believe.

The verses from Luke’s Gospel, read today, are known as Jesus’s “Sermon on the Plain”.  This scenario, that Luke describes, is preceded by a verse that wasn’t included in the today’s lexionary reading.  That earlier verse tells us that, prior to what we just heard, Jesus and his chosen twelve apostles were up on a mountain.  It begins here today with Jesus and the apostles coming down from the mountain to a level place, or plain, to meet the people waiting for Jesus.  He came down to a level place, a place level with the ordinary people. Just like the person reading the Gospel in church always comes down to stand with the listeners as the Gospel is proclaimed.   If we can imagine ourselves waiting alongside all the people who came there to the plain, from far and wide, to meet Jesus, maybe we can imagine how it might have felt to have Jesus come down level to us.  He was not preaching from on high, but down among the people. He was within reach.  He was in their midst.  He was truly present with them.

The scriptures tell us that many came to hear him, and many were there to be healed by him, and all in the crowd were trying to touch him because of the power that came out of him to heal them.  I can picture the scrambling and chaos that may have been occurring.  Imagine Jesus, having an important message he wanted to proclaim to people.  A message that could change their lives.  A message about the kingdom of God.  But many of the people were interested mainly in being healed, rather hearing the message.  Maybe they were like patients I have known, who were just looking for a cure from the doctor, and not interested in the health instructions that, if followed, could greatly improve their health.

But the amazing thing is, Jesus healed all of them!  He demonstrated love and kindness, restoring health and wellness, mentally and physically.  It was a taste of the kingdom illustrated by his actions.

Then, it says, after the healings took place, then Jesus looked up at his disciples.  Not just at the twelve apostles, but all those who came to truly hear, and to learn and to follow him. Then he spoke of the kingdom of God.  And it turned their legalistic world on its head.  This glimpse into God’s kingdom revealed an upside-down kingdom compared to the standards of their world.

“Blessed are you who are poor”, he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God”.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled”.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh”.

And, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets”.

Again, imagine yourself in that crowd, after Jesus spoke these words.  Are you leaning over to the person sitting next to you on the plain, saying, “What did he say?”?  Perhaps you sincerely want to know more because that day you are so aware of your family’s hunger and poverty, and you feel like crying because you can’t fully provide for them.  And perhaps you are also being persecuted because you and your family are true followers of this Jesus that so many people just don’t understand.  But, this kingdom of God that Jesus describes sounds like something you want to be a part of!  Yet it seems hard to understand. You want to know more!

Just like those on the plain, today we also seek to understand the kingdom of God.  This kingdom that is both now, and still to come.  This kingdom offered to the poor, where will be no hunger, and there will be laughing.  This kingdom where we can leap for joy!  This kingdom that belongs to a loving God who reaches out to us on our level.  The kingdom that we pray about in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

How stark is this contrast to the world in which we live (just like it was for the world in which Jesus’ followers lived)!  In the kingdom of this world, the poor are looked down upon and often made the scapegoat of multiple problems, children and adults go hungry and starve.  Of course, they weep at the injustices shown to them in this life!  And today followers of Jesus still can experience being excluded, ridiculed and discounted when their faith is known.

A few years ago, I was working a temporary nursing assignment in an ER far south of here.  That year, on Ash Wednesday, before I went to work, I stopped at a church in the vicinity of the hospital, to receive ashes.  My hair was in a style that made the ashes visible to patients and staff.  The responses I received to the ashes were varied.  Some people said nothing, some told me that I had something black smeared on my head that might want to wash off, some said, “Oh, I forgot it was Ash Wednesday”, and a few said quietly, “I’m a Christian, too”.  But the response that truly surprised me, was the not so quiet, not very kind, and sarcastic comments that I overheard some fellow nurses smirking to each other about. It was based on nothing other than my external show of faith in the form of ashes worn on my forehead.  I was not only surprised, but saddened.  It was a moment later, however, when I remembered the words of Jesus, “blessed are you when people exclude you and revile you on account of me”, in which I found consolation.

But truthfully, I wasn’t feeling very blessed at that moment.  And I know that when we experience poverty, powerlessness, empty bellies, and feelings intense enough to make us cry, we don’t feel very blessed either. 

But the blessing here that Jesus offers, is not just a feeling, or the emotion, of happiness.  The blessing here is the security of knowing that one is right with God.  Despite that the world is telling us that the good life means we must be financially prosperous, highly educated, well dressed and spoken well of by all, Jesus is saying the opposite.  He is telling us the good news, that if we follow in his footsteps, it doesn’t matter if we are poor, or disrespected, or if the world tries to shame us for our faith, the kingdom of God is and will be ours.  God notices our condition, and we can receive blessing in it when we follow Jesus.

Just as Jesus met his followers on their level in this scenario, Jesus still meets us on our level today. He lived among us on earth, as a person.  He gets it.  He understands the pressures and difficulties we face in this world.  We do not have to imagine our Lord looking down from on high.  We can experience God’s love with us now, in our lives, no matter if the world does not consider us successful and honored. How much greater for us it is to walk with Jesus in and towards God’s kingdom!

This morning I invite you to continue to reflect on this Gospel passage, and the good news therein.  How do you experience God’s kingdom in your life?


June 24 sermon of The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg: “Of hospitality, community and the way of Love”

Proper 7, June 24, 2018
1 Samuel 17 1a:4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Cor. 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Of Hospitality, Community, and the Way of Love

I had almost finished writing the homily for this Sunday. As usual, I had carefully read the assigned scriptures, studied commentaries, prayed and reflected. And then I just deleted everything that I wrote, knowing I had to start over. For this week, I cannot keep silent, to keep silent would mean that I have failed in my call to preach the Gospel. This week I must speak about the moral crisis that is gripping our nation. And let me be clear that I am not trying to promote partisan politics and to say that there is one uniform Christian position on all issues. I don’t want to polarize or divide us any further. But when innocent children are being torn away from their parents, when people are being prosecuted simply for trying to cross the border to a better life, and when our leaders blatantly misuse Holy Scripture to justify their unjust actions, I, and we, must speak out. If we don’t speak out, if we don’t call our leaders to account, we are not living out our call as citizens, and as Christians.
I believe that a nation’s true greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable—the poor, the ill, those on the margins, and vulnerable immigrants and their children. And in turning away the sojourner, the strangers who are our brothers and sisters, we are turning away our Lord himself.
For I believe this current crisis in our nation is about more than immigration. It is about a lack of hospitality, of compassion, of honoring the common humanity of our neighbors. It is about fear, division, and demonizing the other. It is about racism, sexism, and classism that keep us from building the beloved community together. And it is about putting the narrow interests of our country ahead of the common good for all the nations of the world. And what is most troubling, it is about professing Christians equating allegiance to country with allegiance to God.
First, the lack of hospitality. The inscription at the Statue of Liberty reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door! We make a mockery of these words, which have been a beacon of hope to so many throughout our history, when we turn away and prosecute those who try to seek asylum here, and threaten to build walls and separate families. We make a mockery of these words when we ban people from traveling here because of their religious beliefs or the country of their origin. We make a mockery of these words when we speak of undocumented immigrants as thugs and criminals. How quick are we to forget that our ancestors took perilous journeys into the unknown to escape the same kind of persecution many of these asylum seekers are fleeing! How soon we forget!
No friends, as Christians, we are called to something higher, something far better. In Isaiah 56:7, we read “ These will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” In Deuteronomy Chapter 10, we hear “God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And listen to this from Job 29:16, “I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.” We are to have compassion on the stranger, the sojourner, our brother and sister in need. We are not to have hard hearts or turn away, but to show mercy and compassion, and to share of our abundance and bounty with those who are in need. And we are always to remember that Jesus said whatever we do to our brothers and sisters, we do to him.
Second, this moral crisis gripping our nation has to do with creating an environment in which racism; fear, division, and mistrust can grow and destroy the bonds of love and community. There are those who claim that our greatness lies in the past, and that we should go back to the days when we were a more homogenous, European-American society. But the beauty of the dream of a free self governing land that inspired our founders, is that it was bigger and better than they were, and at its heart, really transcends divisions of color, class, gender, or sexual orientation. They longed to establish a land where all people could flourish in freedom. I recently was walking through downtown San Francisco on the way to a church service. I heard English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese spoken. I met African Americans, Latinos, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and Anglos as we passed each other on the sidewalks. I saw Sikhs with their turbans, Muslim women in hijabs, and later, an observant Jew wearing a kippah. Later that day, I was served in a clothing store by a young Indian woman in a sari. This friends, is what makes America great, this wonderful diversity and variety and celebration of life in all its beautiful difference. This is what makes America great, not some oppressive sameness in which only a few have a place at the table.
It is not easy to build commonality, community, in the midst of diversity of culture, of religious faith, of varied traditions. It is hard work, but it is our call, if we are to be a just, compassionate, and peaceful nation. And it is our call as Christians to model this path. We are told to love one another, as love is of God. It doesn’t mean we are to love people who look like us, worship like us, or have the same values. We are to love our neighbors, ALL of them. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It is hard work to build true, gracious community; it requires humility, a willingness to listen, and to ask for forgiveness, over and over again. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of the prophet Micah, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, to “understand God, the Trinity, as a community of love”, and that the power of that love can transform the world.
Finally, as Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ and the way of the Cross, of sacrificial, overflowing love. We are to put the love and loyalty to God above loyalty to the state. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love our country. I love my country, and my love for it makes me grieve for injustice and calls me to hold our leaders, and us accountable. We must always seek to live out the Gospel in our common life. And when the laws of our nation violate the call to love and respect the dignity of every human being, we are called to speak out.
And friends, don’t lose heart. Despite the meanness, the bigotry, the cruelty we may see around us, this can also be the shining hour for compassion, heroism, courage, and love. For all the horror we see of children being taken from their parents at the border, we see thousands upon thousands marching and holding solemn vigil in protest. Many, many people are donating money and effort to reunite families that have been torn apart. Across party lines, Democrats, Republicans, and others are calling for an end to the zero tolerance policies. People of all backgrounds are calling for an end to unjust immigration policies that discriminate against the poor and people of color. Take heart, for in the words of the song, we shall overcome. We are overcoming, and we shall overcome. We will walk hand and hand, and we will live in peace, someday, someday soon, by the grace of God. Someday, this country of ours that we love will once again live up to its promise, its ideals, and be a beacon of freedom and hope once more. So keep your eyes on the cross of Christ, love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and fear not, go out into the world and share this marvelous good news. Proclaim it to friend, proclaim it to enemy, share it with the poor, with the powerful, and watch the miracle of the Resurrection happening once again in our midst. Amen.

“Of Dreams and Visions” The Rev. Leonard Oakes- June 3, 2018

In the name of the God of our dreams, the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning, dreamers!

Have you had a dream last night? What about the night before? Last week? Years ago? (Kindly ask your neighbor his/her dream?)
I’m pretty sure each one of us had a dream when we were young. Yet even now, we continue to dream.

When I was just a young boy, (not that I’ve grown so old now,) I used to dream a lot, awake or asleep. (Not that kind of dream that makes you smile now,) but a dream of hope and aspirations that one day, I will be like that person that I admire a lot, or be in that place that I wish I could live, or one of the stars that shines. I remember helping my dad in the farm planting rice under the heat of the sun. Every time I think about that farm, I remember eating with my brothers near the creek and taking a nap under a nipa hut where the wind blows and the songs of the birds and the sound of the water flowing will put me to rest. As I watch the grain start to form, and when it’s time for the harvest, I would pluck some heads of grain and whistle as I go. And when the harvest is done, my brothers and I would carry those 50 pounds per sack of palay on our shoulders. Usually about 100 sacks of them. Sweat runs through my cheeks as I grab a bottle of water to quench me. I don’t remember if we did the harvest on a sabbath day. What I remember is, the proceeds will help my brothers and sister college tuition fees, and to those of us who are in elementary and high schools. We would give a sack of palay rice to the Church as offering, and the rest will be our daily bread where we all get together in a table to give thanks to God for the many blessings we continue to receive. A couple of months later, the cycle for farming begins anew. Another dream comes along.
When I graduated high school, I wanted to be a nurse or a public speaker. But because I wasn’t certain of what my heart really wants, I took some general English and science subjects with a plan to pursue nursing and public administration. But somehow, somewhere I heard a voice calling me to “Come forward and stretch out my hands” I wasn’t sure whose voice that was? I didn’t know what it meant? I met with my parish priest Fr. Dario Palasi at Holy Angels Anglican Church in Pico La Trinidad Benguet, Philippines (who is now a rector in Queens New York) and confided with him about my dreams. He told me to join the Church Choir and have a time to pray for wisdom. There was a Deacon Intern there by the name of Harold Agustin (Who is a bishop now), who encouraged me to take the entrance test to Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City Philippines. I passed the test but I never told my parents about it, until the month of June came where they received a letter from the seminary informing them that I passed the test and that God has called me to the ordained ministry. I still didn’t understand how all these things happened so quickly. A sudden change of course. It turned my dreams downside up. I thought about my dream as boy, and as a college student. I finally said to the Lord, “Lord, here I am, take my stretched hands and lead me according to your will.” Here I am now with you, still listening to the voice of God.

The young Samuel in the Old Testament reading may not understand all those dreams and voices he experienced, but they certainly led him to become a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
The man in the synagogue with a withered hand in the Gospel reading this morning, listened to the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “Come forward and stretch out your hand” and his hand was restored to normalcy.

Samuel’s dream may be something else, but God has better plans for him.
The Man with the withered hand may have lost his hope to be well, but he listened to the call of Jesus Christ to come forward and he was healed.
I may not have pursued my nursing and public administrator right away, but God called me to pursue His mission first and yet God still granted me to become a nurse and a public administrator at the same time. There is no better place to be but in the house of God full of gratitude and service to render.

To our graduates, graduating students; To all students and dreamers like us, I know you have aspirations in life, you long for a better life, possessions. We long for peace, love and the way of compassion. I ask you not to hesitate to stretch forth your hands and listen to the voice of God. Don’t hesitate to say to the Lord, “Here I am, send me according to your will.”

May your dreams come true, and may the God of our dreams, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you and guide you through. Amen.

Let me offer you this song to inspire you today and everyday.

Andy Williams:
To dream, the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong, and to love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star

REF: This is my quest to follow the star no matter how hopeless
No matter how far, to fight for the right without question or pause
To be willing to march, march into hell for that heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To fight the unbeatable foe. To reach the unreachable star

Jesus Baptism and ours – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

The Baptism of Jesus
Sunday, January 7, 2017
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7,
Mark 1:4-11

Jesus’ Baptism- and Ours

Imagine the scene in the wilderness as John the Baptist preached repentance. People streamed into the countryside and from Jerusalem to hear what this fiery, ascetic preacher had to say, and to be baptized as a sign of their turning back towards God. It was probably dusty, hot, and crowded, with animals milling about, with people surging forward to catch what John was saying, and to wait their turn to go under the cleansing waters. Then they heard these incredible words, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What strange and marvelous words! Who could this be? What could it mean to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Then Jesus appears at the Jordan River and presents himself to John for baptism. It might have seemed like the other baptisms before and after, and then, the heavens were torn and the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And as if that weren’t enough, there was the voice from heaven, saying, you are my Son, with you I am well pleased.” Have you wondered why Jesus had to be baptized? After all, he didn’t have anything to repent of! In his baptism, Jesus, in his humanity, identified with us and our need of repentance, and though he was without sin, he went through the rite in solidarity with us, and as a sign of humility and obedience to God. In his baptism, Jesus received confirmation of his call as the Messiah, the Anointed, the one who came to speak peace and life and hope and love to a world so greatly in need of grace. And our readings today are full of rich imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures about water and the Spirit of God moving over the face of the deep in creation, and of the presence and voice of God coming out of the cloud. It is interesting that the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, which might have reminded the gospel writer’s audience of the dove that was sent out from the Ark after the great flood, and heralded the return of the dry land. In Jesus’ baptism, God acts in history to confirm Jesus’ call as the anointed one, the Christ who will save his people from their sins and give them the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
So what about us? What does our own baptism mean? Do you remember your baptism? Many of us probably don’t, whether we squalled in protest as the water splashed on our heads, or we slept peacefully in a parent’s arms. I was a teenager when I was baptized, and I still remember what I wore, what the weather was like, and what the choir sang. I even remember what we ate at the coffee hour afterwards! I’ll remember that day with joy forever. But whether or not you remember it, your baptism was an occasion of great grace. The catechism of the Book of Common Prayer states that “the inward and spiritual grace in baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family, the Church, forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.” In this sacrament, we are made part of the family of God, in a bond that nothing can break. In this sacrament, we are cleansed and made whole and new. In this sacrament, God says to each and every one of us, you are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased. That is your birthright as a Christian person. In your baptism your status as God’s beloved; a person of inherent worth, is sealed and confirmed forever. And in your baptism, you are called to share with Christ in his ministry of compassion, transformation, healing, and justice.
In our baptism, we also partake of Christ’s death and rising to new life. When we go under the waters we experience death to the old life in which our own ego and limited perspective reigned supreme, and then we rise to a glorious new life in which God lives in us, at our center, and teaches us to see the world with the eyes of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? He goes on to say “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In our baptism, we follow where Christ has led the way, and mysteriously share in his passion, death, and resurrection. Our baptism is a sign of our humbly walking the pilgrim way of transformation, of dying to the old, limiting way of life that is centered on oneself, and learning to embrace a life of gratitude, service, and tender-hearted love for others. In our baptism, we indeed submit ourselves joyfully to following the way of the Cross, the way of humility, mercy, and grace. And in our baptism, we will share in Christ’s suffering again and again as our hearts are broken with love and compassion for the world.
Our baptism is not only a sign of God’s commitment to us, to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us his own, but of our commitment to follow Jesus in humility and joy. Being baptized is actually a really countercultural act, if you think about it. In our vows we promise to renounce Satan and his empty promises, and to trust Jesus Christ and his grace and love alone. We commit to being part of a community that breaks bread together, respects the dignity of every human being, and has a special mission and ministry with those who are on the margins. This often puts us in conflict with the norms of a culture that puts material wealth, possessions, power, and influence over human need. Witnessing to love and humility in a world of arrogance and indifference is what we are called to do as baptized Christians.
Finally, did you know that your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church? I’ll say that again. Your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church! You may think that the ministers in the church are the clergy, like Leonard and I, who have been to seminary and ordained to the priesthood by a bishop. But who are the ministers in Christ’s church? They are all the baptized people of God, lay and ordained, who serve the world in Jesus’ name. Did you know that you, and you, and you, all of you are ministers in the priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ? Your baptism sanctifies and empowers you to take your place in the body of Christ and share your God-given gifts with your brothers and sisters in the faith and in the wider world! Some people think that the really important “spiritual work of the church should be done by the clergy, with the lay people serving in subordinate roles. I know I speak for both of us when I say that we don’t believe that here at HCSM, and we encourage and affirm your God- given call to serve as spiritual leaders, alongside the clergy. We as your clergy partners in ministry are called to equip you, encourage you, and nurture you from the riches of the sacraments and the tradition as you travel the pilgrim way of service, compassion, and reconciliation. Priests and deacons are not called so much to minister to you as to minister with you and alongside you as we all share the Gospel in the world.
So friends in Christ, boldly live into your baptism, your adoption as beloved daughters and sons of the living God, and share with us in his ministry of reconciliation. Commend the faith that is in you, and don’t be afraid to share your truth with the world. Stand up as compassionate leaders in a world that has lost its way in the mire of fear and hate. In the midst of the clamor of voices that seek to demean and undermine the dignity of people, let your voice ring out in a declaration of the great value of each human soul, precious in the sight of God. Let your baptism into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ give you the assurance of his triumph over darkness, destruction, and evil, and that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from his love. Amen.

