Where the Light Enters

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Where the Light Enters

Philip A. Amerson                                              Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:15-20

December 24, 2018                                             Christmas Eve 8:00 and 10:45 PM  

Welcome:

Beloved in Christ – we gather again on this evening to tell of the loving purposes of God and the glorious redemption possible for the world through Jesus Christ.  We gather to affirm our commitment to peace and good will across the earth, within and among our various denominations and faith traditions and within this great city and nation.   We remember those at the margins tonight: the poor, helpless, sick, cold, depressed, lonely and unloved; and those who know not God.  Before God, we join all who tonight celebrate the word made flesh – who through the Lord Jesus has shown us the way of peace and has called us to be one family.

Sermon: Where the Light Enters

Introduction:

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

(From Anthem by Leonard Cohen.  See also The Soul’s Journey, Alan Jones, p. 219)

Prayer: O Christ of Christmas, lite our way that we may see your pathways of hope.  Amen.

At 7:00 AM this morning, Elaine and I listened to the broadcast on BBC of Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge.  You might say it is our annual nostalgia bath… when revel to hear remarkable choirs and the retelling of the story of Jesus’ birth. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering what does this story call upon me to do differently in the year to come? 

This evening you heard our own Bradley Ladrido singing the first verse – Once in royal David’s city, Wasn’t it lovely?  And what about you?  Are you called to anything different in the year stretching before you?

My guess is that some of you have come to one of the Christmas Eve services in this place for years, right?  Perhaps decades?   Or, perhaps this is the first time you have come to this place on the night before Christmas.  Whichever it is, WELCOME.  We receive anew the light of Christ, a light we so often fail to see.  What does this call upon us to do?

Dorothy Day said: “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live to the end of the world have been born too late.  Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.” (Day, Dorothy, “Room for Christ” in Watch for the Light, Walden Publishing, New York, p. 176.)

2018 is a year of anniversaries:

  • Lessons and Carols from King’s College celebrate its 100th anniversary today.
  • It was 200 years ago Silent Night (Stille Nacht) was first sung in the St. Nicolas Church in Oberndorf Austria.
  • Our congregation FUMC is on the eve of celebrating our 150th anniversary in San Diego—next year is the year.
  • But there is one other anniversary we mark. [Show Slide of “Earthrise”].  

Fifty years ago, on Christmas Eve, William Anders, James Lovell and Frank Borman, the crew of Apollo 8, were orbiting the moon.  The first humans to do this, they broke into the evening news. Anders began: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send.”  And he began to read: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… And God said, Let there be light: and there was lightLovell and Borman continued the reading ending with “and God saw that it was good.”  The Frank Borman closed: “And from the crew of Apollo 8… good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”  [Woods, David; O’Brien, Frank (December 27, 2008). Day 4: Lunar Orbits 7,8,and 9”. The Apollo 8 Flight Journal. NASA History Division.]

apollo8Later the crew sent a photo back to earth.  It was unscheduled, unplanned.  Yet, when they saw it, they knew it needed to be shared.  This iconic image, called earth rise, shows the glory and fragility of our planet.  The blue marble brims with life – a dot of beauty against darkness all around.

What does Christmas Eve mean to you in 2018?  What new traditions might you begin this year?  What questions emerge about our care for God’s creation, about how we can learn to live together on this precious galactic real estate?  How will we answer the ancient questions like: who is my neighbor?  [END SLIDE]

Some of us bring a brokenness of body or spirit tonight, some of us are ready to spread our blankets by the pools of narcissism so prevalent in our society, some of us bring doubt, some come with renewed hope and join the poet John Keats in saying: “There is a budding morrow in every midnight.”

Whatever your state of belief or attitude, you are welcome here – it is a time to begin again.  Time to recommit to following the one who first entered our world as an infant in Bethlehem.  Don’t be afraid – Jim Wallis points out that this is the most frequently spoken command in scriptures.  It appears 365 times – once for every day in the year to come.  How will you change in the year ahead – what new traditions will you begin?  What repentance will you make?  In the comic strip Broom Hilda she asks her friend Irwin about how to make a better world. “Start with yourself! He says… give up your bad habits.  Then… you’ll stand as a shining example to others!”  Broom Hilda thinks and responds, “O.K.  What’s the second best way?”

