Sermon Delivered by Rev. Cristina Rathbone
Grace Church Chapel and on Zoom
Well, here we are — me gratefully with John, and Lee, and Ryan, and also with Robert who generously agreed to move our little laptop around so you can see us and we can see you better…
And the first thing I want to say to you all is this:
Merry Christmas!!! Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!!
You know, I’d been so excited to gather in the greenhouse at Taft with you all this evening. The fact that Grace church gathered in a building made for some other purpose on the night that Jesus was born in a building made for some other purpose was one of the many things that drew me to you in your profile. In fact, over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself popping over to Taft quite regularly – always with a reason, of course. I needed to pick up some greens; I needed to ask Penny about something; I needed a wreath, or a tree…. But really what I was doing was peering around that beautiful and busy space with the eyes of my heart, trying to imagine it in the dark, on Christmas Eve, with the creche….
But instead, here we are – on Zoom of all things. It is not what I’d imagined, or hoped for, at all. And it is not what you imagined, or hoped for, at all either, of course. On this night of all nights, this special, sacred, central and holy night we wanted especially to gather and sing and give thanks together in beauty and calm and peace – – so that nothing would come between us and joy. So that God’s own joy would be released among us and we would be renewed. Because we need renewing, many of us. We just do…
But here’s what I realized about 24 hours after we made the slightly crushing decision to cancel our in-person celebration (You ready?): This must have been how Joseph and Mary felt that night more than two thousand years ago now when Mary’s body began to announce that the birth was coming; on that special, sacred, central and holy night when she was going into labor to birth the God-child — well on that night of all nights they too wanted especially to be in a place of beauty and calm and peace so that nothing would come between them and joy. So that God’s own joy would be released among them and they – and all the world – would be renewed.
But instead of course they found themselves with no safe place to be. They found themselves displaced. They found their hopes and expectations entirely upended and needed to make do with what was — which was a stable; a place for the animals to sleep, not for a woman to give birth… Can you imagine how that must have felt?!
And yet –
And yet it was enough. There, in a place that was not one single thing like the place they must have imagined and longed for, the Lord and Master of the universe became, through Mary, Emmanuel – God with us. And so it is still. And so it is again, this evening: God with us in the manger. And God with us in this little chapel tucked away at the side of the office. And God with us in the room you are sitting in right now. And God with us in all the places our loved ones find themselves, near and far. And God with us on the streets. And God with us in the prisons. And God with us the hospitals where thousands of people are struggling with COVID again this year.
God with us shining brightest, perhaps, where it is darkest – if only because the light is easier to see in the dark — the light which is God’s love for you right now – wherever you are, and however you are…
So: those of you who are already joyous this evening: May God shield and protect you, and may your joy be made complete by Jesus’ birth among us – and among you — this evening.
And those of you who are struggling – especially those who are alone, or who feel alone, and were relying on our gathering in the greenhouse to feel the truth of joy that only God can bring – well, I say to you, that joy is near at hand — just think again of Mary and of Joseph. Think of their disappointment and their loneliness and their anger, perhaps, at having to make do with a situation that no one would have ever asked for. And then remember the startling surprise of what happened there nonetheless, and realize again with me how true God’s words were to Mary, though she may have doubted them just a few short hours earlier: “Blessed are you.”
Look at each other right now on the screen – or close your eyes and think of those who are not here and tell them the same with me now:
Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.