December 25, 2016 – Christmas Day

Christmas Day   December 25, 2016   Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14, Isaiah 52:7-10         

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How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news – who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

I seldom think of feet as particularly beautiful… But the prophet is talking about beautiful feet on the mountain today – a theme the apostle Paul recycles almost word-for-word in Romans 10. And beautiful feet need some protection, so we’re told in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (ch 6). Where it is written – put on the whole armor of God, which includes put on our gospel shoes. As shoes for your feet, Ephesians elaborates, put on whatever makes you willing to proclaim the gospel of peace.

I seldom think of shoes as spiritual armor (even Good News shoes). But the season of Christmas light coincides with a time of natural darkness in our journey around the sun. And the powers of spiritual darkness are also still at work. And our Isaiah text, assigned for Christmas Day every year,  has become been a favorite for me… Because of the beautiful-feet-in-good-news-shoes-connection.

Our daughter Rohi still enjoys shoes – but when she was younger – two-to-three- years old – she absolutely loved shoes – especially her mother’s shoes. She loved to put her little feet deep inside her mother’s sneakers and dress shoes. But her everyday routine was putting on Reah’s flip-flops.

We’re in the habit of taking off outdoor shoes when we come in the house, and putting on flip-flops as our indoor footwear. Rohi, in those days, had three pairs of flip-flops for her personal indoor use, each pair stylish with a blend of cheerful colors, each pair fitting her small feet comfortably.

But she always wanted to wear her mother’s plain blue flip-flops – which were enormously giant-sized on her little feet. Whenever mom couldn’t find her indoor shoes, we knew Rohi had them on again. We also knew because when Rohi had her mom’s shoes on, they sounded like snow-shoes on floor boards – as she trekked around the house spreading good news – clomp, clomp, clomp…

And like daughter, like father – this is how I also see myself as a gospel pastor – clomp, clomp, clomping around… Feeling a bit ridiculous – as if I’m wearing snow shoes indoors, as I try to fit into these way-too-big-for-my-feet gospel shoes.

Happy Christmas, good news people! Your feet look great. Even my funny-looking feet look good this morning. Our gospel shoes look good on us…

But it’s the message that make our feet really beautiful. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…”

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In the coming to birth of Jesus, God squeezes God’s own self into a human womb – God’s infinite eternal nature entering into human life, human culture, human community, bodily.

In Jesus, born a child in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, we see (in the words of Hebrews) “the reflection of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of God’s very being…”

And if we’re feeling inadequate as messengers of this gospel truth – as I nearly always am – not to worry. It’s a good thing, and probably a necessary thing, to acknowledge we are, all of us, babes and infants in the gospel – all of us wearing gospel shoes way too big for us.

The story of God, in Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh and blood and offering us power to become children of God – is a story far too big for any human to fit into naturally… Yet still we hear God’s word – encouraging us, saying (this time in the NIV translation):

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news – who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

God’s immensity doesn’t fit neatly or easily into our lives. Trying to fit infinite, eternal God into human form isn’t something we can do in our own strength or wisdom… Fitting God into our lives means we need to keep growing in God – to let God keep growing in us.

Christmas is the story of the Word of God who was with God in the beginning… becoming human – putting on human flesh – and living among us, full of grace and truth. And part of the good news is that God is still taking on flesh and living among us, when we are in Christ…

God becoming human and living among us is an ongoing reality… Which means (among other things) human life now has full potential to share in divine life… Now everything about life in Christ has meaning… Even the smallest things of this life have great meaning. And I’m remembering some of these small things…

When I served the Plainfield Vermont Methodist church we always went caroling on the Sunday before Christmas. We’d go walking around the village, singing Christmas carols to whomever we found home.  (Actually, we even sang outside some houses where people obviously weren’t home – in hope, I suppose, that the spirit of the songs we sang would linger and still be there, when folks came home…)

I remember one year we walked into the Plainfield food coop, the small post-hippie grocery where our frequently shopped… We knew the staff and folks there were always friendly…But I was a little anxious about singing Christmas carols there, wondering how that would go over.

But… when we came in singing, everyone in the store broke into song with us… And in the faces of all those singing, we caught glimpses of – how beautiful God’s good news really is…

There’s something in the Christmas story with immense power to break through all forms of darkness. Something in the story, when we sing and tell the story together with simple faith like children – that has great power to communicate peace and joy… even saving grace… for all who listen.

There’s something in the Jesus story that enables people who have been at odds, haven’t even spoken for years, to make peace, and join each other in Christmas song. (And sometimes all the little small good news things, together, grow into something larger…)

The Bourne Enterprise ran a picture and an article on the editorial page this week reminding us of the Christmas truce of World War I. A truce that broke out spontaneously in more than one location, starting on Christmas eve of 1914, spreading along the front lines that cold wet muddy winter. Christmas truce flags were raised. German soldiers began singing Silent Night in German. British soldiers joined in English… voices blending together. Slowly, tentatively, a few soldiers from each side emerged from muddy trenches. Soldiers from enemy camps crossed battle lines into No Man’s Land, exchanging Christmas greetings, sharing small gifts of candy and cigars… Photographs from home were shared. The dead were buried. Soccer games were even organized. In some places along the Western Front the truce went on for weeks, even months… Songs, gifts, and games replacing bullets and bombs…

The truce, tragically, but not surprisingly, didn’t last. Commanders eventually forced resumption of war. But memories of that Christmas truce have been kept alive in song and story, more than100 years – testifying to the power of the birth we celebrate.

Testifying also to the challenge in God’s word – to let the peace of Christ… extend… and continue forever, uninterrupted.

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For sure, I don’t understand all the mystery of Christ’s incarnation – not by a long shot. But I do know – it’s not my own naturally beautiful feet in sneakers or flip-flops or winter boots – that make the messenger’s feet beautiful. I know its all about the gospel shoes we’re wearing, and especially the gospel message we’re carrying… That keeps the word of God saying – how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news

Most of our Christmas encounters are not so very dramatic. Yet at Christmas, if we’re looking and listening, we can still see and hear good news messengers all around us.

In our Sunday School every week… In our simple Christmas pageant a few weeks ago… we see and get to encourage another generation learning the story… And together throughout our parish we’re still learning to tell the story better…through prayer and bible studies and service…Including many small acts of faith, hope, and love… Including…

Our School Back Packs Project and ongoing support for the Bourne Food Pantry and Cataumet Shelter and children in Haiti and Upper Cape Chaplaincy and Imagine No Malaria… In all the many little things we try to do to communicate the truth of God-who-is-so-very-truly-with-us…

Even standing in supermarket check-out lines I’ve been reminded of the love of God… Even when I’m at my crabbiest – here comes God, again and again – surprising me with love and grace – in a kind word from a check-out clerk, a sympathetic glance from a stranger – an unexpected meeting with a friend… And – how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news …

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not our imagination – Christmas really is the immense, immeasurable, still-happening story of the Word-become-flesh-and- living-among-us– here and now– full of grace and truth.

And if we feel inadequate as gospel messengers – not to worry. Even if the shoe doesn’t fit – wear it!

Because when we wear these shoes with gratitude – we will grow into them… and – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who announce peace – who bring good news – who announce salvation – who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Good news! Glad tidings! Jesus Christ is born! For us! And for all!

Happy and blessed and holy Christmas to us all.

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Call to Worship   Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

The Lord has made known his victory;

he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.

All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

Let the floods clap their hands;

let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord,

for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.