I enjoy the holiday season about as much as anyone can. Just thinking about this next month or so the precipice on which we now rest, conjures up images and memories in my mind of these times in years passed. Time with my grandparents, when all of them were still with us and both sides of the family would gather together. Going to aunts’ and uncles’ houses to share holiday meals with them. Playing with my cousins outside while the adults talked about adult stuff on the inside. Going to church for special services. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving we always gathered in the sanctuary of my home church as we were led successively by my pastoral mentors Sam Shumate and then Sam Warner. We would triumphantly sing, “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing, He chastens and hastens his will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.” Each year the service would conclude with people offering up what they were thankful for and without fail the elderly matriarch of the congregation would stand and solemnly say, “salvation,” and we would know that meant there was nothing else that needed to be said. Time spent in church, time spent with kith and kin, time spent in great joy. I love the holiday season. I say all this so that I cannot be accused of being a contrarian when I say that one of the things that drives me the most bonkers about this time of the year is the need to move it’s start date further and further back in the calendar. This year, the week after Halloween, I was walking through the Target with my sons and our ears were immediately filled with the familiar strains of holiday classics and all around the transformation from the Fall to the Christmas season had commenced and autumnal colors throughout the store were being replaced by red, white, and green. Later that day, I was in Panera and they too had made the shift to the holiday season with special holiday bags and music and a roaring fire even though it was not particularly cold outside. On the television, ads have begun, on the radio, stations have switched over to Christmas music, and throughout the whole of the Western world it seems that we are all gearing up for the coming of the Christ child. And while I could lament the intertwining of the Christmas season with materialism and the efforts by commercial enterprises to begin the holiday shopping season earlier and earlier, flying in the face of the Christian calendar, I won’t. Anymore. Because I think that this push to enter into the holiday season seemingly earlier and earlier each year actually deeply resonates with the needs and desires of many within this world and it is this yearning that fuels the stores and restaurants to move towards such an early inception of the season. Because, deep down, each of us want to experience a profound and abiding joy, each of us want to experience the care and concern that accompanies the in-breaking of God into the world that comes each year with the birth of the Christ child. Each of us wants to know that in the end, even in-spite of the brokenness, the hurt we inflict upon one another, the anger and the violence that we too often mete out against each other, we want to know that love wins, indeed, that love has already won. Because, at least within the Christian world, this time of year sits on the edge of the time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child. It sits at the edge of a time of great expectations of what such an appearance can mean for a world like this one. We gather together in this place and for a time we take on the guise of the people who dwelt in darkness, the people who continually bump into one another, who continue to be blinded to the presence of God in our midst, who continue to seek but not find. And in that regard, we, who find ourselves in this holy space on this holy day are really no different from those who wander the earth out there in search of hope overcoming despair. They, too, seek something, anything to fill in the hole that rests at the very center of their being. They, too, seek something that will bring an end to the pain of rejection and despondency that too often accompanies the human experience in this life. They, too, want to see the Christ child born in a stable in Bethlehem, because there wasn’t room for his parents in the inn. They, too, want what we want, they just don’t always have the language to express it. And so, instead, they and, at times, we, react as anyone would who is searching for some measure of comfort. We all begin to insert different things into that deepest yearning to see if it will bring the peace that surpasses all understanding. We cling to our stuff and try and accumulate more stuff. We cling to our identities and declare that we in this community are the true chosen of God and those people out there are not. We cling to our truth believing that we are the only ones who possess it, and we horde it, and we wall it off, and we tell those on the outside that the only way we will share it with them is if they come in here. We are all, everyone of us, the people who dwell in darkness, and it is ultimately Christ who is the light that shines in each of our souls that allows us to have hope, to experience love, to find ultimate peace and rest for our spirits. That’s where we find ourselves on this morning. But here’s the good news.
