Sunday, December 24, 2023 – Fourth Sunday of Advent; Christmas Eve
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
I have an invitation for you.
I think it’s different than your typical holiday party invitation. I hope it is. But before I get to it, I want to tell you a bit about where it comes from.
We approach Christmas this year in a world torn by war…unsettled by an evolving climate crisis… divided and polarized by principalities and powers who spew misinformation and revel in the fear and discord that it causes…And so, our annual arrival in Bethlehem this year is less the cozy pastoral image of mother and child held in the soft glow of some etherial off-camera light…With the actual horrific images coming from the Holy Land this year, the nativity seems much more like Yeats’ “Second Coming”… with some “rough beast…slouching its way towards Bethlehem.”
Of course, Jesus was born at a time of great violence and upheaval, and a key point of the Christmas message is that God doesn’t wait for everything to be “just right” to enter into history and carry out God’s holy and redemptive work. But still, I think this year we are all finding it…very easy to express deep and heartfelt prayers for peace, and much harder to find authentic expressions of joy. (Is that too bleak for a Christmas Eve sermon? Maybe, but I’ve always been more of an “In the bleak mid-winter” guy than a “Joy to the world” guy.)
I’ve also learned recently that the distinction between optimism and pessimism is a false choice, and it’s misleading in significant ways. Let’s say this mug holds 10 oz of liquid, and it now has 5 oz of water in it… You know the question…is it half-full or half-empty? I’ve learned that this is a nonsense question…It’s nonsense because the answer—whatever it is—has zero effect on the world we live in. What makes more sense…and what is actually much more powerful…is simply noticing that there is water in the cup…and then the only real question is…who needs it?
We actually need fewer labels…(I’m an optimist, I’m a pessimist…I’m an introvert, I’m an extrovert…I’m a thinker, I’m a doer…I’m liberal, I’m conservative…I’m a Mac, I’m a PC)…we need less of that…and more people who can simply see…and name—truthfully—what. Is. Here…and who else is with us.…and ask, what is the work that needs doing…now?
There’s a follow up question as well, which is equally important…Am I the person to contribute to this work? What is the work that needs doing…and am I the the person to do it? Do I have the resources, the skills, the life-situation, the friends and allies that give me the capacity to serve in this way and at this time? [Wheatley].
The last thing I need to do before I get to the invitation, is remind you of the quote from Mister Eckhart that I shared last week. I’ll quote it again in case you weren’t here or don’t remember it. “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” The fullness of time, he concluded is “when the Son of Man is begotten in us.”
So here’s the invitation—it has three parts: One—In the coming 12 days of Christmas (and after), after the flurry of preparations, and before tumult of whatever it is that the new year has in store…I invite you to make some space…devote some time…to ask (and then listen for the answer to the question): What is it…that is wanting to be born in you? What do you uniquely have to offer? And how could it be put into service for others.
And then, (Two) as you are out and about in the world…try to develop a practice of stopping…and breathing…and looking around…and asking what is needed right here? Right now? And maybe you’ll have to be patient…and wait a bit for an answer. But once you have a sense of what is truly needed…once you see the water and recognize who (or what) needs it…then ask: am I the right person to contribute to this need? Do I have the resources, the life-situation, the community that gives me the capacity to meet this need at this time? And if so, great…act. If not, that’s ok too, there’s no shame in being clear about what your capacities are. Sometimes there really is no room at the inn.
And (three) (if you don’t have one already) find a community where you feel both safe, and brave. One that will support you as you grow, and challenge you to keep learning and one that will help you practice developing eyes to see and ears to hear what is real…(that’s a cup with water in it)…where it is needed…In other words, find a community that practices what it preaches…it might even be a church…maybe even be this church. We do strive to be a community of practice…a community of both individual and communal transformation.
So that’s my invitation…and my prayer…that we will each hear the call to be transformed for the sake of the world…that we will say “yes” to the Divine being born anew in us…and that we will all be given eyes to see every cup—no matter how full—as overflowing with with the water of love…and that we will have the clarity and the grace and the courage to carry it where it is needed most. Amen.