Sermon from Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo
In the name of our loving God who on this holy night bring us to the miracle of Christ’s birth. Amen.
Every Christmas Eve when I come to the Cathedral for this service I am amazed at the beauty of this place. Thank you to all who have worked hart do make this possible – the flowers, the tree, the candles, the music the welcome and hospitality.
Whether you come here every Sunday, or come here once a year, tonight this is everyone’s spiritual home.
And it is nice to come home for Christmas.
When I was a child, growing up in Mississippi, I knew that there would always be a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking.
This year I think we’re all hoping that someone will find a way to fill the hole in our hearts of a rough year, 2016. Our nation is about equally divided over whether to rejoice at the election results of 2016 or to regret them. So is our Episcopal Diocese equally divided.
Those who are unhappy about the election results ton’s want to hear the Christmas carol reminding them that, “’tis the season to be jolly.” They’re more in tune with Elvis Presley, who sang: “You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”
Many people can barely manage a fa or a la, let alone a full fa-la-la-la-la.
Some Americans are experiencing a collective trauma as we realize that our nation is more divided than most of us knew or were willing to admit. Some people feel that their most deeply held beliefs about what America stands for have been rejected.
Others are delighted with the results of the election. They’re saying, “It’s about time,” and for them this IS a season to be jolly, as hope is renewed. They cast a vote for change, for relief, for the restoration of a world they had lost.
They have their own trauma to deal with – one they have been suffering far longer. I am speaking of people who, over the last decade or so, saw their jobs and their savings and their futures and their dignity disappear. No one was listening as Buffalo was hollowed out, when manufacturing jobs went away. It is a story we’ve lived out right here all over Western New York. Those are voice we are called to listen to now.
In the City of Buffalo we point to our economic recovery and creation of lots of new jobs, but that recovery, those good times, have yet to spread to the small industrial towns around us. We know that an island of prosperity in Buffalo surrounded by a sea of despair is not a description of a healthy region.
So one way or another we are all a nation traumatized, a nation for whom the America dream has been diminished. A week from tonight we may all be crossing our fingers when we tell each other, “Happy New Year,” desperately hoping that it might be so.
All of us are looking for a place of comfort, security and safety. We’re like the Holy Family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as they made their way to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay in a dark and uncertain time of Roman occupation. For them it was a stable and a manger – a place of protection, a place where new life could be born.
Where is our stable tonight? Where is our manger?
For us as Christians, it lies in our commitment that the values of our Christian faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House. We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.
Where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in the Garden of Love outside, just outside this Cathedral wall, where warm coats and gloves are available to anyone who needs them, and where the Homeless Jesus statue there reminds us that what we do to others, we do to him. And it is the work of every congregation in this diocese that offers food and clothing and shelter and support and hope, not just one night a year but every day. Where others are at each other’s throats, we are touching each other’s hearts.
So, where is our stable? Where is our manger? It needs to be among desperate refugees who are seeking stability, but who are often reviled and threatened. The refugees we read about on the front page of the newspaper every day bear a strong resemblance to the Holy Family in the crèche just over there. Like them, the infant Jesus and his parents were homeless Middle Eastern asylum seekers who fled death threats in a nation occupied by a hated, murderous invading force.
So where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in the future of this Cathedral, where a search process is already under way for the position of a permanent dean. It will be a high point of my time as your bishop to install as permanent dean, one who will welcome everyone, as we welcome everyone tonight – who will make this Cathedral a crossroads of the city for worship and the arts and for important conversations about our region’s future with voices from all sides – and a place of sanctuary and hope for everyone.
Where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in making not a bigger church but a better world as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, describes it – a son of this diocese who was ordained right over there – our mandate is to create a world “saturated in love.” Where there is always room at the inn or around the table, where the lost and the lonely find a welcome, where those whose lives are rich and full of stuff but empty, at the core, find what they are looking for.
Ken Burns, the great documentary filmmaker, commented recently that “those people who did not vote as we did are not our enemy.” All of us who are traumatized – left and right, red and blue – need to engage with one another, he said, “offering shared stories and real solution rather than narratives that are calculated to divide, offering fellowship and unity where fake news has helped stoke tribal angers.”
We engage each other when we speak to and about each other with language of respect and dignity – and when we refuse to tolerate insulting language and racist epithets. These are not jokes. There is nothing to laugh at. Language can hurt and language can heal and we will speak up when anyone – particularly those in positions of leadership – uses vile language to attack and demean others, who are, after all, created in the image of God.
We will heal that hole in our hearts when we become Believers without Borders, proving that our faith can succeed where all else fails to transform this world from a nightmare of such insults, a broken American dream, into the dream of God for justice, for dignity and peace for all.
Henry Lebedinsky has written a new Christmas carol for the end of 2016 and it ends with these words:
“Now, as we wait yet again for his coming, may we remember that, when first he came, we were afraid; we cried out “Crucify him!” Thus those in power used our fear for their gain.
When we are anxious and hope seems audacious, anger and hatred clang loud in our ears, over the tumult, a still, small voice, is still ringing, challenging, strengthening, casting out our fear.
Come let us work for a new world of justice. Let us build bridges. So through our lives, we may echo the angels; ‘Glory to God, peace and goodwill to all.’”
This is good news for all tonight. And that good news is God is in charge. Love will ultimately triumph. In the name of that loving God. Amen.