Readings for Christmas season 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Christmas, 2007 Textweek

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 96; Titus 3:4-8; Luke 2:1-20

We are followers, and as we were singing I looked at the Advent wreath and realised that we are followers both in time and in space as well; we tend to follow, we make a journey, we take one step in a direction and we follow, we move. And with the Advent wreath, quite often life does seem to be a matter of going round and round and round in circles. Even if it’s not that, how often do we go round and back to the same place, only to go round again? How often also – this one looks out doesn’t it? Ever woken up in the morning and looked in the mirror and seen that? Not every morning, some mornings. It’s not out at all, it’s just that the flame was hard to see. Our direction changes with the Christ light, it changes the whole dynamic. No longer symbolically are our eyes drawn to the following, but rather they are drawn towards the unity, the coming together, the finding ourselves one in Christ, the finding ourselves, one light reflected in the other.

So, we are followers. Hands up those who at some point today will be eating turkey? Amazing really! Hands up those who at some point today will be eating seafood? Pretty good! Hands up those who at some point today will be eating ham? Right, just about everyone covered. Hands up those who at some time today will be eating fresh cherries. OK. Clearly we’ve established we are followers. We will follow traditions, we will follow where we are led, we will keep an eye out – that’s why we have peripheral vision, we’ve got to make sure that I see what they’ve got then I go and then I can follow that as well. Hands up those who like the smell and the taste of fresh-baked, crusty, light bread? Pretty well picks up everybody, that does.

So we could stand and talk for ages but I thought we’d just have a look at how we capture that which we really desire; how do we capture it? So I thought I would demonstrate - that way what we really desire, we know now we can hold it ourselves.

Freshly baked crusty bread. I’ve got it all here, it won’t take long. The primary ingredient is the flour. The recipe books – you either picked one up on the way in - it’s all in there; those of you who want more detail, the blue books at the back are called Bibles, they give all the quantities and all that. [Pours flour into dish]. This is the main thing, the flour; this is so simple – what you desire you can have at any time. It’s always good to double check – I’m using the recipe from Titus here: ‘He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’ The water of baptism, the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. [Pours water into dish]….. It’s amazing, how it gives life. That is all we need; that’s all we need for bread. The bread of heaven is made like this, very simple. Once you’ve mixed those two together, check how long you bake it for, place it in an oven. Ready to go, don’t hang around, and here it is. [Holds up bread offering] It’s really that simple.

What we really desire – I feel short-changed: when I was asked to follow what was spoken about was a light crusty loaf that smells beautiful and that’s got that lovely texture and what we need to do to get to that point is just to add something very, very small [holds up packet of yeast]. There’s too much in here, I’d have to take this out and divide it up into four or six and then sprinkle some in. It’s the yeast - it’s a little thing and it transforms the whole. The whole doesn’t know it’s being transformed; the flour and the water are quite happy being flour and water, they’re quite happy being a bread that will be consumed. The yeast makes everything different - it looks different, tastes different, is different, quite different.

There’s another tiny little thing that could be added as well, but just pinch though - [hold up salt] - and it brings out another flavour; literally a few grains and the whole taste is changed. And just as I shared the bag of my sermon with my daughter this morning, she said, ‘What about sugar?’ I said ‘Do you put sugar in bread?’ She said ‘Well, if you add a tiny bit of sugar to the yeast, the yeast will actually become more active.’ Just a tiny little bit will make a difference; it too will change the flavour.

What Christmas is about is discovering that tiny bit that makes the difference. When we look at the world and when we look at ourselves, we don’t have to change all this, no matter how flat it’s going to come out, it’s not this [flour and water] that we have to change. It’s this [yeast] that we have to find. Christmas after Christmas we look at the Nativity; this year it’s so small. Somehow we have to find the way of consuming this story, it is no good for us to sit and look at it; it is not a story to be watched. Once we’re introduced to the story, we discover that this is the little bit that makes the difference. It’s not a story of the past, it’s not a story that’s already happened.

I turned the TV on last night after Midnight Mass to cool down - TV’s in the same room as the air conditioner – and there was a pastor giving his Christmas sermon. He called on this huge congregation to accept the name of Jesus and they would be saved. He talked about the birthday of Jesus and how it transformed the world. And he located that birthday in time and I thought, what an absolute load of rubbish! This is not about December 25th two thousand and seven years ago, or whatever, depending on the school of theology you follow, this is actually about an event my life in the moment. It’s the story of Genesis, it is the story of birth; it is the story of tomorrow. And it is finding that story within - what is the leaven, what is the yeast that will bring life and shape to my life; what is the leaven and the yeast that I can bring to the world? If it was located in Christ and in the birth of Christ then it has taken place. It is always taking place. Jesus didn’t come to save the world through a manger – that implies that God had already made a mistake in the world before. They’re the same stories – the divine always and forever creates. The divine is that love which will give shape and change the whole, we heard it in Genesis – order was brought out of chaos, life was brought out on no-life. We now hear that story in the nativity – the hopes and fears of all the years are birthed in Love on this day.

When we encounter the Christmas story, let’s make it our story. Not our story as Christians, but our story as those who seek to be fully alive in the divine, for we then share that story with every other tradition. The story of Christ is the story of Krishna, the teachings of Christ are the teachings of Mohammed, the meditations of Christ are the meditations of the Buddha, the traditions of Christ are the traditions of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. All of those stories are our stories, they’re about us, they’re about Christmas in every, every moment. This is what we celebrate at Christmas - it is so much easier than what we thought. A lot of the time we think I’ve got to change all this (flour and water], and I don’t. I need to find the nativity, find the smallness of that story deep within and allow that to be then revealed as Mary revealed that story within herself.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris