Harrowing Of Hell
December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Preacher: The Rev Kate Wesch

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Tonight, at this darkest time of year, we pierce the night with millions of pinpoints of light – with candles in church and on table where families gather, with light on our Christmas trees and front porches, and lawns lit up in colorful array.  We wrap ourselves in the darkness like a blanket and gaze steadily out at the light on the horizon, knowing that spring must come.

Christmas is about that hope, the longing for light.  It’s sudden appearance in a flash when that famous star alerted the shephers and the magi to this new miracle in flesh.  Our celebration tonight is about a newborn baby who utterly transformed the world when God came down and dwelt among us.

God becoming human in the person of Jesus is the incarnation and the incarnation means change.  To quote Bishop Steven Charleston, the incarnation, “means God coming into our time and into our space, into our lives and into our comfort zone and shaking things up and making them be recreated in a new way and challenging us to confront change and to be active in doing something, being co-creators with God in the world among us.”

While we spent the past weeks waiting in Advent, we waited patiently (and some not so patiently) often in private, but now, Jesus’ humble birth takes it public with a megawatt star.  God’s work in this world in never ending and it takes shape in the hearts, minds, and hands of ordinary, everyday people.  With the hope of Christmas, the impossible begins to take on possibility.

When angels approached the shepherds in the dark fields outside of Jerusalem, the shepherd were first shocked, then afraid, and finally curious.  The text says they were terrified.  God’s work in the world can be shocking.

Think of a time in your life when you have been surprised, by joy.  What was the experienced like?  What was it that you found shocking or surprising?  In which part did you find joy?

I asked this question the other night and got a variety of thoughtful answers.  One person spoke of the surprising joy of falling in love, the dizzying excitement of reciprocated interest and connection with another person.  Others around the table nodded in agreement.

I spoke of the surprising joy I have encountered in being a parent.  I never imagined I would find contentment and bliss in being a mother, but each and every day I am reminded of that joy as I spend time with my 2-year-old daughter.

And still another person shared a deeply personal experience she had on a silent retreat some years ago.  Her words echoed the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.”  Her tear-filled experienced in a deep and dark valley served as her journey into light and hope which surprised the heck out of her.  Climbing out of the depths, she never expected to be blinded by God’s joy.

God has a way of sneaking up on us.  With the hope of Christmas, the impossible begins to take on possibility.

What might we do this Christmas season to celebrate this exquisite moment of change?  To acknowledge the hope of God in our midst?

First, we should proceed as usual.  Go home tonight and set out the milk and cookies for Santa.  Put finishing touches on gifts, set out the last presents, and drift off to sleep with Christmas carold stuck in your head.  And when you wake up in the morning, to children jumping up and down on your bed, or a nice quiet house, or a kitchen full of company, follow through on all of those customs and traditions from years past.  Enjoy those visions of angels, shepherds, and the baby in the manger, all the animals, Mary and Joseph – keeping it exactly the way it’s always been.

As Bishop Charleston says, “Just today, just for this one day, let it be comforting and traditional.  Let it be familiar and warm and loving.  There’s time enough tomorrow for you and me to step out in our own incarnation and one again pick up our gifts and go to work with God to face change and make change for the glory of God’s name.  But for today, for this one special day, let us relax into the peace that is holy and into a time where time itself seems to stand still and the winds and tides of change are held back with the sounds of angelic voices drifting through a starry, cold night.”

I came across the following words, but I don’t remember where, yet they seem to capture what this feast day is all about.  “Christmas is about a God who still condescends to earth, and that means this: Christmas is about the human soul, for the God of pure light chose to become as us, bounded by time and space, even – now get this – to bow down to us, to save us from the death, the darkness, the fear.  But more than that:  God esteemed your soul as worthy.

God esteemed you as worthy.  For you, a light shone in the darkness, which is why the Savior beckons you out of your Christmas stupor, and into a real faith, a true and living faith, a faith in which you touch something – someone – you have never touched before, and you see a light you have never seen before.

And suddenly there appeared the heavenly host, who began praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Peace to God’s people on earth.