I've fallen behind in blogging this holiday season. It has been quite a busy and stressful one, though the holiday week was most excellent.
This is the sermon I wrote for Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Eve morning decided I didn't want to preach it that day. It just wasn't what was called for. So, I did something else sans manuscript.
The Dawn of Peace
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
24 December 2006
Hear now the word of the Lord as spoken by the prophet Micah:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Essential to our Christian understanding of the birth of Jesus is the claim that Christ is born anew in all of us as an on-going event in the history of creation. We who have vowed to follow Christ must also imitate and embody Christ. This is a daunting task. I wish I could say that it is easy, but it is not. We are called to be countercultural, and in no way more obvious than by taking the path of peace.
I wish I could say that when the angels sang out to the shepherds of “Peace on Earth, goodwill to humankind,” that the angelic proclamation was sufficient to bring about that peace and goodwill. As Luke tells the story, something wonderfully new is happening. Those empowered in this story include Elizabeth, an elderly, barren woman; Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna, all elderly; Mary, a pregnant teenage peasant; and the shepherds, who existed at the lower strata of society. These are the vessels of God’s breaking into the world to bring about a new social order of peace.
But we know that this beautiful story will lead to the cross. The way of peace that we must imitate and embody as followers of Jesus is the way of the cross. We can courageously live out that adventure assured that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but continues through Resurrection and Pentecost. However, that confident, post-Easter hope does not remove the fact that the cross lies starkly in the path of peace that begins here on this Christmas Eve.
This awareness should leave us in silence. We must begin in silence, especially if our lives are noisy and busy. Only in silence can we begin to hear and to see what God wants from us. Silence brings us an awareness of truth.
Silence will bear fruit as prayer, communication with God. As we learn the many ways we can pray, our eyes and ears are opened more fully to the experience of God all around us. Prayer brings an appreciation of beauty.
From our on-going relationship with God that is rooted in prayer, we will develop the faith that relies upon God and the courage to act out that faith in the world. We will be artists, inspired to live as images of God.
And so we will be lead into mission, living a life in pursuit of the reign of Christ. This is the great adventure of Christian discipleship that calls for sacrifice.
The fruit of this life is peace. Not the self-interested peace that we had some taste of at the beginning in our moments of silent retreat, but the peace of a new day that brightens the entire world. Or, as St. Matthew put it
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Dad in heaven.
So the question we must ask ourselves today is not whether we want peace and goodwill, because most everyone says they want those things right before they run over you getting to the checkout line at Target. This is the best time of year because most people voice these high ideals and even live them out in ways that they don’t normally. But to accept the warm fuzzies of Christmas is not to be a Christian. The question before us is “Do we really want Christ to be born anew in us?” Because that means committing ourselves not to the warm fuzzies of this holiday, but to the way of peace that leads through the cross.
The question isn’t simple “What gifts should I bring to the manger?” but “Will I pick up the cross daily and follow?”
I go now to light the Christ candle. This year we have lived within the Advent wreath which symbolized the light of a new dawn. A message of hope. In this new dawn, God will fulfill God’s promises. The signs and wonders have proclaimed that the days are surely coming, so we can live as agents of hope.
In this new dawn there is a new message. A messenger comes, preparing the way, purifying like fire. All flesh shall see the salvation of God as the dawn from on high will break upon us, giving light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding our feet into the way of peace.
In this new dawn we can sing aloud with songs of rejoicing. Shout and do not fear, we will have the victory as God will bring us home again and restore our fortunes.
In this new dawn a child shall rule with justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
Arise, shine, for your light has come. Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.