Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
24 Dec. 2015, Christmas Eve Year C: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
The governing powers send a decree to take a census, & people have to put up with the inconvenience of traveling to their ancestral towns.
Our government's census taking seems simpler.
The emperor's decree must inconvenience Joseph & Mary. Instead of giving birth at home with family to tend to her1, Mary has to give birth in a stable & put her baby in the animal feed trough. Talk about inconvenience!
I wonder if the innkeeper literally has no room in the inn because of so many travelers or if the innkeeper has “no room” because Mary is about to give birth without being married to Joseph. Whatever the reason, this inconvenience reminds us of an inconvenient truth: God does not come to live among us to make us comfy. God comes to be born as a human, to live among us & to die at our hands to show us a new way to live, to shake up our perspectives, to wreck everything,2 as one preacher says, quoting a story from the late Bishop Thomas Shaw.
In a YouTube video, Bishop Thomas Shaw shares the story of wrecking everything in his encounter with a man & his 6-year-old son talking about what they will do on Christmas. The dad talks of opening presents, then going to church. His son asks: “Church?! On Christmas? ...” The dad says: “Of course, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about Jesus’ birth & God coming to us.” The child says, “I know, I know, I know! But Christmas! Church wrecks everything!”3
Tonight in the church that wrecks everything, we celebrate the child born “to wreck everything.”4 Wrecking everything, Jesus frees us from all real wrecking...we humans...[do]. We know...this wrecking personally & from the news. We know about the darkness we hear in our 1st lesson tonight. We know people still walk in darkness. People still need the light of Jesus Christ to shine in their lives.
We have work to do. Our Psalm reminds us: We are to sing a new song & proclaim the good news of salvation daily. Our work is to shine the light of Jesus into the darkness around us.
It is dark tonight. It is often dark in the daylight in many lives. Darkness & light remind me of encounters on our recent trips to Washington, D.C.
The day before Thanksgiving, sitting at a favorite restaurant's table beside the wall of windows that look onto one of DC's busiest streets, we notice street-side parallel-parked cars trapped by barricades & giant machinery & men digging deeply to remove the pavement on this day, one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Who decided this timing?
The sight spoke to me of how our well-intentioned decisions can be inconvenient at best, if not downright disastrous, adding to our darkness.
Last week in DC, with all the Christmas decorations, even the nights were bright. In the 21st century, we don't have to do much walking in literal darkness. Descending deep, deep, deep down in the earth to the metro station to catch the subway, we wait for the train in the light of electric lights underground. I notice a woman walking alone toward our stop: she wears a business suit, dark sunglasses & uses a white cane to guide her steps.
One night after enjoying a play, my husband, our son & I stop for photos in the theatre lobby. A man, who looks as if he could play The Incredible Hulk, storms into the lobby from the street, heads straight for me & shouts he needs my help, he's an ex-con, served time for drugs & murders [plural], has found the Lord & needs help for some food for himself – oh, yes & for his kids. Before I can respond, theater staffers escort him out as he yells belligerently & disappears into the night without waiting for me to go outside to help him.
Notice: the woman in the subway wears dark glasses & walks alone with a white cane. The man in the theatre shouts for help & disappears, not waiting for help. Which of them walks in darkness?
How do we walk in the light? We must, as one preacher says: “...dare not forget the scandal of both the cradle & the cross & be lulled by [our] culture’s attempts to sentimentalize Christmas.”5
We...let Christmas bring emotional pressures, unrealistic expectations, over consumption of food, drink & purchases.6
Tonight, we gather “to pay honor to the one who [comes] to wreck all of that...This child’s birth [is] the plan of [God, who is] subversive [& comes] as one of us – vulnerable, poor, & powerless –...[comes] to upend the world as we have constructed it.7
“He [comes] to wreck our selfishness & narcissism, so that we [can]...love God & others &...receive that love [ourselves]. He [comes] to wreck our fear of death, so that we [can]...live more fully & freely in this life. He [comes] to wreck the political systems [that] choose who is in & who is out, so that all of God’s children [will] be included in the kingdom...He [comes] to break down our ideas of family to embrace a wider vision of God’s family [that] includes all people, not just the ones like us [so that we can live the truth: God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.]
“[He comes] to wreck every structure we try to build [that] puts us first at the expense of everyone else. As [Jesus]...tell[s] his followers, he [comes] not to be served but to serve...[He] calls us to follow in his path”8 of service.
Like people for 2,000 plus years, we “come together to mark [Jesus'] birth...[to celebrate] God’s subversive way of dwelling among us & wrecking everything for the sake of bringing about something greater than we [can] ask for or imagine. [We celebrate the] vision of [God's] kingdom unfolding right here” [among us in this happening community where we live God's love].9
God's love is unfolding among us despite
our fears or conflicts.
May this holy child, this holy, one-man wrecking crew, disrupt your life, plant & nurture God's grace in your heart so that you may know
[& share] more fully Jesus’ love.10
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
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.
Kautz, Richard. A Labyrinth Year: Walking the Seasons of the Church. Harrisburg: Morehouse. 2005.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Scarborough, The Rev. Anjel. “Wrecking Church, Christmas Eve C ”. Note: A wife, mother, iconographer, writer and retreat leader, the writers is rector of Grace Church, Brunswick MD. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/12/09/wrecking-church-christmas-eve-c-2015/ Accessed: 24 Dec. 2015.
1 Kautz, Richard. A Labyrinth Year: Walking the Seasons of the Church.
2 Scarborough, The Rev. Anjel. “Wrecking Church, Christmas Eve C ”. Accessed: 24 Dec. 2015. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/12/09/wrecking-church-christmas-eve-c-2015/
4 Ibid. Scarborough.
5 Ibid. Scarborough.
8 Ibid. Scarborough.