Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—Feast of St. Stephen/Sunday within the Octave of Christmas

St. Andrew’s Old Roman Catholic Church
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave., Toronto
11:00 a.m.

Galatians 4: 1 – 7

Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father.“ Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Matthew 1: 18 – 25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. “

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Sermon Proper Begins

The party is over. We’ve celebrated the new year of the Christian faith and rejoiced in the birth of Jesus, now a day old and 2013 years old. We’ll soon finish cleaning up our place, remembering what we’ve just experienced and are already beginning to work on the next celebration. We are a people of ritual and tradition and also a people looking for something new and exciting. New born infants bring out this in all of us—we have family or community traditions that guide us in the ways we raise our children and we all want the best possible world for them, even if it means sacrifice and struggle. We change in the way we live in the world when we are in the presence of a baby.

Since the birth in the stable in Bethlehem we have been in the presence of the baby Jesus. We have been in a world where God came among us, and continues to come among us, as one of us in a fragile and dependent baby. And we know most of the story of how his life turned out—fleeing as a refugee into Egypt, working in his father’s carpenters shop with his brothers, studying and arguing with the religious leaders of his time, engaging in an active ministry, executed by the occupying forces of his land, his resurrection and temporary departure from us. We don’t know the rest of his story, we don’t know when he will return to be among us—but we do have confidence that he will return.

And we know what it is like to have a baby among us. We nurture them, we care for them, we clean up their messes and look for ways to comfort them. We carry them, make them laugh, protect them from the elements and try to be better people than we might otherwise be. We provide for all their needs through our labour and in return we are rewarded with a smile. Perfection is never achieved, but we do try to be a model for our children in how they should behave.

 

Jesus was with us in Bethlehem and is with us in Toronto, was with us in 4 BC and is with us in 2010 AD. We are eternally in the presence of the divine infant. And we have responsibilities for the infant. We are to care for his inheritance—all of creation. To harm it, to waste it, is to take way from what is being held in stewardship for him. We aren’t to leave a wasteland for the divine infant, but a cared for world.

We need to be able to let the divine infant walk safely out our door. Walking in the neighbourhood shouldn’t be a journey of fear. The world the infant Jesus, like all infants, should be one where children don’t learn to hate one other, don’t view violence as normal, don’t come to accept anger and bitterness and fear as just a normal part of life. Caring for the social world our children walk through is caring for the social world in which the infant Jesus is to be nurtured. We aren’t to leave a battlefield for the divine infant, but build together the shalom kingdom.

The spiritual life of the infant Jesus is also to be nurtured. The faith experience of every child should be one of a welcome into the presence of God—exclusion of anyone in the name of God is harmful to the spiritual life of everyone. There is evil in the view that race or nationality or gender or sexual orientation somehow excludes people from the grace and love of God. We are all children of God, all part of God’s family. Teaching children that some children are more welcomed than others is wrong for our children, our faith and for ourselves. We want children to be welcomed in the faith community, to have a healthy and open relationship with the divine. We wouldn’t want Jesus to be separated from his father; why would we seek to separate others from their divine Father?

In the Christmas Eve service at St. James Cathedral Dean Douglas Stout reminded us that one of the gifts of Christmas is permission to have fun, to have joy in life. This is a gift for all of God’s children—you and I and Jesus. But this is a hard gift to make real. When a member of our family suffers, we hurt. We particularly hurt when the suffering is due to something we could have done or should not have done. We know that Jesus weeps—he weeps for the hungry and the sick and imprisoned and lonely and weeps harder when His brothers and sisters are responsible for the suffering or could have done something to end the suffering but chose not to act. For Jesus to laugh with us we need to make sure that there are conditions in life worthy of joy—the new home for the homeless; the sanctuary for the refugee; the turning of weapons into tools; weddings and dances and community barbeques; creating the conditions for our children to enjoy life also creates the conditions for Jesus to feel welcomed and cared for in creation. We need to give presents of toys and games in the midst of love and compassion and active hope for a better world for all children, including the infant in Bethlehem.

 

In the liturgical calendar December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen—the first martyr of our faith. His was a calling to active service to others, providing relief and support to the poorer members of the early Christian community. He was stoned to death because his work was seen as a threat to the dominate order by a mob lead by Saul of Tarsus. We know Saul better as the apostle Paul—he changed his name with his conversion. Stephen could have changed his ways, but chose not to. He continued to care for others in his community, to life in peaceful opposition to a society that had become rigid, that had little room for the widows and orphans and sojourners in the land—an opposition based on the desire to live in harmony with the example of Jesus, caring for all the children of God even if some children wanted all the good things for themselves.

We celebrate Stephen’s life and honour his memory best by continuing his work, to not let the pressures of the world stop us from being there for others. We can be an example for others by being true to our calling to love one another—expressed in our homes, in our neighbourhood, in our workplaces and in all the ebb and flow of interactions with others. We should celebrate with our friends and family, we should treat all of creation with respect, we should help the vulnerable around us, we should open to the inspiration of God in our lives, we should accept and give what is needed to be fully human, to strive to ensure that God’s love and compassion is real and active around the world in the lives of those most close to us and in the lives of those we may never be aware of but are equally beloved by God. It is a tight squeeze, but all of us are in the stable in Bethlehem with our baby brother with our love and commitment to his happiness being our true gift, all of us aware that the best chance of Jesus’ happiness is if the world he is in is one where happiness is within reach of all.

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