Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The First Sunday after Christmas, 2012
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

I confess that this sermon was not planned very well. To be more precise, it was planned very well. It is just not the sermon you are about to hear. That other one, the one I thought about for several days last week, was complete except for one thing; it was never written down. Though some of you offer that my sermons are better when they are not written down, I can usually organize my thoughts better when I am seated in front of the computer screen.

 

And I had just finished typing out the sermon collect when the phone rang. You might think this phone call was prophetic in some way. Well, perhaps it was. I heard three words of the pre-recorded voice I had heard at least fifty times (“Hello, this Rachel,”) and knew it was nothing I wanted to respond to. Rachel wanted to talk to me about my time share, a time share I have never owned. I hung up the phone and turned back to the computer. Alas, my concentration was nowhere near where it needed to be. I had lost my train of thought and I decided it was time for a refill on coffee. The words “time” and “share” were running through my mind. Perhaps caffeine could shake them loose.

 

As I brewed a fresh pot of coffee, I picked us a book review magazine. It included an article on faith and the American writer. This was an article that had caught my eye earlier in the week and I had dog-eared the page so that I could find it later. I began to read. The article surveyed the works of recent American writers and their relationship to faith and belief. Some of these writers dealt with such issues cynically. Others poked fun at issues of faith and belief. But, curiously, most writers tried to deal with faith and belief honestly. And failed. Why? Why can't some of the most talented writers, some of the most brilliant minds in our world cannot put it all together. The article states very clearly that writers find it hard “...to make belief believable.” Making belief believable seems to be something that contemporary writers simply cannot do. It is much easier to write about scandals or money or sex or power. These may be more entertaining and they may be easier to understand. But faith or belief. That's the difficult part; that's the part that is harder to describe; that's the part that eludes the writer. Maybe, because that's the part that eludes our world. Maybe that's why we avoid talking about it.

 

But this article ends on a hopeful note. The writer, a man named Paul Elie, hopes “...for a story or a novel where the writer puts it all together. That would be enough,” he says. “That would be something. That would be unbelievable.” That would be unbelievable.

 

He wants unbelievable. He wants unbelievable in a story or a novel. I poured out my coffee with a fierceness that is dangerous to counter tops and fingers. I carried my coffee to the computer keyboard. I opened the prayer book to page 104. He wants unbelievable, I said to myself. Let's give him unbelievable. Here is unbelievable:

 

"The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” This is the opening of today's gospel reading. Immediately after the recitation of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, we are in the world of unbelievable. In this short passage, we learn that Mary is found with child of the Holy Ghost. We learn that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. This angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary for his wife. The child, said the angel, is of the Holy ghost. The angel further told Joseph to call his name “Jesus.” The reason for this, said the angel, was that Jesus would save his people from their sins. And when Joseph awoke from this dream, he did what the angel told him to do.

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And all of it is completely unbelievable. If you choose to make it so. God gives us the ability to choose, the ability to decide whether we will live in God's world or in some world of our own making. It is difficult to understand God's world because we are human beings. It is difficult to know God's ways. But we do see the results of God's creation. And even, at times, we come to know God's love. And even, at times, we express that love in our own lives.

 

Christmas is a time when we see the unbelievable become real. It is a time that God breaks through our own narrow and simple-minded ways of looking at the world. God becomes real to us in ways that are so surprising and mysterious that we are surrounded by wonder. And that is more real than all the reality in which we think we live. We reach out to it because it makes our lives richer and more full. The belief that we know in our hearts deepens our understanding of God and His world.

 

I take a sip of my coffee. It has now grown cold. But it is plenty strong – just the way I like it. I say a little prayer of thanks for Rachel, that aggressive but disembodied voice that called me to time and share. The time we share at this moment is time that we share in the presence of God. It is a moment that will not come again. And in this time, we share a knowledge of that unbelievable moment that happened in historic time two thousand years ago. We bring it present once again.

 

“The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” It is a story that puts it all together. It is a story that is enough. It is a story that is unbelievable. Given to us by God.

 

Let us pray: O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen