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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Be not afraid

The elusive sliver of light from a shadowed Earth is one of space tourist Guy Laliberte's most prized photos among those he took from the International Space Station in 2009.
A Sermon for the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
The Family Service - 4 PM
All Saint’s Church – Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

It’s always so wonderful to see the church filled with so many people! You all look so festive and happy. One might even say, merry and bright.

Well, most of you do. I know, I know. Some of you are here under duress. You’ve come under strict orders from Mom or Dad. Or, perhaps your appearance here is part of a deal you struck with someone in your family.

You know who you are.

I have a dear friend and colleague who is a priest in the Church of England who told me the following story which may strike a cord of resonance with you and bring you a smile.

A man in Scotland calls his son in London the day before Christmas Eve and says, "I hate to ruin your day but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough".

"Dad, what are you talking about?'" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer", the father says. "We're sick of each other and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Leeds and tell her".

Frantically, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone, "They are NOT getting divorced", she shouts. "I'll take care of this".

She calls Scotland immediately and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, do you hear me?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife and says, "Done! Not only are they coming for Christmas - but they're paying their own way too."

Do NOT try this at home. Your mileage may vary.

I don’t know if that’s what got you into church tonight, but I’m awfully glad you’re here.

Tonight is the night when we suspend all rational thought and – just for tonight – begin to think about the possibility of miracles. Not ‘the miracle of medical science’ or the ‘magic of television or technology’.

No, I’m talking about the miracle of God who took on human flesh and came to live among us to know our sorrows and our joys; our sufferings as well as our celebrations.

I don’t know how to explain that to you. It’s something that is beyond human understanding and comprehension. Perhaps this little story of a Christmas Eve from my childhood may help.

I am the oldest of four children. – three girls and one boy. We lived in a small, three- bedroom apartment above my grandparents. My two younger sisters and I shared one bedroom and my little brother – whom we called ‘The Little Prince’ – had his own room.

Which I hated. I mean, I was the oldest. I should have my own room, shouldn’t I?

I fussed and complained about it. A lot. Indeed, on my 9th Christmas, that’s what I asked for – the only request I made: my own bedroom. I never thought I’d get it, and I’d be happy with whatever I got, but I thought it was certainly worth a shot.

On the day before Christmas Eve, I came home from school and went directly to my bedroom to plop my stuff on my bed. Imagine my surprise when my bed was not there! I rushed out to find my parents having coffee at the kitchen table, smiling broadly.

“Where’s my bed?” I asked, confused, and almost afraid to ask.

“Come with us,” my parents said as they led me to the door I knew led to the attic. Up the steep stairs we went. When we got to the top, my father opened the door and what to my wondering eyes did I see but my very own bedroom.

Oh, it was still the attic – my father promised to fix it up a bit more over the year – but it was my very own room.. There was my twin bed (I would later get new sheets and pillow cases and blankets), and a rug on the floor, and my bedside table – but no lamp. No electrical outlet. There was a bare light in the middle of the ceiling with a long string that was not far from my bed. My mother had put some bows on it to make it more festive.

It was far from perfect but it was absolutely perfect. I was thrilled beyond the telling.

That night, I couldn’t wait to get to bed. I got myself all tucked into my bed and my parents came up to say goodnight. As they left the room and I snuggled under my comforter, my parents called out, “Sweet dreams,” as they pulled on the string and turned out the light and closed the door behind them.

All of a sudden, the room was dark. Pitch. Black. Dark. And, I was sore afraid. I hate the dark. Even today. But, as a kid with a vivid imagination, I was in hyper overdrive. Panic began to set it. I tried to whistle, but my mouth was so dry, I could hardly pucker.

As the minutes ticked on, I started to tremble with fear. I couldn’t even see my hands in front of me, but somehow, they found themselves clasped together and I did the only thing I knew how to do. I started to pray.

“Dear Jesus,” I prayed from the bottom of my wildly beating 9-year old heart, “Please, if you are the Light of the World, would you please, please, please shed a little of it on me right now? Even just a little light from your birthday candle would do. Just enough to keep the monsters I’m sure are living under my bed away from me? Please?”

