Bishop WolfeThe Nativity of Our Lord
The Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas
Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20



The Road to Truth
by The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe, D.D.
Ninth Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Kansas

In the name of the infant of Bethlehem;
even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A wise man once said, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way…. or not starting.”

It‘s easy to cite instances of both.
Many of us experience Christmas at the most superficial level.
We can’t seem to make it all the way to the source.  We may love the shopping, the decorating, the food, even the candlelit worship… but we never quite get to the heart of it all; the veritable “Reason for the Season.”

Others are just too jaded or cynical to even start on the road to truth.  “Why bother going on a journey when there’s nothing at the destination?”  For them, Christmas is little more than a faked sense of warmth, generosity, and goodwill which lasts about as long as a short winter’s day.

But tonight, especially on this night, I’d like to invite you to complete the journey down that road to truth. Tonight I’d like you to go to truth’s very source.
And tonight, of all nights, “not starting” won’t seem like a very good option because even the most jaded, skeptical, cynical persons among us are secretly yearning to find something which gives their lives greater cohesion and deeper meaning.

I mean, who isn’t looking for “The Reason?” Not just for “The Season,” but “The Reason” for everything!?!
Who doesn’t want to know the answer to the great “Why?”

So tonight we’ll do what Christians always do when we’re in search of Truth with a capital “T.”  We’ll recall the ancient story.  We’ll remember Our Story… the core narrative which frames our understanding of reality; a story as old and as sacred and as mysterious as any story you’ve ever heard.

It’s the story being told around the world tonight in nearly every language and nation; the story of the birth of that sacred child so long ago and in that place so far away.

Of course, it was no ordinary birth and this was no ordinary child. From the very beginning this event was surrounded by paradox, intrigue, and danger.

This birth was foretold by the ancient prophets of Israel; Isaiah proclaims, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The author of the Gospel of Luke tells us about a faithful young woman named Mary and a patient husband named Joseph who are to have a child. Mary gives birth to this child in the most unassuming setting possible, placing the child “in a manger because there was no place for them in the Inn”. And the name finally given to this child is a clue to his unique place on the world’s stage; Jesus. Yeshua.  Literally, in Hebrew, “He who saves.”

An angelic messenger proclaims, “He who saves” is, indeed, the Savior, the Messiah; the Son of the Living God. And an Angel of the Lord calls shepherds from their flocks to go and be witnesses to this revelation.

I know… I know… prophets and angels?  Really?
But this is how the story about the “true light which enlightens everyone coming into the world” begins! This story asks so much of us in term of putting aside our natural skepticism but, if you can allow it, it also offers indescribable gifts in return.  The Bible says, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

In truth, this is actually the love story of God; the God who loved the creation he made to such a degree… that he made himself a living part of that creation… the God who loved us so much that he gave himself completely to his creation…
and for it!

In this story, Almighty God actually becomes a human being, and the prophecy becomes history, and The Word becomes flesh and thereby everything in the universe is transformed.

This is more than ancient reminiscence.
This story is OUR story; yours and mine.

It belongs to us as much as it belonged to the angels or to the shepherds or even to Mary and Joseph themselves.

It belongs to you as much as it belongs to the preachers, or the historians, or the philosophers, or the theologians.  Because this story says God loved YOU so much that he sent his only son (a piece of himself) to YOU!  For YOU!!!

And God loved the person sitting next to you so much that he sent his only Son, a piece of his own divinity, to them as well.  God sent a part of himself to you, and to me, and to every one of us so that if we could receive that love…If we could begin to follow those teachings, if we could, in the smallest way, love him in return, we could enjoy a life in His presence which has no end.  And tonight at this very altar, you will be able, by outward and visible sign, to take this God into your body and your heart once more; Holy Communion.

Henri Nowen, now of blessed memory, was the most prolific and self-revealing monastic writer since Thomas Merton. He once described his own inability to embrace all this on a particular Christmas when he wrote,

“Everything was there to make it a splendid Christmas.  But I wasn’t really there.  I felt like a sympathetic observer. I couldn’t force myself to feel differently.  It just seemed that I wasn’t part of it.  At times I even caught myself looking at it all like an unbeliever who wonders what everybody is so busy and excited about. Spiritually, this is a dangerous attitude.  It creates a certain sarcasm, cynicism, and depression. But I didn’t want or choose it.  I just found myself in a mental state that I could not move out of by my own force.

Still, in the midst of it all I saw… even though I did not feel… that this day may prove to be a grace after all.  Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas.  Christmas is saying “yes” to something beyond all emotion and feelings.  Christmas is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel.  Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine.  Things will never look just right or feel just right.  If they did, someone would be lying.  The world is not whole, and today I experience this fact in my own unhappiness.  But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace. Savior.

I look at him and pray, “Thank you, Lord, that you came, independent of my feelings and thoughts.  Your heart is greater than mine.
Maybe a “dry” Christmas, a Christmas without much to feel or think, will bring me closer to the true mystery of God-with-us.
What it asks is pure, naked faith.”

And this is where the road to Truth leads.

The world order is changed.  Tonight the most powerful force in the world is not a Roman ruler, or a king, or a terrorist or even the Commander in Chief of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

The most powerful force in the world is Hope… and it originates in the form of this precious child who’s birth we celebrate. God comes to the poor, the uncertain, the weak, and to those in the greatest need. It is among them that God can do God’s holy work.

There will hardly be a family in America this Christmas that will not be thinking about the families of those 20 children and six educators killed in Newtown, Connecticut.  The Episcopal Church in Newtown was the site of at least one of those funerals and many of us have felt deeply connected to this tragedy in ways which we may not fully understand.

What mother or father can bear the thought of Christmas presents laying under a tree for children who will never come home to unwrap them?

What husband or wife can bear the pain of their spouse’s smartphone ringing to announce another scout meeting or music lesson that will never be attended?

The faith community should continue to respond to this senseless tragedy in the coming months, and we will respond.

But tonight we have been invited to go to complete the journey on the road to Truth and that road leads us… to this tiny manger… where a child lays in a darkened and broken world and where we have never been in greater need of the light he brings.  The hope-filled message of this (and every) Christmas is that we have not been left alone. Not in our heart-broken grief. Not in our shattering despair.  Not in our unspeakable losses.

God walks with us.  Emmanuel!!!  Which means, “God with us.”

God chooses not to reign from the stainless heavens but reveals himself in the muck and the blood and the pain of this world.

When it comes to the birth of God in recorded history, there are no half steps, slips, shortcuts, or slights of hand.  Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, requires the full embrace of a truth which can never be fully explained.

Tonight we are invited to go the whole way to embrace the mystery and the love and the hope which will never die.

Let us pray,
By way of Bethlehem
lead us, O Lord, to newness of life.
By the innocence of the Christ child
renew our simple trust.
By the tenderness of Mary
deliver us from cruelty and hardness of heart.
By the patience of Joseph
save us from all rash judgment and ill-tempered action.
By the shepherd’s watch
open our eyes to the signs of thy coming,
By the wise men’s journey
keep our searching spirits from fainting.
By the music of heavenly choirs
put to shame the clamor of the earth.
By the shining of a star
guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, may the Blessing of God;
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
rest gently upon you this night
and remain with you always.  Amen

 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak, quoted in Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Journey with Henri J. M. Nouwen (ed., Michael Ford; Notre Dame, Indiana, Sorin Books, 2003), pp. 47-48

 

 

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