Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Eve sermon - 2011

“Christ is at the center and we are home”
Christmas Eve
The Reverend Patricia M. Grace
December 24, 2011                St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

For about six years, I lived in Kingsport, TN –
a place, not unlike Dalton, where folks had lived for generations.
There, I learned a new word:
…that was the word used to describe
the original farm house and property,
or the mountain cabin
or the place in town
where Mamaw and Papaw – or in a lot of cases,
            great, great Mamaw and Papaw,
            had first settled down and begun to raise a family.

Homeplace –
the beloved spot where that family’s story
had first started.
People often told stories about their homeplace
And when they did,
they always spoke with reverence, awe, and nostalgia.

In their descriptions,
there was always a sense of something deeply cherished …
            something profoundly connected to who they were,
                        and who they would ever be…

Kingsport people, much like Dalton folk, I’m sure
            are deeply attached to their homeplaces…
no matter the condition,
the homeplace was never to be sold or abandoned.
One typical Kingsport family –
(and remember that Tennessee
is the land of the Hatfields and McCoys,
who can keep something going for centuries),
well, they staunchly refused to sell their homeplace,
which was just a scroungy piece of land
with a ramshackle shed on it.
They refused to give up their homeplace –
Even though they would have made a considerable fortune
            In so doing…
even though, in so doing,
they incurred the wrath of the entire community –
as their decision blocked the lucrative development
of a very desirable corridor next to the Interstate
for over ten years.

Being home, being in our homeplaces
            is especially important to us on holidays…
“I’ll be home for Christmas,”
the popular tune proclaims,
“you can count on me…”
There you’ll find us, we promise…
where the love lights beam.
We’ll get home for Christmas, we sing,
even if it’s only in our dreams.
For over 40 years,
            at Christmas time,
my sister, Beth, and I always traveled to our homeplace –
            our mother’s house in Sewickley, Pennsylvania …
                        the little town in which we grew up.
We knew it was a command performance –
            Mom could not be sandblasted out of her house on Christmas…
But we found there, year after year,  
            priceless memories, familiar rituals
and always, our favorite foods.

We found there our home… our homeplace…
the place that reminded us of who we were
and who we were ever to be.
That’s how it is for most of us at Christmas time,
            if we are very lucky.
But how curious that the folks that got this whole holiday started
            were anything but home.

Well, I guess you could say that
Joseph had returned to his family’s homeplace,
            to Bethlehem, the city of David…
but I wonder if he looked at it that way…
I’ll bet he was way more attached
to his bachelor pad and workshop back in Nazareth…
where he had, at least,
a bed and table and chair.

Mary may have entertained some romantic notions
about home being wherever her new husband was…
but in that cold and silent stable,
no doubt she had a moment or two
of longing for her own bed,
and the comfort of her mother’s holiday ministrations.

When you think about it,
no one involved in that first Christmas was home.
For none of those folks,    
            on that night,
were they to be found
where there were priceless memories,
family rituals or any of their favorite foods.
For them, there were no chestnuts roasting on a cozy open fire,
no garland-draped mantelpiece  
                                    with stockings hung by the chimney with care;
no cinnamon-laced eggnog,
(or laced with anything else, for that matter).
There were no still-warm gingerbread men  
on grandma’s special Christmas plate…

No one was at home that first Christmas…
The angels, the multitude of the heavenly host,
 had been awakened, all snug in their celestial beds  
                        and sent to earth to proclaim the news…
the shepherds were told to leave the relative comfort
of their fields and flocks    
            in search of the answer to an ancient promise…
the savior who is Christ the Lord.

From the east, three traveling sages
            had not been home for months …
they had been following a star…
 a mysterious light that led further into mystery.
Even the stable animals must have felt displaced…
            as their shabby barnyard got fuller and fuller.

Not even baby Jesus was at home.

The son of God had chosen not to be home for this holiday…
chosen, instead, to come to earth…
and chose to come,
not as a visitor, not as a guest,
            but as a member of the family –
he came as kin to our homeplace.

Jesus, who was connected so deeply
to the Father and the Spirit –
            who was so profoundly at home
with them –
chose to come to us;
to leave his happy household
                        in order to make a new homeplace…
a new homeplace
that would welcome in all people that night…
and every day since.  
That place, that looked at first
like a cold, silent and crowded stable
                        appears different now, in the light of that realization…
now, there’s something warm and irresistibly inviting there.

And although that first Christmas house party was packed
despite the close quarters,
there seemed to be room for all…
Ox and ass, shepherds, lambs and sheep,
drummer boys, kings and camels,
and according to Hallmark, even Santa,
kneeling in front of the manger.
There were no twinkle or bubble lights,
just the glory of the Lord shining all about them…
            which was more than enough to create that holiday glow…

There were no wreaths or reindeer lawn ornaments…
            just the adornment found in the radiant faces
of a brand new father and mother.
Where there was once just an empty space,
just an open area under the house,
filled only with straw,
                        a rough-hewn manger,
                                    and water buckets overturned for seating…
now a brilliant love light beamed.
Where there were once just rude accommodations,
now there was a home
… a home-place ... 

… a homeplace, not made by human hands,     
            but through the incredible and irrational generosity of God.

It was that baby, that Jesus,
who made that house a homeplace…
the place where the story of the family of God
began again, in a new way that night.

That place which was not a home
became a homeplace –
became a homeplace,
            because of what was at its center…
that baby, that savior, who is Christ the Lord.
He came to tell us that
when we make sure that Jesus is at the center, 
we will always be at home.  

He came so that we might know
that when our loving hearts prepare him room,         
                        there He will make in us,
again and again, a homeplace …
            even when we feel like strangers in a strange land...
even when the evil of this world works to evict us,
even when terrible trials
threaten to weaken our foundations …
even then, we can find our way to our everlasting homeplace –
the place find where his love light beams
and where we always have a place in God’s dreams.

When we work to keep Jesus at the center,
we will always have a homeplace…
no matter how far we may roam,
how lost we may become …
            or how absent He may seem to be.

The embodied love of God which came down that night
continues to come down …          
            continues to make a homeplace for us and for all…
                        for all…for all…for all.

But the story, the story of the family of God,
that began anew that night,
is not over.
Not by a long shot.
That story is ongoing,
and we have a role to play within it…
a role to play in embodying the love of God…
            a part to take up …
work to do alongside Jesus,
to make a homeplace
for all people in His name.

Whenever we share the loving kindness of God with others,
            we are making Jesus, the center of that homeplace,
more visible and welcoming.

Whenever we give to others,
give food or prayers or medical assistance
or just our loving and listening presence,
            we are giving them a taste of home…
a taste of the homeplace created by Christ
for you and for me and for all.
When we reach out to
those who find themselves regularly
out in the cold in this world …
we invite them into that warm and loving place
where they can be at home, right next to him.

Whenever we stand up against the evil of this world,
            whenever we work to create resources where there are none,
whenever we strive to demolish practices and structures
            that are unjust,
we expand the walls of that homeplace
so that everyone can find room within.  

Whenever we move from the comfort of our familiar places
            and in his name,
and extend ourselves outward on behalf of others who need us,
            we widen the doors of His house
                        so that all may enter in –
so that all might be at home, with Him.

Whenever and however
            we strive to keep Christ front and center,
                        working for peace on earth
and bringing good will to all people
we will find ourselves at home,
                                    not only in our dreams,
not only for the holidays,
but every day of our lives.

Merry Christmas, good Christian friends – rejoice!
Proclaim the good tidings of great joy that we have received:
That Christ our new born king is with us,
and has found a homeplace in us.
Proclaim good tidings of great joy:
that through him and with him and in him,
all people may be at peace and at home with one another.



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