Friday, December 24, 2021
Nativity of Our Lord I: Christmas Eve, Year C

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 9:2-7 Light shines: a child is born for us
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14 The grace of God has appeared
Luke 2:1-20 God with us

Sermon
Title:  Be Silent, Sit Still, Believe

Our Advent journey through the first chapter of Luke has given us a good amount of time to explore the preparatory experiences of Zechariah and Elizabeth – the parents of John the Baptist, and their cousin Mary, the mother of Jesus.  But the fourth member of these two sets of surprised and surprising parents, Joseph, Mary’s finance, only gets a brief mention in Luke’s wonderful telling that includes angel visitations, surprising pregnancies, faithful yeses, glorious songs, and a general sense of awe and wonder at what God was doing in the lives of these ordinary people.

Sure, the gospel of Matthew tells of Joseph’s own angel visitation.  However Luke, for all his message-bearing angels, (tonight, even the shepherds get one, they get a whole choir of heavenly hosts, to boot). But Luke leaves Joseph to silently take on faith the disturbing news of his bride-to-be’s pre-marital pregnancy.  That is asking a lot.

Thanks to member, Joe McDonough, I have been introduced to a wonderful, possible picture of Joseph’s struggle. It is told as part of WH Auden’s masterpiece FOR THE TIME BEING.  This section of his poetic Christmas oratorio is titled The Temptation of Joseph.  Joseph is being harassed by an off-stage chorus that seems to be representing the “reasonable” voices of the world view.

Joseph says: (reading of this section of Auden’s poem)

I’m feeling a bit more connected to Joseph this year.  Wanting some assurance, some proof that all will be well.  That this too shall pass.  Life will get back to normal.  That God is truly present in these challenging times that, if they are not challenging our faith, they are certain testing our trust and maybe even our ability to hold on to hope.  And yet, whether visited by angel or inspired by the Holy Spirit, whether assured by past experiences or confronted by present realities, like Joseph, we’re being told, wait, you’ll see.  Being challenged to just believe.  Being advised to be silent and sit still. Oh, God it’s hard.  Waiting is an Advent word.  And Advent is over.  It’s Christmas, and like a kid looking at wrapped presents under a tree, we’ve waited long enough, we want everything now.

And yet, this night, and every night, morning, and day, we have a place to wait, to believe, to be silent, to sit still. God has given us more than a sign to sustain us on our waiting way.  More than a sign of wisdom – God’s gift is proclaiming a truth the world refuses to embrace.  More than a sign of hope – God’s gift is comforting with a hope that will not die.  More than a sign of love – God’s gift is bringing a love-filled peace beyond our understanding no matter how intense our anxiety and our confusion.  Yes, God has given us more than a sign.  God has come among us, to live with us.  Taking on our fragile flesh.  Taking on our pain-filled journey.  Taking on our death, even.  So that we have life, new life, eternal life.

So come with Joseph – challenged as he was to understand and believe.  Come with the shepherds who heard a message that was beyond their full comprehension.  Come with the townspeople of Bethlehem who thought they had no room for the God who was coming. Come to the stable, and believe, be silent, sit still.

Hear once more from Auden. These are the final words of the oratorio, spoken by the chorus that is now being much more helpful.  And something to keep in mind… Auden published this in 1945.  Of course, the significance of that is that he was composing this as his world was enduring their own battles with what must have seemed like the unendingness of World War Two.  The chorus proclaims:

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

The world asked for proof from God, and we received a baby, in a stable, born of nobodies who had not been married long enough for this.  Shepherds, rowdy and rude, were the first to receive the birth announcements.  Even though could see, it is still left for them to believe. As it is for us.

So, basking in the love of God, awed by the presence of this Christ child, and led here by the Holy Spirit, let’s join Joseph and all the others and be silent, sit still, and believe, believe, believe it all and always.

The Rev. Mark Erson,

Pastor

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