The Hope Of Christmas

Good evening, everyone! Here is this morning’s sermon. It was our annual Hanging of the Greens worship service, so it is on the short side.

While I did not preach specifically on what went on in Ferguson this week, I would have been remiss not to have mentioned it. The news report I alluded to can be found here.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 30, 2014

The Hope Of Christmas

It was the announcement heard around the country on Monday night.

No indictment.

What followed was nothing short of heartbreaking: Devastation. Cries for justice. Cheers. Riots. Peaceful protests. Fires. Tears. Sadness. Chaos. Fear.

My Facebook news feed was full of emotionally charged posts and heated arguments between friends and strangers.

The headlines were almost too disturbing to look at.

It does not matter where you stand on this case or how you feel about what happened in Ferguson this week, I think we can all agree that as a country, we entered a very dark place on Monday night.

Not the best way to start the Christmas season, is it?

It would be absolutely wonderful if Christmas was all Santa Claus and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and eight reindeer and twelve days ending with a partridge in a pear tree. But the truth is, the first Christmas probably looked closer to what Ferguson, Missouri did this week than it did to the Hallmark image that surrounds us every year.

Jesus was born into a violent world. We create magic on Christmas Eve with children dressed as angels, sanctuaries lit with candles and beautiful music, but we have to remember that the first Christmas did not end when the Wise Men arrived at the stable to present their gifts to a squirmy little baby laying in a manger while his parents peacefully watched over him. I wish that it did.

But scripture tells a different story.

Scripture continues on to tell a heartbreaking story of Mary and Joseph forced to flee with Jesus to Egypt because King Herod had ordered all of the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem to be killed. We often gloss over this, but that is how the first Christmas ended.

That is the world that Jesus was born into. It was – like the world that we often live in – a dark world.

And as difficult as that is to stomach, we have to remember that that is also the world that God was so desperately trying to save. God believed that that world could be saved. God sent to Earth his son so that the world could be saved. God’s light shined in the midst of that darkness.

And we have to believe that – amidst the horrifying images and stories that we have heard all week – God believes that our world can be saved as well and that God’s light will shine in the darkness again today.

O come, O come, Emmanuel! Emmanuel means “God with us”. We are a world still crying out for God to come into our midst and these are the moments when our faith is tested the most.

We celebrate Advent every year not as a way of passing time before Christmas, but as a way of truly remembering what we are celebrating on Christmas morning. We not only celebrate the birth of an innocent child, but also the life and ministry of a man that would change the world and call others to do the same. We not only celebrate the ways that we are crying out for Emmanuel – God with us – to dwell among us, but also the ways that we already see God in our midst. We not only celebrate a baby born in a manger, but also the hope that God had for the world – and the hope that I believe God still has for the world.

And we celebrate the ways in which we can all be part of that hope as well.

Fast forward to Friday evening, when a different image started showing up in the media. It was an image of a white cop and a black boy embracing one another, with tears rolling down their eyes.

Here is what Brian Williams said in his report on this image.

As someone around here said today, what the world needs now might just be what we see in this photo.

After days of disturbing media images surrounding the Ferguson grand jury decision, there’s this: In the midst of an emotional rally in Portland, Oregon, Police Sgt. Bret Barnum and 12-year-old, Devonte Hart.

And it turns out, Devonte has a remarkable story himself: Born to a drug-addicted mother and into a violent life, he and his two siblings were adopted into a loving family and Devonte was at that rally with a message of peace and holding a sign offering free hugs.

Sgt. Barnum asked if he might have one.

It does not fix what happened; but it is light shining in the midst of darkness, a reminder that our cries for Emmanuel – God with us – are always heard.

If we believe in the true meaning of Christmas, then we have to believe in the true hope of Christmas, as well. Today we light that candle, the candle of hope – the only candle that burns brightly for the entire duration of the Advent season. Because without hope, we would not have the courage that we need to make the journey to Bethlehem.

And that is a journey that God is calling us to take.

Advent Blessings, my friends! May your seasons be grounded in hope, calmed with peace, overflowing with joy and filled with love. And may God’s light shine in your life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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