Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Eve 2011: God's Latest Masterpiece

Hans Memling's Nativity

The following homily is not based on any one scripture text. The Christmas Eve homily at Old First comes very early in the service, and is always a general welcome and introduction to the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which follows it.

 Good evening, and welcome, I’m happy to welcome you here tonight. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your belief or unbelief, we’re glad you came to celebrate with us the Incarnation of Our Lord.

This is the first time, I think, that we at Old First have celebrated Christmas Eve with the use of a harpsichord. There it is, up there in the balcony, and Aleeza will be using it to accompany our singing as well as to accompany all her musicians and soloists which she has gathered for tonight. This not the first time, however, that we have celebrated Christmas here in this Upper Hall. We did it back in 1890 and 1891 when we were using this space as our church because the main sanctuary was still under construction.

We are sorry that we cannot offer you this service in our glorious sanctuary. We cannot offer you the majesty of the organ or the magic of the chandelier. You cannot enjoy the glimmer of the candlelight in the lofty vaulting of the ceiling. Because that ceiling is not safe. The engineers tell us that all the plaster ribs in the ceiling are loosening and compromised. It isn’t from water damage — it’s a structural problem of the original design, which has recently begun to fail.

So thank you for climbing those stairs. We are meeting up here because there is no room for you all in the Lower Hall. Yesterday a group of volunteers had to go up and down those stairs for hours in order to bring in everything and make this humble place a worthy church, and I thank them. And last night, I was the last one here, doing final odds and ends, and in the quiet I looked around at what they had done, and I saw that it was good, that it was very good.

Soon you will listen to the nine lessons which trace the tale of our salvation, from Adam and Eve to faithful Abraham to the prophets of Israel to the angels and shepherds to the climax of the Incarnation. The great mystery of the Incarnation is that the Lord God, the creator of the universe, took on human life and human flesh, without thereby becoming any less God or any less human.

Why would God do such a thing, why did God become incarnate? “For us and for our salvation,” says the Creed. It was for salvation that they named Jesus, which means “savior”, for he is born to save us from our sin. The Incarnation is not because God is so impressed with us and wants to be one of us; it’s because we’re sinners who need salvation. And so the wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of the cross, and the swaddling clothes his funeral shroud, and his virgin birth his resurrection. For us and for our salvation.

But I do think God also did it for God’s own joy — this creative God, this artistic God, this musical God. The Incarnation is God’s Mona Lisa, it is God’s Magic Flute. which God delights in. I will not claim this is God’s single masterpiece, considering the vast expanse of inter-stellar space and the glory of the galaxies and the infinite bounty of the stars.

Who knows what other planets there may be with life, with creatures like us who are spiritual and moral. Who knows what miracles the angels sang upon those planets. Maybe those creatures did not sin, and all of them are Unitarians. Maybe on one planet absolutely everyone is Jewish. (Maybe there’s a planet which is a total swamp and everyone is Dutch Reformed.) But on this one planet God allowed for creatures to rebel and sin in order to require the Incarnation. Which God was waiting for. And after ten billion years, suddenly, like out of nowhere, God said to the angels, “Watch this.”

Like an artist God allowed this planet to evolve, and our history to develop, and this tale to unfold, until the stage was set, and the Romans took their census, and the inn was full, and the stable open, and the shepherds ready on the hillside. The girl gave birth. God pointed to that one angel, and the angel walked in among the shepherds. God cued the chorus of the heavenly host, and they sang, and God’s new opera rang out. The music of glory within humility, the universe into poverty, holiness into squalor, divinity into flesh, and justice kissing peace. Dichotomies are reconciled, colors are conjoined, and sounds are conceived that till now even the angels regarded as impossible. But they loved it and maybe they enjoyed their bucolic audience.

My spirit tells me that God rejoiced in this, that God rejoiced in this new work, and all the stars of heaven sang for joy before the Lord. The Lord God looked on this new masterpiece, and God saw that it was very, very good.

The Incarnation, the Incarnation for God’s pleasure and delight, and God takes special pleasure in sharing it with you as a gift for you and your salvation. So it was good of you to climb those stairs tonight. You were right to come up here to share the joy of God, and to sing for the delight of God, and to know God’s pleasure and God’s love.

Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Meeter, All Rights Reserved.

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