Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Homilies -- 2011


Two Homilies:
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent
A Homily from Luke 1:68-79, for December 24, 2011

Nativity of the Lord, Christmas
A Homily from  John 1:1-18, for December 25, 2011

Year B





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CHRISTMAS EVE HOMILY
12.24.11
Luke 1:68-79









During this Advent season I have been thinking quite a lot about darkness. In part, this is because my father died this fall which means Christmas will be a little less this year and somehow, strangely, it will be a little more, too. But, the world seems a little more dark, doesn't it? The world seems a little more troubled, a little sadder, a little more at odds, sinking little by little each day into the abyss.

What can a pastor say to his people that will change this? Sadly, not much. My only hope is to remind you of some important truths this final night of Advent.

If you are at all familiar with the prayer of the church called the Liturgy of the Hours, then you are very well acquainted with the Gospel Lectionary Reading for this Christmas Eve. Today, the Lectionary offers us the passage from St. Luke's Gospel which is Zechariah's Praise song of Prophecy. In the Liturgy of the Hours it is prayed daily during evening prayer.

Let us allow these ancient words to ring out to us anew; let us hear these words as a message of light in the darkness. Hear, now, the living word of GOD:
"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace."(Luke 1:68-79)
What a beautiful and powerful text. What a text full of promise and hope. For our thoughts this evening I especially want us to focus on the final two verses:
"In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)
Here we are promised light in the midst of darkness... 

Notice, GOD, not just in compassion, but in tender compassion, sends the dawn, the light, the morning, to we who live in the night and the darkness of sin and selfishness and war and hate and greed and sickness and the shadows of death. GOD, not some great ogre of the sky, but the tender, compassionate one who is so very close tonight, offers to guide our feet in the way of peace.

That is, GOD has already acted; GOD has already moved toward us. GOD has not abandoned his people. Therefore, if you feel the darkness tonight, and believe me that feeling is real, remember it is not the final word.

Here I am reminded of the Psalm 30:5,6a:
"For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning."
Which also reminded me of the old song taken from that text: Joy Comes In The Morning, written by the Gaithers: 
If you've knelt beside the rubble of an aching, broken heart, 
When the things you gave your life for fell apart,
You're not the first to be acquainted with sorrow, grief, or pain,
But the Master promised sunshine after rain.

To invest your seed of trust in God, in mountains you can't move,
You have risked your life on things you cannot prove,
But to give the things you can not keep for what you cannot lose,
Is the way to find the joy God has for you,

CHORUS:
Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning,
Weeping only lasts for the night
Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning,
The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight
Hold on my child, GOD is coming close tonight; GOD is at hand in the person of the living and risen Christ. You are not alone in the darkness. Emmanuel is here.

In a moment, when we light our candles one by one, allow that action to be a metaphor, allow it to be a reminder that even in the darkness that is our lives for the moment, the dawn is near, the light is dawning, for...
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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CHRISTMAS DAY HOMILY
12.25.11
John 1:1-18
(See text below)







TODAY, WE EXCLAIM TO THE LORD:
O Loving God, we celebrate, we rejoice, for the Nativity of our LORD: 
In the mystery of the Word-made-flesh a new light has shown upon our lives... 
We recognize how You, the GOD of glory, have come close, and even now reside among us... 
And, so, with the Angels and Archangels, with the entire heavenly host, and all the powers of heaven we acclaim Your glory and Your tender compassion, saying, "Our GOD has come to us in Bethlehem’s baby...
TODAY, WE PROCLAIM TO THE WORLD:
The Nativity of our LORD allows us to pull out all the stops and to offer the world (not just the community) a symphony of celebration. This music is not the song of triumph -- for we are not home yet, but it is the song of hope -- because new music has been written for the world. There is a new song as background for you, the peoples of the earth, replacing the dirge of death with a lyric of life and giving -- "O death where is your sting, O grave where is your victory?"
So, we proclaim with the ancient prophet who offers his poetry:
Break out together in song,O ruins of Jerusalem!For the LORD comforts his people,he redeems Jerusalem.The LORD has bared his holy armin the sight of all the nations;all the ends of the earth will beholdthe salvation of our God. (from Isaiah 52)

And finally, 

TODAY, WE CONFESS WITH THE CHURCH:
WE HAVE A WORD FROM GOD
WE HAVE A WORD WE CAN UNDERSTAND
WE HAVE A WORD WE CAN ACCEPT

WE HAVE A WORD FROM GOD
The absolute most important truth to confess today is the truth that GOD is not silent! Today's text reads: 
"In the beginning was the Word," 
which means to tell us that the Almighty has not abandoned the world; the GOD who is there has spoken to us. In fact, the New Testament reading for today from the Letter to the Hebrews describes this very theme when it begins: 
"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets..."
Praise the LORD! We are not left with only our puny minds to figure out who GOD is and what GOD is about in the world. No, GOD has taken the initiative and opened to us his reality. This Word was 
"the light of the human race," and "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," 
so reads the Gospel for today.

That means, even in the midst of all the brokenness and hatred and greed, even as we see this old world at war with itself, burning up with violence and vice, still the light of GOD's word, his now ancient word, shines in the darkness and shows humans the way to a truly human life.

WE HAVE A WORD 
WE CAN UNDERSTAND
And notice this was a word we can clearly understand. Again the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is instructive:
"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son..."
The Gospel reading for today puts it this way:
"the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth."
And then later:
"No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him."
GOD's most complete word to us, then, what finally most reveals the Almighty's reality and being, is found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we celebrate today, as the angels and shepherds and later the magi did so long ago. Or, as St.John tells us in his first epistle:
"We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life..." (1 John 1:1)
This word was seen, was heard, was handled, and was discovered to be the source of life. 

Jesus comes to us with the good news and glad tidings of life and light and the offer of a new humanity, a new community. In Jesus we are offered the movement of GOD toward us and for us. In Jesus we see just how close GOD comes, as he takes on our flesh and therefore shoulders the very same brutality of the human condition that we carry. The presence of Jesus with us is a clear word from GOD that humanity can truly comprehend.

WE HAVE A WORD WE CAN ACCEPT
But, the fact that we comprehend this word from GOD, this flesh and blood human who represents us to GOD and GOD to us, does not mean we accept this word. Clearly, not everyone is happy to hear this word from GOD. For, today's Gospel also reads:
He came to what was his own,but his own people did not accept him.
Those with vested interest; those with power and prestige. Those who are of the empire, who hunger to live life out of selfish desires, they will reject this new life with its insistence on service and reconciliation. They want no part of esteeming others, and doing unto them as you would have them do to you.
"But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God."
These words remind us that we have a choice to make. We must personally accept the gift of this Word from GOD as a Word specifically for us -- a word to be practiced. We must accept the Jesus-way of walking in the world as the final path we wish to take for our lives. 

But, as we accept this Word we must also remember that this path of faith which leads the believer through baptism also brings a connection and commitment to the Jesus-formed discipleship community, and to GOD's wider purposes for the world as well. It is a way of life that leads one to true life beyond the personal and the individual to the community, and to the ultimate reclamation of the humanity.

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John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'"
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side,
has revealed him.