‘Tis the Night Before Christmas 2019

 Christmas Eve 2019

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

 

‘Tis the night before Christmas, our last one together,

although nothing ever can truly untether,

the vein that connects us through thick and through thin,

the thread that collects us forever as kin.

 

And that thread it begins with the story we share

‘bout a babe in a manger to whom each is heir.

A story so crazy, it takes every cake,

and yet all of the hope of the world is at stake.

It’s a story of angels and magi and sheep,

of shepherds and migrants who’ve nowhere to sleep,

who all witness the birth of God’s earthly excursion.

Although every gospel-ler has their own version.

Four stories, four narratives; all four are true,

although none can agree on the same point of view.

Each has a diff-er-ent story to tell,

yet when rung together they sound the same bell.

 

There is Mark and then Matthew and Luke, and then John.

And they each tell their tale, and they pass the baton.

And when each is finished relating their chapter,

it’s hard to plug in sans a holy adapter.

 

So here is an overview from high above.

Of four different texts whose shared punchline is love.

Though regarding the birth there may be some rebuke –

cause tonight’s episode belongs only to Luke.

 

Mark offers nothing, not even a sliver –

until Jesus shows up decades hence in the river,

to be baptized by John and bathed in God’s Word,

who said nothing could cause him to be less preferred.

“You are my beloved,” said God with delight,

“You are pleasing and perfect in my divine sight.”

And that’s where Mark starts, it’s the launch of his drama.

Not a word about birth. There’s no babe. There’s no mama.

For Mark’s Jesus starts on his baptism day,

“Jesus Christ Son of God,” that’s all Mark has to say.

 

Now John, he says Christmas is plainly absurd,

because in the beginning was always the Word.

The Word that creates us and feeds us and frees us,

the Word is with God and the Word it is Jesus.

Luke may well say Bethlehem was the spot,

but John would insist when the world was begot,

Jesus was there from the very beginning,

before evening or morning or serpents or sinning;

before Pluto or Venus or Snickers or Mars,

before shepherds or mangers or wise ones or stars.

 

“In the beginning was the Word,”

although this sounds a bit absurd;

It sounds, to we who have the knowledge,

facts from books, degrees from college;

We who think we know what’s what

who understand and say, yes, but

How could the Word exist before

the stars, the sun, the ocean’s floor?

Yes but, we argue valiantly.

Can Z precede A,B and C?

Is not the Word by law unsung

until creation of the tongue?

Those other Gospels Luke and Matt,

they say that Jesus was begat,

and born of flesh and blood this day

in just the usual sort of way.

Okay, except the virgin birth,

and….all those angels down to earth;

and also…. ‘cept the star that led

those wise ones to the straw-lined bed.

But John, his Gospel just insisted,

brother Jesus pre-existed!

Everything that God created,

was by Jesus activated.

 

See, says the evalg’list John,

the Word precedes creation’s dawn.

For ‘twas the very Word’s insistence,

that spoke all life into existence.

The start of this story according to John

begins back on the Eve of very first dawn.

 

And then there is Matthew, whose story insists,

on the star in the east and the wise ones with gifts,

and the Emperor Herod, intent upon killing

the child he has heard might disrupt his own billing.

A child whom he fears will make room at the inn

for each red blooded peasant who claims God as kin.

And Matthew’s account picks up after the birth

of the child who will grow to move heaven and earth.

 

But tonight…

Luke’s is the story we choose to define us

as Christians, or so we are told by St. Linus.

Who tells us a tale of tall truths, a priori,

with Mary and Joseph and Angels of glory.

And an inn with no room, and a barn with no bed,

made a manger the hub of the world’s watershed.

Where a humble boy born to an uncharted mother,

a boy both alike and unlike any other.

A child with no status, no title, no claim

to anything more than his skin and his name.

Where a child so unprivileged, he could be a girl,

was delivered in straw, and the hope of the world

was  immediat’ly present, the darkness estranged,

and the light it was on, and the rules they were changed.

 

From now on all things are pre domini or post,

this moment that God has decided to host.

A moment in time when the forces all square,

and barnyards of chaos deliver the prayer.

With the birth of that babe a new hope to earth came,

when God joined our flesh and our flaws and our shame;

and too, for the first time, our God felt the weight;

how the human condition can thus complicate,

God’s original hope for God’s blest humankind,

to whom from the start, just one job was assigned.

 

Our only charge right from the start:

was love the Word with all our heart.

The Word that’s etched upon each soul,

the spark of God that makes all whole.

It’s been there from each life’s beginning,

etched at birth, before the sinning.

 

But before long…..

We children born to bear God’s Word

began to feel ourselves preferred.

And we began to worship stuff.

And never seemed to have enough!

 

That’s when

Noah loaded up the ark

with every neigh and squawk and bark!

For making humans God regretted.

Thus, was all Creation vetted.

The flood it wiped the whole earth clear,

in hopes that we would finally hear.

