Selection I, RCL, All Years
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
A few weeks back, here in Eagle Lake, we had a heavy rain. At times the rain was coming down in sheets. It was one of those rains where I wondered if my car would get stuck in the mud. And I hoped that the wind wouldn’t blow my umbrella backwards. There was nothing pressing that caused me to be out on this night. But, I was told that there was something to see on the outskirts of town. As I approached my destination, I saw in a barn, just off the road, a bright light shining. Inside this barn was a band of angels on the Christmas parade float. This is what I came to see and so did another 15 people. All of us trekked through bad weather because they were told that there was something special to see that night. We knew it was a float but we didn’t know exactly what to expect. None of us had seen it before. And for those who gathered, I think it is true, they saw something special.
Tonight in our story, the shepherds were told something special was happening. They know it has to do with the birth of a baby; a Savior, the Messiah. But like the group of us who trekked out to the float, I don’t think they knew exactly what to expect. Let us go and see this thing that has taken place, they said. What they found was exactly what they were told; a baby wrapped in strips of cloth with its parents nearby. There was really nothing remarkable about what they saw; a baby laying in a manger. Unusual maybe, remarkable not at all. The amazing part of their journey was understanding that what the angels told them was true. Seeing this baby as it was foretold made them realize that everything else the angels said was true. This child is the Messiah, our savior. The shepherds could not contain themselves and told others and they too were amazed by what the shepherds said.
The story of Christ is what is amazing. It is knowing that God sent us a gift, a little bundle of joy, a savior and Messiah that fills our hearts with awe and wonder. The Christmas story fills our hearts with Joy, not because a baby was born but that the Christ Child was born.
Quite a while back I remember traveling from Chicago to Denver where I had just celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. It’s a 16 hour drive and being much younger then, I had planned on driving it without stopping. When I was about half way though Nebraska, on I-80, I happened upon a torrential downpour. I thought it would let up if I kept driving a bit further, but after another hour, I was tired and worn out and the rain was not letting up. I stopped at the next town and each motel had their orange neon sign lit that said no vacancy. As I was about to get back on the interstate, I saw another motel a bit further down the road. I entered the office only to discover that the person right before me got the last room. I drove through two more towns with the rain still coming down relentlessly. At this point I was looking for a rest area or any place where I could pull over and sleep in the car. At last I saw another small motel. They had one room left. It was a smoking room and when I entered it I found water seeping in under the door getting the carpet wet. There was also a stale smell of smoke was a permanent fixture looming in the dingy room. If I had any more energy I would have left but at this point, any bed was better than my small car. Exhausted, I crawled in bed and there on the pillow was a piece of Godiva chocolate wrapped in its gold foil. This chocolate was a gift that no one would expect in such a situation. It seems that the motel wasn’t concerned with its cost; they simply wanted to warm my heart.
On Christmas God gave us a gift. The gift was given without counting the cost. This gift is love. And love is “To give, not for what one can get, but for what the other can receive.” Love is giving selflessly. Love is giving with the only purpose of making the other person happy. The chocolate wasn’t love; the chocolate represented the love that someone else has for me. A cheap piece of chocolate may have made me think but having this extravagance made me wonder in amazement. It made me feel special and loved. Likewise, the float is not love. But when it was experienced by a small group of people who were overwhelmed by its sight, the float represents the love for this church. We can be told about love and seek it out. But true love is more than what we imagine. Love goes beyond expectations and enters the mystery of the unknown.
The baby born in a manger represents the love God has for each of us but the baby is more than that. This baby is love. This baby loves us and teaches us to love others. God gave us his son so that we can experience love that is unbounded. This first gift of Christmas is the Christ Child. And this child opened the doors of love and grace for all people, the lowly, those who are hurting, the widow, the jailed, the wealthy, and the poor. Even those who believe that they could not be loved are loved by God. And in our recognition that this baby is the Christ we enter into the mystery, knowing that God is with us forever more.
Presiding Bishop Curry’s Christmas address 2018