The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Day
25 December 2012
A Sermon Preached 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.
This fall I presided at three weddings. Each was as different from the other as anything you could imagine. One was a four day extravaganza on an island in Maine with a very simple liturgy, adapted to an interfaith couple; one was Solemn Nuptial Mass followed by a pot luck reception; and the third was somewhere between, a Prayer Book marriage office followed by a very beautiful dinner for a small number of close family and friends. I felt honoured to be included in each of these rites, to be a part of these couples’ journeys, and to offer the blessing of the Church upon their holy unions. As I tell every couple whom I counsel, when the priest stands before them, he does not effect the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. He is the one who gathers the community, acts as principal witness, and offers the blessing of the Church, It is the couple themselves who perform the sacrament, who are the ministers of the sacrament.
By the holding of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings, each of these very different couples enacted the sacrament in word and in deed. In doing so, they became one with each other in a new way, bound in the very love of God. God in Christ, who offers his love to the whole world freely and unselfishly, becomes present whenever a couple enters into Christian marriage. He becomes present for all the community to see, for all the world to see as they lead their lives. The couples stand before the community and through their actions make God, the very love that is nothing other than God himself, present in this time and in this place—for this is what happens in a sacrament. God becomes present with the community manifested in the matter of daily life.
We say this about each of the events that the church styles “sacrament.” We say this about Confirmation and Ordination, about Confession and Holy Unction, and we say it especially about Holy Baptism and the Eucharist. In each sacrament, the matter and actions of daily life—laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, certain speech acts, and water, oil, bread, and wine—become channels for connecting with the divine, with God in Christ. God has made it possible for us to be in relationship with him. He has done this by using the very stuff of existence. We connect with God in and through his creation and the real substance and action of life.
For us, then, the moment in the life of the Church that most clearly celebrates this ability for us to relate to God is when we celebrate the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We celebrate the coming of God into time and space at a specific moment and in a specific place. We celebrate Jesus’ entering into our flesh and dwelling among us, showing us the ultimate connection between God and that which he has wrought. In the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh, in the expression into the world of God himself, we are able to see and know that we have access to God and to his love. We know that through him we have the ability to enter into relationship with him and with each other.
As I so often do on Christmas Eve, last night I focussed my sermon on the Christ Child, the person of the infant Jesus. I mediated upon the intensely human condition of childbirth and its dangers in the pre-modern world, on how extraordinary it is that Christianity allows such a supremely vulnerable and dependant creature to be the very centre of our faith and life. We believe that this child was the same man of whom John said,
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
Our God knit together flesh and spirit and became one with our humanity. He was rejected by many, but still offered us the power to become “children of God” through relationship with him. John asserts unabashedly that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” In and through this action, Jesus gave us the power to welcome him back into our midst at other times and in other places through the action of the community whenever his love is made manifested.
This is why the sacraments are so central to our faith. This is why each of the key moments of our life is marked in and through the sacraments. This is why our whole life’s journey is nourished in and through the supreme sacrament of the Eucharist in which we take into our very bodies Christ himself in the bread and wine that we take, break, bless, and consume. The Incarnation is the beginning of the sacramental life that we lead, the life to which we commit ourselves, and the life that can and does allow each of us to see the love of God radiating from each and every one of us.
Christmas gives us the power to become children of God, blessed, beloved children of God. We carry within ourselves God’s love, we shine God’s love out from our hearts, and we help make God's love manifest in places where it is sorely needed. This Christmas Day let us recommit ourselves to sacramental, incarnational lives of love in Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh in our midst.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Ember Saturday, 22 December 2012
© 2012 Andrew Charles Blume