We all face changes, even as we hold to our traditions.  The world is changing, the church is changing.  My beloved tradition of Lessons and Carols is a part of a European encapsulated expression of the faith.  It is good.  However, the years ahead will require new expressions, new anniversaries, new ways of being church.  The growth of the church with people from the cultures from of Asia, Africa and Latin America.  How will we welcome them and learn from them?                                      

St. John’s Church in Edinburgh Scotland stands near the downtown rail station.  For decades it has been under construction.  On the scaffolding are two signs: One says: “Caution, Under Construction” and on the other are the words: “Business as Usual: Peace and Justice Center.”

We love our traditions – and well we should.  Even so, like us, are always under construction.  We celebrate our anniversaries, even so, the world is changing.  God’s purposes are seeking places where new light will shine through the cracks of what has been already present to illuminate the ongoing work of seeking peace on earth and good will among all.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.  For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9)

 Amen.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.                         God Bless Us, Every One!

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Howard Thurman:

I Will Light Candles This Christmas
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)
9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.  9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.  9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 9:5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.  9:6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 9:7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

All in the Family

All in the Family:

[A sermon for the fourth Sunday of Advent, 2018]

Philip A Amerson                                                                               December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent                                                                 Micah 5:1-5b, Luke 1:39-49

First United Methodist Church                                                        San Diego, California

Poem: On the Mystery of the Incarnation by Denise Levertov

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Introduction:

Genesis 4:9: הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחׅי אָנׄכִי   (English pronunciation: ha•sho•mer a•csi a•no•csi?)

This is a most ancient and challenging question for all humankind.  It is recorded in Genesis the 4th chapter, 9th verse.  ha•sho•mer a•csi a•no•csi?

My pronunciation, no doubt, has bruised the Hebrew.  I hope I have done no permanent damage!  It is a question that waits for our answer.  This Advent, in this nation, in our world, in San Diego, here is our question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” When asked the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain hurls the words back into God’s face.

In counterpoise, in Luke’s Gospel, we have the exchange between two women – Mary and Elizabeth.  Each is pregnant with the answer.  Each is carrying God’s incarnational response to Cain.  They are carrying an answer to the sinful, endemic, selfish proclivities in our human condition.

Mary and Elizabeth are kinfolk – two women, one older, the respectable wife of the priest.  The other, her cousin is a young, unmarried girl from the back waters of Galilee. Neither Mary or Elizabeth fit my picture the way I would tell the Christmas story.  In the face of social disapproval, they sing beautiful songs.

Walt Wangarin writes of this story:  “Mary, when she heard the news, ran south to a particular province named Judea, to a particular hill and on that hill, to one particular house and particular woman in that house to her friend, her cousin, Elizabeth.  “Elizabeth, hello.”  Just as the angel had greeted Mary, Mary greeted Elizabeth and Elizabeth began immediately to laugh. 

And just as the angel had sung a celestial song for her, Mary sang a song for Elizabeth.  “My soul,” sang Mary. “Oh cousin, my soul does magnify the Lord.  My spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour.  He is keeping his promise to us.  Elizabeth, I’m going to have a baby!” 

So then, in the middle of a gloomy world there were two women, (singing and) laughing.  They laughed until they couldn’t laugh anymore and then they began to weep for gladness and God looked down from heaven and saw them and God laughed.  (From Wangerin, Walter, The Manger is Empty.)

Biblical Scholar Raymond Brown points out the birth narratives in Luke’s Gospel contain three of the most famous hymns of Christianity beginning with Mary’s Magnificat  – “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices.”  Then, the Nunc Dimitis, the hymn Simeon, Elizabeth’s husband sings and then the hymn of the angels — Gloria, in Excelsis Deo.  In fact, the entire gospel of Luke continues, full of ballads – told and sung.

I encourage you to read Mary’s song in the first chapter of Luke, this Christmas.  She sings of a world turned upside down – where the human family is rewoven into a kinship network where the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are filled with good things.  Mary’s song arises from the Biblical call for a time of Jubilee.  Her song is a little introduction to the Beatitudes, the blessings, her son would teach in a few years. Here is our introduction to Christmas – Cain’s question is answered by with the joy and prophecy of Elizabeth and Mary.

We have heard Bob Wilson’s experience this morning. The surprising realization that when one seeks to bless the stranger – it is the giver who is also blessed. I have known others, like Bob.  There are many in this church, do you know the story of Gary and Myrna Cox and their befriending a homeless man?  It’s told in a little book Gary wrote.

Or, I could tell you of Alberta Dink the violin teacher in her late seventies who decided to teach violin to inner city children.  At her funeral a dozen years later over 60 children stood in the chancel of her church and played in her honor – one of those young man was by then in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  Or, there was Francis Neighbors who lived on a modest income but saw that every child in her congregation received a birthday card each year with a few dollars tucked in to help celebrate.

Christmas is a time for rethinking what we mean by family.  There was a little-known phenomenon in many communities in this nation of parents who lost a son on active duty in Vietnam.  I knew such a family.  Their son was always bringing someone home for dinner.  These parents decided the best way to honor him after his death was to frequently welcome a stranger to their table.

Let me close with a recent story of women: Tanuel Major and Grace Imathiu.  The Rev. Grace Imathiu is the pastor of our sister congregation in Evanston, Illinois.  On November 19th she received word that a woman, simply identified as “homeless,” was found bludgeoned to death on the church’s doorstep, the outside alcove.  Can you imagine?  What would we do?

Tanuel Major, 49 years old, had bedded down for the night next to the doorway when she was murdered.  The shocked congregation sought to find their way after this tragedy.  Pastor Grace, one of the fine preachers in Methodism, was born in Kenya and now pastor of this historic church faced the question, What to do?  Unsure, she said, “Violence crossed the line and showed up in church.”  “We are here because Tanuel Major was homeless… We are here because homelessness is an affront to human dignity… an affront to God… We are here because Tanuel’s story has been woven into our story. We are here because stories wake us up and give us clarity.”  She was asking how to join in the song of Mary in this situation?

The congregation organized a memorial service and other actions.  It wasn’t too late. They sought to “adopt” themselves into Tanuel’s family.  Persons from the congregation – trustees, food ministry, educators and more — were involved.  Tanuel’s sister came from a distance to one worship service.  She spoke, “Tanuel was a person – not a homeless person, she was a person.” Afterward, Pastor Grace asked who would sit with the sister, a visitor, more than twenty people left their normal pew perches and joined her. They placed Tanuel’s ashes in the church’s columbarium.  Imathiu said. “What does this say about God and what does this say about us who are disciples of Jesus? We’re taking it from a very different perspective. This is challenging us to … open our doors even wider, and to be even more connected and involved with the community of people that are either homeless or face violence.”  (Sources: Jonah Meadows, Patch, 11/20/18 and Kristina Karisch, The Daily Northwestern, 11/25/18)

This is a season when we consider who is in our family, and who is left out – this is a time when folks travel for miles to be with those they love.  The middle class and upper middle-class folks in Evanston discovered they had been overlooking family members.  These were family members God’s son Jesus was always welcoming to his table.

How far from our front door are unseen members of our family?  Well, it’s 590 miles from San Diego to Paradise, California.  It’s 2,084 miles from San Diego to Evanston and it’s 17 miles to Tijuana.  And, there are some, we call the “homeless,” who live up the hill, a few hundred yards above us.  Saint Paul’s answer to Cain’s question is summarized in Romans 7:14, “No one lives to himself.”

Who would believe a pregnant teenager about to give birth, out of wedlock, would bring to the world the Messiah?  She heard the word of God and responded – with song and laughter.  She gave birth to Jesus, the rebuilder of the human family.

Rachel Farbiarz is an artist, attorney and scholar of Hebrew scriptures. In a commentary on Genesis 4:9.  She writes: “The ‘neighbors’ for whom you must care are not only the people around you, but the entirety of this large, unruly human family from which you are a lucky, and burdened, descendent. Each member of this family is your ‘brother.’ And none, therefore, are you free to abandon.”…We are simply not at liberty to allow the gulfs created by national, cultural, linguistic, religious, or racial differences to separate us.  Instead, we must step up to this haunting question whenever it is asked and answer resolutely: “I am my brother’s keeper.”  (Becoming Every Brother’s Keeper: All Humanity Descended from One Family, By Rachel Farbiarz, in My Jewish Learning)

AMEN.

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Micah 5:2-5a
5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  5:3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;  5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit  1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,  1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

pdf copy of All in the Family 12-23-18