December 20, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 9: 2 – 7 & Luke 1: 26 – 38
As a little girl climbed onto Santa’s lap, Santa asked the usual, “And what would you like for Christmas?” The child stared at him open mouthed and horrified for a minute, then gasped: “Didn’t you get my text? ”
I find that the older I get….and that is pretty old!…. my list of Christmas wants gets smaller and smaller. I really don’t NEED anything…and I try to convince my children & grandchildren that their presence at the table is gift enough…to know that they are safe and loved and happy is more than enough. I would guess that most of us feel that way.
On Tuesday, December 22nd we will be experiencing the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. On a Solstice website I found this quote: “Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.”
How profoundly true and comforting that is. While winter can be an enriching season of dormancy and rest for some, most of us love seeing more and more light each day as winter moves slowing into spring.
A story is told of an incident that occurred during one of the horrific mine explosions when many miners were trapped in darkness in the bowels of the Earth. The explosion had plunged them into total darkness. One of the terrified family members said “ we have to get some light to them so they won’t give up hope!” One of the rescuers was able to attach a light at the end of a long wire and drop it down through a small crevice in the rocks to give a tiny glow of light to the miners trapped below. Upon rescue, one of them said how much that light meant to them…a light in the darkness…. knowledge that someone was there keeping watch and providing the light.
The Creator of the Universe works continuously to enlighten and liberate humanity from he darkness of violence, evil, hatred, and spiritual ignorance. Though a few rays of light have penetrated and pierced the gloom through the efforts of faithful ones, the prophets foretold that a day was coming when that light would burst forth with the brilliance of the sun. According to the understanding of the prophets, that light would be the Messiah, a holy one to reveal the Light of God in all it’s glory. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given …” (Isaiah 9:6a NIV). The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
For Christians, Jesus embodies that Light….the glorious light that is generated and sustained by the Divine Creator of the universe. Light generates hope and inspires love. Apart from all the warm, fuzzy things….the scents and sounds and festive feelings…. in addition to lovely fireside chats, family gatherings, twinkling decorations, familiar carols, sweet pageants, delectable food….the outpouring of generous giving to charities…. Christmas for me is Incarnation…..God’s expansive Spirit of Light and Love made manifest in the human soul. It is the purest … most magical and miraculous gift of all gifts. Unconditional Divine love given freely to humanity ….. revealed so perfectly in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. How we receive the Gift of Light and Love and what we do with it becomes the work of Christmas which begins with gratitude.
The beautiful, mystical story of the Nativity, complete with angels, songs, stars, shepherds, sheep and other livestock sharing their quarters….. the tender love of Joseph, the simple faith and obedience of Mary… the innocence of a precious baby, a visit from magi from the East…the drama of flight to Egypt to escape the jealous wrath of Herod. … moves and inspires us every year. What a spectacular story that we never tire of hearing…. upon which we meditate and reflect and allow it to speak to us as an expression of the Creators enormous love for and gift to creation.
And….Christmas truly is magical., inspiring hearts and minds to be transformed… causing hatred and hostility to vanish….at least for a while. It stirs up our feelings and brings to the surface emotions we often suppress in “ordinary times.”
A little girl, dressed as an angel, in a Christmas pageant was told by the director to come down the center aisle. The child asked, “Do you want me to walk or fly?” At Christmas, she and you may feel as though she almost could have flown. That’s the wonder and mystery of Christmas, that does inspire miracles.
I am often reminded of the words of the late Peter Marshall: “When Christmas doesn’t make your heart swell up until it nearly bursts and fill your eyes with tears and make you all soft and warm inside , then you will know that something inside of you is dead.”
Now the grinches among us, and I suspect there are a few, may not agree!
The Gospel of Luke, above all books of the New Testament, is about women. It reads as if a woman might have written it. It begins with the birth of John the Baptist, focusing on Elizabeth, his mother. The next major section is Mary’s story. There follows the prophecy of an old woman named Anna. When the boy Jesus went to the temple to debate the learned doctors, the only person Luke quotes is his mother.
Many of Luke’s stories from Jesus’ ministry are about women: the woman who was a sinner, the woman who wouldn’t give up, the widow of Nain, the bent over woman, the widow who gave her mighty mites. At the resurrection it was only women who had the faith to go to the garden of graves. And mind you, all of this from a culture in which women didn’t count.
