Merry Christmas, my friends! I’m sitting in my office listening to our soloist for the 11 pm service warm up in the sanctuary and I am just FILLED with joy! It wasn’t the easiest of years, but I look back and can see so many ways that God has been active and alive and working in the life. It’s amazing.
Here is my 11 pm homily. I’m guessing I’ll want to go to sleep as soon as this service is over.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 24, 2012
Hope In The Empty Manger
We come to church, we celebrate Advent, we cry out for Emmanuel and we try to center ourselves throughout the entire holiday season on the true meaning of Christmas.
And yet sometimes the system breaks down.
I had to go to the grocery store yesterday.
Here’s something you should know about me: I don’t like the grocery store. In fact, I have always felt that one of the advantages of being a pastor is the fact that Monday is my day off and I can go to the grocery store when everyone is at work and the store is empty.
So I am sure you can all imagine my sheer delight when I found myself at the grocery store two days before Christmas.
But, list in hand, I assured myself that it was going to be alright. I started on one end of the store and swiftly – if I do say so myself – worked my way to the other end, checking things off along the way. I smiled at people I walked past and waited patiently when aisles were crowded. As I walked up to cash register, I thought to myself, “Wow, that was easier than I thought!”
I should have known better.
I pulled my cart into one of the self-checkouts and watched a mom and her two children checking out their groceries. Slightly amused by how adorable her little boy was on his tiptoes trying to scan each item slowwwwwwwwly when he wasn’t tall enough to see the scanner, I chuckled to myself and then went to grab my phone to text Bruce. I couldn’t wait to tell him how proud I was of myself for not melting down at the grocery store.
My phone wasn’t in my purse.
Let the meltdown commence.
I should probably also mention that I have a slight – um – connection to my phone. As in – I like it to be within a three foot radius of it at all times.
(Now, in fairness to me, my phone IS my lifeline for work, but that’s just besides the point right now.)
My entire swift and happy journey through the grocery store suddenly started flashing through my head. Did I put it down when I was picking out broccoli? It must have been when I was grabbing eggs. Oh, wait! It was those dang shrimp! I must have put the phone down when I went into the cooler to look at the shrimp! Are you kidding me? I didn’t even BUY the shrimp! I just wanted to see how you are supposed to cook them!
I tried to reign myself in. Sarah, perhaps you didn’t even bring your phone in the store with you, I tried to tell myself. But I remember seeing a text from Bruce IN the store, the irrational side was taking over. Did I see that in Target or Stop & Shop? Ugh, I need to check out so I can go check my car to see if the phone is in there.
Suddenly the little boy who was slowwwwwwwly scanning each item was not nearly as adorable as he had been three minutes before.
By the time I stepped up to start scanning my items, I had worked out an entire scenario in my head where clearly I had left my phone by the shrimp, someone had stolen it, no one would be able to get in touch with me with questions about the Christmas pageant the next day and I would have to go to AT&T before I go to church to replace it and – oh yeah – WHY IS THIS HAPPENING THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE??
So, yeah – the phone was in my car.
Like I said … We come to church, we celebrate Advent, we cry out for Emmanuel and we try to center ourselves throughout the entire holiday season on the true meaning of Christmas.
And yet sometimes the system breaks down.
Sometimes it is all too easy to lose sight of what is really important.
In 2006, New Line Cinema released the movie, The Nativity Story, a drama that tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.
Going into the theater, I was curious as to how the creators of the movie were going to handle certain parts of the Christmas story, specifically the part where Mary and Joseph and Jesus had fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, who had ordered all of the children two years and younger in and around Bethlehem to be killed.
We don’t like to talk about this part of the story and yet it would have seemed wrong to ignore it completely. It is, after all, part of our history; part of what shaped us to be the faith and church that we are today.
The movie actually started with this scene; a scene of violence, terror and pain.
But then it flashed back two years to Mary learning that she was pregnant and then journeying with Joseph to Bethlehem, eventually giving birth to Jesus. It told a story of perseverance, strength and courage. And at the end of the movie – instead of reshowing the horror of what King Herod did – the movie ended with a scene of the empty manger, because Mary and Joseph and Jesus had fled to safety.
What a miracle that empty manger was.
Christmas is not about stuff – it isn’t about the gifts that we give to people, the gifts we receive from people, the busyness of the season or even the stuff that we have the surrounds us every day that we think is important.
(Not that I am projecting my own issues onto this sermon or anything.)
Christmas is not about stuff. It is about that empty manger. Because that empty manger reminds us that even in the midst of violence, terror and pain, there is hope.
There is hope in our God who creates us, redeems us and sustains us. There is hope in our God who sent his son, born of human flesh, to live in our midst, to share in our suffering and to overcome death with resurrection. There is hope the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the scriptures that shape our thinking and in the God that is still speaking in our lives today. There is hope in our God who shares in our sadness over the violence and the hatred in our country right now. And there is hope in our God who calls us to rise above, to carry his light into the world and to be instruments of hope, peace, joy and love. There is hope in our God who illuminates our journeys so that our stories can also be ones of perseverance, strength and courage.
We live in a world that is often full of hatred and violence, but we also live in a world that God has not given up on.
As you dive head first into your Christmas celebrations, I urge to take a moment and give thanks for the way that God was active and working during that first Christmas, not simply through the birth of Jesus, but also through that empty manger. Because that empty manger symbolized a promise; a promise of safety, a promise of peace, a promise of redemption and a promise of hope for the future.
Even in a crazy and imperfect world.
There is hope for this world, I truly believe that.
Merry Christmas, my friends!
Thanks be to God!