Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 24 Dec. 2017, Christmas Eve
RCL: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
How delightful to say this after weeks of
waiting & preparing.
When we say “Merry Christmas” we may have a mental picture of Mary with Baby Jesus, as if we say:
overlooking Joseph or seeing him away in the back behind the manger.
I wonder how Mary AND Joseph felt on that
night of nights.
We know how each received & reacted to the unexpected news: Mary would have a child.
We know the emperor has demanded a census, requiring people travel to their family's hometown
– what a pain in the neck at Christmas!
Think how you would feel if the government demanded each of us go today to Asheville for a headcount. At least we could get there & back in a day.
I wonder about the stress Mary feels walking or riding a donkey on their 5-day/90-mile1 forced-march to Bethlehem with none of our amenities: no Greyhound bus, no welcome center, no restrooms.
I wonder how Joseph feels.
It would be tough enough if he could go alone, leaving his young, pregnant fiancé at home to be tended by family. But NO: the emperor insists:
“Everybody, report to your family's hometown.”
“Everybody, report to your family's hometown.”
We know Joseph is a carpenter & his work demands planning. This trip demands planning. Joseph prepares carefully in case Mary goes into labor en route. He studies the route, packs plenty of supplies...2
How does he expect to find a place to stay? He can't call ahead to book a room. Joseph & Mary finally arrive & the inn keeper says:
Joseph has no hotel points card to flash his diamond status & demand the 1 room always kept available for the elite.
How does Joseph feel? He's planned so much. They've come so far. They're finally here.
Think of a time you traveled, when you would have preferred to stay home, & the journey was hard, inconvenient.
“There are times in our journey when we think the end is in sight. The hard part is over...we're about to [finish &] something happens...[It seems so hard, so unfair...Why can't this be easy?]”3
Our journey with God has times “of excitement, joy, & even rest, but it's unlikely...the journey will ever be easy.”4
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, Jesus comes to show us how to live especially when it isn't easy. Jesus comes as a human boy to show us how to look differently at our un-easy times.
Despite how difficult the emperor's demand is that makes Joseph go to Bethlehem, it is God's plan for Jesus to be born there. For Jesus to be born in a stable assures us God has down-to-earth, 1st-hand experience with the hard times of human life.
Joseph, this hands-on planner, this man of action, has done all he can to provide for Mary. As she gives birth to Jesus, so much is out of his hands5. The labor is Mary's work6: Joseph can wipe sweat from her brow, help her breath, give her water.
Suddenly Mary's labor is completed. A new life is swaddled & cuddled in Joseph's arms.
What is the look on Mary's face as
Joseph hands her Baby Jesus?
What about Joseph's surprise as shepherds appear & this unexpected bunch crowds the stable entrance to see this precious infant?
As if Joseph needs one more surprise, these outdoorsmen tell him:
“So we're in the fields like always watching our sheep when – Schzaam!7 – an angel stands in front of us. God's glory shines all around us & we are terrified – scared stiff – until the angel says:
'Don't be afraid. I've got good news:
a brand new baby is born, &
this is great joy for everybody!
He's the Savior – God's Anointed One8.
You'll find him in a manger – no kidding – you'll see him
in an animal's feed box.'
“So there we are trying to take all this in & Schzaam! a whole bunch of angels joins in praising God! We just stand there open-mouthed....& then try to sing along.
“Then we say: We gotta go to Bethlehem & see this Baby! So we drop everything & here we are. We found you! And we're still amazed.
“We're as amazed as you are & everybody who hears this Good News!
“I'll tell you how good this news is, we left our sheep & we're at peace about their safety on this
night of nights. What a night!”
“What a beautiful Baby. Did you see that? He smiled! He opened his eyes & looked right at me & smiled. . . . . . .Don't tell me newborns don't open their eyes. I saw him. Wow! What a night!”
What a night indeed!
This night is special, different. This amazing news calls the shepherds to be adventuresome. This amazing news calls us again to come & see Jesus, then to go & tell others about Jesus.
This night is special & different: God has called you & me here this night to come grow in grace, to be nourished with the gift Jesus gives us in Holy Communion, the gift of life & love, the gift of Jesus himself.
Know this: “...It's not how you [plan for the journey] that's important, it's being willing to take the journey & go wherever God leads you.”9
As you journey with God, remember Joseph with his rough, practical carpenter's hands holding Baby Jesus. Think of the awe filling him as Jesus breathes his first breaths of earth's air.
We know God is awesome & far other than we are. Joseph knows this. Yet here he holds Baby Jesus, God's Son, God Incarnate, God In Human Flesh. Awesome.
Holding new life is awesome.
“Awesome & above being possessed by mere mortals, this mighty God calls us friend & beloved child. God's fearsome love for us [leads Jesus] to the cross where Jesus dies for us.”10
“Once we have truly known God, [this] same fearsome love compels us to lay our life on the line, pick up our cross, & follow.”11
As we follow Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have abundant opportunities to share the Good News to people who are in darkness. Shine the light on them.
How you shine the light depends on your personality & your unique gifts.
The “how” may be different.
Our work is the same:
share the Good News.
As St. Francis tells us:
Always preach the Good News
when you must.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
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.
Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. New York: Avon Books. 1972.
Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965.
1 Kautz, Richard. A Labyrinth Year. Pp. 6, 5.
2 Ibid. P. 6.
3 Ibid. P. 9.
5 Note: Thought from Ibid. P. 13.
6 Note: Ibid.
7 Note: Schzaam! From Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
8 Note: Messiah means Anointed One. Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. P. 101.
9 Ibid. Kautz. P. 6.
10 Ibid. Kautz. P. 15.