First Parish Dorchester, December 24, 2017, Rev. Tricia Brennan
We know the story of the first Christmas well, don’t we?
Some of us have heard it for 40 years, 50 years,
for 60 years, for 70 years, for 80 years.
Some are newer to the story- 5 year, 8 years, 10 years.
At least one amongst us today is hearing
the story for the first time.
But for most all of us, it is familiar.
This babe in the manger, surrounded by parents
and friendly warm animals, and visited
by all sorts of people from near and far,
who come with messages of glory and gifts for the child.
In my life different characters
in the story take center stage each year.
One year it was the quiet steadiness of Joseph
who inspired me with his willingness to step into
his role of father and partner,
not quite sure what he’s got himself into,
but showing up nonetheless,
getting the donkey for his pregnant girlfriend to ride,
finding a place for Mary to rest,
helping deliver his son, suddenly doula and doctor both-
lordy what a terrifying, glorious time that must have been!
Another year, a long time ago,
perhaps when I was in college and heading home to be with my family, I thought about this story and it was the presence
of the warm safe animals that caught my attention,
and I realized- and this may sound strange-
but I realized how much one of my brothers, my brother Stephen,
was like the strong quiet ox-
not much for words, but reliably warm, helpful and kind.
Perhaps you know someone like him too, like a kind ox,
or perhaps you are one who comforts others with your quiet goodness. And then of course there is Mary,
she who grows the babe within her,
and brings forth this new life who changes the world,
and how she embodies the divine feminine
and how she is like any woman who labors for life.
This year, Christmas 2017, it is the shepherds
who I want to place center stage.
This collection of unnamed night workers,
“keeping watch over their flock”.
Just a bunch of fellas doing their job,
trying to get by, staying warm perhaps by a fire,
perhaps by running after the unruly sheep,
the comradery found in the joking and friendships.
The story says they were “filled with fear”
when the Angel appeared, and of course they would be.
Who isn’t be scared when strange things happen in the night?
The thing is- they managed to keep their wits about them enough
to hear the message of good news,
the tidings of great joy for all people, all people.
And maybe because they were a group, already a community of sorts,
and found courage in their togetherness,
they stayed with that message, they didn’t dismiss or ignore it.
They let it sink in,
they let the angels’ words of liberation have their way with them.
And then- (and this is why they made it into the story-
the story they helped create), then they acted,
they got up and moved and sought out
that which was calling to them
with a mysterious message
hard to hear or understand,
but somewhere in the midst of the confusion of the sheep and dogs and angels they heard of the hope
that they so longed for themselves and their families and their world
and they moved toward that hope.
They moved toward that hope.
Arriving at the stable, somehow finding the obscure place,
they entered, we can imagine
them removed their woolen caps
as they came close to the baby Jesus.
The gift they brought that night
was not gold, or frankincense or myrrh,
not each even lamb chops-
their gift was a message–
and after what they’d been through that night already
probably was something like-
“You know this baby is a pretty big deal,
and he’s gonna do great things” – and they were right.
They carried the good news forward, and that is essential-
for if good news isn’t shared, it withers and dies.
And you know, sometimes, we need to be told
that we are glorious, and we can shine,
and that our light and goodness can change the world.
And that was what those shepherds did that night,
and that is why they are heroes.
Ordinary heroes, like you and me, trying to find our way in life.
They heard a message of hope,
they let the message take them to some place
they had never been before,
and they shared the glimmer of truth
that was filling them up with courage and joy.
We can do that, we can do that too, in our lives.
I don’t need to tell you that this message needs to shared.
I don’t need to tell you because some of you work in high schools
where undocumented young people
who once were students are now detained.
And I don’t need to tell because the congregation
worships steps away from where
Boston’s 54th homicide victim died Tuesday night.
Rest in peace, Phillip Hemmings, and rest in peace
every blessed soul who has died through violence.
I don’t need to tell you because you know well
the sorrows and the holy struggle,
the grief and the shining glory,
the pain and the stubborn love found in this world we live.
You know the ugliness and you know the beauty
and it is to its beauty and goodness we turn to,
and move towards, and embody, and share.
Like the shepherds. Like Jesus.
Like every ordinary hero or heroine we know.
There is a power in this story, yes,
and some of it comes from our familiarity with it,
the memories we form by telling the story
in our churches and our families,
and delight we have in singing the carols that tell the story too.
All the feels, all are good, and I think God takes delight in our delight.
But the deepest power found in this old story comes
when we take its message of hope and liberation
and bring it to life in each of our lives, in our unique ways,
at this moment in time in our world.
And make no mistake it is a fierce love
that lies at the heart of this story.
That little baby grew up to be someone who had a lot of fun,
had a lot of friends, ate a lot of food,
and who didn’t mess around
when it came to speaking and living the truth.
And Jesus’ truth was and is that everyone matters,
all are worthy, and we can create a world
where there is enough for all.
And if we listen to that message and live that truth,
and share the good news of love and liberation
a mighty power shall be unleashed in our lives and our world.
Christmas peace to you.