Christmas Eve Sermon: The World is the Manger (5pm service)

Isaiah 62:6-12
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:8-20

Good evening.  On behalf of all the people of St. Paul’s Cathedral, I welcome you and am so glad you are here with us tonight.  As we say every Sunday, whoever you are and wherever you are on the journey of faith, you are most welcome to participate fully in absolutely everything we do here this evening.  And if you happen to be here for the first time, please know we do not consider you a guest or visitor but a member of this holy family, in this holy place, and especially on this holy night.

  It feels especially important right now we be here together because as a people we have experienced some difficult times of late. However this night reminds us that the difficulties we may experience are not the final word.  We are not forsaken but rather are beneficiaries, or as it says in tonight’s reading from Titus, heirs of God’s overwhelming hospitality, and love.  Hospitality and love extended to everyone, not on the basis of merit or what we have earned, or not, but rather out of God’s all inclusive grace and mercy.

And the circumstances of this coming about couldn’t be more unusual or disarming.  A child is born under the lowliest of circumstances and through him everything changes.  Those who have not been welcome, or at least made to feel unwelcome at God’s table, now have a seat.  And those who knew they had a seat, now see a longer table stretching out far beyond what their eyes can see.  

We are in the words of Theologian and pastor Frederick Buechner in the manger together.  He writes:

The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve. They string the lights and hang the ornaments. They supervise the hanging of the stockings. They tuck in the children . . . 

Just as they’re about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor’s sheep. The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them. So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow. He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them out to the shed. There’s forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and he lights it. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the bailing twine, shakes the squares of hay apart and starts scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air. He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is. The winter darkness, the glimmer of light. The smell of hay and the sound of the animals eating.  Where he is, of course, is the manger.

. . . He whose business is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious comes from that manger might easily have gone home never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger. The world is the manger.  

The world is indeed the manger.  Imperfect.  Often messy.  Scary at times.  Even smelly. But also contains within it, all that is precious, loving, life-giving, even sacred.

The world is the manger.  And we are in it together.  All of us—those who have been, those who are, those who will be.

So on this holy night, as we celebrate like the shepherds for what we have seen and heard, and leave this Cathedral to go to our next destinations, let us honor the manger so lovingly given us, by holding our children and loved ones close, so close, and give thanks for the child whose birth we remember this evening and in whose life rests the hope and great promise of the world.

Finally in that spirit may we also be like Mary, and treasure this amazing gift and ponder what it truly means in our hearts, and then live our lives accordingly.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas
24 December 2012  

  Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, A Doubter’s Dictionary (HarperSanFrancisco: New York, 1993), pp.29-30.

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