The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Christmas Eve Sermon
Lessons and Carols Service
We have heard the glorious and challenging story of the reign of God. The nine lessons we have just heard are signposts along the journey of God’s people as they made their way in the world. From Genesis 3 and the temptation and Fall, through the promise to Abraham, through the glorious visions of Isaiah and the depictions of the Incarnation in the words written by Luke, and Matthew and John, we have received an overview of this great story of God.
This narrative is one that needs to be told, and we need to remember it but we need to do more than merely remember it. Here, in these words, so wonderfully read by members of our Emmanuel family, we hear the story of God. This story is not merely a bed-time story, and is not merely a story to be analyzed and dissected by scholars and priests. No, this story is meant to be the map that helps us to organize and situate our lives.
Like a using a compass and coordinates on a map, these stories are knit together and give us direction so that we might live and move within the reign of God. If these stories merely charm us, and if these carols merely entertain us with their melodies, we have missed the greater and deeper point in retelling these stories, and singing these sacred carols. These stories remind us of God’s work in history, but also open a page for us to enter our own contribution to the story.
Allow yourself to hear these words anew this year, this Christmas. Can we allow these words to strike our ears with the gift of newness? If we do, we may hear the story of God and God’s people sound wholly other-wordly to us. And so they should. Karl Barth described this as, “entering the strange new world of the Bible,” and it can sound quite strange.
A man and a woman walking in a garden, and being tempted by a serpent, and disobeying their creator. God promising to a very very old man who has no children that he will be given descendents like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the earth, a prophet describing a child who will be born and who will redeem the world, visions of a great tree growing from a mere shoot, of wolves lying down with lambs, and a child will play nearby snakes.
This is strange stuff, no? And what of the strangest of all, of a child being born, in an occupied land, to an unwed mother among animals and straw, and then being visited by dirty shepherds and wild magicians from the East. And this child, somehow, in some way, is the child who will redeem the world! This child, this child will save the world!?
This is a strange story, and it is a story that stands in sharp contrast to the various other stories in our world. This story is a story of God’s work triumphing over all. This story is a story of impossible figures and plot turns. This story is a story of hope overcoming all hopelessness. This story is a story that stands up against the stories of alienation and separation and fear and hatred, which tend to dominate the daily airwaves. This story of the long journey of God’s people, culminating in the birth God as a child, Jesus, in the midst of the everyday and ordinary chaos of life, is a story that we desperately need to hear.
When we overly sanitize the story we miss out on its ultimate strangeness. When we dive into the story and have ears to hear, we may, in fact, hear that this is a story of God conquering over every human doubt. This is a story of God coming among us, and within us, and being born, so that we too, might be born anew.
Jesus said, I have come so that you might have life, and have it abundantly! Abundance! Gift! Jesus has come as the gift of God. God has given himself as a gift to us. In Jesus we encounter the most remarkable and fear-some (awe-some) gift. All we can do, is round up our own petty gifts and lay them down, and hope that they might show God that we are thankful. We round up our gold, our frankincense, our myrrh, and we hope that these inadequate gifts might show God that we recognize the great gift that God has given us.
This story recounts the long journey of God’s people, from Genesis, through the Prophets, to the Gospels, and we sing praises to God for all we have received, and we pray that we too, might offer our own chapter to this great narrative. We hope that our own voices raised in song and praise might show forth our love for God, and our recognition that all God has done for us. We hope that our voices raised in song will cast out the fear that resides in us so that we might live the lives that God has given us. We hope that through the retelling of these strange stories and the raising of our voices we might truly live abundant lives knowing that our story is one of life, and love.
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one things came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”