Tonight, at Anamesa, we continue the long-standing Christmas tradition of the lighting the Advent candles. The first candle is hope. The second is peace. The third is joy. And the forth is love. The last and final we candle is the Christ candle.
As we light it, we do so marking the of our season of watching and waiting. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. This is the light of the world, and the darkness cannot extinguish it.
Light the Christ candle: As twilight veils the land, we gather in the ancient rhythm of Advent to ignite the light of Christ within us. Bound in this Advent wreath, hope’s ember, love’s warmth, joy’s melody, and peace’s stillness intertwine in flesh and spirit.
In this light we are drawn closer to God through Christ Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As we gaze upon this light, his light, we are reminded that our Lord came to us as a lowly baby, that the world through him might be saved, and will join with him one day in glory.
Our reading tonight comes from Luke 2:1-20
...While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room. Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”... Luke 2:1-20
Like I mentioned early, we all have certain Christmas traditions that we embrace. For the first time in years, we broke tradition and went to see my parents before Christmas instead of after.
Likewise, my mom, who decorates her house as if she’s trying to woo Santa for a date, also broke from tradition. This year, she only has a dozen or so Christmas trees up. And roughly 40 nativity sets on display. That says a lot…because my mother has way too many of both.
But I love her collection of nativities. They are from all over the world. They’re made from different materials and feature different styles and designs - from classic porcelain to abstract metal. Each one is completely different. Yet, the tell the same story about the same mother, the same father, and the same baby.
In comparison to my mom, we’re not as prolific in our home. We only have seven nativity sets. One given to us for a wedding present. One that came from Peru. And another from Costa Rica. We also have two wooden ones my mom got the kids when they were little. In fact, the only one we bought is the one Kathleen picked up while waiting in line at CVS. Each one is different, but each tell the same story.
If we look at any one of our nativity sets, you can see there are a lot of assumptions we added into the Christmas story that aren’t a part of the gospel story.
For example, we assume there were three wise men, even though we’re not told how many actually came. Judging by the animals that came with our sets, one could assume the camels and donkeys are there because a very pregnant Mary rode one to Bethlehem, despite the fact neither are mentioned.
In fact, one of our nativity sets included a lion which tells me someone assumed it would be good for the story to include a dangerous predator. We can assume there were sheep hanging around because Luke tells us some shepherds stop by to pay their respects. And where did the sheep go since there’s no mention of a barn or stable; only that there was no room in the inn for this holy family.
This is not to say all assumptions are wrong. We can assume Joseph wasn’t happy being forced by a foreign king to take his unwed, pregnant girlfriend home to meet the family. We can assume Mary wasn’t too happy about leaving her family this far along in her pregnancy. We can assume that when it was time to have the baby, God was merciful to her, caring for her pain and making sure she didn’t lose a lot of blood in the process. After all, she was carrying God into the world.
If we didn’t assume anything and only had the facts Luke gives us, then what would we have? A mother, a father, and their newborn baby wrapped in strips of cloth, sleeping in a manger. Many people have assumed a lot about this baby. But in that moment, in that space and time, the only thing the world knew about Jesus was what the angels of heaven proclaimed. In this child, God surprised the world - bring good news of great joy for all the people. And what a surprise it was.
But then again, God is full of surprises. Bringing life into barren places. Using ordinary nobodies to fulfill divine plans. Coming to be with us, as one of us. More surprising than the incarnation is the fact that God trusted us, ordinary human beings, to care for him in his most vulnerable state.
I think most of us here assume humans are not capable of caring for God. Yet someone had nurse him, wash him after he soiled himself, and soothed his aches and pains as he teethed. Just as God did for Mary, God still surprises us today in all the ways the divine enters into our lives to reveal God’s self to us; and to empower us to accomplish what we’ve been tasked to do.
You see the incarnation was not a one-time event. It’s something that happens every day. To borrow from Meister Eckhart, we are all called to give birth to God every day, “for God is always needing to be born.” These advent lights are our reminder of our calling – with our hope, peace, joy, love all mingled together with Christ – to shine the light of God’s glory upon all the earth.
As Saint Teresa of Avila so famously stated, “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”
One does not have to look far to assume the world needs the light of Christ now more than ever. Throughout advent we have looked to answer the question “How does a weary world rejoice?”
For me, the answer is simple. We can rejoice because Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. We can rejoice because God is for us, bring us hope where there is only hopelessness. We can rejoice because God is in us, and wherever God is so too is God’s perfect peace. We can rejoice because God is with us, constantly replenishing the joy that the world robs from us.
No matter how weary or run down we feel, we can rejoice because God is meeting us as one of us, loving us unconditionally in the messiness of life. God doesn’t assume we won’t stumble or mess up. Instead, God constantly surprises us with grace upon grace, illuminating the way for us to walk in the divine light of Christ.
The problem with making assumptions is we assume other people are doing the work of the church, that you’re not needed to bring good news to the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. God needs you. Christ calls you. And the Holy Spirit empowers you to bring good news of great joy to the world.
Tomorrow most of us will wake and be surprised with gifts and presents. And as you look at all the boxes wrapped in colorful paper and bows, think about how you are called by God to be a surprise for someone after the tree and decorations are put away?
It doesn’t take a heavenly host of angels to deliver the good news of God’s love and mercy to the world.
A smile or a kind word can bring hope to someone feeling hopeless. A willing ear can bring peace to a restless soul. Just the same, a gentle touch can kindle joy. A forgiving heart can spark love.
As one little baby showed us, as those humble shepherds would discover, the smallest of gifts can have the greatest impact in God’s kingdom.
And so I would encourage you to follow God’s lead and surprise the world bringing the gift of God’s light and love to all the world...the faithful and faithless alike. Your presence is the only present God needs to make heaven and earth one. May God bless you. May the Holy Spirit lead you. And may Christ shine through you, everywhere you go.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
There might be others, but it was a very busy period and I forgot to write out my citations. Thank you to anyone who inspired me or whom I may have borrowed from for this message. Please accept my gratitude and forgive me of my ignorance and lack of professionalism.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”