It Tismas Time? – Christmas Eve Sermon 2016

The woman behind us in line smiled and nodded been-there-solidarity as she overhead the conversation that had been in loop for sometime now between Charlie and myself. Waiting for check out at Target, getting my coupons and apps for the ready, the loop went like this:

Charlie, “It Tismas time?”

Me, “yes, sugar, it is.”

C, “Santa come?”

Me, “Not yet, sweetie.”

C, “It my birfday?”

Me, “No, honey. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”

C, “Hooray!… It Tismas time.”

This was not a new loop for us. Once the decorations were up around the church and home, Charlie would one part ask, one part tell me “It Tismas time” every time we came into the church, which is 5 days out of 7. And sometimes when we were leaving. “It Tismas time?”

Of course, this is a mama-brag. The adorableness of a 2.5 year old’s joy at Christmas decorations never, ever gets old.

The woman behind us in Target seemed to enjoy it, too.

By the time loop began in line at Target, the question part had subsided. But it stuck with me.

“It Tismas time?”

Could it be that our Christmas this year hangs on that part question/part announcement of the birth of the Christ-child that Charlie so readily reminded me of this whole Advent?

We approach the season with tradition and ritual. We hang the greenery and light candles.

We sing of the Shepherds’ approach to the manger. We echo the angelic announcements.

We recount the Christmas morning smiles of our children and grandchildren.

A proud-mama-preacher tells cute stories.

We tell these to ensure the Hope of the season, the “ahhhh” moments at what it all means, because someone else’s Joy -the shepherds, the magi, Mary and Joseph- help us live fully into the assurance of God’s goodness.

This year are we all are approaching the manger with a tinge of question in our voices. Is it Christmas time? Is the Christ-child really going to appear in the manger? Can I dare to hope for implications of God-with-us? There is almost a resistance and assuredly a wonder if grace-embodied really is going to born again.

Can we move past our hesitancy to see God’s goodness after a year that was deeply burdensome…

a year that pit neighbor against neighbor and sibling against sibling with an election that was about anything but public policy;

a year where images poured out of Syria, where the first and second generation inheritors of our faith trod the road to Damascus, of both rebel and state forces killing civilians in a bid for control;

a year where the news of celebrity deaths reminded us that even those who are worshipped for talents we envy die, suddenly and often without any ceremony;

a year where the only solution put forth to better funded education in our state was a regressive tax that failed and in doing so singed the already raw hearts of dedicated teachers across our state who often have second jobs or live (fingers pinched together) this close to applying for food stamps.

a year where people simply keep saying, “that’s enough 2016.”

Do you feel the hesitancy? Do you feel this indecision toward the nativity? It’s the dark-side of hopeful expectancy that we celebrate as Advent? We come to the manger with side-eyed-wonder. I come to the manger with diffidence, desperately seeking good news that God wills a world that can be more whole than the one we known this year and the one upon I reflect today, on December 24, 2016.

And so, I thank God for the tradition and ritual of this season, for the hanging of the green and the lighting of candles, for the reading of liturgy and singing of carols, for the angels messages to Joseph, to Mary and to Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. I thank God that the “It Tismas time?” out of Charlie’s mouth back in late November has transformed to “It Tismas time!”

Are we, too, willing to hear the voices of of the angels, the shepherds, the magi, the children among us and shake free the questions of whether or not God’s goodness is for us too, in this time, in this year, in this season? Can we listen, even if our voices are too tired to sing along?

While we may not feel equipped to shout with the angels or shepherds, we hear these words from the writer of Titus. Surely, we can share in this good news, written at least 2 maybe 4 generations out from Jesus. We know for sure it was written 2 generations out from even Paul. Titus was a disciple of Paul. This pastoral letter was written by those who were a part of the churches nurtured by Titus in the area Corinth.

These were folks, who like us have no direct knowledge of Jesus or even Paul. Here the words that community wrote again:

Titus 2:11-14

“2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,

2:12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,

2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2:14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

Good news for ALL…that we would become zealous for good deeds and the glory of God! It is good news that God is training us for such things. If I need to train to run a 5k, I surely need to train to be Jesus’ disciple on earth. And God is working in me, in you, in us to ensure that we are Hope Bearers in the world.

Do you hear the singing of the angels now? Do you see that signs of the manifestation of our blessed hope now? Perhaps these followers of the way of Jesus were as weary as we. And, they, too proclaim that the grace of God has appeared! They-without a child in a manger near by- knew signs of God’s grace among them.

Are there signs for us now, this year?

Well, “The start of Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same day this weekend, a rarity that comes only every few decades. It means millions of people of both faiths will be lighting candles together, across the land,” highlighted Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak. She continued,

“Hello? Haters? Are you seeing this celestial bat signal?

It’s a sign. Interfaith wonderpowers: Time to activate. Because the darkness has been deep this year.”

You, know I think she’s right. If the reading of Luke 2 and the joy of children aren’t enough to solidify statements rather questions, how about that – after a difficult year world-wide, and our own particular experiences of that difficulty -Christmas and Hanukkah begin together. Two holy celebrations of God’s faithfulness to humanity.

God is faithful to the point of incarnation. Both in the manger and in our eagerness, our zealous hope to do good and shape God-sized wholeness into being.

The good life that God promises in the Christ child comes as we are zealous, eager for the good deeds that make plain the HOPE for which we wait, no for which we ache.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak quoted George Washington in her column and I think it bears sharing here. He wrote, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

This Christmas, without a tinge of question in our voice, let us sing with assurance of the life we commit ourselves to living, eager to do good deeds that proclaim no one shall live in fear, that salvation – as described in Titus as the whole of creation redeemed from iniquity and purified to be a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds, ensuring the grace of God has appeared.

It Tismas time, friends.

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