Monday, December 26, 2016

What About the Sheep?

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Christmas Eve, 24 Dec. 2016
Year A RCL: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

The shepherds hear astounding news from the angel & go in haste to Bethlehem to see this miracle baby.
On this night of nights, who watches over the sheep?
Our Gospel tells us:
v what the angel says to the shepherds,
v  what the heavenly host says &
v  what the shepherds say.
What do the sheep say?
[Yes, baa.]
What does this mean? . . . . Let's find out.
I have 2 distinct sheep. Use your imagination to hear this gray one say “baa”. [At right in photo]
How will this sheep's “baa” sound?

[Demo of sheep with colorful legs, at left in photo,
saying the Lord's Prayer.]
This colorful sheep [1] reminds us how Jesus teaches us to pray. We can pray the Lord's Prayer when we are living in joyful light & in difficult darkness.
We hear Isaiah say in our 1st reading: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

There are many kinds of darkness. Some of us experience post-Christmas letdown, as author Tim Schenck reminds us in his book Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos
Schneck asks: 
How does post-Christmas letdown impact your spiritual life?[2]

Beloved Brothers & Sisters, Jesus comes to redeem us & give us fuller life to draw us closer into God's love before, during & after Christmas.
Like a shepherd, Jesus comes to gather us straying sheep so we are safe in the flock. I know this is hard to remember when life is hard, when we are alone or separated, when we are in the grip of many demands.
Some demands we self-impose, striving to make Christmas “perfect”.
If the perfect Christmas means we have every detail taken care of, tell me:
Why on the 1st Christmas do shepherds
up & leave their sheep?

We know from our Nativity sets there are only 2 or 3 sheep with the shepherds!
[I asked some of you for a headcount of sheep in your Nativity sets. Only one family has more than 3: they have 4 sheep!]
How could the shepherds make haste to see Jesus & have time to gather all their flock into Bethlehem so crowded with people that Mary & Joseph have to stay in a stable?

What plan did God to have to protect the sheep the shepherds leave from lions & wolves?
I wonder if the shepherds laugh in the joy they experience after they get over being terrified. Joy & laughter are gifts from God. Laughter is healthy & can instill peace.

I wonder if the shepherd's laughter joins the joy of Mary & Joseph & the angels to fill the world with God's profound peace however briefly on this night of nights.

I wonder if this peace settles on the lion & the wolf & 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 holy night come to be?
I wonder if one day God the Holy Trinity discusses the darkness we stumble in & starts brainstorming how to bring us Holy life-giving Light to restore us fully in God's image so we can live in righteousness & justice, as Isaiah says.
I wonder if 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.
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 creation.
If only we could talk to more of them more directly & walk with them through life.
Jesus says:
Hey, this 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 feedbox [3] !?
That's so funny it just might work!
At least it might give them some joy & a good laugh!
They are often so dreary.
God the Father says:
Son, if  you do this, many will remember & set up 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. [4]
God the Father says:
Son, you must realize they will betray you &
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. Those trees can remind them of the one tree only I can decorate. [5]
I will decorate the tree of death so they may have abundant life filled with joy & laughter,
peace & good will.
The Holy Spirit says:
Y'all do remember we have given humans freedom to choose between good & evil.
Jesus says:
Yes. Some will choose right. They will be so filled with our joy & trust in us 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 in Titus will say].
The Father says:
Son, who are they? How many?
Jesus says:
There are enough.
Look: I see a great group right now gathered in the far future in 2016 at St. Francis' in Goldsboro.
The Holy Spirit says:
These Beloved Children are so filled with our joy!
They will tell others that even in darkness, we shine great light!
These Beloved Sheep are strong in our love & zealous to do good!
Jesus says:
Yes. Ya gotta love 'em!
These Beloved Sheep 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.
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.
Schenck, Tim. Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos. Forward Movement. 2013.
Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember”.

 [1] Toy by purchased at The Christian Soldier book store in Goldsboro, NC.
[2]  Schenck, Tim.  Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos. P. 77.
[3]  Note: Influenced by Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
[4]  Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember”.
[5]  Note: Influenced by information from Christmas Catalog of The Catholic Co. (Charlotte, NC). P. 30.

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