A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul
by The Reverend Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Saturday, December 24, 2022, Christmas Eve
In the name of God whose love is with us in Christ tonight. Amen.
One of the events I loved most as a child was the annual Christmas Pantomime at our community theater in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was an outrageous affair! REPS Theatre would present the story of Jesus’s birth with “embellishments.” Characters from fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella would interact with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals, shepherds, and angels in a slapstick pastiche of song and dance that had my grandmother, parents, brother, and me in stitches of uncontrollable laughter. Highlights included the Big Bad Wolf frightening the children, a slightly tipsy master of ceremonies who would throw candy at children who correctly answered clarifying questions about the Pantomime’s convoluted plot, and two fabulous men in drag who stole the show as Cinderella’s show-stopping Ugly Sisters. People of all races, ages, and backgrounds joined in singing Christmas Carols between scene changes, and parents got to listen to their children tell Saint Nicholas, who suspiciously resembled Harare’s Cathedral organist, what they wanted for Christmas. As Zimbabwe recovered and healed from apartheid and civil war, the hopes and fears of all the years in our tragic and beautiful country met in authentic human connections in that theatre where the Christ Child was centered in our shared history.
Each of us has come to St. John’s tonight with hopes and fears, joys and uncertainties, painful and beautiful memories. At this culmination of another challenging year, we remember celebrating weddings, births, baptisms, anniversaries, graduations, and yes, immigration miracles. We grieved the deaths of loved ones, battled illnesses, and faced myriad losses, including our cultural wellbeing. Physician, Gabor Maté observes in his recently published bestseller, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture that:
Disconnection in all its guises – alienation, loneliness, loss of meaning, and dislocation – is becoming our culture’s most plentiful product. No wonder we are more addicted, chronically ill, and mentally disordered than ever before, enfeebled as we are by such malnourishment of mind, body, and soul.
Nevertheless, we gather tonight to find connection again. To remember with our family, friends, acquaintances, and visitors that we are not alone. God is with us in the Christ Child who is God’s tender, fiercely vulnerable love who dwells in each of us. This faith practice of love and belonging calls us back into right relationship with God, our neighbors, ourselves, and with all Creation. We are nourished by the Holy Mysteries in that divine narrative of God’s love becoming one of us in Mary’s newborn child; how those poorest of outsiders, the shepherds, so highly favored by God that a host of angels chooses them to go and see the Christ Child; and how the animals, who show us what it means to be utterly genuine, see God’s loving, liberating Word made flesh, lying in their manger. We are nourished by sacred words in songs and prayers, ancient and new, that sustain us, just as they sustained generations of loved ones before us. We are nourished by the Word and Sacrament of Christ’s love in this Holy Eucharist – this Great Thanksgiving in which we find ourselves and all peoples and cultures and creatures fully accepted, loved, and cherished in God’s community of belonging.
What we share in this sanctuary tonight brings us into Dr. Gabor Maté’s definition of healing: “a natural movement toward wholeness.” In a toxic culture of greed that fragments and separates us, these sacred and ancient rituals bind us together in God’s love again. This is sacred and revolutionary ground we stand on where authenticity and agency and truthfulness and acceptance and compassion heal the wounds deep within our minds, bodies, and souls, so that we can become conduits of God’s healing and loving and liberating presence to others.
How will you join the Holy Spirit in bringing this “natural movement toward wholeness” into your own life after tonight? In the beautiful deep, dark stillness of these twelve days of Christmas ahead of us, as we reflect upon our hopes and fears, may each of our hearts prepare enough room for God’s healing to enter into us. As God’s light and love are born in you this Christmastide, courageously continue being the miraculous gift you are in this world. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight, may the memories we create with our lives be a blessing of healing, creativity, and courage for generations to come. Amen.