Experiencing The Joy

December 25, 2016 – Luke 2:1-14

Thanks to the fine folks at my home parish, you can watch me preach this sermon here. The sermon starts at 7:30.

Merry Christmas!

And what a merry occasion it can be. The good news for us is, even in the silence we can experience it.

Eh, maybe music would be nice, but we’ve done that. The organist is with his family. The choir members are home watching their children rip open the packages from Santa. Members of the Alter Guild are playing with their grandchildren.

Phillips Brook’s is pretty eloquent. He wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

Yes. We’re fine.

We don’t always need an organ pipe blaring to broadcast the “still small voice of God.”

The truth is, try as they might, no trumpet fanfare could do such a voice justice. No organ riff could measure up to it, breaking forth in the chilly air, hay rustling beneath the tiny newborn limbs.

If you listen closely enough, you might just hear a little bit of it.

It’s much more than the voice of a baby.

I saw a woman in the grocery store this week. You’ve probably seen her, too. The woman who is pushing a cart full down the aisle and she has quite a long list in her hand, written out on the back of last month’s receipt. She looks stressed, confused even, by the time she gets to the relishes. Why do there have to be so many brands of pickles?

Another woman was pushing her cart the opposite way, she’s considerably younger, and there’s a baby in her cart.

For a moment it all just stops.

The older women locked eyes with the young child and they smiled at each other and she waved to him and he giggled and she forgot where she was or that she had a list or that the prices had gone up.

Everything was right there in that moment. It was unexpected joy. Mountains of things to buy and do, but she had to stop and make funny faces at him for a while.

It took her from that place. She’s somewhere else.

The other stuff will be there when they’re done.

Do you know anyone who has a cat or a dog? And it just comes and sits down in the lap whenever it feels like it?

My friends sometimes post pictures on Facebook: With a computer in their lap, books open on the table, and Scruffy plops himself right down, sprawls along the keyboard.

It’s annoying! Get off. I’m trying to finish these reports!

Well, maybe.

But what a joy. It alleviates something. It takes you away.

“Oh! I love this little guy!” And that love is unconditional.

The other night my mom texted—it was a group text to the whole family. It was a picture of a photograph of our dog, Winston, hanging on the refrigerator. It was from several Christmases ago, and he was all dressed up in his reindeer costume. We lost Winston earlier this year.

“Cheered me up before leaving the house today,” she wrote.

She was somewhere else, just for a moment.

My friend Richard, he’s such a character. I really love him, but we can sure get stuck in some places.

“How are you doing today Richard?”

He mutters, smiling, quoting a local author, “Oh Warren, we live in a fallen world.”

“Well, yes we do Richard.”
“Gosh, the burden of existence is just so much sometimes!”

“Yeah, Richard…I hear ya.”

It’s easy to get down in these things. It’s easy read a news headline on your phone or a glance at a ticker on the bottom of a cable news channel while you’re waiting on your oil change and you’re just done. You’ve bottomed out. I don’t know if what I’m dong in life makes sense anymore. Onerous troubles creep to mind and you become more aware of the fall than you are of any hand extended to help you up.

But tell a good joke, use a funny accent, or quote 30 Rock at just the right time, and Richard laughs so hard, just loses it. I’ve got videos on my phone to prove it. He can’t keep it together. It’s hard to breathe, you’re abs start to hurt when you laugh that hard.

It’s a joyful episode. 

For some people, their whole lives have become so predictable, their activity has become so restricted, that the day their granddaughters come into town and visit them, they finally have something wonderful to talk about instead of everyone’s aches and pains or who died this week. For just a moment, they leave all that negativity aside and focus on the joy.

If we go through life thinking only of that which we have to peel off the bottom of our shoe, we miss the dew-drenched meadow at dawn that we walked through to get it.

There’s plenty to get us down. It seems all too real. It is all too real. Then, Christmas bursts in. Christmas reminds us that joy is also real. It’s too easy to get stuck in the junk of life and forget about—or miss—the joy.

Jesus walks the same path we do during the liturgical year. He walks it with us. Through times of repentance and anguish and temptation and examination and expectation, but also times of joy—and that’s what it’s time for now.

We’ve had our Advent. We’ll get our Lent.

Let us settle in to the joy of God’s immanence. 

That’s what it’s time for now.

This joy does not impede our witnessing the occasions of suffering darkness, but it does helps us forge a Way with Him to walk.

When you walk out of the Eucharist today many things will still be the same.

The homeless man will still be standing at the bottom of the exit ramp.

The children of Aleppo will still be experiencing shock waves of relentless terror.

By any standard of American democracy the men and women who won on Nov. 8th will still be victors, and those who lost will still be losers.

But there will be one difference—you have been here—in the midst of the miracle.

You have sat here and experienced the silent joy of the incarnation.

You have met Him (in the body and the blood).

Cold. Alone. Scared. Helpless. Human. Hungry. Giggling. Remembering. Laughing. Loving.

This is a joy that transforms the moment. This is a joy so full and complete that it transports us away from our reality and into the heart of God.

A joy that knows no boundary

A love that knows no condition.

A peace that passes all understanding.

And…here’s what’s really cool—you can take all that with you when you go.

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