Defiant Hope

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Christmas Eve Sermon, 2018; Year C

Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-20

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from the One who gives us hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Christmas story can seem unimaginable … impossible in fact. Why would the Creator of all that is choose to be born into this world as a human being? How can we begin to imagine that the One whose Spirit moved over the waters in Genesis, is the very same One lying in a manger this night?

The Christmas story draws us in to imagine the impossible. To ponder this incredible mystery of God’s love and commitment to the world in Jesus Christ.

Even Mary, the one who had God-incarnate doing summersaults in her womb for 9 months, who was visited by the angel Gabriel with the news of her being chosen to bear God’s son, still marvels and wonders at what God is doing in and through her baby, Jesus.

The shepherds are surprised and interrupted by a legion of angels bearing the Gospel: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

All the people! Jesus birth into this world is for all people. He was born for you and for me. This news, God’s love story, is true, and it is meant to give us hope.

Hope is powerful.

I saw a photo for the first time yesterday. I am sickened by it, and yet, I can’t take my eyes off it. The photo is of a young girl, maybe 7 or 8. She is from Syria. She was forced to leave her home because of war. Now stranded in a refugee camp, she waits and hopes for a brighter future.

A journalist in the camp sees her and asks to take her picture. She agrees. She is asked to smile for the picture, and she does.

Upon seeing the photo, my attention goes right to her eyes. They are a beautiful greyish-green, big and round … and filled with tears. Her effort to not cry, to hold it together for the photo, is evident in the strain of the muscles in her forehead. Her lovely, brown curls have not been brushed in quite some time. There is a thin layer of dirt on her face, no doubt from traveling through desert and harsh weather. A single tear makes its way down her cheek.

Unable to turn away from the power of this photo, my gaze drifts to her mouth. Her lips are pressed together and turned up slightly into a smile. This is not a smile of joy, but a smile of hope, that despite all she has endured, she smiles.

I am sickened by this photo because no child, no human being, should have to suffer as she has. We don’t know the details of her story, but her eyes are a mirror into the harsh realities of our world.

Her photo reminds me of another I saw this year at Ministry on the Margins. A University of Mary student had permission to take photos of willing people who were living on the streets of Bismarck.

In one of the photos was a middle-age woman. Like the young girl’s, her eyes were filled with tears as she fought against homelessness to smile. She had spent the night on the street in the very spot the photo was taken. “It was so very cold last night,” she said, as the tears started to roll.

When I see the photo of the young girl and of the homeless woman, it makes my stomach churn to see that kind of suffering; and yet, I cannot look away, because there is a defiant hope that permeates each picture.

Despite all they have gone through, they still find the courage to smile.

This is how powerful hope is. Hope smiles in the face of despair because it knows a greater truth. Sister, Joan Chittister says that hope “is about allowing ourselves to believe in the future we cannot see…it is about trusting in God (Joan D. Chittister, Sacred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, pp. 110-111.).”

Yesterday in worship we heard Mary, while pregnant with Jesus, sing her radical song of hope.

“The Mighty One has done great things for me … God has scattered the proud … brought down the powerful … and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1.49-53).”

She sings as if these things have already come to be, even though in her world it seems far from reality. She is able to imagine the impossible. She sings it out in great confidence and hope, that the One she carries in her very being is the One who will lift up the lowly, bring down the powerful, and fill the hungry.

It is no mistake the way Luke begins the Christmas narrative. Emperor Augustus, the oppressor, Quirinius, the powerful, registration for the sake of taxation of particularly poor people. Notice the mention of Syria.

Jesus was born into a world where the rich get richer, and the powerful are not subject to justice. The Christmas story is not just about a birth of a sweet baby, but about profound hope in the face of suffering, despair, and hardship.

The Christmas story is about holy imagination, where hope itself comes to be in Jesus. Jan Schnell Rippentrop writes: “The Christmas story makes a radical claim: impossible things are happening (p. 37, Sundays and Seasons).”

Yesterday in worship we took some time to write down hopes that have been fulfilled in our lives, and what we continue to hope for. I want to tell you how moved I was by your thoughtful reflecting and what you wrote on those notecards. Your hope tells of God’s faithfulness, and radiates throughout this congregation.

Here are some of the hopes that have happened to those of us who worship regularly in this place:

“Acceptance of myself for who I am.”

“To have lived this long.”

“The birth of my sister.”

“Being surrounded by a community of faith.”

“To receive communion, be baptized, and confirmed.”

“Met many great people here at YCC.”

“To find myself when I was at an all-time low.”

“Continuing school.”

“My son is presently alcohol-free.”

“A relationship restored.”

“Realizing that I need to get my life straight before it’s too late.”

“The birth of our son.”

“Married a wonderful person.”

“The love of my children.”

“Got good news from my lawyer.”

“I didn’t get shot and killed.”

“My children have found their paths in the world as adults.”

Maybe some of these things seemed impossible to you a few years ago, and here they have come to be. The Christmas story brings out our own stories of hope.

Here is what we continue to hope for in our lives:

“Treatment.”

“To keep makin’ music.”

“That God will be with me when I get out of YCC.”

“The healing of our nation and the nations of the world.”

“That God’s love surrounds us through all the changes and transitions of life.”

“The Holy Spirit will continue to use our congregation (all of us!) to reach these beautiful young people who society has so little regard for.”

“Beat my addiction.”

“For peace when life struggles happen.”

“Education improves for those who need it.”

“Peace in our world.”

“That we can all enjoy good health and each other.”

“Building better relationships with family and friends.”

“Get discharged and finish school.”

“The long lasting life ahead of my sister.”

“To see my grandchildren grow up.”

“That I’ll be able to see my great grandmother again.”

“That I find what I want to do and excel at it.”

“Peace within myself.”

“Peace – a turning back of anger and self promotion.”

“A good life, good relationships, and peace with all my enemies.”

“That I’ll stay sober when I leave YCC.”

“That we will listen more to the poor, the displaced, the homeless and heartbroken.”

Despite all we face and the negative realities of our world, God gives us hope. This hope comes to birth in the manger this night. Christ was born for you. Christ was born for the young girl in Syria, and for the homeless woman in Bismarck. The Christmas story is full of defiant hope and great joy, because God has come to earth to be with us. To walk along side us, and to keep giving us new life again and again. God is a God of joy, and life, and love.

We celebrate the birth of The Prince of Peace this night. And so we sing out, with defiant hope, because God loves you and God is faithful. Merry Christmas, Heart River.