Sermon Text: Luke 2: 22-40
Here we are, on the 27th of December, and much of the world has already moved on from Christmas. I already saw a commercial with a person throwing their tree into a wood chipper, declaring the end of Christmas and 2020. But for the Church, we’re only getting started. Long ago we realized that we need more than just one day to better appreciate the gift that is Jesus Christ, which is why we have the 12 Days of Christmas.
While all of our presents are unwrapped and out from under the tree, we are given time to reflect on the other gifts that came to us, gifts that cannot be wrapped and placed under the tree. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day come with so many distractions and anxieties and traditions, but in these remaining days of the holiday we can consider the gift of Christ more deeply, as he becomes one of us, as he shares our mortality, and as he brings us presents that cannot be put in a box, wrapped up, and adorned with a bow.
Earlier this week I read a quote from former President Jimmy Carter, and I thought there was an amazing point of connection between his words and the gifts we come to know in the birth of Jesus Christ. Carter says:
“What are the things that you can’t see that are important? I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love. You can’t see any of those, but they’re the guiding lights of life.”
Indeed, these are the guiding lights of life, and I believe we see them made visible in the Child born in a manger.
Those same important values—justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, and love will be recognized by Simeon and Anna at the Temple as Jesus the child is brought forth to be blessed. These two old servants of God have been waiting for god’s activity, and when they spot Jesus, they know that God has made all of these invisible gifts real in this child. God has delivered.
What invisible gifts do you long for? Which gifts do you wish could be boxed and wrapped and placed under your tree?
Whatever they might be—whether they be from the list from Jimmy Carter, or something else that you hope for in life—know that it is found and met through the gift of Jesus. That whatever invisible thing we’re missing, we will find it in the Christ Child. We will find wholeness. We will find peace.
On Christmas Day, Carol Scarbro, who has been assembling our daily text message devotionals and has been doing a masterful job, shared a wonderful poem from Maya Angelou called Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem. I can’t do justice to this amazing piece of art through paraphrase, suffice to say that she aptly identifies the invisible gift of peace given at Christmas, and then she brings it to life.
Today, I will share her words with you. This poem is its own type of Gospel proclamation. And as you reflect on your present-less tree—and personally I suspect that my tree will be providing its warm white light for many weeks to come in my living room—may you discover and cherish the promise of peace this Christmastide. For peace is the missing part that so many of us are frustrated by in this odd and turbulent time. Peace is what comes to us when we are made whole by the gifts of justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, and love that are met in Jesus Christ.
AMAZING PEACE: A Christmas Poem
by Maya Angelou
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.
At this time we welcome the gifts of Christ, and we clutch them and hold them close to our hearts as we step forward, into the abstract of the New Year. Peace, my friends. The peace of Christ. Unwrap this present and put it on. AMEN