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Wednesday 25 December 2019: Christmas Day

God is with us!

Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-4



By Sergius Halvorsen

Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric, Director, Doctor of Ministry Program, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Context: a small parish in rural Connecticut, comprising both people with family backgrounds from Orthodox countries and converts from mainly protestant denominations.

Aim: crafted from a place of weakness, and questioning; and grasping for some way to understand how God is alive and present in this world, this aims to speak especially to those struggling in their faith

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

On this holy day of Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims to us the Word of the Lord,

‘Break forth together into singing,

you waste places of Jerusalem;

for the LORD has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.’

Have you ever been to a waste place?

A neighbourhood fallen on hard times, with broken sidewalks, burned out homes, refuse littering the streets.

Dark, empty factories, broken windows, crumbling brickwork and faded signs.

Waste places are frightening, and sad, and desperate, because they used to be places of life, and hope and expectation.

And now they are not.

But waste places are not only in the cities, they are also within us, our hearts, our lives, our families, our communities.

Relationships, vocations, careers, once so promising, so vibrant, so full of life and hope,

But now so different.

Maybe the change came suddenly, like a devastating flood, or maybe things changed slowly like a killing drought.

Waste places are everywhere.

So, when I hear the Word of the Lord speak of singing, and comfort and redemption,

I wonder, ‘How, Lord? How have you done this? Where is the redemption? On this Christmas day, where is the comfort, the hope and the healing that we so desperately need?’

You know, sometimes on Christmas, we can kind of fool ourselves into thinking that everything is OK.

A few presents, a nice meal, some baked goodies, a few drinks, and time with friends … if everything works out just right, I can believe, for a few moments, that everything is OK.

And sometimes it works … but sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes the holidays leave folks in a dark place.

From these dark waste places, we cry out, ‘How, Lord? How are you redeeming the city of my life? How are you comforting me?’

Has God failed to act? Has God forgotten his people?

Or … is it possible that I’m just looking for the wrong signs?

On that silent night in Bethlehem,

Did God redeem the waste places like a successful politician?

Did God initiate the ultimate revitalization project bringing peace, prosperity and pleasure to everyone?

I don’t think so.

The word of God took on flesh and was born a little child: fully God and fully man.

And yes, the wise men from the East brought royal gifts, but that didn’t allow Mary and Joseph to move into the luxury suite in the Bethlehem Hilton.

And when Herod lost his mind and sought to kill the child, Mary and Joseph didn’t book first class tickets to a neutral country where they could weather the storm in luxury.

No, they fled into Egypt as humble, poor, people … refugees of a deadly political crisis.

Where is the redemption? Where is the comfort?

It’s not the comfort and redemption of this world.

But what Joseph and Mary did have, and what we have today, is the gift of one another.

As Jesus said, when you love one of the least of these my brethren, you love me.

Joseph and Mary had next to nothing in worldly terms,

but by caring for one another, by risking everything to care for this tiny helpless infant,

they allowed the Word of God to become a human being, and they possessed God’s love in abundance.

God’s love is like electricity, the power resides in its motion, in moving from one place to another.

An electrical outlet sits quietly in the wall, doing absolutely nothing, until something is plugged in, and a switch is thrown.

Then energy courses through the system, lights come alive, motors spin, work is accomplished.

In the same way, we experience God’s love as we allow it to flow through us to other people.

As Joseph sacrificially cared for Mary and for the infant Jesus, God’s love flowed through him.

As Mary said yes to God’s will, giving birth to Jesus, caring for him, accompanying him through his earthly ministry,

And ultimately allowing her heart to be pierced with sorrow when she faithfully stood at the foot of the Cross,

God’s love flowed through her and continues to flow through her.

On this Christmas day we give thanks to God for the gift of His Son, for the gift of divine love and for the gift of one another.

Loving one another, especially those who are hard to love—the angry, the bitter, the unlovable—we are increasingly filled with God’s love,

and in that sacrificial love, we encounter Christ in the neighbour.

Sharing God’s love begins with the people closest to us, husbands, wives, children, neighbours, classmates, colleagues.

But this Christmas gift cannot stay in the tight confines of our usual circles.

Inspired, transformed and emboldened, today we bring God’s love to the marginalized, the orphans, the widows, the inhabitants of the waste places.

Loving, caring for, and serving others, we encounter Christ in the neighbour, and we cry out, ‘God is with us!’

Today, filled with God’s love, we break forth into singing for the Lord has comforted his people, and redeemed His Holy City.

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