A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 24, 2017 (around 5:30pm)
University Baptist Church
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The candles are lit.
The children are in costume.
The family has gathered.
We sing the carols we have not sung all Advent. Their familiar chords ring and we say, “ah”.
We even had a live baby Jesus.
What can a preacher say that has not already been said in the scriptures, sung in the grand carols, uttered in hushed prayers?
One of the favorite carols was played by the bells and violin a little while ago.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining--
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn!
Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Yonder means. "at some distance, but still within view." I like what my friend Dwight Davidson from the United Church of Granville says about “Yonder”: “In Christianity, the glorious morn for which we hope -- God's reign of justice and peace for all creation -- is always yonder. At times (and perhaps especially times like these) that "glorious morn" feels distant. But it is also always within view.”
Amidst all of the bad news from this past year, where things we hold dear are rooted out, where trauma rains down on our Christmas parade, where meanness seems to replace meekness and we seem to have forgotten the message that the Bible proclaims a great reversal of fortunes and priorities. On Christmas, we see that breaking glorious morn on the yonder horizon. We see the earth healed in our mind's eye and in our hearts, as we invite Christ to be born in us anew, day by day. And that "being born in us" is crucial, for Christ has no hands but our hands; no feet but our feet. So as we celebrate the incarnation, we celebrate the Spirit through which we continue to press on towards that "glorious morn"--for a world of more love, more justice, and more peace.
We need that, don’t we?
Most of you know that this year has been a tough one for our family. Last year, Kim was dealing with the aftermath of breast cancer surgery only to find that she was laid off of work. She has been able to find some employment, but not as much as she would like. We have made it through a year of firsts since our nephew died at his own hand last December. Last Christmas, we set a place for him at the table—this void in our life so real. I know some of you have experienced devastating loss this past year, so much that joyful words of Christmas fall flat. The harmonies are still off this year. Not as off as they were last year, but yonder is still too far off.
I like what the poet L.R.Knost says:
"Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you." www.LRKnost.com
My brother’s family had a dilemma this year. Should they put up Lewis’ Christmas stocking or not? They asked the hive mind over social media what they thought. They got lots of advice. They settled on putting up his stocking, but asking friends and family to do random acts of kindness in memory of Lewis. And then if they felt so moved, they could write a note about what they did. That’s what fills his stocking now. Mike and Joy have not decided how many they will open this year. Maybe they will just let it fill up. The random acts of kindness stay random that way. Kinda like the Holy Spirit moving in our hearts.
Christmas is about God’s promise to walk beside us.
I like to think that the angels we sing with on Christmas Eve are those who have gone before us. All those loved ones who look down on us. They are cheering us on—ready to help us do the right thing.
Whenever you feel alone or that the whole world is conspiring against you, remember that yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. The angels do appear. They say, I’ll walk beside you. I’ll hold you up when you don’t feel like you can go on. Some of those angels are sitting beside you this evening. Some of them are urging you on from behind the veil. But they are there. Whenever people choose goodness. Whenever people choose compassion, whenever people choose mercy, whenever people put their hopes on the side of love, then they are in tune with the angels and yonder’s great and glorious morn comes into a little clearer view.
And if you listen real closely,
(the organist begins playing the chorus to “Angels We Have Heard on High”)
you can hear them singing. And maybe you will find yourself singing along: a familiar tune, with deeper meaning. Someone is going to need an angel tonight. Maybe you can be that for someone. If not tonight, then this week. The angels came, so the story goes, to those who were left out of the places of power, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, this ragtag group from out yonder. And as we sing, we can see the vision for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
(the congregation sings “Angels We Have Heard on High”)