Christmas Day 2017 Sermon – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Christmas Day, December 25, 2017
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Love Runs Wild at Christmas

Imagine, if you will, that Jesus’ entrance in our world had been announced to a King and his court. He would be born to much fanfare in a jeweled palace, with only the most prominent rulers, powerful religious leaders, and wealthy, influential people in attendance. All of this is only fitting for one called the Son of God, right? At his birth he would be laid in a royal bed that is richly adorned, and inlaid with gold and silver. Only those who were considered the respectable in society would then be invited to pay devout homage to the Savior. This is all only reverent, and proper, right?
Wrong, Wrong, thanks be to God wrong! Instead, God confounds the wisdom of the world and Jesus ‘ birth is announced to an unmarried, humble young woman who must travel long miles because there is no room in town, and who gives birth to her first born-son in a manger, a feeding trough for cattle, attended only by farm animals and despised shepherds! Yet the Scripture that we just read tells us that “the glory of the Lord shone around them”, and a multitude of angles praised God and gave him glory for the gift that had been given. God has taken the ordinary, the humble, the lowly, the poor, and used it as a means to show the world his grace, power, and love. This is the message of Christmas.
And what other great, glad tidings can we celebrate this Christmas? What other wonders can we declare? Let’s look again at the Collect for Christmas Day that we read together a few minutes ago. It says: “Almighty God, you have given your only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen. This collect proclaims that in Jesus Christ, God has shared our human nature and is forever joined to us in solidarity and love. It tells us that at Christmas, and indeed at all times, God is working in us to revitalize, renew and transform us, drawing us into a deeper relationship of love. And as a result of the new life that the Christ Child brings, we are empowered to live humbly, justly, and mercifully, going out into the world to make the peace and reconciliation of Christmas a living witness to the Kingdom of God.
First, then, Christmas is about God, in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, “taking our nature upon him”. God doesn’t descend mightily from on high and invade our planet in a dazzling display of power, but instead, quietly, peacefully comes to be with us, in love and humility embracing the limitations of human flesh to be in solidarity with us. In that holy Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, whose tiny hands and feet speak to us of complete vulnerability, God shares deeply in what it means to be human. This is what brings salvation. It doesn’t come from trying to perfectly follow the commandments or live up to the expectations of a distant and austere God. Salvation comes near to us because God fully shares our human experience and heals and restores human nature. The gift of the Incarnation means that the Divine, the Holy of Holies, has taken on human flesh and hallowed our life, loving us healing us, and transforming us. Heaven and earth are forever joined and human nature is blessed and restored to its glory as a reflection of the image of God. This friends, is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Second, in our Collect for today, we ask God that “we may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit.” The gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas is for the salvation and restoration of the world, and also for the renewal and transformation of each individual heart. In Christ, God longs to be incarnate, nurtured, and cherished in each life. He comes to feed souls that are hungry for love, hope, and grace, and to quench the thirst of those souls that have become cracked, hard and dry. He comes to stir up compassion, grace, and a hunger for justice in hearts whose love may have grown cold and hardened into cynicism. This Christmas, I invite each of us to look deeply and honestly into our own hearts. Are we asking the Christ Child to draw us to himself, to renew us, to strengthen us, to give us the courage to love? What keeps us from gladly, joyfully, and with abandon, welcoming the Incarnate One and the Spirit into our hearts to do their redeeming work? Are we too busy doing all the things, many of them good things that need to be done, to take the time to listen in silence to the whisper of the Spirit? Are we holding on to anger at God, ourselves, or others for the hurts and suffering of the past? Or perhaps we have simply let hope die in us, too discouraged by events in our world or disappointments in our own lives to dare to believe in love again? Friends, the Good News is that God is there! Know, too that even if we have turned away in anger or fear, God has never turned away from us and loves us without measure, longing to welcome us home again. And Christmas means that Christ longs to live in our hearts and restore hope, joy and purpose to those who are weary and forlorn.
Finally, Christmas means that our God works in ways that are surprising, liberating, and that turn the established order of things upside down. Isaiah tells us that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, that the yoke of the burden and the rod of the oppressor have been broken. In her Magnificent, Mary rejoices that God has lifted up the lowly and “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” In the Gospel we see that the Child is not born among the rich and powerful but among the humble poor, and the sometimes despised class of shepherds are the ones that praise and glorify God at Jesus’ birth. Throughout the record of history, our God is the God of the unexpected, stubbornly and tenaciously loving the rag-tag, rebellious, sinful, weak, yet strong, faithful and vibrant people of Israel and giving them a birthright as God’s people, a birthright that is a sign that all people belong to the royal priesthood, the holy nation. The message of Christmas is that grace, and light and mercy have been shed abroad in the world in a new and wonderful way, through the person of Jesus sharing our life and teaching us the ways of love. Christmas means that grace, peace and joy have the last world, and the deepest darkness has no chance against them.
Friends, I have seen so many signs of this hope and joy overcoming darkness, apathy, and indifference. In the news a few weeks back I read about the “layaway angels”, perfect strangers who have been coming into department stores and anonymously paying the layaway balance on toys and clothing for children so that their parents can provide gifts for their families. I was listening to the radio today and heard stories of people who lost their homes in the Sonoma county fires, One woman lost her home, and thought it would be a desolate Christmas. She said it was one of the best Christmases ever because “Christmas is not about the things, but the people.” A woman whose home was spared is opening it up for Christmas and inviting people who lost their homes to come and enjoy fellowship, food and cheer. She said “I have been so blessed and I realize now what Christmas really means- it means love and giving.” I hear about Muslims, Christians, and Jews gathering together during this holy season to learn about each other’s traditions and explore ways to work together for peace. The gift of Christ at Christmas is working its miracle of grace and peace in the hearts of people of every faith and culture. I see that grace overflowing here in your lives. People tirelessly work to serve the homeless poor through the Bread for the World, homeless shelter programs. You bring sandwiches and water to those who make their homes under the freeway bridges in San Francisco. You take time from busy lives to work in the Health and Wellness Center, and to make our church buildings hospitable and welcoming to the stranger and the poor who come here. And then you make late night trips to bring bread back to church to feed the hungry. You truly welcome the stranger here, and care for each other like family. I have been personally transformed and changed by the love that is given and shared here, and am so thankful to God for it!
I want to conclude with a quote from Madeleine Engle, the author of the book “The Irrational Season.” Of Christmas, she writes: ‘This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild, had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” This is indeed the message of Christmas, love and grace that have run wild, out of control, filling the world with hope, healing and purpose. Merry Christmas everyone, and let your hearts, too, run wild with that amazing love. Amen.