Sermon for Christmas I
Children’s Homily: Amahl and the Night Visitors
Once upon a time
Runs to his Mother – “Mother, Mother. Mother, come and see. There is a star in the sky, a great star, with a tail as long as a kite.”
She says, ”Amahl, go to sleep. I am too tired for your stories.” “But Mother…” “Enough. Go back to bed.”
But there was to be no sleep. Just when all was quiet there came a loud knock at the door. Mother said, “Amahl, go see who it is and tell them to go away.”
Amahl goes, opens the door, and rushes back. “Mother, mother. Mother, come and see. There is a king at the door.” She wonders, where does this boy get his imagination. “Don’t tell me stories - go back and see who it really is and tell them to come back in the morning.” So Amahl, quivering, goes back.
“Mother, mother. Mother come and see. You were right. There is not a king at the door.” She says, “I thought so.” Amahl says, “There are TWO kings.”
She is frustrated, being tired and worried, and tells him sternly – “Don’t tell me lies. Go and see who it is and tell them to go away.”
So Amahl goes to the door, and rushes back, “ Mother, mother. Mother come and see.” She interrupts, “You had better not tell me there are two kings at the door.” He says, ”No, Mother. There are not two kings. There Are THREE kings.”
She has totally lost patience, gets out of bed, brushes past Amahl, AND JERKS OPEN THE DOOR.
And three grand and stately kings are standing there, with travel animals, and a page.
The kings explain they are on their way, following this star, to take gifts to a holy child which has been born in nearby Bethlehem. But they are weary, and ask if they might spend the night under her roof.
Of course – yes. She goes to neighbors to asks them to bring food for the guests. Meanwhile, Amahl talks to the kings.
His question – what is it like to be a king? What do you do? And they learn from him that he used to care for sheep, but his father died and they had to sell the sheep, and they do not know where their next meal is coming from. Amahl and his Mother may have to beg in order to eat.
One of the kings, Melchior, brought gold as a gift for the baby. Balthazar brought frankincense, and Kaspar, who is quite deaf and eccentric, brought his precious box, and in it are stones, beads, myrrh, and his favorite candy – licorice. He asks Amahl if he would like a piece of licorice, and Amahl eagerly answers, “Yes”, but Kaspar only says, “Ehhh?”
They all retire, and the Mother tries to sneak just one piece of the gold, which would feed them for a year, but is caught by the kings’ page. Amahl wakes to find the page grappling with his Mother and tries to defend, and Melchior steps in to calm things. He offers her gold, and at daybreak they get ready to travel on to find the baby.
Amahl is so impressed with the kings and their gifts for the baby, that he wishes he could give the child a gift. But he is poor, and has nothing – except his crutch.
Amahl kneels to offer the crutch to the kings as his gift to the baby, and they are deeply touched. When he stands up again, his crippled leg is healed. A miracle!
What happened then?
The story ends with Amahl going with the kings to Bethlehem to see the child, and he presents his crutch to the baby Jesus in thanksgiving for he healed leg.
(With respect to Gian Carlo Menotti for his 1951 masterpiece)
CHRISTMAS 2016 “Love is not enough”
If Jesus had his way, today we would all be Jews. I will save that argument for another time, but now that I have your attention… I have a story from the teaching tradition of the Rabbis. I bring the story because Jesus was a Jew, was often called rabbi, and we are in the holy season of Hanukkah. So here we go.
The setting is at the shores of the Red Sea in the time we know as the Exodus. An enslaved Hebrew people have been rescued by the hand of God from Egypt. They have journeyed to the east in search of the land promised by their God. The escape from the city of Pharaoh was joyous, but soon the arid journey over desert brought its own struggles. And then, as you remember, there appeared clouds of dust coming up behind the people. As if things could not get worse, the people realized this dust was raised by pursuing chariots of Pharaoh.
There they were, trapped between the thundering army of the Egyptians and the expanse of the Red Sea. You may remember Moses prayed to God for deliverance, and he was told to raise his staff and stretch out his hand, and the water would be parted. So Moses stood forth, raised his staff and stretched forth his hand – and nothing happened! The people began to murmur, but again, he prayed, and raised the staff a second time – and nothing happened. The people were near panic. Moses now prayed with all his heart, raised his staff, and stretched forth his hand a third time. And nothing happened! The waters of the sea remained unmoved. At the peak of despair, a man tradition names Eleazar, standing at the shore, just stepped into the water. And when he did, the waters separated. One person acted on the promise, and the sea parted for the people of God.
How is this a Christmas story? There is a lot of feeling around us this season, lots of love spoken and sung. There is tenderness too, for those who are grieving a lost loved one, and there is pain over suffering in Berlin, and Aleppo, and Mexico City, emotions all moved by love. The predominant song in our hearts is love. With tidings of comfort and joy all round, and hopes that St Nicholas soon will be here, love gets top billing for a few days.
But at the core of Christmas is the gift of a rarer love. Deeper than you might think, this love is indelible, transforming. For example, this indelible love is patient and kind, and envies no one. This transforming love is not boastful, nor conceited nor rude. It is never selfish, not quick to take offense. Imagine that! Christmas love, rare love, keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat at other people’s faults, but delights in the truth. (I Cor 13.4-7).
This rare Christmas love crosses over boundaries and can connect disparate cultures. It is able to resist prejudice and bigotry. It brings light in darkness, in souls and in families, and this love unites communities. This rare love is not kept, but must be given away. It flows like water. There is no form of life that doesn’t need water; in the same way, Christmas love is life-giving for all people. It is healing. It is freedom. It is joy. It promotes one’s own dignity, but never at the expense of another.
So how it is with your loving? Mine falls short. Especially in the notion that love envies no one, does not keep score, is never selfish and doesn’t take offense. But that is exactly why we need Christmas, and Christmas love – a love that works, not just a love that feels good. Love that works takes practice, and recommitment and reminding. This love we might call holy love, highest love, and it is achievable with commitment, and practice. This love is the story of Christmas. But even that love is not enough.
Holy love is not enough. Even the confidence of God’s love is not enough. Love is not enough because it takes a person to enact that love. Eleazar had to step into the water before the promise to Moses could be fulfilled. Love as an idea, or a prayer, or even a spiritual power is basically empty without a person to bring love, and another to receive the love. Love needs a bearer, or in the Gospel language, the Word must become flesh. We need to see for ourselves. Christians believe, I believe, that Jesus is the bearer of God’s love. Thanks be to God he is not the only bearer, but Jesus is the clearest and purest embodiment of the love of God, and that is why there is Christmas, and tonight a Christ Mass. These days are only tangentially about baby Jesus, shepherds and mangers. Christmas is about a brilliant love so strong that God would come among us to bring it. Here is the most reliable Christmas story I know:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.1-5, 14)
Good people, love is not enough. Jesus is. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.