The only way to get it right,

was love with all our will and might.

But even then we humans, flawed,

were not convinced to turn to God.

Not even with a flood, God thought,

did humans finally get the plot.

And too the exile proved a flop

at getting human greed to stop.

What next to do? To thus impart,

that God is etched upon each heart?

What sort of Godly CPR

will make them love with all they are?

 

And so God, having sworn no more to flood,

thought, how to teach this flesh and blood?

And then the Word began to brew

hmmmm, there’s only one thing left to do.

God thought…..

Perhaps a twist on my dictation

a brand new Word; a new Creation.

Perhaps I’ll dare to share their skin,

I’ll walk their walk, without the sin.

I’ll show them how to love the other,

offer mercy like a mother.

What it means to live with love!

No more my hoping from above.

I’ll live on earth, I’ll share their lives,

prove nothing but my love survives.

I will join their human race.

My Word will have a human face.

And so surveying all the pews,

God chose the one, none else would choose.

The one that some might say, yes but….

The one to whom all doors were shut.

A child herself, with status….none,

yet she would be the chosen one.

Some thought….

O come on God, the only word

to recommend her is: absurd!

And yet the angel came to Mary

asking would she grant to carry

God’s own flesh, the world to bless;

and lo, at once the Word was: Yes!

 

And that was the answer that God longed to hear

When God asks:

Will you bear me? Will you volunteer?

And the answer, per Mary, with little ado,

is “Yes! Here is am, all of me is for you!

 And so….

Yes! we have plenty of room at the inn!

Yes! You are welcome to bring all your kin!

Yes! We will share what we have on the table!

Yes! If you’re willing we will be able!

Yes! You are just what we’ve been waiting for!

Yes! You’re the beauty that makes our décor!

Yes! You are welcome to come as you are!

Yes! This is the place advertised by the star!

Yes! You are worthy. Yes! You’re just the kind

Of holy companion that God had in mind.

It’s not hard to change cursed to eternally blessed,

When we stop saying but and begin saying yes!

 

Remember….

It was yes that brought us here together,

We who turned out to be birds of a feather,

Way back when your prospects seemed nothing but bleak,

And I, just ordained, had no oar in my creek.

And then all of a sudden the universe called,

and all that was stuck became promptly unstalled.

All our hopes came together, our dreams on the road,

and our cup that was empty, at once overflowed.

When we joined holy forces God granted our wishes,

the kind that come true just like loaves and like fishes.

Twas the star in the east that we never saw rising,

and then there we were brand new life, how surprising!

Then there we were with our Parish school brimming,

our youth program no longer sinking, but swimming.

The pews they were filling , the garden was lush,

the labyrinth came through, and the toilets all flushed.

We greened up our heat and we raised all (almost all) the cash;

we started a food pantry; Jon ran the dash!

We worshiped with Godspell and Jazz Blest and Bach.

And we changed all our pronouns with barely a squawk.

We offered our space that was sacred and needed,

to live what we preached, and perhaps we succeeded.

Who could have imagined the gifts we’ve enjoyed,

before our joint adventure divinely deployed.

It’s hard to count up all the ways we’ve been blessed,

when we gathered our voices in one holy yes!

 

But like all good gifts soon our time it will end,

It’s the part of the process that calls us to send

the ones we have formed out to serve as alum,

Of this Body of Christ in God’s Kindom to come.

And so here we are again, to wait

To see what life God will create

Here in this place of holy friends,

Where justice lurks and mercy trends.

We think that we’re waiting for God to deliver,

But in fact all the arrows are here in our quiver.

The truth of this night, of this midnight so clear

Is that all that is needed is already here.

And yes, we are waiting on Jesus Anointed,

But God from the start said that we were appointed.

We are the ones born to care for the flock,

To Love one another – like chips off the block;

We have been wond’rously, simply designed,

So make true our moniker, be humankind.

That’s all that’s expected from heaven above,

It our whole job description. Is one word, just LOVE.

For the gift that descended this night long ago,

Is the proof that God’s status is not status quo.

 

And no doubt the story we tell of this Word,

Is crazy, outrageous, prepost’rous, absurd.

Like virgins and angels and God born in straw,

But also like beauty, and friendship, and awe.

We already believe in things truly outrageous,

Like…..

Love warms the heart, and laughter’s contagious;

And doubting is fine, if the mind remains open,

Asking hard questions, relentlessly hopi’n.

For ours is a God who will still keep the promise –

Even if we are yet doubting with Thomas.

The promise that life everlasting is coming,

Sweet justice is rising, compassion is humming.

The peace and the kindness are still ours to make,

That’s why crazy new hope comes with every daybreak.

So tonight let us rise with the star in the east,

That reminds us that those who feel last are not least.

And God’s crystal-clear voice can be so plainly heard:

Fear not cherished children, you are etched with My Word.

Merry Christmas!  Amen.

 

 

 © December 2019, The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

 

 

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