Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good News When We Are At Our Worst - A Homily for Christmas 2014

Homily for Christmas Eve, 2014
Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Titus 2:11-14

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11)

Do you ever find that Christmas can bring out the worst in people?  You might even be shocked to learn that sometimes Christmas brings out the worst in me.  Oh, don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas, I revel in Christmas, I glory in Christmas.  Yet, the demands of the season can be great, sometimes greater than we can bear.  Have you ever found yourself caught in a battle with family members about where, when and how Christmas should be hosted?  Have you ever found yourself in a battle with a child over a present they long for but you know they shouldn’t have?  Have you ever found yourself so financially strapped that the Christmas you (and your family) long for is beyond your reach.  Perhaps this Christmas is one in which some or all of these things are happening in your life.  And perhaps, just perhaps, it is hard to find any joy in the season.

            My son started his first part-time job this fall, and is now experiencing his first Christmas season in the retail business.  While he has a passion for his job, he has found his passion for Christmas quickly disappearing. Having spent twenty years of my own life in the retail sector, I know something of his pain.  It can be a time for meeting people at their worst, and indeed we may even find ourselves at our worst, too.  What are we to do?   And yet, when all is said and done, and the tree is taken town, and the  carols have ended for another year, how many of us do not feel a tinge of sadness at Christmas becoming once again a distant future dream?  And how many of us when December rolls around again, begin to feel that same excitement, that same hope, as trees are trimmed, and carols once again sung?  How many of us become again as little children, hoping and longing for the coming day?

            We want to experience the joy of the season. We want to feel the hope.  We want to sing our carols heartily. We want our families to finally get along. We want all the shoppers and clerks alike to be friendly and warm. We want to see and experience peace on earth and good will amongst men.  And then we are met with disappointment once again and the ugliness of humanity, and even disappointed in ourselves when we fail to live up our own expectations of peace and good will.  What are we to do?

            Amid all our attempts to be better people, and amid all our failures in doing so, not only during this annual Christmas season, but throughout the year, I remain thankful of one thing, that as St. Paul said to his friend and co-worker Titus, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all.”  Why is this such good news to me?  Why should it be such good news to all of us? 

            If I can be sure of one thing, it is this, that as good a person as I may aspire to be I know that I will never be able to be that good person under my own strength. It is inevitable that I shall hurt people, offend people, have bad days and be downright miserable. I will hang up on telemarketers and say nasty things to them. I will yell at that guy at the gas station who cut me off.  I will make snide comments to the person ahead of me in the express lane at Sobey’s who is playing and redeeming their bundle of lottery tickets when I just want to buy a bag of milk.  Oh, I try to be a better person, but I fail time and again.  Thank God that the happiness of the world and the joy of Christmas is not all resting on my shoulders.  Perhaps you may be thanking God that it does not rest on yours either. 

            But the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all.  The grace we seek comes not from us, but rather from above.  The grace we seek comes not by having the perfectly planned Christmas feast, but from a divinely orchestrated birth in Bethlehem. The grace we seek comes not from gifts bought and sold at malls, either for pennies or for thousands, but is given freely in a babe born in a stable.  All the striving we do to find joy, to make peace, to force ourselves into the perfect picturesque Currier and Ives moment, will come to nought without the gift of the Christ born anew in our hearts. 

            Are we able to receive this gift? Are we able to behold it, behold him, in our midst?  St. Paul tells us that this free gift of grace has appeared to all, and yet we hurry about our lives ignoring it, seeking after other gifts, gifts that will soon pass away, gifts that can never really fill our longing hearts.  And yet, we seek after them more and more, more hungrily and voraciously than before, hoping beyond hope that what did not fill us last year, might fill us this year.  Then at the eleventh hour, someone cuts us off, grabs the gift that is just beyond our reach, for themselves, and we lash out in anger, in disappointment, in discouragement.  In our despondency we fail to notice the most wonderful gift that is set before us, longing still for what we cannot have.

            Even in today’s world of mass produced gifts, in which everyone should be able to have what he or she wants, is it not interesting how much disappointment we feel at this time of year? Is it not interesting how many people lament not receiving what they feel they want or deserve?  Is it not interesting that there never seems to be enough to go around? 

            But there is one gift that is plenteous for all that never gives out, that never fails; and that is the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus.  It is not simply a gift for the few, or even for the many, it is a gift for all people: “for the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all people.” Christ Jesus is the well that never runs dry. Christ Jesus is the dawn that never sets. Christ Jesus is the banquet that never ends.  Christ Jesus is God’s gift of himself, to the people he created.  He is not for the chosen only, but for the whole cosmos.  And sinful man that I am, I need him.  At this time of year, in which our childhood hopes and innocent dreams may seem so quickly dashed by the narcissism of the age and the selfishness we exhibit, by God, I need him desperately! I need him at Christmas, when I hope to be my best, but am invariably at my worst.

            I would wager you need him too.  I think, I believe, we all need him.  All men and women have needed him in all places and ages.  And truth be told, he comes to us when we are at our worst, not when we are at our best. Was the world at its best when Caesar Augustus called for that census to be taken?  Do you think Joseph was at his best when he received word that he had to take his pregnant wife across the country on a donkey to be counted? Do you think young Mary was at her best when Joseph told her the news of that impending trip? I think they may have been like any other married couple I have known, and choice words may have been spoken.  Were all those innkeepers at their best when they turned away a pregnant woman?  Were those shepherds at their best, or wearing their Sunday best, when angels appeared to them?  And what of King Herod when he heard the news of the birth of the new king and felt his rule threatened?  And what of those who even followed Jesus, his disciples, when they fought about who was to be the greatest in God’s kingdom? And what of blessed Peter when he denied he knew his master? And Pilate when he condemned an innocent man hoping to ensure civic peace?  And what of Thomas, when he doubted the Messiah had risen?  And what of those disciples on the Emmaus road, or Mary Magdalene, who at first failed to recognize their risen Lord? Were any of them at their best when he came to them?  And friends, what of you and me? Are we at our best this Christmastide as he comes to us again? 

            I thank God that I am not required to be at my best to receive him, and that he comes to me even, and especially at my worst, for that is when I need him the most. That is when we all need him the most.  We need him when we are mistakenly seeking our salvation and our hope elsewhere. We need him when we have failed to be the people we long to be. We need him when we have hurt others and ourselves. And it seems to me, that during this season, which sometimes brings out the worst in people, not the best, we need him now.

            The good news, indeed the greatest news of all, is that none of this frightens him or stops him from coming to us when we need him. He is not afraid of our sins. He is not afraid of an innkeeper who closes his door, or a raging Herod. He is not afraid of disciples that misunderstand his mission, or disciples that run away, or disciples that fail to recognize him.  He simply keeps coming to us again and again, with those same words, “come unto me all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will refresh you.”  He comes to us with an invitation to come to him, and in him we will find that peace on earth, that good will to all, that will turn our sorrow into joy, our darkness into light, our despair into hope, our fear into holy comfort. 

            As you come to the altar of the Lord tonight, see and believe that the grace of God that bringeth salvation has come to you, and receive him – perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the hundredth time,  it matters not – and in receiving him receive that gift of salvation that has come not only for you, not only for me, but for all people, not matter how badly we have failed ourselves and each other.