Rev. Keli Shipley Cooper | 12.24.21 @ 4:00 p.m.
Joy to the world is my mom’s favorite hymns. I vividly remember singing it in the middle back left of my childhood church. I held whichever stuffed animal I brought that day and stood on top of the pew to see the hymnal my parents held. And here we are, having just sung the words “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” Joy. A feeling of great happiness. To me, joy looks like each of you here or online for this service— and the pageant. Dressing up as sheep and shepherds, angels, and lions—maybe watching in while wearing your Christmas pajamas— we not only hear the Christmas story—we see it. We retell, remember, and reimagine this story in today’s world. Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Christ—the newborn child and the light of the world. In April, my spouse and I welcomed our own bundle of joy—Anne Hazel. At 8 months old, she continues to be a force of nature, let me tell you. We post photos of her…well, very often, because her smile is contagious. But, even saying that word contagious triggers a lot of us to think of COVID. And honestly, lately, I feel sad. I’m sad that this virus keeps spreading. I’m sad we continue to be so fearful and so exhausted.
I keep telling myself, it’s the holiday season- cheer up! I watch holiday films on Hulu and Hallmark, I listen to classic Christmas music—but I’m still feeling a little blue. On Wednesday, we had a service called “the liturgy of the longest night” also known as “Blue Christmas.” We recognize and create space for the tension that comes in the wintertime. Joy and sadness. Grief and new life.
Today, we hear a blend of stories from the Bible telling us the most powerful story of all- God coming into this world to be with us. Not as a 30-something-year-old man—but as a small child. This child who, perhaps like my own child, drools, crawls all over the place, screeches with great joy, and needs to be comforted. Held. A vulnerable child. And Jesus was born into a world of uncertain times, just like my daughter. I think of Mary saying “Sweet Jesus”—and not inappropriately using his name, no- truly, sweet Jesus, this is hard. This is scary.
And then there’s nowhere for Jesus to sleep. No snow nor halo bassinet. No white noise machines. No blackout shades. A manger—a long box where horses and cattle eat from. There’s another Christmas hymn that talks about this, “Away in a manger, no crib for his head. The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. The stars in the sky look down where he lay. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
The Triune God- God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit–are known by many names. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. There’s also Alpha and Omega—back when moving through Greek letters didn’t scare us.
Which leads us to the name that we need all days- but especially today—another name for Jesus—Emmanuel, meaning God with us. God has come to this world to be with us—recognizing we are in need of healing. Of comfort and joy. A reminder that when we may ask God—Why do I feel this way? God truly gets it. Jesus did not come into this world to rid of the darkness nor the doubt, but to be light amongst that darkness.
In the church and especially here in the Episcopal Church, almost everything has a meaning behind it. Take a moment and look around this space. Look at the evergreens—the trees and the garland hung along the balcony. Look at the cloth on the clergy, the candles, the table, the baptismal font.
Evergreen- a plant that stays green throughout the year—they are resilient. They remind us of eternal life- but they also remind us of survival. The Oxford definition (bear with me here) of survival is “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstance.” This rings true for us today continuing to exist despite difficult circumstances. Through Christ and with Christ—we are healed, redeemed. We are never alone—for God is with us, in our joy and in the darkest of times.
And we light candles. Each Sunday of Advent, a family has lit one candle—one for hope, peace, joy, and love. We’ve sung “People look East. The time is near the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today; hope, peace, joy, and love are on the way.” And today we sing that hope, peace, love, and joy are here.
Many members of this community have prepared our space. We join in celebration whether here or at home. We celebrate Christmas—Christ’s mass—the worship service to give glory to Christ- the child of God. And who else are God’s children? All of us. In the darkness of winter, in the darkness of the pandemic, in the darkness of the mundane- God is with us.
Towards the end of this service, we will sing “Silent Night.” “Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright.” We will pass the light of Christ throughout this space with candles. Even if you are at home without a candle, imagine holding that light- not as a candle- but you as that light. We continue to live out the work of Christ- being a light, during the darkness. And when you may not feel quite as calm nor quite as bright, someone else shares some of their light with you—because that light spreads throughout each of us—for we are in this together. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” Jesus is here. And Jesus did not come into this world to rid of the darkness, but to be light amongst that darkness, who is never overcome. Amen.