Tomorrow is one of my favorite services of the year here at St. Thomas, "A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" will be at 10:00am. I still remember the first time I heard it live from London. It was a wonderful way to bake cookies and listen to the story of our faith told through scripture and music.
The first lessons and carols was held on Christmas Eve 1918 and was adapted from a service order created 38 years earlier at Truro Cathedral. The BBC's first broadcast of the service was in 1928 and has been broadcast every since, omitting the year 1930. Through the dark days of the Depression and World War II and stretching into today is the constant of Lessons and Carols. What we do in the service is pause and reflect on the in-breaking of God through the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; though evil may surround us and we despair over what is to come, these are traditions which keep us in touch with our humanity. And for a moment allow us to suspend time and ponder the Divine.
I sit here on a lovely December afternoon marveling at our beautiful weather. It is hard to believe it is already mid-December for it feels more like October. I am not going to complain after 50 odd years spent in the North. Christmas does seem far away although it is nearer than I would like to think. There are still gifts to buy, the house to get ready and the tree to trim.
For some though, it is not the holly, jolly season we are lead to believe should be. It can be a time of thinking about the "what if's" and "if only's" of life. There are fractured families; loved ones who have died and sorely missed at this time of year. It is difficult to remind ourselves that the perfect Christmas does not exist. It is all a fabrication by Madison Avenue to have us buy more thinking that is the true route to happiness.
If we reflect on the birth of Jesus in an honest fashion, we can see that his start in life was anything but easy. Who wants to be born in a stable in a strange town to parents who are bewildered and little frightened by the circumstances? This was I am sure not the way they had planned the birth of their first born child. But as we know things rarely go as planned in this life. Often we feel as if there is no one in control. Which is why in those moments we turn it all over to God. This is not to say that God makes everything all right because we know that too is not the case. Sometimes we have to through difficult circumstances to further our own creation. Last week's reading from Malachi said in part, For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. We too are purified by God through our own difficult times, what seems like the fire of sadness and fear is turned by God into a new creation of contentment and peace.
Since my sermon yesterday, several people have thanked me for saying what needed to be said. Selfishly I said what I would have wanted to hear my priest say in the midst pain unspeakable horror and evil. For those of you who were not able to hear my sermon. The short version of what I said was I was angry. Angry at the fact the people were living their lives, enjoying friends, family in restaurants, a concert and a football match, when chaos broke out and their lives were lost and for others irreparably changed. I was angry because everything we have again thought was safe, is not.
For me I am not ready to think about forgiveness of those who perpetrated these heinous acts. I state this because of what the Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book "The Cost of Discipleship." Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…."
We can be angry for a time, but we also have to think about what can we do in our own corner of the world to spread Jesus' message of love of the other and hopefully at some point reconciliation. We don't let people off the hook for their behavior, but we also don't allow their hatred to seep into our own lives and change who we are as believers in the risen Christ. It is him in whom we base our faith and he is the rock of our foundation as people and most importantly as Christians.