Sermon for Year B, Christmas Eve
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 24, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Word of welcome to each and every one of you here this evening!
This is the homily, but it isn’t going to be about any of the following four things,
So you can rest easy. Let’s just get this list out of the way:
- Why you should feel bad about not being in church more often, or at all,
But my how lovely you look in your Christmas clothes;
- How and why you should give us a bunch of money;
- What the Council of So-And-So said about the Infancy Narrative of the
Gospel According to Saint Matthew back in the year 823; or
- That Christmas is just a thin excuse for commercialized gluttony,
And that Jesus is the only decent gift you can give anyone,
So go home and think it over and feel bad.
I can’t do that. I won’t. It’s a dead letter.
Instead, I just want to talk to you, hopefully with sincerity and humility,
Straight out of my heart.
I want to tell you about what Christmas means to me.
I know that probably sounds like an essay you wrote in third grade,
But stay with me, okay?
It may feel like we’re getting off track, but I promise we’ll steer it back into the lane.
See, when I was a kid, we had this neighbor who lived a few blocks up the street.
His name was Bob Beard. He died August 13, 1985, at the age of 56.
For several years prior, though, my family kind of adopted him as our own.
He was a crusty guy -- very funny, very salty, very down-to-earth.
He lived in an okay house on the corner of two busy cross-streets.
He affectionately and regularly called me by a nickname
That I cannot repeat in polite company, much less in church.
Mom didn’t care for that, but she loved Bob like a big brother til the day he died.
Many of the things he said, in fact, were just like that nickname business.
Bob prided himself on being politically incorrect before we even had that term,
Yet the thought of actually offending someone was totally anathema to him.
Oklahoma is land-locked; we didn’t have a port of call;
But if Bob had lived near a naval installation,
He could have made a living making sailors blush.
So yes, in so many ways, Bob was problematic and flawed.
Like a lot of people. Like everyone, if you get down to it.
But at exactly the same time, there was just something beautiful about this guy;
He had resilience, pluck, audacity, a certain light;
And whenever you got around him, you could see it,
So you could appreciate it, and you wanted to see more of it,
No matter what sort of label you wanted to put on it.
I don’t know enough of Bob’s story to be able to guess at why or what it was,
But Bob walked around pretty much liberated and set free,
And that’s not a small thing when you live in a little town -- to genuinely be yourself.
He had a sort of a golden glow that emanated from his person, from his authenticity.
No faking. It was deep, and real.
You could see it in his eyes, and in the corners of his smile.
It was like someone had taken a heavy weight off his chest just a minute before.
He had a satisfaction that bubbled up from down deep,
And that seemed to come from ever-deeper places, the more he lived his life.
Bob often said he was the luckiest guy in the world. The luckiest.
I’d look at his crummy house and his cheap shoes and his red windbreaker,
And I’d look at his Zebco fishing pole and his pack of Marlboros,
And I’d wonder what in the world he was talking about.
Doesn’t lucky mean materially successful?
Big house? Beautiful wife? Fancy car? Money in the bank?
I was too young to understand.
Truth is, sometimes I still don’t understand completely.
But I think when you feel this way about your life --
That no matter how things have gone, somehow you’ve ended up as the lucky one --
When you’ve been to the edge and back, and lived to tell --
When you’re willing to say that
Yes, in spite of blinding flaws, I’ve come to love myself anyway, and I know who I am,
And you feel connected to people who will love you and take you as you are --
All of this makes a person incredibly generous.
I have a small family.
There are really only a couple of people -- my mom and my brother --
Who can talk eye-to-eye with me about their memories of Bob.
But one characteristic always emerges.
He didn’t have a ton of money;
But you had to be very careful around Bob about saying,
Oh, I need one of these things; or, Gee whiz, I’d sure love to have such-and-such a thing,
Because you couldn’t any more than turn around and it would be on your doorstep.
Talk to Bob on a Monday afternoon and carelessly mention your fridge is on the fritz;
By Tuesday afternoon, here comes the Tautfest Furniture & Appliance delivery truck
Hauling up a new Whirlpool in the latest color.
My stepfather, bless his memory, would say things like,
I’m gonna go down to Walmart and just look at that new rod and reel again.
And Bob would say, Let me come down with you because I need to get a few things
And he would have the fishing gear bought and paid for and absolutely no arguments.
Now, -- I’m going to take a big chance:
Am I reminding you, with my description about Bob, of anyone that you have ever known?
Are you remembering someone like Bob Beard? Perhaps?
Tell you what: if you are, let me give you a chance to say that person’s name,
Male or female, young or old, living or dead;
Maybe you can’t recall the person’s the name at the moment,
But somehow this story about Bob is pinging on your story about your person.
Just say that name on three, okay? One, two, three: _____________.
And like magic, all these wonderful people, living today or gone to their reward,
Are in the room with us now.
This sanctuary is warm with memory, and care.
Look around. It’s a little brighter in here.
Now I’m going to take an even bigger chance:
I’d like you to take someone nearby to you by the hand or very gently by the arm,
And tell your story about your person --
Or at the very least, just have a chance to say his or her name.
Can you do that -- trust someone else, even a stranger, with your story? In this safe space?
Make sure that at the least you have a chance to tell someone else that name,
Bring that name or that quick story or memory to a level of speech
So someone else can hear it.
If you can’t remember the name -- who cares -- just make one up. The story works either way.
Go ahead. Take a quick minute and do that.
I want to suggest something from all this
That has to do with the reason we’ve gathered this evening. This birth we’re here to celebrate.
The path of life that we walk -- some might call it the spiritual journey --
Some might say growing up --
Some might call it just trundling along in the human condition --
This path we walk has a divine aspect
That in some ways is most clearly embodied in these people we have remembered
And brought in here with us tonight.
That being liberated from falsehood and self-deception and apathy and cultural conditioning
And all of our emotional programs for happiness --
Our need and desire for prestige, power, esteem, pleasure, security, affection, survival --
That being liberated from all those things
Is a process of work and discovery and sweat and letting go and letting go and letting go.
And that learning to rest in the truth -- I would say to rest in God -- is initially a matter of effort.
Yet it is also no effort at all. It’s the easiest thing there is.
We may believe that we are fundamentally alienated and estranged
From God and society and each other;
And that this is the source of tremendous grief and human misery.
Yet it’s a fiction; there is no separation, except whatever separation we choose to imagine.
We so easily get bored with each other and want to throw each other away:
Impatient, overly rational or emotional or jealous or angry.
We withdraw from each other, get aggressive, or become codependent --
Unhealthfully captivated by the other.
Yet in truth, we need one another to balance out the world and set things on the right path.
We struggle with God and we rail at the hypocrisy of religion and dime-store spirituality:
At its prejudice, its bigotry, its pharisees, its tyrants, its judges, and its cults --
How it can so easily prey on the weak and manipulate and control --
How all these things are done in the name of Jesus, this helpless child.
Yet in truth, we never have to leave our lives in order to undergo a spiritual journey;
The journey to God is simply a trip into the gold mine of our everyday existence.
You see, the message of Jesus --
The person we have gathered to celebrate tonight --
Is precisely the message we need for this time.
It’s precisely the message embedded and embodied in a guy like Bob Beard.
Jesus comes among us, and he declares that at the center of the human problem
Is self-centeredness and hardness of heart --
Self-centeredness parading as an attempt to make ourselves happy,
And hardness of heart building up walls around ourselves so we don’t have to face the world.
But in his teaching, Jesus will tell us clearly
That true happiness is about letting go of those things:
Letting go of security and power and pleasure and privilege and esteem.
All in favor of something better, something liberating.
And he will call upon us to pull these things down, as painful as that may be to do --
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he will say --
He will urge us to step away from everything we think makes us who we are,
And he will offer us a different way to be and to live:
A humble way, a quiet way, an advocating way, a justice-seeking way.
A way of interior freedom and peace that bubbles up from way deep down.
He’ll offer us a way of being that helps us to see
That there are no walls but what we erect between ourselves,
And that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now, what Bob Beard might have said about what I’m saying right now --
What he could be thinking right at this minute -- I can only guess.
But I think he would agree that it is better to travel light, unburdened by others’ expectations;
I think he would agree, as Thomas Keating has written, that
“The more we recognize our need for healing, the more we experience infinite mercy.”
I think he would agree that “trust leads to perfect love,” and “fear is useless.”
I think Bob would agree that almost all guilt is pointless and has nothing to teach us.
I think he would agree that true joy and generosity come from within,
And do not depend on external factors.
I was too feeble to discover these things on my own:
If I know them, it is only because God was generous in teaching them;
But I have the longest distance of any to travel before I am home in them.
And yet Jesus says, Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
All of these things, this little child shall teach us in time.
For now, it is enough to say, “Glad you’re here” and “Thank you for coming.”
And we look with great anticipation to his kingship, his teaching, and the whole of his good life.