Monday, December 30, 2013

What Happens...

What Happens to the Sheep?
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; Christmas Eve, 24 Dec. 2013
Year A RCL: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, Isaiah tells us in tonight's reading.
There are many kinds of darkness.
I remember the darkness at Christmas when we'd lost a good-paying full-time job. My part-time work supplemented my self-employment as a free lance writer. I remember deciding to take a break from dismal financial figuring to read a cheery- looking note in the stack of mail. The message from United Thank Offering encourages me to save loose change to give to the poor. I cry. Right now, we ARE poor. Every bit of loose change goes to the next week's groceries at the discount store.
I feel more depressed as I drive to my part-time job. I tell God I feel really bad about not giving, but I have to use loose change to feed our son. I can't see any hope, any way to help except to pray. I can't look up. Eyes downcast as I get out of the car, I see a penny on the ground & pick it up. As I put it in my pocket, I think darkly: this won't do any good.
On my desk are 2 pennies. Hmmm. I pick them up & put them in my pocket. I push open the curtains. On the floor sits a pile of pennies!. . . . I inquire of co-workers. "No, they don't belong to anyone. Guess, they're yours!"
God knows I am slow to catch on, but light starts to break into my darkness. I laugh a little & save the pennies to send to United Thank Offering – someday – when I have more to send.
More comes sooner than I expect. For weeks I find stray coins in the oddest of places! . . . . I KNOW God IS in charge. God DOES provide . . . in unexpected ways. God meets us where we are.
 Even when we are downcast & cannot look up, God comes down to where we are &
looks us in the eye with God's eyes of love.
The question is . . . . do we see God's love?

My Brothers & Sisters, Jesus comes to redeem us & give us fuller life & love. I know from experience this is hard to remember when life is hard, when we are in the grip of many demands. Some demands we self-impose as we strive to make the perfect Christmas.
We can be so busy (as Glennon Doyle Melton writes in “A Christmas Miracle,”)  
that we have no room in our hearts for Jesus1 
& we send him away to the manger to get out of our way.
If the perfect Christmas means we have every detail taken care of, tell me: Why at the first Christmas do the shepherds leave their sheep? How could they possibly herd all of them into Bethlehem that is so crowded Mary & Joseph have to go to the stable? Why didn't God didn't have a plan to protect the sheep from lions & wolves & bears?

I wonder . . . . .if the shepherds laugh in joy they after they get over being terrified. . . . . Joy & laughter are gifts from God, who creates us in God's image. . . . We laugh, so God must laugh. One good belly laugh raises the immune system for 3 days. So laughter is healthy. It can instill peace.

Maybe the shepherds' laughter & joy join the joy of Mary & Joseph & the angels & fill the world with God's profound peace – however briefly on this night of nights. So that peace settles on the bear, the lion, the wolf – peace that gives them deep sleep & freedom from worry about their next meal. So the sheep are safe in the peaceable kingdom we glimpse on this night of nights.

How does this night come to be? I wonder . . . . if one day the Holy Trinity discusses the darkness we stumble in & brainstorms how to bring light to us – Holy life-giving Light – that will restore us fully in God's image so that we live in justice & righteousness, as Isaiah says. . . . . Maybe the conversation goes like this:
God the Father says:
Y'all we've got a problem on earth.
The Holy Spirit says:
Yes! The people – especially the leaders – ignore what we say through the prophets about how to live.
The regular folk don't stand a chance
to live fully & know us fully.

God the Father says:
We promised not to zap them again with a flood. They rationalize natural disasters & ignore their responsibility for caring for all of creation.
If only we could talk to them one-on-one.

Jesus says: Hey, that could work!
What if I get born to one of them? Not as a prince but as a regular person.
Oh, what if I get born in a stable & sleep in a feedbox2!?
 That's so funny . . . . it just might work!
At least it might give humans some joy & a good laugh!
They are so dreary.

The Father says:
Son, IF you do this, many will remember &
set up little stables & decorate trees with stars
& angels to celebrate.
I love it!
The Holy Spirit says:
 One thing wisdom demands after you show them
how to live & how to love:
you have to show them how to forgive.
You have to love them until
the end of life
& show them love never dies.3

The Father says:
 Son, you must realize they will betray you
 & likely will execute you, nailing you to a tree.

Jesus says: I know. I love them so much & I will do it!
They can celebrate my birth & decorate all the trees they want to. All those trees can remind them of the one tree only I can decorate.4 

I WILL decorate that tree of death so that they may have life – abundant life filled with joy & laughter, peace & good will.
It will become the tree of life!

The Holy Spirit says:
Wonderful! . . . .
Y'all do remember we have given them
freedom to choose between good & evil.
Jesus says: Yes. Some WILL choose right.
They will be so filled with our joy & trust in us that they
WILL share the Good News that we love them.
They WILL tell others that even in darkness,
we shine great light.
They WILL be zealous to do good deeds
as their holy scripture will say. 

The Father says:
Son, who are they? How many? 

Jesus says: There are enough. Look:
There's a great group gathered right now at St. John's
in Bainbridge. They ARE so filled with our joy!

They WILL tell others that even in darkness, we shine
great light. They ARE zealous to do good deeds.

The Catholic Company Christmas Gifts for Everyone. Charlotte, NC.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985. p. 851.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 20 Nov. 2013. Publications. 2007.
Melton, Glennon Doyle. “A Christmas Miracle.” FamilyCircle. December 2013. New York: Meredith Corp. 2013.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. New York: Avon Books. 1972.
Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember?” Accessed: 31 Oct. 2013.
1 Melton, Glennon Doyle. “A Christmas Miracle.” Family Circle. December 2013. P. 90.
2 Note: Influenced by Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
3 Note: Influenced by Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember?” Accessed: 31 Oct. 2013.
4 Note: Influenced by information from Christmas Catalog of The Catholic Co. (Charlotte, NC). P. 30.

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