A Homily for Christmas Eve, 2010
Friday, December 24th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-10
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.”
The skeptic might say, “We’ve heard it all before,” and choose to stay home. Indeed, by the time Christmas Eve rolls around, the skeptic might be right – from the time that Hallowe’en decorations are put away until the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will have heard the Christmas bells for two solid months. Why should we come together on this night sing the carols that have played without stop since November 1st and hear once again the story of a man and his pregnant wife, the birth of their son in a lowly stable, the song of angels and the awe of shepherds? Why? What is there to be gained from one more round of singing and one more telling of the story? We have heard it all before.
But ah! We have heard it all before! And the story beckons us into its presence and calls us deep into its narrative, inviting us to participate as a shepherd, or bystander, or yes, even a as chorus of angels. The story beckons us once again and we heed the words and come. We join the happy throng that proclaims that Christ is born. Because we have heard it all before, we come. Did we once as children wrap ourselves in a towel or ragged cloth and play a shepherd? Did once a beloved Sunday school teacher enfold us in an oversized choir surplice and place coat hanger wings upon our shoulders and a tinsel halo upon our heads? Were we once given the sacred task of holding a simple doll, transformed this night into a holy child, and rock it in our arms while parents and grandparents looked on, faces aglow, with joy, to see us participating in that old, old story? Were we called upon to be Joseph, Mary, an innkeeper, and angel, or even a sheep, donkey or star? Did we once, wearing five and dime (or dollar store) crowns make the journey down the nave of the church, as wise men once from the east came, to worship the newborn king? And even if we have not participated in such retellings of the story, have we not come from generation to generation, holding the hands of mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, to sing the song of the angels, to journey even in spirit with shepherds and wise men, and kneel before the stable, offering our hearts to the King of Kings, born in low estate?
Ah, we have heard it all before, and what joy that story brings! We have heard it all before and we have shared it all before. In its telling and retelling, in our acting and reenacting of the story, the story shapes us and shapes our lives. The story works away in our hearts and melts away our hardness, our skepticism, our bitterness, and our cynicism. The story, though it be known so well, changes us and transforms us again and again.
We have heard it all before, and as the days slip on the story recedes into the backs of our minds and rests sleepily somewhere in the depths of our hearts. As the days of the year wear on and we face the hardships of life and inevitable sadness that comes simply in the act of living in a world with pain and loss, doubt sets in. As the days slip on, the story becomes one that is harder to hear, harder to believe, harder to tell. The days slip on and the nights become interminably longer and the story disappears into the depths our cultural amnesia, barely visible, barely audible. Just as it seems the dawn will never come and the darkness will never lift, a poor couple emerges from the darkness and find their way once again to a stable and once again a child is born to us.
We have heard it all before, and so we know from the depths of our beings what comes next: in that region, in some region deep within our hearts, shepherds are once again stirred by the angels’ song. And once again, deep within the winter of our souls the ice begins to melt and the story begins to warm us and proclaim to us a song of hope and joy that the darkness is being lifted and the night is far spent. Because we have heard it all before we hear the call to “come and see!” The Lord has worked a miracle and that miracle is not simply the birth of babe in Bethlehem, but the birth of hope for a troubled world and troubled lives. The story that weaves its way into the fabric of our lives is the story of hope for you and for me that though I may sink, from time-to-time, into a dark place I will not be abandoned there but will yet see the dawn break forth and rejoice and be glad that hope springs eternal.
We have heard it all before, and because we have heard it all before the old, old story is always a new and exciting story, because it is a story that changes lives. It is a story, that once told, can never be forgotten and once heard forever leaves the stamp of the divine life on our hearts. It is a story that enacts itself again and again within us and shapes us over and over and over again, molding us into the fullness of beauty that God intends for all his creatures.
We have heard it all before and we come to hear it all again, but not only to hear, but to participate, to journey, to allow ourselves to be shaped by the story of God amongst us, within us, reshaping us, and reshaping the world. We come to see this thing that has taken place, to hear this story, not because it someone else’s fascinating story, but because it is our story. It is the story of our life!
Can you believe, though, that some have not heard it? Some lives have never been shaped by it? Some have never had the wings placed on their shoulders or been wrapped in towels and blankets? Can you believe that some have never held the holy child in their arms and let him work the power of his story in their lives and hearts?
God made this world the stage for his story, and we are the actors, we are the shepherds, the magi, the angels and the holy family, whose lives have been shaped by an encounter with our God in the presence of the tiny child. This is our story, and it is good news for the world. As our lives have been shaped by it, let us sing the story with all our heart and live the story with all our being on the world’s stage that it might become the story of ages for a broken and hurting world. Glory to God in the highest.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves