A sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
St. Luke describes the birth of Jesus with more detail than is found in any other Gospel. He begins by putting the story in a political context. Emperor Augustus—the Roman Emperor, everyone knew who that was—the emperor who made Rome into an Empire after the end of the Roman Republic. Quirinius, a Roman official, was governor of the province of Syria and had the authority to organize the taxation of Palestine.
This child was born into this real world, a world with its stresses, and dangers and joys. Jesus was not an abstract child living in an idealized world where everything is comfortable and idyllic. This feast of the Incarnation, of The Word become Flesh, is not about some timeless, mythological thing, it’s about a baby, born in a real time and place, whose parents faced a world as complex and frightening as our own. Things were happening in the world around him, things that affected the lives of everyone around him, including Jesus’ parents and all the people of Judea and Galilee.
God sent his only son to be among us, to comfort us and to deliver us into his presence. That was as true in Jesus’ time as it is today. Back then, there were governments and wars and bandits and terrorists and insecurity, just like now. People suffered hardship and loss then, as they do now, even in this holiday season. We aren’t exempt. Ten years ago today, on Christmas Eve, Father Wendell Roberts, who ministered among us as the Rector of this church for 40 years passed away. His family mourns him, and we mourn a courageous and compassionate leader, who ministered here in the South Bronx, during some of this city’s most difficult times. Others mourn the passing of friends and family, or of health, or of a dream deferred. Sometimes holidays can be the hardest times for those who mourn.
And the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing good news of great joy.” This child Jesus, he is the assurance of the love of God, in times that are good and in times that are difficult. The prophet Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. We rejoice because the living God remembers us, indeed he doesn’t remember us, he is with us, he is part of us. While there are times that we may feel afraid, or bereft, or tired, or discouraged; God is here to comfort us and protect us, to bear our every burden. Even in this infant, we have the presence of God’s power. It is not the power of empire, of Roman legions. It is not the power of intimidation or violence. The power of God is peace and the courage to love in every circumstance.
Last Sunday several of us traveled to Staatsburg, New York for a mass where the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Canon Allan Ford was celebrated. I don’t really know Father Ford, but he grew up in this congregation. At the end of the service he spoke about his call to the ministry. I was very moved by this gentle, soft-spoken man. He spent much of his ministry working in prisons, with the homeless and with those suffering from addiction. He spoke of his experience of the love of God, and he said that in every case, he wanted those to whom he ministered to know they were loved by God, and that they should never, ever feel that they were not good enough to deserve God’s love.
Jesus is here, because we all deserve God’s love. Every one who comes through the door of the church and every one who we encounter on the street, or at work or at home deserves God’s love. God has made that choice and come among us, in this time and in this place.