Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas to Believe In (1st Eucharist of Christmas on 24 December 2014)

First Eucharist of Christmas
24 December 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
         As we gather in the warmth and joy of this Christmas Eve, I give thanks that we can do so in safety and in the knowledge that we are free to practice our faith openly.  At the same time we gather as citizens of a world where many of our sisters and brothers do not share the same security and freedom.
         In the Middle East, the region in which Jesus of Nazareth was born, many Christians have fled their homes and others live in fear.  Some have paid the ultimate prices for their faith in the Prince of Peace.  They are not alone.  Violence troubles the followers of Islam, as Sunni attach Shia and Shia Sunni.  Even smaller religious communities, unknown to most Westerners, such as the Yezidis and the Druze live in the fear that their Muslim neighbours will turn on them.
         We cannot forget the children who are at risk all over the world.  Some suffer the ancient scourges of disease and hunger.  Others are threatened by a new ogre:  the fear that education will empower boys and especially girls to question the dogmas that enslave and oppress the human spirit of wonder, of questioning and of inclusion.
         We all know friends and family who are so troubled by the challenges and evils of our world that the story we tell this night no longer holds meaning for them.  True, they enjoy the music and traditions of this Christian feast, but the notion that in this Child the Creator of the stars of night comes among us is a tragic myth who promise is contradicted daily by the evening news.
         Other friends and family may be bothered by preachers such as I who disturb the jollity of the season by speaking about unhappy things.  After all, they say, isn’t this time of good will to all, a respite form the unpleasantness of world affairs?  On this Christmas Even in the centennial year of the beginning of World War I let’s hear about British and German soldiers playing soccer during an informal Christmas Eve truce rather than the tragedy of consciously Christian nations taking up arms against one another and plunging Europe into the chaos of war.  ‘Lighten up, Richard,’ I can hear some folks saying, ‘at least until the Sunday after the Bishop’s visit in January when there’ll only be few folk around!’
         There is, though, another way to celebrate this feast, one that does not deny the joys of family and friends, the glory of music and traditions that continue to bring people together, even my Sikh neighbours who insist on wishing me a ‘merry Christmas’ rather than a more neutral ‘happy holidays’.  It is a way of embracing the promise of this night without closing our eyes to the needs and concerns of our world.  It is a matter of choosing faith as a stimulant to work with God in bringing about what we hope for rather than choosing faith as a sedative to dull the pain.
         For those of us who choose this path, tonight is an occasion when we renew our commitment to working for that justice and peace the birth of the Christ Child promises.  I know people here who have travelled the world to bring dental care to those who have no access.  This is the choice to live in the promise.  I know people here who have worked to offer opportunities such as Special Olympics for children with special needs.  This is the choice to live in the promise.  I know people here who have raised funds for agencies and programmes that combat violence among the young and that shelter young women at risk and help them develop skills.  My list could go on and on.
         The story that we have heard tonight and that we celebrate with the exchange of gifts, with festive meals with family and friends and with music and ceremony is not a story about taking refuge from the world and its problems.  This story is about our God coming among us to embrace the best in us, to inspire the potential within us and to confront the worst in us --- not in condemnation but in love.  It is a story worthy of cantatas, of truces between warring parties and of the renewing of friendships and family bonds.  Why?  Because it is a story about hope and the possibility of realizing that hope in the here and now as well as in the future.  It is a story about how this world can be a place of wonder, joy and peace for all its people when we choose to live as agents of God’s promises made known in the birth of this Child.

         So, let’s roast our chestnuts over an open fire.  Let’s laugh when Jack Frost nips at our noses.  Let’s sing yuletide carols, whether with choirs or just ourselves.  But most of all, let us give thanks for the promise this night offers again to our world.  Let the hope of this promise seep into our very muscles and bones.  May that hope renew our commitment to work with God in making the dream of this night the waking reality of tomorrow morning --- for us and for all God’s people far and near.  Amen.

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