Sermon for Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24 2018, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
John’s gospel begins with a tremendous sweep— “In the beginning was the Word,” casting us all the way back to the creation story, to the great imagined void of dark water, and the voice of creative intelligence moving over that void, shaping being, shaping life, all things made by this word, this speaking mind, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, the source of all things, the love which brings the world into being for no reason except to declare it good and very good.
And then, suddenly, we zoom down, down so far and so fast it should dizzy us, into a single time and space, into a single moment, as the love that made the world dives down into the heart of it, and takes shape as a poor refugee child. Love coming into our world, into our flesh, as the smallest of the small, the weakest that love could be, utterly threatened, utterly dependent. When all the noise and distraction and sometimes despair around Christmas is cut away, this is what we come to. That in a world full of the clashes of great powers, the movements of armies, the thunder of machines, in a world where our out of control technologies shatter Indigenous lands for the decreasing stock of oil, when the forces of violence compel Doctors Without Borders to pull their last rescue boat from the Mediterranean, and children are caged or teargassed by the United States, in a world where people sleep on the streets while houses stand empty, in a world of loss and sorrow—in such a world as this, love must become so small that it can reach us. Love must be able to reach into our grief, into the narrow crevices of our aching hearts, into the lonely corners of humanity, into the threatened places, and find us there.
And that is why this is, is still, a night of joy. Because despite it all, this is a world worth saving. This is still the world which God declared good, and will not abandon. And 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.
So know this, beloved—that you are worth loving. That the love that made the moon and the other stars loves you enough to come to be with you, sharing your blood and bone. That the light is born in every movement of goodness in our poor bent souls, in every act of care, in every little brave resistance to greed and violence, every small work of justice. God has come as a child so that we may be God’s children, so that we may be, in our time, the voice of that creating Word, the instruments of that light which breaks the void of chaos, the bringers of meaning, the bringers of life. Even if we cannot see it ourselves, even if it all looks like failure, even if we seem no stronger than a baby in a barn, sheltered by a poor young couple without a home. This is how love has chosen to meet us.
The Greek word which is translated “dwelt among us” means to pitch a tent. And that is what love does. On the torn field of this world, in every small place of compassion, in every bit of ground reclaimed for humanity, love pitches a tent and lights a fire. A travelling community, a field hospital among the wars. Be there, in love’s encampment. Tend the fire, cook the food, care for the wounded, cradle the very young and the very old. The night is long, and the cold is deep, and our hearts are weary. We lose so much, and we hurt so much, and we fail so often. But love has become small enough to reach us anyway, in all our own loves and longings. Let the Word be born in us – weak and bloody and crying, as fragile as a breath, but the hope of all the suffering and still beloved world.