First Mass of the Nativity

Sermon for First Mass of the Nativity, Sunday, December 24 2017, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

That is the extraordinary claim which is staked by Christmas. That the infinite love which shaped the cosmos, the divine intelligence which animates all of creation, has come into the world of bone and bread, has come simply, immediately, to us. That ultimate love has made itself so small, a refugee baby in a dangerous time, born among the poor, born to a frightened young couple alone in a barn. Love has come for this, and this only—to be with us, to be among us. In this poor bad world, all undeserving. In such a world as this. Love breaks in.

Love pitches a tent, the Greek text tells us; comes not to establish a territory or build a house, but to be on the move, to be a traveller, to be a field hospital, to be a vagrant. To unsettle and to be unsettled, to challenge all things which stand still. Love comes in change, in movement, in action. In all of this story, as in all of our lives, there is no real fixed place, but the brief encampments made by care, the warm places we create in the cold, the incursions of disruptive compassion where we have been imprisoned by pain or exhaustion or simple routine. To be with our human bodies, walking in this dangerous world, the frail tents of love.

And in the darkness, light shines, like a fire in this vagrant camp. In occupied Palestine, in the days of imperial Roman rule. In our occupied land today, in the time of another empire. The translation we use now says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It is not a wrong translation, exactly. But it is not as right as the older translation—“the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Has not grasped, cannot hold or control, has not understood and cannot understand. All the evil in this world cannot control or contain the love of God, because it cannot understand it, the love that chooses to be with us as an infant, as a cry for care; as a man, later, who would walk defenceless in an country at war, touching the untouchable, breaking bread with those his society had cast away, washing the feet of his friends, doing things which should only be done by women or slaves. One who would challenge the powers of his time so much that they would lash out in violence, one who would accept that violence and continue to respond with love. The Son of Man, the child of humanity. The life our human lives have always been meant to be.

For God loved, God loves, the world this much. To become small, to become vulnerable, to become displaced — to be here. To be with us. For this world is worth saving. Even on the worst of days, even when greed and violence and exploitation seem to control it all, we are a world which can be saved, we are creatures worth saving, worth loving, with this travelling love that makes itself so small it can be anywhere, in the narrowest places, in the hardest times, in the tiniest, most hopeless movements of our crooked human hearts.

So know this, beloved—that you are worth loving. That the love which is always moving, that love which moves the sun and the other stars, loves you, enough to make itself small, enough to pitch a tent with you, to be with you, in your joy and in your grief, in your pain and your failure and your faintest, most impossible hopes. And to challenge you to move as well, to change, to reach out. The darkness of the longest night cannot hold this love, cannot contain or prevent it, can never even understand. The darkness tries to swallow the light, and finds itself embraced.

Let the light be born. In the thinnest hope which you hold in the heart of your sorrow. In each small brave resistance to the night of greed and violence. In each act of care, each small sharing, in each failure even, each brief candle, each bit of ground reclaimed for community, love pitches a tent and lights a fire. Be there, in love’s encampment. Cook the food, tend the wounded. Cradle humanity’s child in all of humanity’s pain.

The night is deep and very cold, and we may be travelling for a very long time, and the demands of this love which becomes small can seem impossibly great. But in our flesh and our blood, in our bodies and our longing hearts, God is with us, God is in the very marrow of our bones, the Word that speaks in us, the light by which we see. God has come as a child that we may be God’s children, may be in our time, with our own poor selves, the voice of that Word, the instruments of that light.

We have no lasting home in this world, but in all our fears, and all our weakness, we are given, by this homeless child, a home in the space of love.