Monday, December 24, 2018

Year C Christmas Eve 4:30 2018 For the Grace of God Appeared

Year C Christmas Eve (4:30) 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“For the Grace of God Appeared” 

Collect: O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for everAmen. 

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.  Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Looking for our Salvation is something we all do. When we are in a crisis, we look for a way out. When we our sad, we look for joy. We look for a way out, wanting to be saved from whatever it is we find ourselves in. 

One time I was on a sailing adventure in the Florida Keys. We had been snorkeling off of Islamorada all day. It had been wonderful, but we stayed out beyond when we should. It was getting dark, and we had never been to where we were mooring for the night. All of us on the boat were exhausted, and we had a few hours of sailing to get into shore. It was winter, so the sun went down sooner even though the weather was fine and the water was warm. So we started to head in, knowing we would get in long after dark..  

Now when you are sailing, there are no roads, and there are no street signs. You have to know where you are going, and you have to know where you are. You also have to know what stands between you and where you want to be. There are coral reefs all over the place in this part of the Keys, so we had to be very careful. You do not want your boat to scrape. We had our depth gauge and our GPS, and a wing and a prayer, trying to get into the John Pennekamp State Park where we were mooring.  
When we got a few miles away, we were able to distinguish lights on the shore. Now there are different ways of lining yourself up to get into shore. At the park where we were headed, they had cleared a channel to get into the park through the reefs. There were two lights, that had a flashing signal to distinguish them, and you had to line them up. Once they were lined up, you had to keep straight to make sure you had a clear path to get in safe and sound. The seas were a bit choppy, so going in a straight line required constant attention and responding to the wind and the waves. 
I was at the helm, and so for hours I had to keep my eyes on the light. I would watch the light, and stay focused on the light, and if I did I would find my way home. 

In the hours that passed I started to think of how this is my life. Life knocks us about. It is dark, too often. And I am tired, far too often. But I know, and I am promised, that if I keep my eyes on the light I will find my way home. 

That same promise that was made to me, was made to each and every one of us. A light came into the world, flashing brightly for too short a time but clearly calling us to find our way home. Titus phrased it this way: FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED, BRINGING SALVATION TO ALL… 
Jesus is the light that came into the world some 2000 years ago, and his light is still shining and calling us home. 
That says it all. We love Christmas because of that. FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED, BRINGING SALVATION TO ALL…  
Now Christmas is special because of so many things, because of family time. Because of happy songs. Because of silly hats, and ugly sweaters. Joy. Hope. Peace. Love. All those things are what it means, but it comes back to the simplest story there is. A man and a woman trying to make a life together, and a baby comes. It is a story as old as humanity. It is something most of us know first hand, if not second. We even sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years…” We feel those hopes and fears because we know them. The times when I was scared for my wife and kids, I was Joseph. When I did not know what was going to happen and I had to trust and believe, I was Mary. Whenever we celebrate a new life, we see Jesus. Yesterday in this very room we celebrated a baptism. We know and can relate, because we feel those feelings and “get it.” 
But Titus here reminds us of the something more. We get the universality, the relatable-to-everyone of the story, but here our passage starts with the specialness, the uniqueness, the wonder of it all on that special night we call the first Christmas. Something special came into the world, something that was new and a first, and will never happen again. 
Now Grace is an unexpected, undeserved gift. Brennan Manning phrases it this way:  
“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” 
“There is nothing that you can do to make God love you any more, and there is nothing I can do that would make God love you any less.” 
When Grace shows up, we shout, we leap for joy! God’s love cannot be hidden. God’s love cannot be stopped. 
Now tomorrow morning we will be unwrapping presents, and opening boxes and bags. It is wonderful, but on that first night we hear about people invited to the party who never would have been on anybody’s guest list. Shepherds, especially ones out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night because it was the time when the sheep gave birth, were smelly and dirty. Smelly and dirty people are not usually first on the guest list. But the angels showed up to make sure EVERYONE, especially the least or the forgotten, were invited to the party.  
FOR THE GRACE OF GOD APPEARED! It appeared to the Shepherds, and it appeared to me. Tonight, we stop to remember that that GRACE APPEARED, BRINGING SALVATION TO ALL.  

Now in this box I have a reminder, because that is why we come to Church, to be reminded, and everytime you see it tonight I want you to remember that the Grace of God Appeared when Jesus was born. And this light came into the world, to call us all home. 
[Hand out Cyalume Light Sticks] I want to make sure every family gets one. See the light, share the light, and when this light goes out, it is your job to make sure that you share it with what you say, and what you do. How you love, and how you live. Jesus loves us so much to give us the job of sharing his love, of shining his light, with everyone. FOR THE GRACE OF GOD APPEARED, BRINGING SALVATION TO ALL… I cannot think of a better way of saying Merry Christmas than that. 

On our sailing adventure, we finally made it into the harbor, safe and sound, away from the waves, sheltered and secure. I kept my eyes on the light, and found my salvation. Keep your eyes on the light, and you will always find your way home. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock