These past four weeks, the weeks of Advent, our worship has been focused on the 300th anniversary of Joy to the World. But we hadn’t sung it until tonight! For those of you who worship with us regularly, did the waiting for it make it extra special?
Advent is a special time… four weeks of waiting… of preparing… of walking into the increasing darkness of December. And then it’s Christmas Eve! We rejoice, we sing, we celebrate and we eat!
To close each worship service, we’ve been singing ‘We’re Going to Bring Joy to the World’ which ends with ‘a glimpse of holy we might see.’ Isn’t that the reason we all gather this night? We live in hope and expectation that we will get a glimpse of the holy. A glimpse of something beyond ourselves. A glimpse of God breaking into the world in flesh.
The people of Isaiah’s time were looking for a glimpse of the holy too. In our first reading, we hear him speak of darkness and light. He was speaking in a time of war and yet he holds out the promise of light. In darkness, we, too, long for light. In the routine of life, we look for joy. In a world of war and terror, we pray for peace. Isaiah holds out just such hope, in a child, born for us. (Scripture Intros by Rev. Stew Clarke and Rev. Catherine MacDonald)
Let’s listen to words that are both ancient and newly born again today as they are written in Isaiah 9:2-7
9:2 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. 9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 9:5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 9:6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 9:7 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 onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
While Isaiah was not foretelling Jesus’ birth, although this passage is almost always read on Christmas Eve, he lifted up the promise of a glimpse of the holy that is in each child born… in each heart opened… in each life compassion.
Where have you found a glimpse of the holy? Where will you look for a glimpse of the holy? Have you sought out a glimpse of the holy?
I want to share a couple of stories about where I have found a glimpse of the holy recently. Last week, I received a message through the church Facebook page from someone wondering if they and their same gender partner would be welcome at Stairs Memorial United Church. I said of course, that while not officially affirming, that we have openly gay members and sent back a picture of me in my rainbow clergy collar.
The message I received back was this: “Oh my goodness. This picture almost made me cry. I literally have water in my eyes. Thank you so much. We so need to have the church in our lives. We bought a little house in the neighbourhood and have been together for 25 years! Thank you very much.” A glimpse of holy in a question asked… I dream of a church and world where this question does not have to be asked.
Yesterday, a young woman called me… her circumstances don’t matter, because of this congregation, I was able to give her some help in the form of gift cards to the grocery store. She shared some of her story… and at the end, offered me a hug… it was a blessing to receive and return it… a glimpse of holy.
In the Gospel reading, Luke wants us to know that God’s Grace is shown in a particular place, and a particular time, with real people… Let’s listen to the story, listening for a glimpse of the holy in Luke 2, verses 1-20
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2:2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 2:3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 2:4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 2:5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 2:6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 2:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 2:12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
This story, so familiar to many of us, continues to unfold in fresh and unexpected ways. This story, so ancient, continues to be ever new. This story, so astounding, continues to compel us. Compels us to look for a glimpse of the holy! Will you recognize it when you encounter it? You don’t even have to be looking for it! You know how when you buy a new car, suddenly that’s all you see? It’s the same when looking for a glimpse of the holy. When we experience a glimpse of the holy, then we see them more and more often. And they are usually unexpected… or in unexpected places… and unexpected people. Nobody expected God to be born in lowly circumstances!
The power and promise of this ancient story is that God is here among us! In all of our circumstances! The power and promise of this ancient story is that God is as close as the beating of our hearts. The power and promise of this ancient story is that Jesus still lives!
And that when we look for a glimpse of the holy, we see it over and over and over again.
We’ve been singing:
We’re gonna bring joy to the world, hope to the people.
We’re gonna give love that’s for everyone— unconditionally!
We’re gonna make peace in our world, God’s voice through us be heard.
As we look to one another, a glimpse of holy we might see. (Chuck Bell)
My prayer for all of us this night is that we see a glimpse of the holy each and every day. Amen.
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Luke 2: 1-20
December 24, 2019 – Christmas Eve
Stairs Memorial United Church
Photo Credit – Leah Beauchamp Day