I came upon some interesting facts for you about reindeer. “According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year…Male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer, however, retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen…had to be a female.” The comment was included, “We should’ve known this when they were able to find their way.”
LOL, I could not resist sharing that!!
In this beloved story of what we have come to call the Annunciation, Mary receives a call from God….and she, though stunned, gives a positive response. She is obedient to the call. This beautiful story is a powerful metaphor that I want to explore a bit today. God needed Mary to give birth to Jesus to do the prophetic work of liberator and educator. In this miraculous story told only in Luke’s gospel, Mary was called to embody the Light of God …..to give birth to the one whose teachings could save a nation. What an awesome responsibility. When we read this story of Mary every Christmas…..and I know, some of us protestants try and ignore or marginalize Mary….but she is obviously critical to the whole story as birth mother!! Many of us get stuck on our questions and disbelief and fail to discover the meaning and miracle of the metaphor!
Sesame Street had a skit one time of the old fairy tale where the beautiful princess kisses an ugly frog and the frog becomes a handsome prince. ( I think John Forssen had that ugly frog at the fireside chat !!!) You all know that story! In the Sesame Street telling, however, the princess kissed the frog, whereupon she turned into a frog herself. …so she could understand and relate to the frog!! That is closer to what we celebrate at Christmas, believe it or not! Simple concept! The Spirit of God comes upon us and we embody the light of God and are transformed.! Like Mary, however, we have to be willing to accept the Light….. to be obedient to the call of God to give birth to the light for the salvation of creation! Hooray Sesame Street! Why did I have to suffer through all the systematic theology books!!?
Jane Adams was only seven years old when she visited a shabby street in a nearby town, and seeing ragged children there, announced that she wanted to build a big house so poor children would have a place to play. As a young adult, Jane and a friend visited Toynbee Hall in London, where they saw educated people helping the poor by living among them. She and her friend returned to Chicago, restored an old mansion, and moved in. There they cared for children of working mothers and held sewing and cooking classes. Older boys and girls had clubs at the mansion. An art gallery and public music, reading, and craft rooms were created in the mansion.
Jane didn’t stop there. She spoke up for people who couldn’t speak for themselves. She was eventually awarded an honorary degree from Yale. President Theodore Roosevelt dubbed her “American’s most useful citizen,” and she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. No matter how famous she became, Jane Adams remained a resident of Hull House, where she eventually died. (from God’s Lessons of Life for Mom, Honor Books)
Jane Adams, and so many like her….lived and live their lives from a place of love. Jane became like one of the poor and needy in order to understand their issues, their needs and their pain.
God becomes manifest in human form….in Jesus…. in you and in me… to be one with creation….to understand and heal our pain and sorrow and celebrate our joy. That’s incarnation. That’s Christmas.
This morning, as I draw to a close, I want to gift you with a beautiful, profound Mary Oliver poem about the Incarnation …. Listen:,
The spirit likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers, ten toes,
shoulders, and all the rest
at night in the black branches
in the morning / in the blue branches/of the world.
It could float, of course, / but would rather/ plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing, /it needs the metaphor of the body, lime and appetite,
/ the oceanic fluids; / it needs the body’s world, instinct and imagination /and the
dark hug of time / sweetness and tangibility/to be understood, / to be more than
pure light / that burns where no one is —
so it enters us in the morning /shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning; /and at night lights up the deep and wondrous
drowning’s of the body like a star.
Incredible rendering of the miraculous gift of Incarnation for me and for you….for all humanity. The light of the Spirit requires the body to be fulfilled…..for its purposes to be revealed. God needs us, you and me, to embody the Light, to share the love. How can we kneel at the manger, feel the love, bathe in the glow of that glorious Light and not say YES to the Spirit….. yes to God.
The beautiful Mary song which Wiley sang says it perfectly; Mary……
“ You said your “yes” to God and stood
Abandoned to the love of God,
And in the face of mystery
In simple trust said “let it be”.
This is the message of Christmas for me. We say yes to God…. and abandoned to the love of God…..and in the face of mystery…that we do not try and solve…..in simple trust….say “let it be”. Use me God….