Friday, December 24, 2021
What I want for Christmas is hope
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Several people asked me “What do you want for Christmas?” The smart aleck remark is “A sermon for Christmas Eve that will touch people.” What to say this Christmas Eve in the midst of the ongoing nightmare of this past year and the current Omicron outbreak is a huge challenge. Then I thought about what I have been preaching on all Advent, hope, peace, joy and love. I ended up where I started. I started off Advent by asking you to write down your hopes for Advent and they are still hanging on the Christmas tree as you go out the door. Prayers for peace were on the top of the list. Yes, there were the prayers for the end of Covid, but I believe that is just symptom of a greater issue facing us. That is the shattered relationships and divisions that we see all over the globe. Those prayers were hopes for peace, inner peace, peace in relationships, peace on a global stage.
Peace, shalom in Hebrew has a very deep meaning. It means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, tranquility all words that are about our inner state as well as our outer state. They are also words that stand for something that is in short supply in our world today.
Into this human mess comes God. Not a wrathful vengeful God like we heard about early in Advent. No the Advent story is about the undoing of wrath. God enters our world not violently but quietly, silently. After I break the bread, we will sing verse 3 of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. “How silently, how silently, the wonderous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.” Christmas is about God meeting us on our level in ways we can all understand if we will but listen and be open to the Spirit.
That baby arrived in a world over 2000 years ago that was a mess as well. Human nature sadly doesn’t seem to change, but we can always hope. There is that word again, hope. Walter Bruggeman says that Advent and Christmas are about the preparation for the bodily intrusion of God into our world. Emmanuel, God with us here in our world, right now.
Richard Rohr has been writing about Christmas all this week. He made the point that for the first 1200 years Easter was the focus of the church year and Christmas was a minor observance. Francis was the one who began to bring the incarnation into prominence.
“St. Francis wrote, “But remember, when we speak of Advent or waiting and preparing for Christmas, we’re not simply waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened two thousand years ago. We’re forever welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history.”
This is the meaning of Christmas today. The day we celebrate the Cosmic Christ, who was and is and is to come. God is with us right now, right here and always has been.
“Franciscan sister and theologian Ilia Delio invites us to consider Advent as a time to wake up to God’s incarnate presence:
The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning arrival, “coming.”. . .
[But] if God has already come to us, what are we waiting for? If God has already become incarnate in Jesus what are we waiting for? And I think that’s a really interesting question. . . .
We’re called to awaken to what’s already in our midst. . . . I think Advent is a coming to a new consciousness of God, you know, already loving us into something new, into something more whole, that we’re not in a sense waiting for what’s not there; we’re in a sense to be attending to what’s already there.
But the other part I think is that we can think of Advent as God waiting for us to wake up! You know, as if we’re asleep in the manger, not Jesus! Jesus is alive in our midst. . . What if we’re in the manger and God is already awakened in our midst and we’re so fallen asleep, we’re so unconsciously asleep that God is sort of looking for “someone [to] get up and help bring the gifts into the world?”
Let’s awaken to what God is doing in us and what God is seeking to become in us.”1
What does this look like to awaken to what God is seeking us to become. The particulars are as individual as each person who is sitting here tonight. All Advent I have been giving you things to think about and tonight is no exception. In the coming days, what is it that God is trying to awaken in you this Christmas season?
I wonder if what really does need to awaken in us is that hope that so many expressed on the first Sunday of Advent. Hope that peace, joy and love, the other themes of Advent can be born again in our hearts and that we can take those gifts out into the world.
I have special prayers of the people tonight that I have used for Christmas every year for probably the past 12 or so years. I don’t honestly remember where I got them. Each line centers on hope and are even more profound and appropriate this year since I believe hope is what we need to awaken. Each petition is answered by you saying “Lord, we see the hope.” But we only see the hope if we look for the hope.
Jesus came into a world without a lot of hope. Jesus came and lived with people who had very little; little money, little food and most of all little power to change the world. Living in a backwater of the Roman empire, subjects of a brutal Roman government many effectively slaves. Yet this is the world God chose to enter in. The disciples responded and look at what they did in spreading the gospel. If a group of fishermen, tax collectors and other marginal people brought a huge change to the world, think what we could do if we can just awaken hope in our lives.
Emmanuel, God with us. The Cosmic Christ has always been with us, is with us now and will be with us forever. Christmas is the chance to remember that presence. And to be honest the hope that we have in the presence of Jesus in our lives is the best present that we can get on this or any Christmas.