Sermon for Year A, Christmas Eve
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 24, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Hello! Thanks for being here. Welcome to you, each and all.
Welcome to us, who together make church.
Welcome to this place; welcome to this time.
Welcome to these sacred mysteries.
And welcome, once again, to Jesus Christ our King --
Our guest, our host, our reason-for-being tonight.
I was raised to think that you could never really say Hello and Welcome often enough,
Especially when people had to go to extremes to reach you.
And I was raised in extremes.
In western Oklahoma, where I grew up,
The winter wind skitters and puffs across the red clay soilscape like little daggers of cold --
All the time, but especially from November to February.
Microscopic particles of rose-colored sand hang in the air, kicked up by the wind.
It’s why the sunsets there are often so striking.
But, when folks drive and walk through head-on winds just to reach your front door,
And they look tired -- like they just stepped out of a sand-blaster --
Before they even come in for your party,
Well, you can’t pump their hands hard enough,
Or say “Hello” enough, or “Welcome,” or “Thank you for being here,”
Or just, “Hey, step in here and let me get your coat.”
Today, of course, we’ve had the sort of straight-line wind I’ve become accustomed to in Iowa,
That’s not so very different from my little home town;
And also the sort of bone-cracking chill and flurries
That make you want to find a blanket and hide under it.
So it’s really no small thing that you have chosen this.
But you know, if you really want something, you’ll go to extremes if you have to.
Because faith is rarely the easy road.
Love doesn’t take shortcuts.
When you really love someone, you’re prepared to go as far as you have to
Just to be near him or her,
And if the way is bumpy or dangerous, then so be it, because finally, it’s worth it.
I have begun to grasp that being willing to be inconvenienced and taken out of your way
Is somehow the name of the game when it comes to God --
That that’s how God does it; and somehow, God expects the same from us.
May I hasten to add? Even with all my training behind me, propping me up,
I’m not prepared to explain just how it is that the Son of God became the Son of Man;
How Jesus, co-eternal with God the Father and God the Spirit, came to be with us;
But I have to think that whatever it was, however long it took, wherever it took him,
It couldn’t have been easy. It doesn’t seem like a simple thing.
It seems like the kind of thing
That might have required more than any of us can fathom.
I don’t pretend to know how it happened, but I’m glad it did.
Knowing that humbles me and warms me, makes me grateful I’m here now,
To say Thank You with all of you. And so once more, Welcome.
And maybe that’s part of what was going through my mind recently
When I got into an argument with an outright atheist.
On the surface, the argument was that he thought Charles Darwin had died a total disbeliever.
I knew better --
I knew that Darwin’s faith and doubt had become a matter of conversation, but not certitude,
And that’s how it was at the time Darwin died --
And so that’s what I said. That it was blurrier than that. Less cut-and-dried.
But what I was really thinking was,
Forget for just a second about whether God is, and consider Why God Might Be.
And, out of that, why not just be grateful God chooses to come to us?
Why not just be expansively, amazingly, incredibly grateful
That we have this touchstone Jesus to cling to on one of the darkest, coldest nights of the year?
I’ll add that as arguments go, this wasn’t much of an argument,
Because I found I didn’t have a whole lot to say after the facts came out.
Neither of us was inclined to change,
And his purpose in the conversation -- it soon became clear to me --
Was not to win points or even get to know me, but to turn me into a total doubter
Using analytical arguments from pure logic,
Whereas I couldn’t imagine myself coming round to seeing things his way.
It was polite but uncomfortable, kind yet insistent.
It was like being pulled into a conversation with someone who wants you to sell his product.
He was out to make people see their own logical fallacies
About the existence of God and all the pain and suffering that those fallacies have caused.
He would not be moved. He believed his cause to be just as righteous as mine.
And I? -- I can be extremely amenable, but I also know how to hold my ground.
This gentleman was doing what he thought was his mission in life,
Which is to stun people of belief and then to give them the tools they need
To set them free from their own prisons of religion and moralistic piety.
Just hand them the keys and they’d unlock their cells,
Walk right out into the sunlight, after years of stewing in self-made jails of delusion.
And I, too, was doing what I thought was my own mission,
Which is to be a participant in an ongoing conversation about the presence of God in daily life;
To listen to people’s stories and to tell them about my own. To facilitate transformation.
You can see it plain enough: we were standing just across from one another
On either side of the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps I should have simply stated that many things are beyond knowing or articulation,
And that I have learned to be okay with that.
That the Incarnation of God in the form of an humble infant borne of peasant parents
Was beyond my scope of understanding;
But that it didn’t change how grateful I was for it.
That being okay with mystery --
And not having to constantly defend or explain it --
Well, that it’s good enough; that it’s okay all on its own.
None of us can point to everything that led to us being together here tonight,
And that’s fine.
The point is, we’re here.
We have come to say Welcome and Hello and Thank you for being here.
Thank you, O God, for whatever you faced and went through
To be here with us now.
Thank you for the life of Jesus, which will usher us from the crèche here tonight
Into a lifetime’s worth of learning and instruction.
Thank you for how he stood up to corrupt authorities and stuck up
For people who were not in a position to defend themselves.
Thank you for how he healed those who were accounted as ill, or even dead.
Thank you that in his great love for us, he went to the furthest possible extreme of suffering death;
And thank you, that his death was not God’s final word on the subject.
Thank you that he rose to life again.
Thank you that you love us unconditionally,
And show it to us over and over and over again.
Thank you for this one small first appearance tonight,
And everything to follow.
Thank you. Welcome. Hello.