Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Three sermons this year; all geared to particular segments of the local congregation. Unfortunately, they will not translate well into this medium.

The first one was for the 7:00 Christmas Eve liturgy, which included a Children's Pageant. This year we had the most energetic two-year old angel I've ever seen. The sermon focused on the children, and included the story of my youngest son as the littlest Santa, which I've told before a couple of times at Jake's place, most recently here.

The sermon for the late Mass suggested we might need to lighten our load for this last leg of our Advent journey. To grasp the wonder of Bethlehem required that we let go of some of our baggage; that sack of expectations, trunk full of fear of scarcity, the one wrapped in a flag full of prejudice, bigotry and false nationalism, and the heavy one containing bitterness and failures of the past.

Tomorrow, I'll focus on the shepherds; the strangers in the story. We'll explore how bizarre it is that simple shepherds are chosen to receive the news from an angelic choir of a Savior being born. Then touch on how these ordinary folk changed the rather ordinary scene at the stable by becoming themselves the messengers; angelic shepherds, if you will. And conclude with how the events of that night sent them away so transformed that they could not stop praising God. Not even after the stockings and ornaments are all safely stored away after the Epiphany. I'll mention something about Christmas not being one point in time (thanks Dylan!), but continues beyond the "holiday season," as we find Christ born anew within us each day of our lives, and so are compelled toward a new vocation, an angelic vocation, proclaiming to the world every day, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

Local sermons, adjusted extemporaneously according to the people gathered.

Considering shepherds this year reminded me of something I haven't read for some time; Henry Vaughan's The Shepherds:

Sweet, harmless lives! (on whose holy leisure
Waits innocence and pleasure),
Whose leaders to those pastures, and clear springs,
Were patriarchs, saints, and kings,
How happened it that in the dead of night
You only saw true light,
While Palestine was fast asleep, and lay
Without one thought of day?
Was it because those first and blessed swains
Were pilgrims on those plains
When they received the promise, for which now
'Twas there first shown to you?
'Tis true, He loves that dust whereon they go
That serve Him here below,
And therefore might for memory of those
His love there first disclose;
But wretched Salem, once His love, must now
No voice, nor vision know,
Her stately piles with all their height and pride
Now languished and died,
And Bethlem's humble cotes above them stepped
While all her seers slept;
Her cedar, fir, hewed stones and gold were all
Polluted through their fall,
And those once sacred mansions were now
Mere emptiness and show;
This made the angel call at reeds and thatch,
Yet where the shepherds watch,
And God's own lodging (though He could not lack)
To be a common rack;
No costly pride, no soft-clothed luxury
In those thin cells could lie,
Each stirring wind and storm blew through their cots
Which never harbored plots,
Only content, and love, and humble joys
Lived there without all noise,
Perhaps some harmless cares for the next day
Did in their bosoms play,
As where to lead their sheep, what silent nook,
What springs or shades to look,
But that was all; and now with gladsome care
They for the town prepare,
They leave their flock, and in a busy talk
All towards Bethlem walk
To see their souls' Great Shepherd, Who was come
To bring all stragglers home,
Where now they find Him out, and taught before
That Lamb of God adore,
That Lamb whose days great kings and prophets wished
And longed to see, but missed.
The first light they beheld was bright and gay
And turned their night to day,
But to this later light they saw in Him,
Their day was dark, and dim.

"...To see their souls' Great Shepherd, Who was come to bring all stragglers home..." Great stuff.

May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill you with his joy and peace; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.


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