Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for Christmas Eve, 5pm December 24, 2017

CHRISTMAS EVE - B - 17            LUKE 2:1-20

Tonight’s gospel from St. Luke is such a familiar story. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be enrolled for the purpose of taxes! Mary is with child. Perhaps the rigors of the journey from Nazareth to the city of David ended her pregnancy.

It seems they arrived later than many others did for there were no rooms available. In such a small town as Bethlehem, the rooms would have been few and far between. Those who did not have to travel as far got there first and were fortunate enough to find proper accommodations.

Surely, there were others families there with infants and small children. Perhaps other babies were born that same night. However, this child of Mary was different. No other child in the little town of Bethlehem on that silent night was introduced to the world by an angel of the Lord.

It is a story we could all repeat in detail. The question is do we? Luke tells us that the shepherds to whom the angel announced the good news of great joy did just that. “…they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed…”

Isn’t that what we do when we have received good news? We can’t wait to go and tell it. This is the Church’s mission and has been for over 2000 years - to go and tell the familiar story - that the Word became flesh on a starry night in the little town of Bethlehem and has dwelt among us full of grace and truth.

So why is the world we live in today in such a state of spiritual disrepair? What happened to the good news of great joy for all people? Did the world simply stop believing?

Or did the Church stop telling the story in a convincing manner of the night when the grace of God and the hope of salvation came into the world wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a common manger because there was no room for him anywhere else?

I have been fortunate over my lifetime to travel much of the world. In recent years, I have visited countries that were once predominately Christian, countries for example, that one reads about in the Acts of the Apostles. These were converted by the efforts of St. Peter and Paul who eventually gave their lives for their efforts.

They thrived for many centuries sustained by the faith of those who followed in the apostle’s footsteps. The fruit of their witness produced more than one saint. Today those countries have been lost to the gospel and to the Church. It is as if the good news was never heard in those lands.

Sadly, I have seen Churches that were built to the Glory of God and are now in a state of disrepair. Some are even being used as warehouses. Others have been converted into mosques. All vestiges of the Christian faith have been removed. Medieval frescoes that once adorned their ceilings and walls have been painted over.

The few faithful who remain in these once predominately Christian countries have all but gone underground. They are no longer free to share in detail the good news of the Savior’s birth or any other aspect of their faith for fear of persecution. It is as if the hand of time has been turned back a thousand years or more. Like Mary, in our Christmas story, they still “treasure the words and ponder them in their hearts.”

What of us who are free to express our faith, free to share the familiar story, and are here tonight to hear it told once again? Do we “treasure the words and ponder them in our hearts” keeping it all to ourselves? Or do we take up the role of the shepherds who were surprised by the announcement of the angel and go and tell all we come in contact with the “good news” that the Savior has been born?

That is how the shepherds responded. They even did the unthinkable when the good news was announced. They abandoned watching over their flocks and went to see for themselves if what the angel had told them was true. They stood in awe at the crèche’ where the Christ-child lay and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said concerning this child.

Leaving the manger, they did not hesitate to make known what had been told them about the child they had just seen and all who heard it were amazed, and people still are. Why, then, would not the whole world readily receive Him?

The answer is simply because not everyone is looking for a savior. Not everyone sees the need of a redeemer. Not everyone is willing to humble themselves and become obedient to a King. The Church has yet much work to do in sharing the “good news,” and rekindling the hope and joy His coming into the world brings.

The Christmas story is so familiar that we often miss the import of the shepherd’s role. Of course, the focus is on the Christ-child as it should be. He is at the center of the scene. It is His birth we celebrate tonight. He came that we might believe in Him and so believing inherit new life.

He has given the Church the mission of the shepherds who were the first to tell of the saving grace and Love of God in the Word made flesh. The Apostles picked up their mantle and their mission. As the Church, you and I have inherited it.

Such a familiar story, yet with such a powerful announcement that has and continues to impact the life of the world. Does it still amaze us? Still surprise us that God so loved the world that He humbled his divinity to share in our humanity that we might one day come to share in his glory?

The shepherd’s role is ours to take up in joyful response to our belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. For there are yet parts of the world today that have never heard the story as well as those parts that have forgotten all about it and the meaning behind it. Sadly there are still others that have heard it but do not yet believe it.

All the more reason for us who do believe to leave the manger tonight with the same joy in our hearts as those shepherds did on that first Christmas Eve, willing to tell the story of the Savior’s Birth to all, as if we have just heard it for the first time, so that the message of this familiar story shall never be lost.

“Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.” (Hymn #84, v1) “O Come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord.” Amen+

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