Harrowing Of Hell
December 24, 2020

A Christmas Festival

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Merry Christmas.

I hope you enjoyed this journey through the stories of Jesus’s birth this evening. It is a different way than usual to celebrate Christmas Eve at Epiphany Parish.

But the COVID restrictions necessitated this change, and that is OK, it is how it should be. This is, yet one more reason this COVID Christmas is a Christmas we will never forget, and one we will never repeat either… I pray.  Next year there will be a choir, and you will be belting out your favorite Christmas carols. But not this year. This year it is a quiet, almost solemn service, and still, there remains opportunity for us to hear the Good News of God’s hope for the world.

Jesus is the articulation of this hope, spoken in a language and from a perspective that we, in our humanity, can understand… if we so choose. The gift of this COVID Christmas is, at least for me, an opportunity to share the story of Jesus’ birth with you from many points of view. 

We have the story itself told differently by different authors: one from the Gospel of Luke, where angels and poetry take center stage; one from the Gospel of Matthew, where a patristic and paternal perspective unfolds; and one from the Gospel of John… which gives us a sweeping vision of who Jesus is, the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God made flesh. 

From Matthew and Luke we hear of Mary’s experience, and Joseph’s, and the shepherd’s, and Aunt Elizabeth’s experience as well. Then, through the giftedness of our soloist, we are connected again to these stories through hymns and anthems inspired by the birth of Jesus.

If you are like me, with each tune, with each stanza, my soul taps into the hope of Christmas as these hymns reveal a deep and holy joy that is visceral and substantive.

Now for a few minutes, I’d like you to join me in putting Jesus up on the Christmas tree, like an ornament of crystal, if you will, that, when looked through, reveals something new with every turn.

From one angle there is the Jesus we remember fondly, maybe from our childhood, or from the faith of a grandparent, or fond association with the holiday stories and songs and traditions. 

From another angle we see Jesus with skepticism, questioning all this hoopla. A virgin birth? Angels from the heavenly realm filling the sky over Bethlehem?  And the star, which star?  Was it the conjunction that forms when Jupiter and Saturn overlapped?  Was it asteroid XN5 that swept the sky two thousand and eighteen years ago? And how about Joseph?  Was Joseph really that cool to accept baby Jesus as his own son?

Or tonight maybe we turn the crystal again and meet Jesus with curiosity. Curiosity about the mystery that there are things beyond seeing, that there might be a God, and if so what an interesting, marvelous God this is to engage through Jesus; born of a woman with a message of hope and love that expands across time.

Or maybe we see through the clear crystal cut of faith, that opens our souls to the deep joy and true consolation that God desires for us, in relationship with Jesus, the Word made flesh to dwell among us. 

Whether it is fondly, or skeptically, or curiously, or faithfully that we meet Jesus tonight, we do so together, as one body, one community, one hope.  That is what this birth story is all about, it is about hope.

Hope in the Christian vernacular is not a feeling, nor is it an anticipated future state of being. Hope is not synonymous with a particular outcome, nor is it an emotion that slowly surges in anticipation of a Christmas gift. No, hope is a present reality, hope is a known fact, hope is the sure and sturdy cable that connects our soul to God (Heb 6:19a).

Hope isn’t the present under the tree, hope is the tree itself, still planted, with roots running deep into the soil. Hope is the present state of a life grounded in God. Tonight, we celebrate hope articulated through the birth of a child; hope that has a name, the name of Jesus. 

And so, I invite you to ponder hope. Take the hope with you when you leave, let it roll around in your mind as you hum carols and you reflect on this story of Jesus. And as you do so, consider your cable of connection; wonder why you were made to be connected in the first place; for what purpose. 

Maybe you are just a random collection of atoms, weirdly strung together in a repeatable pattern, made in a moment for no reason at all. But seeing you, I don’t think so. There is another reason for your being. A connectedness of your soul to a higher power.  Could there be a love that comes from beyond meant to touch your heart, to inspire your mind, to animate your body, to fire up your community. And if so, is this a love you can know; and if so, what does this love require of you; and if so, what does this love reveal to you? Maybe hope grounded in God.

This is hope to ponder as you turn the crystal on Jesus. I am grateful that you are here, and have taken the time to hear the story of Jesus, and to avail your soul to the deep, inter-connected, revelatory joy that God created us to experience.

Merry Christmas and peace upon your souls.