Christmas Day sermon by Fr. David Gierlach, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Honolulu. Reproduced here with permission.
Accepting what happens on Christmas is an uphill battle.
After all, it’s quite a leap to believe in a God who becomes a human being (unless you’ve been hitting the egg nog too hard), not to mention that this astounding announcement is made not through the fine religious folks of the day, but to shepherds, for Pete’s sake, today’s equivalent of longshoremen. And while over the years we have dolled up the whole shepherd scene with softlights and sentimental music, in those days, shepherds were fully immersed in the animal husbandry business. They were rough, unpolished, and crude. Yet it is to them whom God chooses to break the news that on this night, without our invitation, the God who is the source of all that is comes to us as an infant child.
Can you believe it?
The Son of God, born in a barn, and the only fanfare comes from old Joseph, teenage Mary, the riffraff shepherds, and three illegal aliens from the Magi clan.
You’d think if God wanted his presence known on earth, he would have shown up as a contestant on the Apprentice, not in some meaningless corner of an Empire long gone. And so the Christmas story has always been a hard sell, and perhaps that explains nearly 2000 years of humanity trying to make Christmas into something it isn’t -because what it is, is, well, just so hard to swallow, and if you buy it, you are forever changed. And most of us hate change.
And so here we are this morning, and I ask you, can you believe it? We are so used to separating our faith life from our so-called real life.
On Sundays we pray for peace and a forgiving heart, but on Mondays through Saturdays, we know better -because in a dog eat dog world, you better know how to bite! But the fantasy that we can separate the spiritual life from daily life, the myth that the spiritual and the physical occupy different spaces, different places, is exploded, all because of the infant child born to us this day. God becomes a human being. A child who will grow into a man who loves and weeps and heals and scolds; and yes, who dies a criminal’s death and is raised again on the third day.
It is the incarnation.
In it, the truth that has always been true, that the spiritual and the physical are one, today, now, in the workaday, family-centered, exhausted, sometimes happy, sometimes frustrated-beyond-all-reckoning-lives that we each of us live, these lives of ours, in their holiness and in their pettiness, in their honor and in their lies and manipulations, these real, messy, functional and dysfunctional lives that we each of us live -each and every day -are suffused and infused with the Holy Spirit of God! God comes to those rascal shepherds instead of popes and kings in order to say to us, there is nothing you can do or say or be that will separate you from my love.
There is nowhere you can go and nowhere you can hide that will separate you from my love. For you see, the truth of our circumstance is not that we invite God to live in our hearts, but that we all of us live in the heart of God -now, today, and forever.
Can you believe it?
This day, just like Easter Sunday, many will venture into these pews, pews that are otherwise unfamiliar most of the rest of the year.
Perhaps the reason you come is entirely personal. Perhaps you fear that in the week in, and week out of worship, the church may not meet your expectations or fill your need. Perhaps you fear you have sinned, or are unworthy, or are simply worried that your life is somehow less than holy, that this is not the place for you.Yet this day, you are here. Or perhaps you feel none of these things. Perhaps your life is a good one. Your self-esteem is intact.You have few, if any, regrets.
Yet this day, here you are.
And this day, as we remember to whom and how God chooses to come among us. Whether or not you lay judgments upon yourself, whether or not you have fears that may be eating at your soul, whether or not you hold doubts in your heart; it can all be brought as an offering here; and laid at the feet of the child; this child who comes to make all things new.
I know it is a challenge to say that. I know that it is a challenge to hear it. The child has made all things new? Not really. Not if you just look around.
Wars continue to rage and politicians incite anxiety and fears in exchange for votes.
Who says all things are new? We are not the first to ask this question. Probably, we will not be the last. And yet, no matter your circumstances, no matter your pain, no matter your success, your true identity, if you can only bring yourself to believe it, is that of a child of God. And even more, you are a beloved child of God. Beloved by the child that God himself becomes. Beloved by a God who knows from bitter experience every form of human difficulty, yet who promises NOT to rescue us from danger, but to be with us always, in the midst of every danger.
Perhaps it is to be reminded of that unalterable fact; perhaps that is why you are here this day. This holy day, as we celebrate God becoming one of us, we are invited to remember that we are each of us made in the image of God.
“It’s been said that if we really knew how to see with the eyes of the soul, we would see angels going before every person we meet, announcing: “Make way for the image of God! Make way for the image of God!” Tom Long, Testimony, 46.
This day, God says to the whole world, “You are accepted. Whether you’re a longshoreman or whether you’re a nine-time divorcé; whether you’re an uptight businessman or whether you’re just lost and confused; whether you’re rich and content or out of your mind with neurosis –you are accepted.You are accepted by that which is greater than you, the name of which you may not know. Don’t worry about the name for now; you may find it later. Don’t try to do anything now; later, perhaps, you may do much.Today, don’t seek for anything; don’t intend anything.
Today, as Paul Tillich suggested, simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” Through this child, by the grace of God, all of humanity is home free, even you, even me.
The desert blooms, the virgin gives birth, and you, my friends, are accepted. Can you believe it?
Thanks for posting this homily, Dawn. I felt uplifted reading Fr. Girrlah’s words. Can you believe it?