Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Unqualified love" - A Christmas sermon by the Rev. Dr. John Kilgore

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Christmas Morning, 2013

In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

Merry Christmas! A Blessed Christmas to you! A Blessed Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as it is also called. In our Church Calendar we have holy days celebrating and commemorating various events in our religious heritage. They are not all the actual anniversary of the event itself, but rather, an occasion to remember, to commemorate, to memorialize an event or a person. And we all do it a bit differently. Calendars are a bit arbitrary. For example, in the United States, one’s birthday is a major personal celebration and when friends call and send greetings and good wishes. But in Italy, the day of one’s birth is not celebrated thus. Rather, the ‘Name Day’ is the day celebrated. If a girl’s name is Catherine her annual celebration will be on St. Catherine’s Day rather than the day of her actual birth; Or a boy named Stephen would be on St. Stephen’s Day (coming up) rather than the actual day of his birth.

Whether in the secular calendar or in our religious calendar holy days or ‘feast days’ or ‘memorial days’ are actually our human attempt to put some reminder, some remembrance, some ‘honoring’ of special events into our calendar. Into our collective wisdom. They may or may not correspond to the actual event. Christmas, the Nativity likely didn't occur at this time. But today is our day to memorialize the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Or Christmas Day.

And along with the calendar we have appointed readings that go with each day. There are three readings for Christmas, one of them being appointed for Christmas Day. And the readings for today are actually bit curious. They don’t really sound very Christmas-y. Do they? And that, I think, is for a reason. Last night was Christmas Eve. The big service. Actually services. Several of them. And at Midnight Mass the place was packed. A full service with full choir, many hymns, the Bishop here, and all the faithful, whether they are used to coming to church or not. A really big service, beautiful and glorious. The lessons were readings of the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary and angels and shepherds. And a miraculous birth. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a great service. But I think that today actually eclipses Midnight Mass. This is my favorite service of the year.

It is still Christmas, or the Feast of the Nativity. The Cathedral is beautifully decorated. We have Christmas music. And people are here because they want to be. For whatever reason. People are here quietly on Christmas morning. And there is a blessing in that. For this morning there is time to sit quietly and contemplate, to enjoy, to savor, the message of Christmas.

And therefore the readings are not the obvious retelling of the Christmas story. But rather a ‘backed up’ view. A story from a higher perspective. If you put it in theater parlance you might even go so far as to say that the intellectually curious Believers are here today! This morning. Last night was the show. The musical extravaganza. This today is the serious one act play.

In the beginning was the Word…..and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

In the beginning. Today is the day to quietly reflect on, and to put the Feast of the Nativity in perspective. Think about it. There is a long history of God interacting with humankind. Think of the creation story with God creating the heavens and the earth, making the dry land and bounding the seas, making all living creatures, and the first humans. Remember God’s interaction with Moses, leading the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. The Ten Commandments. Noah and the Flood. The test of Abraham with Isaac. God wrestling with Jacob. Destroying the Tower of Babel. Joshua leading across the River Jordan. Samuel and King David and Jonathan. Elijah and Elisha. And the prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. There is a long history of God interacting with God’s people. God trying to get our attention. Trying to get us to stand up and take notice and ‘behave.’ God must shake His Head and say, ‘Why don’t they get it? I gave them free will, but why don’t they get it?’

And then, in this long history of God interacting with God’s People, God does something absolutely amazing. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became Man and in so doing Man's relationship with God was dramatically altered.

And this Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, teaches us lessons of tolerance and forgiveness and non judging and unqualified love in ways we never knew before. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger (including the person dressed as in middle eastern garb reading the Quran on our airplane), give to the poor (including the eighth person in a row on a street corner with a hand out), comfort the bereaved (including the thousands decimated by the catastrophic storm of the week), feed the hungry (yes, also the one who is perhaps hungry not out of situation but out of intent). And we don’t do all of that! And Jesus, now God become human, knows how human we are and lets us get away with it.

For we are still loved, regardless of what we have or have not done; regardless of the need, to which we have or have not responded; regardless of our insensitivity. We are still loved. And that is the message of this Feast of the Nativity. And the message we have time to contemplate this quiet Christmas Morning.

It is the message of unqualified love.

There is a story of two brothers who worked together on the family farm. One was married and had a large family. The other was single. At the day’s end, the brothers shared everything equally, produce and profit. Then one day the single bother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share equally the produce and the profit. I’m alone and my needs are simple.” So each night he took a sack of grain from his bin and crept across the field between their houses, dumping it into his brother’s bin. Meanwhile, the married brother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share the produce and the profit equally. After all, I’m married and I have my wife and my children to look after me for years to come. My brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.” So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it into his single brother’s bin. Both men were puzzled for years because their supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other. Slowly it dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.

God gave us Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh and lived among us. What do we give God back?

Today, the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day, is our day to quietly contemplate this message of unqualified love. And to give thanks for it. The Word became flesh and lived among us! And for that we say thanks be to God and Alleluia.


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