Hancock Church Sermon
Joy Fallon, Alex Shea Will, Becca Lockwood
December 24, 2012
Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:1-20
From the 8pm Service: Paul Shupe:
December 24, 2012
Listen! As Jesus is born in Bethlehem, shepherds in a nearby field have their routine evening disrupted by a vision of angels with a message of Good News, and the admonition that they not be afraid.
In that 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.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
“The Human Face of God”
These have been dark and painful days. An especially rancorous election campaign served to divide us and make us question our fellow citizens. A unique storm of tremendous power came ashore and filled thousands of homes with mud and water and worry. Just over a week ago, horror unfolded before our eyes in ways that shattered our ability even to describe and define what we had seen. And all of this amid the gathering gloom of winter, as the creep of seasons’ change reduces the available light. It has not been easy for any of us; somehow it has been harder to keep our feelings at arms length. For reasons unclear, we’ve felt it all: the hurt, the loss, the mystifying confusion.
Amid it all, we’ve struggled on, preparing for this night. We’ve hungered, even more than usual, for the familiar cadences of the story: “For unto us a child is born and unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.” “And she gave birth to her first born son, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn.” “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
The words themselves are enough to please and delight us: so familiar, so reassuring, so powerfully true. And yet, over the centuries talented artists have enriched them, have set these words to music, to tunes now grand and commanding, now spare and simple. And to these words and harmonies our worship traditions have added incredible symbols and images: trees and wreaths, stars and lights, shepherds and kings, choirs and angels. How hungry we have been for such things! How desirous we have been for light to shine in the darkness, for beauty to reassert itself over horror, for hope to drive despair once more into the cold, grey sea.
It is a heady brew that together we now drink in. Sights and sounds and smells and tastes, all stirring within us a rich and satisfying feast of emotion and promise. We have been hungry for such a meal, starving on a diet of disaster and despair. Make no mistake. This is good, it is very, very good. To be awash in Christmas, in this Christmas is a great and wonderful thing. So drink deeply; feast fully. Listen, and sing, and hope and believe; doing so trusting once more in great and wonderful love story of God for our world, and of God for you. Eat and drink your fill, and then, in the words of the carol, “O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”
Then, as you rest, consider anew what you have seen and heard and sung and shared. Tonight, the great God of heaven, the maker of heaven and of earth, the source of life and the fountain of joy, tonight God has become one of us. Tonight, God has a human face. No photographs of Jesus were ever taken. No portrait painted by any artist who saw him. We have pictures of what people think surely he must have looked like, but nothing of what he actually did. But, no matter. In him, on this night, God took on a human face. And we know what human faces look like.
Human faces smile with great joy when something hard has been accomplished. Human faces fill with fear when danger threatens. Human faces melt with joy when they behold the faces of children, of friends, of loved ones. Human faces wrinkle with the wisdom of age and weep in grief and loss and loneliness. Human faces are surprised and sadly resigned and hopeful and kind. Human faces are of all colors, sometimes lovely, more often plain. Human faces feel, inescapably, the tug of caring whenever eyes lock, and it is understood that the one who is other is more like you than not. Human faces are found everywhere, and in your very own mirror.
And tonight, God has become one of them, one of us, has taken on a human face.
The great words and stories, the marvelous music and carols, the great and familiar symbols of this night, all these things which tonight feed us will tomorrow be packed away again, stored for another year, another time when the days shorten and the darkness of our world creeps into every crack and crevice. But human faces, indeed, even the human face of God, these abound, are around us always, are never packed away, never lost. And the great faith of this night, that the face of God can be seen in the face one who is more like us than not, well, that faith cannot be packed away, stored up, hidden from sight. The great truth of this night is that in each human face, in every human face, in your human face, can be seen the face of God. Let us see, and let us feel the tug that pulls us together in caring and in compassion, for when we do so, Christ comes, and the light shines in the darkness.
And the darkness cannot overcome it. Amen.