And just then, I heard my mother at the bottom of those long, narrow steps that led to my new, suddenly not-so-perfect bedroom. “Elizabeth? Are you okay?”

I wanted to scream, “No, I’m not. Please come and get me out of here!” But before I could get the words out, I heard her say, “I’ll just leave a light on for you, in case you need to go to the bathroom. Merry Christmas!”

And then, suddenly – magically! – there was light!

Just a little light. A small sliver at the bottom of the door at the top of the attic stairs. But, it was enough. I instantly felt a wave of relief pour itself over my body. I felt a wonderful peace and comfort. And, I knew my prayers had been answered.

I’m all grown up now. An intelligent, independent woman, capable of rational thinking and reasoned responses.

I’m not as afraid of the dark anymore, but sometimes, I find myself in such pretty dark emotional places that I scare myself. I’m thinking some of you know of what I speak.

I don’t believe in monsters under my bed anymore, but I do know that evil exists in the world. I have seen it and I suspect you have, too.

It’s times like that when I need nights like this. I think there’s a little child in each of us that – whether we care to admit it or not – needs nights like tonight. Nights when we can suspend all rational thinking and believe, just for one night – just for tonight – that miracles can and do happen.

We need one night when, even though it makes no sense – no sense at all – to believe that God knows our fears and our sorrows as well as our joys and our delights because God once took on human flesh and walked among us.

Because, I’m telling you – even though I can’t prove it empirically – that God was once among us as Jesus.

And, I’m telling you – even though it defies all logic – that Jesus lives on in me and in you. There is a little spark of the Divine in each one of us.

That is the light that glows especially bright on this night we call Christmas Eve.

It glows in the faces of the Christ child in each one of us, who lays his head in the humble manger of our hearts every day of the year.

You can see it especially in an act of kindness – like making sure someone who is hungry gets something to eat.

Or, visiting someone who is in prison so that s/he will know that s/he has not been forgotten.

Or, working for justice to change the systems that keep wide the chasm between rich and poor.

And, I’m telling you that all it takes in this dark, hurting world is a little sliver of light to chase away the shadows of fear and mend the broken places in our hearts.

Perhaps you could be that little sliver of light for someone this night, or the next, or the one after that.

Because that’s really what Christmas is all about. It’s why we come to church, even when we really don’t want to. To draw near to the Light of Christ that we may come to know the Prince of Peace and to bring that peace to the rest of the world.

Be not afraid, the angels said to the shepherds watching their flock that night so long ago in a field near Bethlehem. And, the light of a star shone so brightly that it led them right to where the Infant Jesus lay.

May you find that little sliver of light that will bring you to Jesus.

May you find the light of Christ in your own heart that you may lead others to Jesus.

May you know the Prince of Peace that you may be a vehicle of peace in the world.

May you believe in the miracle of the Incarnation that you may begin to see the miracle that is life.

And, if you can’t, be not afraid!

Just for tonight, believe in my belief until someone comes into your life and turns the light on in your darkness so that you will be able to find your own belief and peace and comfort and joy.



Anonymous said...

A lovely and moving sermon! Amen.
Pax Christi,

Joanna Depue said...

Thank you, Elizabeth - you have helped support my little faith as I have ventured out of depths back into the stream of life that Love Incarnate has prepared for me. The sliver of incandescent silver on the path ahead!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Maria and Joanna.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

RENZ said...

Elizabeth, we gather as a small group of folks and home church now that the diocese has sold the building...was expecting a very small group today, but we were joined unexpectedly by the sister of one of our summer members.

Normally we read the words of our former priest, Ginny Peacock...but today we substituted a reading from John (Xmas 1 which gets bumped this year) so we had no homily. We started to discuss and we found we were drawn to the light and dark imagery so, having read your sermon last night, I asked to share it, having read one of your other sermons to them over coffee a few weeks ago.

Main point, the unexpected gal was very moved by your words, must have hit close to home, and she requested I let you know how much she appreciated your words.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so much for that, Larry. It really just takes a sliver of light.

Anonymous said...

The story about wanting your own bedroom and what followed is beautiful, plus your interpreting into the meaning of Christmas is beautiful.

I live in Japan and my husband is a retired Japanese Lutheran pastor and theologian. I am sharing this with him.