"Sharing God's Love"
December 25, 2014
By Bob Wadley
December 25, 2014
By Bob Wadley
Well, here we are, Christmas Day! Merry Christmas. Have you ever wondered, “How do we know Jesus was born on December 25?” Well, actually, we don't. Around the middle of the 4th century, the Bishop of Jerusalem asked the Bishop of Rome to determine the actual date of Christ's birth. He wrote back that it was December 25, knowing that was an arbitrary date. But his picking that date wasn't arbitrary, it was deliberate. For centuries before Christ was born, the month of December had been a time of pagan festivals. He thought that if people would celebrate Christ's birth at the same time, it would cause people to become more engaged in spiritual things and draw them away from their revelry. It was a nice thought, but as we know, it has only been partially successful. For many, Christmas is still like a pagan festival, not a celebration of the most important moment in all of history.
So many of the things we associate with Christmas come from long ago. The Romans used candles in their celebrations, the Norsemen called their tribute to Odin and Thor “Yule,” the Druids thought mistletoe was sacred and a symbol of peace. Whenever an enemy passed under the mistletoe, you had to embrace him which would, supposedly, lead to reconciliation. St. Francis popularized the manger scene, Martin Luther introduced the Christmas tree, and, of course, from Holland we get St. Nicholas who would leave presents for the good children and switches for the parents of bad children. Christmas cards, first printed in London in 1846, all showed merry drinking scenes. So, while the Bishop of Rome had good intentions, over the years Christmas has become cluttered with a whole lot of unrelated pagan elements and now you are urged to begin your Christmas shopping before Halloween.
Enough of history. I trust that everyone had a wonderful Christmas Eve. I know that if you were here last night, you heard some beautifully sung familiar carols and were enveloped in a feeling of warmth and love. Christmas always seems to magnify our emotions and the love we feel for each other. It certainly is a time that strengthens the bonds we share and being separated from loved ones, for whatever reason, is always more difficult at Christmas than at any other time of the year. And for many people, maybe especially little children, Christmas is the climax to a huge build-up, a period of waiting. But for us, Christmas is the beginning. This is the day that God chose to share our life, to be born, grow up, and finally die, as a human, as one of us. This is the day God came to live on this planet He created which we call Earth. What could be more special, more spectacular than that?
But, should we ask, “why would God choose to do this?” In Psalm 40, we read that God stooped to us and heard our cry. What would cause an all-powerful God to want to inhabit the limited finite body of a human? The answer is a love so great it is beyond our understanding, an act of grace we could never deserve, but have been blessed by God to receive. So, we celebrate. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus, and we celebrate God's love which all of us, but especially those of us here today, have come to know.
Our Savior. In Luke 2:11, we read “To you this day is born a Savior.” A Savior to save us from what? Saved is a synonym for rescued. What dangerous or threatening condition do we need to be rescued from? One answer is the consequences of our separation from God. But, perhaps another way of thinking asks, “What has our Savior come to save us for?” What would God have us do? Perhaps he would have us share that indescribable love He has for us. There are so many out there who need to know they are loved. Have you ever thought about the fact that Joseph and Mary, having traveled to an unfamiliar town for the census, were at that point homeless? How would we have treated them? Would we have loved them? I hope so. I believe those here today would have. I know many I have worked with here at Ascension certainly would have.
I can personally testify to that love. We all have stories, stories of good times and tough times, of times of joy and times of sorrow, of blessings received and challenges to overcome. I have shared my story with many of you, how I arrived here nearly 15 years ago a broken man. By God's grace, working through the Rev. Ladson Mills, Charles Fels, Randy Nichols and others I was hired to be your Parish Administrator. Over these 15 years I have come to know and love many of you. There have been Sunday mornings I have sat here watching as people I love come to the rail and tears have come to my eyes as I reflected on how much they have come to mean to me. Of course, if I am sitting with Cathy, we are in the front pew which goes against all my Baptist upbringing. But, I have to admit, it is the best place to feel intimacy with those I love as they receive the gift of the body and blood of Christ.
And now, my tenure as an employee of Church of the Ascension is ending. This past Sunday I was honored and roasted, both with love. I was overwhelmed by your generosity, but also by the love of my brothers in the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, even as they told stories about me. I just want you to know, those stories weren't true. Well, maybe some of them were. But, the message was one of love and of how blessed I have been to receive God's grace.
I thought our Gospel and Epistle readings this morning were from Luke and Titus, rather than John and Hebrews. However, all of them talk about grace. In Titus we read that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all. As I said earlier, that grace is the manifestation of God's love, a love so all encompassing that we can't fully comprehend it, yet for us here today, a love we have come to take for granted. Does the young African suffering from ebola feel God's love? Does the homeless person living beneath a bridge know God's grace? Do they share the love and companionship of family and friends on Christmas Day? We are so blessed and, although I can't speak for God, I'm fairly certain he would want us to share that blessedness with others.
For some of us, that seems to be really easy. For others, such as an old introverted curmudgeon like me, I need constant reminding. Which is why we are here, why we come here each week to worship God, to thank Him for His love, His grace, and to be reminded that it isn't ours to store away. It is given to us to share with others. So, once again, Merry Christmas, and in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”