Saturday, December 25, 2010

What do you hear?

Sermon preached on the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord, December 24, 2010.

    Of all the things in the story of Christmas, it seems that angels have captured our fancy more than any other.  Think of the many references to angels in the familiar carols of this season: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" or "Angels from the Realms of Glory" or "Angels We Have Heard on High" – just to name a few!  The Christmas story is just not complete without a sky full of golden haired angels, soft as silk wings, harps and voices making music.  Yes, we love our angels.
    But as much as we love those angels, I fear they are more fairy tale than reality to us.  Like the bell in the movie Polar Express, the sound of the angels grows ever more distant to our ears.  It is truly sad to think that we hear everything else so clearly but no longer hear the sound of hope sung when first the night sky..  The stillness of our night is broken by sirens that scream out accident and danger... it pulses with the rhythmic sounds of a city that does not sleep, of people who work through the night, and of lives busied with parties and pleasure... its silence is marred by the tragedies that become tomorrow’s headlines of trouble and disaster.  We hear a lot of things but most of them are not good and not much sounds like angels.  It is not a matter of unbelief as much as it is that we listen to and for other things.
    We hear so very clearly and plainly the sounds of anger and dispute, of bitter debate and argument, of violence and pain.  Because we hear these so clearly, the song of hope the angel’s sang is only a distant echo in our years.  We come tonight to listen for the angels song again so we might join in their song of praise.  How sad it is that song of hope that is Christmas is heard clearly only one night a year.
    It certainly puts a lot of pressure on the service tonight and upon me as preacher.  Is it too much pressure?  Are we expecting too much from one night.  Speaking from the vantage point of this pulpit, I guarantee that what I say tonight cannot make up for a whole year of focus away from the manger.
    God never meant for Christmas to be a a one shot hope, a single solitary moment of light enough to shine in a whole year full of darkness.  Christmas was never intended to be a one stop super night in which we get a fix of religion, a dose of hope, a glimpse of peace that must last us throughout the coming year.  If the angel’s song is distant in our ears and our hope grows weak, it is not God who has left us but we who have wandered far from the manger.  We have allowed our ears to hear and our hearts to focus upon everything but the sound of hope, peace, and God’s good will which Christ’s birth ushered in.
    This is not just about skipping Church.  You can be in Church every week and be focused on everything other than the sweet sound of the Gospel.  When we choose only to hear the sounds of our selves – both the sounds of our disappointments, pain, anger or troubles as well as the sounds of our joys and happiness, then our ears and hearts become closed to the voice of hope that once rang out into that night sky when Christ was born for us.
    Let me speak bluntly to you.  Even as a Pastor, I struggle to hear the Gospel's sweet sound of hope and I am here every week.  Just like you, my heart and mind are constantly weighed low by the struggles and sorrows of this mortal life – those from within my own family and those from within the larger family of this congregation.  Every one of life's disappointments or broken dreams muffles the sound of the angels from our ears and threatens to steal away the hope and joy of Christ’s coming.
    Even our moments of happiness and triumph act as a thief to seal away our hope.  The world plays a tug of war with Christ for the focus of our hearts.  Within us is a battle between the person we were and the person we are in Christ by baptism and faith.  If you have trouble hearing the sound of hope every day, it is because the wrong side is winning out in the competition for what your ears hear and the focus of your hearts
    For the shepherds to leave their flocks and the Magi to journey so far from home, they had to close off their ears and hearts from themselves and the world’s doubts and fears.  We struggle today to do just that.  It is so very easy to listen only the voice of our despair and disappointment, to hear only the sound of our pain and fear, that we walk all through the year and wonder “where is God?”  “Why do we feel so alone and so distant from the Lord?”  God does not shout but speaks the still small voice of angels heralding the Savior’s birth, of shepherds milling around a manger, of hope that comes in the surprise of a baby who is the Son of God in human flesh and blood.
    So I call upon you tonight to leave behind the distractions that distance you from the joy and peace of the Savior.  I urge you to leave here the sins that weigh you down with guilt and shame, to leave here sounds of anger and dispute, to let go of the constant battle over who is right and who is wrong, to drop out of the eternal competition to be noticed or recognized.  I ask you to leave here the broken hearts and broken dreams that would consume our every moment and energy, the disappointments and despair we carry around like chains upon our happiness and joy.  Leave these behind so that your ears may be free to hear the song of hope and joy the angels rang out so long ago.
    Christ was born to show us God.  He was born to carry the burdens of all that is wrong with us and in us.  He was born to forgive our sins and reconcile us to the God who made us.  He was born to establish the power of forgiveness to bring together people torn apart by angry words or hurtful actions.  He was born to live the obedient lives we cannot live and to cover us with His holiness and righteousness.  He was born to call us from death's shadows and darkness into the light of His life.  He was born to set us free to walk in newness of life, where self-control replace self-indulgence and hope replaces despair.
    Christmas is no one night performance but the dawn of a whole new life, lived out in the hope and joy of our Incarnate Savior.  The hope, joy, and peace of this night are meant to be our constant possession and the focus of our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds.  Let go of all that competes with the sound of hope sung to night, leave behind all that would distract you from the gift of the manger, and learn to carry this sweet Gospel gift in your daily life both now and even to eternal life.
    Every Sunday is a return to the manger, a return to the Word and Table of the Lord, where God works to clear our heads of all distractions, to cleanse our hearts from all temptations, and to refocus our ears and eyes upon the manger where Christ was first revealed, the cross where His saving purpose was made clear, the empty tomb where His gift was unveiled in its great glory.  Let this not be a one nighter but the dawn of a whole new way of life lived out in the grace, love, hope, and mercy of the Savior we meet in the manger.  For only then will we hear the sound of God’s voice leading and directing us to the peace that passes all understanding and to the anchor of hope that sustains us through life’s storms.  Amen

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