December 25th, 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
One of my favorite childhood memories is of the feeling of going to bed on Christmas Eve, wondering what magic and mystery lay wrapped away in the presents underneath the tree.
After having gone to church to hear the story of Jesus’ Birth, singing a stirring rendition of Silent Night, and, one time, witnessing snowflakes streaming through the parking lot lights and blanketing the earth, I often found it hard to sleep because of all the excitement.
What surprises would meet me in the morning…I often wondered…what would happen when the coverings of the presents were gone for good, and I stood face to face with the gifts of my imagination?
If you came here this morning fortunate enough to rise early to open presents with young children, or if you can recall your own zeal from Christmases past, then I bet you have a sense of what I’m talking about.
As I got older, the eager expectation of opening gifts intended for me, transitioned into a joy at seeing others open the gifts that I gave to them.
Watching my daughter’s unbridled joy at that moment when the present became real by being opened, made all the previous late night’s preparation worthwhile.
It’s not that I stopped enjoying opening gifts intended for me, but that unstoppable feeling of expectation that I experienced as a child morphed into the expectation and anticipation of seeing another’s joy made complete.
And it is still one of my favorite parts of Christmas even today.
We have just finished hearing the Christmas story once more…have heard about the holy family going to Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn, like millions of modern day refugees, and about Mary giving birth to Jesus.
We heard how the angel Gabriel told the shepherds to not be afraid, and get over to Bethlehem to see what was taking place…to go see what this good news of a child being born was all about.
And I imagine that as we gather here in the church, we are filled with excitement about gifts opened and maybe yet unopened, about traditions and gatherings yet to come, and perhaps a little bit of curiosity about what this familiar Christmas story has to do with us.
In many ways, all I want to say to you today is this: Christmas is a gift to us that God asks us to open, over and over again, regardless of whether or not there are any other Christmas presents underneath our trees.
The mystery of humanity and divinity becoming one in the Incarnation…and the improbable story of two young Jewish nobodies serving as parents to the Son of God may not seem as shiny and enticing as a beautifully wrapped box under the Christmas tree.
But what the gift of the Incarnation lacks in glitzy exterior, it delivers in life long rewards.
This gift is one that points us to a story that is behind the rote details that we get in Luke’s account today.
It’s a story that, once we enter into it, keeps revealing more facets of the mystery of God’s love for us, and the magic of how we have been made a new, free people in Jesus Christ.
And as our presiding Bishop said in his Christmas message this year, “It’s a story worth singing about, and giving thanks for, and then living.”
At first, opening the gift God is offering us today is like a child opening presents on Christmas day.
Once we realize, regardless of what age our faith epiphany occurs, that we can now see the contours and put into use the gift that was once just a box of hopes and expectations, then we give into the joy and laughter that come from opening the gift.
But as we mature in the faith, this joy becomes magnified when we get involved in the gift giving ourselves…when we allow God to use us as instruments of reconciliation and present God’s gift to others.
Like the parent that smiles and beams as they see their child loving the present newly unwrapped, becoming an elder in the faith is uniquely rewarding, even if it also requires some work.
But I think ultimately, unwrapping the gift of God fully has something to do with helping the Christmas story, and the entire story of salvation, become more and more real, so that it transforms our world and systems from ones of oppression to liberation.
Howard Thurman’s poem, “Now the Work of Christmas begins” says it like this,
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to others,
And alas, to make music in the heart.
Today we unwrap the gift God has given us in being born in Bethlehem…in choosing to experience our fullest humanity for love’s sake.
But the “work of Christmas,” the gift that keeps on giving, and the one we are asked to not only unwrap today and always, but to present to others who have lost their hope and way, is about healing, feeding, releasing, rebuilding, bringing peace, and making music in the heart.
As you go forth from this place, sing the songs of joy, delight in the zeal and laughter of children playing with gifts, enjoy the time honored traditions and customs.
But don’t forget to open the gift that God has given us, and to live the story of salvation on a daily basis.
Because if you do, then the mystery and magic of the Incarnation will be made known to you, and, like a child once more, you will remember what it means to hope and to dream.
Merry Christmas to you all and God bless you always.