December 24, 2011

"Loved" - A Christmas Sermon

Sermon for Year B, Christmas Eve
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
December 24, 2011

Welcome, each and all.
Tonight, I wish to make the following proposition:
  Let’s be real, and honest, and as close to the bone as we can get.
Let’s let the words of our liturgy speak for themselves,
  And let the music be as beautiful and as moving and as true it’s meant to be.
And in this moment, let’s try to go all the way down, and touch bottom.
All the way down to the truth of the human condition,
  Where there is no room for equivocation or falsehood,
  No time for self-deception.

  I suspect that out of deference to family obligation or plain-old tradition, …
  Or because we live in a culture that just expects it, …
    Or because maybe you have a hole in your heart that you can’t close
      And you’re so blue you don’t know how you’re going to get out of bed tomorrow,
        And the idea of Christmas is just making it worse –
  For any of these reasons, you may have found yourself here tonight.

You’ve come tired or doubtful or broke or depressed.
You’ve come wondering what the point of it all is.
Or you’ve come whistling, with your hands in your pockets
  And the expectations of the joys of the season ahead.
You must know that all of that is okay. All of that is welcome.
I pray you get what you need in any case,
  And that you get hungry later and want to come back here for more.
All well and good.

Whether you believe the narrative we preach and sing tonight is virtually inconsequential.
There’s something much deeper than that.
And it’s really the only thing that matters right now,
  And it’s this:
    Can you allow yourself to be loved?

I’m not asking a psychological question;
  I’m not even asking a terribly theological question;
    I’m asking a practical question.

Can you allow yourself to know that in spite of everything,
  You are deeply and radically and unconditionally loved
    By a Force that is both not you,
    And that, at the same time, richly indwells itself in you?

Let’s not get hung up on what to call this Force for just this moment.
“God” is a simply shorthand term, and it means different things to different people.

The matter is this, what’s at stake is this:
  Can you, practically speaking, let yourself be loved
  By this One who comes and lives in you all the time?
Selected you from before you were born,
  And said, Ah, now this one. Here’s one I really really love …
Can you let yourself be loved?

Can you, in spite of your sins –
  Both how you get it wrong and how you get it right (for those are sins, too) –
    Can you allow yourself to be loved?

Because the simple fact is … you are, already.
You can’t change that, and why would you?
The child in the stable is, quite simply, the incarnation of that fact –
  The confirmation of that fact –
  Of the truth of your being loved already so radically and so beautifully
    For precisely who you are at this very moment:
      Scars, flaws, and all.

There is nothing else to know or to say
  Until this fact is known and proclaimed in every quarter of the world,
   And until it is seen for what it is in every human heart.
Religion will be nothing more than a set of performative statistics
  And the appeasing of rituals without it.
It seems we spend the whole of our lives beating our breasts and pounding on altars,
  Staring into space and pleading: God, love me; I can do better; love me!
    … When that’s senseless.

Karl Barth was a world-renown theologian who wrote millions of words for 82 years.
Towards the end of his life, when so many people were seeking his wisdom,
  Someone asked him how he would summarize all of his work in just a few words.
He is said to have replied, very simply,
  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

I’m begging you, then, to take this truth into you;
  And if you can’t quite believe it coming from me,
    Then take the learned teacher at his word.

You are loved.
Radically, completely, utterly, deeply.
No reasoning can undo that fact.

How that speaks to you in your life? Maybe the answer isn’t known.
Maybe you don’t even need to know right now.
Maybe it’s enough just to get the big message.

So there, now.
It’s all out; it’s all on the table;
  I don’t have a single card left unplayed in my hand;
  There is no other shoe waiting to drop.

Hear the message. Sing the songs. Take the holy supper.
They all mean the same thing.

You are loved. Amen.

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