This Christmas Eve sermon finds its focus on Mary’s Song of Praise. Words she spoke while visiting with her cousin Elizabeth. These words speak to the promise she believed her child, the Son of God, would fulfill. They are powerful words that are very relevant to the times we are currently living. I pray that these words inspire you and that this Christmas message engages you to consider what following the Living God means today.
Text: Luke 1: 46-55
Christmas Eve 2017
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid;
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade.
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy;
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time.
But say a prayer, pray for the other ones;
At Christmas time it’s hard, but when you’re having fun.
There’s a world outside your window;
And it’s a world of dread and fear.
Band Aid – Do they know it’s Christmas?
These are the opening lines to the 1984 song Do they know it’s Christmas? by the supergroup Band Aid. A song which was written and recorded in reaction to reports of famine in Ethiopia. The song has endured and every Christmas season it enters the rotation of music that radio stations play. It is a song that is intended to solicit a reaction, to move us to acts of compassion and ensure that the world becomes a better place.
I believe part of the reason we still hear this song annually each Christmas is because we still have some work to do. These words are sung in an upbeat and energetic manner, yet they portray a world which is broken and hurting. A world which cries out for a reckoning, a world that cries out for healing. A world which cries out for saving.
Which leads us to the stillness of this hour, a moment of anticipation, a time of joy as we hope for the peace and love which Emmanuel, God with us brings. This is the moment where we wait in stillness for the birth of Jesus. An event which unsettled the world, disrupted a kingdom and ushered in a new way of being.
The birth of Jesus, God with us, his life, his teaching, his healing, his re-imagining of the law told us that the status quo could not remain. This imbalance of power was not what God intended or wanted for creation. That was true 2000 years ago and remains true today.
The National Post published an opinion piece the other day titled, What Jesus Descendant of David Promises Mankind. The article focuses on the sins of King David and his affair with Bathsheba and the events which follow. Recognizing that at the end of things there is no justice for Bathsheba. That “a reckoning is necessary, but reckoning with evil actions is never fully satisfactory. Not all that was lost can be made whole.” The article continues to dissect much of the news over the past year, of men in powerful positions, abuse of that power and the sexual scandals which have dominated the new cycle. It is a powerful article and I commend it to your attention (National Post – What Jesus Descendant of David Promises Mankind).
As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, as we are about to step into a new year, the message of the Saviour’s birth demands that we re-evaluate our priorities. That we contend with the injustices we see before us. Just as the status quo could not stand in the time of Jesus, the same holds true today. We find ourselves today living outside of the love that God has offered us.
Instead of creating communities of care, trust and love we live in division, distrust and hatred. We have built walls between us rather than connecting over what matters; Our common bond of humanity and the world that we all share.
It shames me that in a country like Canada we have First Nations communities living in poverty and without potable water. That in Canada, a wealthy country, we have individuals who are homeless and living on the streets. For whom we are not able to leverage additional resources to assist, when study after study indicates it is cheaper to permanently house a person than it is to support them in a shelter.
I have this sign. It’s one we might use for a Christmas pageant as we tell the Nativity Story. It reads “No room at the inn.” In some circumstances, we might laugh at such a sign, but this sign is a reality in our community.
In the coming year, we have both a provincial and municipal election. An opportunity to ask questions and ensure that the world we live in, the world God created is one that is welcoming and equitable for all people. Now you might be thinking, Neil it’s Christmas Eve, we want to hear about the baby. You know the one who is called Emmanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace.
I know. But to hear about the baby is to hear the words that the child’s mother spoke as she carried him in her womb. Words she spoke while visiting with her cousin.
And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour,
For he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
~ Luke 1: 46-48, 52-53
Words which Jesus himself would echo in Matthews gospel in the Beatitudes.
Mary’s song informs us of God’s priorities. We might call it the monologue which foreshadows all which will come after. These words are a sharp rebuke of much that we find problematic in our world.
Yes, a baby was born and we all know that babies are adorable. Yes, this child was born in lowly circumstances. And we might think that this child, born to this young couple, in such circumstances, well he may have a rough start in life.
However, if you’ve ever held a baby in your arms I imagine that you have realized that child’s potential. That as the child rests in your arms, their potential is limitless, their life is open, all options are available and their future is theirs to write. The possibilities are endless.
Of course, Jesus was no ordinary baby. So, we stand in awe, with shaking knees like those shepherds. Or perhaps we bow in reverence as the wise men who visited did. Perhaps we sing hallelujahs as the angels did. We all have our part. We all recognize that the birth of this child means something. We can read through the gospels and discover what Jesus did when he embarked on his ministry. Of the healing and the teaching, or we can listen to the words of the women who knew him best. The words of his mother which spoke to what his life, teaching and healing would accomplish.
It’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s not about the gifts we receive, it’s not even about the gifts we give. It’s about how we live, it’s about how we understand ourselves as children of God. We live in a world where people are hurting, suffering, alone and afraid. And within the silence of this pain a baby is born. We know that the things of this world are not as things should be and that what we find here on Earth is not the last word. Because God gets the last word.
God who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. God gets the last word and that last word begins with the cry of a baby. A baby who would grow into a man and would teach of God’s justice. Would remind us that God’s mercy and love is what would draw us together and inspire us to work together. This is what the birth of Jesus reminds us of and we need to carry this message in our hearts always. Because this moment, this time of silence when we anticipate and expect the birth of Jesus, it is the moment before the work begins.
I am reminded of Howard Thurman’s poem, The Mood of Christmas.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
Tonight, I encourage you to make music in the heart. To make a song that is pleasing to God and which honours the Christ child. That tonight you would sing to God a new song, that all the earth would be inspired to sing such a song.
For God is great, God will judge the world with righteousness and the people with truth. For God has done so, God’s judgment arrives in the form of a baby. A child who came not to chastise and punish, but to inform, love and care. Who teaches a better way forward for all of us.
What child is this?
This is Christ the King,
The King of Kings whom salvation brings.
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing.
The babe, the Son of Mary. Amen.