Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Miracle You and I and Jesus are Here!

Christmas Sermon
Gospel of Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2009 At Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas

Scripture from Luke 2:1-20:  In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 1This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Prayer: Place on my lips the word of salvation, in my heart a love that welcomes all, and in the depths of my being, the light of faith and hope, which the darkness can never overcome. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some thoughts:
It is a miracle you and I are here reading this blog.

According to biologists, and reported by the author Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is a miracle you and I are here at all. It is possible that if your two parents had not bonded just when they did, possibly at that very second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here. And if their parents had not done so in the same timely manner you wouldn’t be here either. Likewise this is true for their parents, and their parents before them, and so on and so on.

These ancestral particularities add up. Trace your lineage to the time of Abraham Lincoln and you have 250 of these unique and time sensitive parings. Go back to the time of Shakespeare and you have no less than 16,384 ancestors exchanging genetic material in a way that would eventually and miraculously result in you.

At 20 generations each of you has 1 million, 48 thousand, and 576 unique parings. At 25 generations you and I have no fewer than 33 million 554 thousand 432 men and women upon whose “devoted couplings our existence depends.”

At 30 generations (remember these are moms and dads only) you are at 1 billion, 73 million, 741 thousand, and 824.

At 64 generations, roughly the time of Jesus, our eventual existence depends upon no less than 10 to the 18th or 1 quintillion. If you trace this back to the time of King David you can more than double the number of unique, timely, miraculous couplings that have taken place to make you and I – quite particularly – us.

Surely by now you have figured out that surely something has gone wrong with my math. As a graduate with a degree in Studio Arts, this would be a good guess. Remember though this is Bryson’s math, based upon biological research. And you would be partly correct if you were led to this decision by the realization that there haven’t even been that many people in existence on the earth. However, the biology and math are pretty accurate. What we see in this example is that, while unique and dependant upon precise time and exact exchanges of DNA – we are also all, quite literally – family.

And so it is tonight that we gather as family to celebrate what is a very unique birth, the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to Mary and Joseph.

In our Gospel Luke is eager to provide the story of that unique and particular birth, in an orderly account not shy of giving names, dates, and places of our Savior’s birth.
Jesus as our Messiah and Savior is born into a royal but all too impoverished family of the House of David -- to Mary and Joseph.

Arriving in Bethlehem, the site from which the Messiah is to be born, Mary gives birth to Jesus. We are told she gives birth in the middle of an outdoor or open air place where travelers gather and animals are fed.

At the end of his life, Jesus will be wrapped in linen, tonight he is swaddled in bands of cloth.

He will have no place to be laid to rest; tonight there is no room in the inn.

He will be laid in a tomb, tonight he is laid, the bread of life, in a manger where animals feed.

His parents are literally homeless, and for family are surrounded by shepherds – the first ones to hear God’s Good news. The lowliest laborers come to the poorest of places, to worship and impoverished king.

To those whom no good news is ever given, receive the very first tidings by God’s angel, accompanied no less by a legion of angels singing: Glory to God.

The shepherds received a prophecy telling them how, where, and in what state they will find their Savior, their Davidic King, their brother, their hope and their life.

So it is that they are the first in our human family, unique in and of themselves, to come and worship Jesus, telling Mary all that had happened and why they were there, which she had wondered about…

The shepherds as a response to the unique birth, the glad tidings, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy family leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen and had been told to them.

Children are always gifts to us, and Jesus Christ is a true, special, and unique gift to the human family, and to our spiritual family.

We, you and I. are like the shepherds in this story; perhaps not in the outdoor agricultural kind of way – but in the fact that we are hopeful members of Christ’s family. Uniquely us and particularly us, we are given the opportunity to make a worshipful response to Christ’s birth tonight, again for the first time, but we are also given the opportunity to leave this place glorifying and praising God.

We are given the opportunity to place the words of salvation on our lips for others to hear.

We are given the opportunity to feel in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ that welcomes all people.

We are given the opportunity to embrace a light that enlightens our souls with faith and hope – which darkness may not overcome.

So it is that we wish one another Merry Christmas tonight – out of hope, love, faith, and the promise of peace which comes from unity. Tonight no one is a stranger, all are brother, sister, mother, and father. Tonight we walk into the darkness together lighting the world with the light of a newborn child – Jesus Christ: Mary’s Son of God, the shepherd’s Savior, the angel’s Messiah, and our impoverished and humble King.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball