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The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Eve
Friday, 24 December 2010

A sermon by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

 

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:4-11
Luke 2:1-20

There are many things I really like about our son William’s nursery school. Chief among them, however, is weekly chapel. Each Wednesday at the beginning of the school day, all the older children and their parents gather in the “Red Rug Room” in the basement of the school’s East Side townhouse. And indeed parents do come, even fathers up from Wall Street for an hour or so. It's not nanny central. Making the experience even more intimate, the children don't sit by class, but rather on the floor with their parent, even both sometimes, and usually on a lap. In this crowded room each week we sing songs and Mr Gordh tells a story, almost always from the Bible, always set to music and illustrated with artwork by the children. The Bible stories are not watered down and always get at the heart of the message: that God loves us and wants us to love each other.

Christmas Chapel is especially delightful and on the day of Christmas Chapel this year we were over at my parents' apartment in the morning and I happened to be looking through an old song book from my own school days. The book, Songs of All Time, is a little pamphlet from the 1950s full of English and American Folk Songs, everything from “Froggie went a-courting” and “Foggie Dew” to “Brightest and Best” and “Wondrous Love” (1). As I was flipping through it, I came upon the old spiritual song, "Children go where I send thee." It seemed very familiar and I played the melody on the piano. Indeed, this was the song I remembered from Christmas Chapel last year, but with slightly different words and some changes to the melody. I was intrigued and photocopied the page to share with Mr Gordh.

As I had remembered, Chapel was begun with “Children go where I send thee”:

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you one by one,
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

They went up as high as eight-by-eight, with each teacher assigned to a number. The words were indeed different from the traditional version from my booklet, but the difference was in the greater orientation to the Christmas theme. There was something wonderful about the tune and the words, the association of God sending us out into the world to do our work, sending us out to help fulfill his purpose in response to the Incarnation.

When I got back to the office, I got right onto YouTube and found dozens of versions of the song, all slightly different. Some with the traditional tune, some closer to the version I just sung and that they did in chapel. The best, and certainly most charming, is probably Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version. Other really good ones turned out to be by Peter, Paul, and Mary and Johnny Cash—the 1970 version not the 1978 one. And don’t even try Natalie Merchant’s rendition! I sat with the song and its original lyrics—with their generally pious references to Paul and Silas and other broader references to missionary work—and was pleased to hear that Tennessee Ernie picked-up its appropriateness for Christmas. I also sat with the Christmas lyrics and began to understand a profound connexion between mission and Incarnation.

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you one by one,
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you two by two,
Two for Joseph and Mary, and
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

God sends us out into the world, sends us on our mission as Baptised ministers of the Gospel. He sends us out together, in groups, or sometimes out on our own. He sends us because he sent Jesus Christ into the world to give us the power to love, the power to be ministers. Because of the Incarnation, because of the “little-bitty baby born in Bethlehem.” We have the power to be ministers of the Gospel of love and assist God in his work. We respond to the events in that stable over two thousand years ago still today.

We come to this place tonight to worship our king. When we arrived we found that our king was not seated upon a magnificent throne, but was a newborn baby placed in a manger that not long before had simply contained food for a cow. There in the stable, we find our Lord deeply vulnerable. Born at a time of great social disolcation and into relative poverty, he was as vulnerable as any newborn. He was totally dependent on his parents, upon his mother. Yet, this baby, like all babies, and as we come to discover even more so, this baby was open to being loved and able to give love in return, give love abundantly.

In return for this love flowing from the manger, this gift, we are called to act. We are sent forth into the world, forth into this cold night, full of the love radiating from the manger.

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you one by one,
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you two by two,
Two for Joseph and Mary, and
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

Children go where I send thee,
How shall I send thee:
I'm gonna send you three by three,
Three for the three old wise men,
Two for Joseph and Mary, and
One for the little-bitty baby,
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

We go out into the world and we have the example of all the saints who have come before us, beginning with Joseph and Mary. We may go out in groups, like the Magi. We may go out two-by-two like good old Paul and Silas. We may even go forth alone, alone in the world like the little-bitty baby. But even then, because of the Incarnation, because of our Baptism, we are never alone. We are always held, supported, and loved by God in Christ. We go out into the world, out into the streets of our City as heralds of love, peace, and reconciliation. We go out as agents of that little child, that prince of peace who carries inside him all of God's love and all of God's power. We are enabled to do the work of ministry to which we are called, whatever our vocation because God came first, entered into our humanity, came to understand what it is like to be human, and showed us his love. Amen.


Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Saint Thomas the Apostle, 21 December 2010

(1) Songs of all time, 1946 (Delaware, Ohio: Recreation Services, 1957).



© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume