Bible Centered, Gospel Focused, Liturgical and Sacramental Worship in Loveland, Colorado

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 4:5).

December 25 2021

CHRISTMAS DAY


By The Rev. Bill Easterling

For much, if not most, of Western society, the celebration of Christmas will be over tomorrow if not today. For the past few weeks and months, the secular world has glutted itself on Christmas carols, Christmas cards and decorations, and perhaps a few Christmas parties. As early as tomorrow, I expect to see most Christmas trees down and ready to be disposed of and probably in the next few days most Christmas decorations will be gone as well. Christian, and more specifically, Anglican Christmases are different, hopefully. We should know that Christmas begins rather than ends today. It lasts for 12 days and it celebrates the light of Jesus Christ in a world that is in many ways still in darkness. Our Christmas seeks to discover the gift that is God made flesh, rather than being disappointed that nobody came through with the perfect gift, the one for which so many hints were dropped. Our Christmas is the beginning of joy, not the end of it!

The reading from Isaiah at the Christmas Eve Mass last night gives us reasons for joy and celebration…we heard about the rod of oppression being broken, releasing Israel from bondage, as well as the destruction of battle gear. We also heard about the birth of a child given to us…one who is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This announced birth was and is a sign of hope and the ancient promise of a Son of David on the throne was reaffirmed. The main message from Isaiah is that this birth and its celebration is a sign of hope. According to Isaiah, God’s will for justice, for righteousness, and for peace is made flesh in the weakest of human creatures – a tiny baby.

Then in the Gospel for this morning, Luke describes the visit of the shepherds to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. For Luke, the birth of the Messiah is momentous and he invites us into a world alive with wonder from the start: a barren couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, conceives, a virgin gives birth, and angels convey astounding news to a group of shepherds.

Keep in mind that shepherds were considered among the lowest in the social order of first century Palestine and were often thought of as thieves and liars. Their nomadic lifestyle prevented them from observing the Law, thus they were considered ritually unclean. The angel told them they could find their Savior, the Messiah, lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

Now, wait a minute. Something is not quite right! The Messiah, our Savior, lying in a manger! In Bethlehem! The Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace is lying in a manger in Bethlehem; not in Rome or even Jerusalem, but in an obscure village of Judea. The birth did not happen in a palace or with the aid of Royal physicians and without even the help of a midwife. The only people who seemed to take notice were a few obscure shepherds who were looked on with disdain and suspicion by respectable society.

What does this tell us about Jesus Christ? What is He really like and might we encounter him? Where would we look for him today and would we discover Him in unlikely places? I think we can look for Him anywhere and expect to find Him in places we least expect.

A few years ago, probably closer to 12, I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a meeting. While there I had a very interesting experience. One afternoon I was with a group of priests, deacons, and laypeople walking to a restaurant in downtown Charleston. As we got closer to the restaurant, I was approached by a middle-aged woman who asked me for money to buy some food. There was something about this woman and I did give her some money for food. Now, none of this was unusual, but the feelings I experienced were. The feelings were troubling, yet undefined and they stayed with me until I returned to Nashotah House and got back into my daily routine. Then, one morning in Chapel, one of our professors preached a sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, where Jesus was described as a glutton and drunkard because He ate with tax collectors and sinners. As I listened to the sermon those feelings began to flood back to me and I thought about that hungry woman in Charleston again. After chapel, I went back to my office and read again that morning’s Gospel, especially that verse about Jesus being called a glutton and drunkard. I finally began to come to grips with what had bothered me so much in Charleston. Many times we seek to do the will of God and think we are doing so, but we don’t quite make it…we miss the mark. Sometimes we need to take it a step further, to pick it up a notch or two. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty…to become friends with tax collectors and sinners and a hungry street woman in Charleston, to eat and drink with them…to bring them to Christ…and, if need be, to be called a glutton and drunkard.

That day in Charleston, instead of giving that woman money, I should have taken her to a cafe and bought her something to eat, because in doing so, I would have given her so much more than just food. I would have been able to give back to her something she had lost long ago…just a little of her dignity and self-respect. And if this is what getting our hands dirty means, then so be it. Because as we do this, we are doing the will of God. I have never forgotten that experience and probably never will. Every time I am approached by someone asking for money, I will think of that woman and how it impacted my life.

I am not saying that we should give money to everyone who asks for it. I realize many of these people are addicts who will take the money and buy more drugs or alcohol; I also know many are running scams. But I don’t think that Jesus would ignore them and pass them by. I don’t give them all money, but I do try to at least communicate with them. I touch them, look at them, and just talk to them like they are human beings, children of God. For most of them, this may be the first time in days, weeks, or months that anyone has spoken to them, much less touched them, shook their hand, or just put a hand on their shoulder. I think that is the least Jesus would do and we should try and do the same.

Just as Jesus began His life in simplicity and lowliness, so it was with simple people and in simple places that He did most of his ministry. His friends were of the fishing village of Capernaum and the homes He knew were the little homes of ordinary people. He dealt with ordinary people in ordinary occupations and His teaching parables were drawn from His observation of their everyday work; of their trials and tribulations and their joy and happiness. He always made the people know that what really mattered was not what they possessed, but what was in their hearts and souls.

Throughout the entire ministry of Jesus, there is one inescapable consistency… He is always with us, with all of us, even in the strangest places… even in Charleston, SC. Jesus came to us humbly in Bethlehem as flesh and blood, and now He comes to us at our altars in the Consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Just as we receive Our Lord and Savior in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, we can discover Him anywhere. The Lord’s Eucharistic Presence is not an isolated event, rather the clue as to how all creation is to be seen. We need not travel to Bethlehem to discover Jesus. He is in our cities, our towns, and in our villages; wherever there is a human need and an opportunity for service, there Jesus Christ is. His Presence may go unnoticed by those who seek God only in the Romes and Jerusalems of the world, but His Presence is known to all who understand what Bethlehem is all about. Nor is Christ only to be found at Christmas! He is always available and within our reach at all times and seasons for all who call upon Him.

And so today, as we come to ask God for a new way of seeing, may we always be able to recognize the humility of Jesus as seen in His sacrificial offering on the cross. May we be able to recognize the humble presence of our Lord whenever we encounter suffering, pain, loneliness, and despair in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And may we always remember that the true gifts of Christmas are not the brightly decorated packages under the tree, but the ability to discover the Divine Presence in our lives and the willingness to offer ourselves to those in need. Because when we possess the gift of seeing Jesus Christ in others and serving them in His Name, it is then and only then that the true meaning of Christmas will be upon us.

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