Sunday, December 24, 2017

Homily: The Light of Love

The Light of Love
Isaiah 9: 2-7; Luke 1: 26-38
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2017
The Fourth Sunday of Advent

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...

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
- Isaiah 9: 2, 5-7

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. - Luke 1: 26-38

According to Barbara Robinson there was a particular Christmas pageant which could be described in one word – scandalous!

For as long as she could remember, the children’s Sunday School Class played all the parts and those children knew the Christmas story by heart. The primary school kids were angels; the intermediate kids were shepherds, the older boys were the Wise Men; the pastor’s son Elmer was Joseph; and Alice was Mary because she was the most holy-looking.

But one particular year it was all very different. The Herdman kids happened to come to Sunday School the day the pageant cast was assigned. And they were not shy to stake a claim for all the main roles.

You see, the Herdman kids didn’t have such a good reputation. They lied. They stole money from the offering plate. They said bad words and smoked cigars – even the girls. The day they attended Sunday School they drew mustaches on all the disciples’ faces in the classroom picture Bible.

And here they were going to represent the best and most beautiful in the Christmas pagaent. The Herdman children didn’t even know the Christmas story! Well, it got everybody worked up.

The very first rehearsal the director was answering lots of questions, so she read the whole story from the Bible. The Herdman’s reacted like it was a case from an F.B.I. file. They were shocked to learn about a pregnant teenage girl in church. They were worried about Mary having a baby in the barn. They concluded the Wise Men were a bunch of dirty spies, and King Herod was a villain who needed to be removed.

When word got out that the Herdman kids were in the pageant, the pews were packed on Christmas Eve. Everybody wanted to see just what those Herdman kids were going to do.

The lights dimmed and the spotlight shined on the empty stable, anticipating the story to unfold. Imogene and Ralph were Mary and Joseph. The holy couple didn’t look so holy. Baby Jesus was slung over Mary’s shoulder and she was just ready to clobber anyone who would threaten to mess with her boy.

The shepherds all approached the manger and little Gladys pushed through as the angel of the Lord with her skinny legs and dirty sneakers. The Angel threw her arms open wide nearly hitting a shepherd in the face. And she shouted, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Leroy, Claude, and Ollie trekked forward as the Wise Men. They knew just what baby Jesus wanted for Christmas. So one of them carried a heavy gift – a ham that they dropped at the foot of the manger. The ham came from the Herdman family’s Christmas basket, a gift from the church. That ham was the first thing the children had ever sincerely given away.

As the pageant closed with Silent Night, little Mary with her crooked veil stood in the makeshift stable crying and crying. She didn’t even wipe away her tears. The spirit of Christmas completely overwhelmed her.

What many thought could be the worst actually became “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” because the Herdman children revealed the truest sense of Christmas. The story unfolded for everyone that night through the most unexpected family and in the most unexpected way.

The Christmas story that so many of us treasure is really quite a scandalous one. Mary was a young teenager. She was legally and financially bound to marry Joseph. And in the most unexpected way, the angel of the Lord appeared with the most unexpected and shocking news. Mary would carry in her womb the Son of God.

Mary was disturbed with her inner thoughts and emotions. She wrestled to make sense of all this. None of this looked good. If pregnant and unwed, according to the Law, she could have been stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). She could have been publicly shamed by Joseph. She could have lost every hope for a promising future according to ancient cultural norms. And yet she said yes to God. Mary took a bold risk to trust God’s faithfulness.

The announcement of that sweet little Jesus boy is revealed in a less than desirable situation. What more, God chose to enter in the messiness of human life to be one of us.

This babe lying in the manger is the flesh and blood of a divine promise kept. This past week our Women’s Advent Bible Study concluded with these words:

Jesus does not come into a perfect family, filled with perfect people, who do not need saving to begin with. He comes into [God’s family] that has sinned. The Messiah’s people need saving, not just from individual moral failures, but from multigenerational, systemic sin that touches every human institution… The beautiful hope is Mary’s child provides physical, tangible evidence that God has not abandoned God’s people. Mary’s pregnancy fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of Emmanuel, “God with us.” [1]

Listen in the silence. Listen in the noise. Listen for the Spirit’s voice.

The voice of God’s Spirit is saying, “I have kept my promise for I will be your God and you will be my people; yesterday, today, for all eternity.”

The sign of God’s promise is Emmanuel for God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. He is the light shining brightly in the darkness of our unholy moments and imperfect family dynamics, our fears and grief, our brokenness and sin. The Christ Child is the true light that enlightens everyone with cries and coos of God’s possibility.

The new life born from Mary’s womb holds God’s promises of redemption and new life for us. The gift of salvation is from the very womb of God’s amazing grace.

The continuous thread of Scripture weaves the most unlikely women, men, and even children to bear God’s good news in the most unlikely ways.

The miracle of Christmas is a scandalous one – the holiness of God put on the thin skin and tattered garments of humanity to be one of us. The gift of Christmas is a profound one – the promise of Emmanuel proves that nothing will separate us from the love of God!

May the Light of Love overwhelm you and me through unlikely people and in unexpected ways this Christmas season.

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

Sources Referenced:

[1] Tom Fuerst, “Underdogs and Outsiders: A Bible Study on the Untold Stories of Advent” (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), p. 84.

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