“Grace and peace to you, from the One who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits before the throne 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the Firstborn from the dead, sovereign of the rulers of the earth. To Christ—who loves us, and who has freed us from our sins by the shedding of blood, 6 and who has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and Creator—to Jesus Christ be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” A message straight from scripture for each of you this morning. A message that you can take and tell everyone you meet, everyone you see in pain, everyone you see that is struggling, everyone you see that needs to see even the most minute light piercing the darkness. Everyone you see. Tell them, “Grace and peace to you, from the One who is, who was, and who is to come.” We are told the the Revelation to John was written by an early follower of the way named John of Patmos, not to be confused the tradition from which the Gospel of John emerged but rather John of Patmos, one who was considered such a troublemaker by the Roman authority that he was separated from his community of believers, separated from his family and friends, and exiled on a tiny island of the coast of Greece. One who had to feel as if he will never see redemption, one who had to feel as if God has abandoned him away on this tiny island, one, to whom we can relate in the midst of these dark days in the history of creation, in which we are left to ponder whether fear and distrust, whether bombs and bullets, whether hatred between brother and sister are going to bring about the sunset of the human race overall that we hear his words of grace and of peace, and we see his vision of the appearance of Christ again in history coming in glory and coming in might to bring about an end to cycles of brokenness that seeming spin endlessly towards oblivion. Grace and peace to you, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.
And here’s more good news. You don’t have to look on the clouds for the second coming of the messiah. You don’t have to look on some distant start cluster or in the sun that rises in the morning, nor in the sun the recedes in the evening. Not on the new fallen snow, nor the rivers and oceans that bathe the world in holy water. You merely have to look within yourselves. Your hands, your feet, they are the hands and feet of Christ. Your eyes, your ears, called to see and hear the voices of those who struggle within your midst, to look deep into their countenance. The spirit of Christ dwells deep within each of you, deep in that part of the soul that you have to work to get down to, after you shoved aside the muck and the mire of living within a broken world, that place that remains uncorrupted by sin and hatred, by cynicism and despair, deep in that place, Christ shall and does reign. You don’t have to believe a certain thing or recite some magical incantation, or do anything. The apostle Paul tells us all that we each remain connected to the love of God, to the presence of Christ and that connection can never be broken by what we do, or we don’t do. We, together, are the body of Christ and there has never been a more important time in the history of our species both to declare that, but more importantly to act into that.
Outside these walls, just past these doors, is a land that is teeming with people who are desperately searching for something, anything, on which to ground their entire lives. They just don’t always possess the language to put word to emotion. In the end, they are relegated to places that rarely care about them. They are feverishly bounce from place-to-place seeking to score a new high, seeking to satiate their physical needs by any means necessary, seeking to declare to the world around them that they matter. They go into shopping malls and restaurants and are offered the message “Happy Holidays!” now come and buy our stuff. They try whatever they can to locate some degree of permanence in a world that is constantly falling away. In a creation that is bit-by-bit breaking down and returning to it’s basest elements. That is returning to stardust. We see them everyday. Maybe we see them in the mirror when we first wake up in the morning, or maybe we see them when we cast our vision against the mirror in the evening before we sleep. Maybe we see them on the corners asking for money to help sustain them. Maybe we see them feeling distant and aloof in the middle of a crowded room. Maybe we see them walking down the street in front of our houses and our offices, but trust me, we see them. And they need us to reach out to them with the message both that Christ Reigns in creation, but more importantly, Christ reigns in them. Is it any wonder that there is so much violence in the world, so much suffering, so much pain, when the church has watched whole generations walk out and declare it obsolete.
But we can turn it around, both here in this place, and throughout God’s creation. We can turn it around because we believe, and we declare that Christ Reigns! That Christ was, is, and is to come and because of that none of need to find anything else in the world to place in that space that dwells in us that needs to be filled. Christ is already there if we will but look deep into ourselves and see, and know, and believe. But once we have had that experience, once we have come to that knowledge, once we have felt the presence of Christ again and anew, we cannot, cannot, cannot keep it within these walls like some great secret that we share with our friends. We must, must, must, reach out to those in our midst and throughout our community and tell them of this good news of great joy that has been released and will soon cover the whole of the planet. “Fear not!” we are told over and over again because Christ is with us, Christ dwells in us, propels us to move courageously into the future, and Christ meets us at the end, seated on a throne, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Christ Reigns! Alleluia, Amen.