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The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston was the president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, 1999-2008.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA


Sermon for Christmas Day

Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day

December 24, 2005

Let me ask you a simple question on this Christmas Day. How many times have you heard the story that we just read from this gospel in Luke?

How many times have you heard the story about the simple shepherds in the field watching over their flocks at night, and suddenly in a starlit sky there comes the angel and the heavenly host proclaiming good news to all of humanity, and the shepherds go and follow the directions of the angels and they find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in the straw surrounded by the silent, innocent benediction of the animals in the stable?

How many times have you heard that story, and how many times have you seen it portrayed on greeting cards around the Christmas season, in pictures that we see on television-every Christmas-this wonderful, warm, loving image? Isn't it a lot like the swaddling clothes, the bands of cloth that Jesus is described as being wrapped in?

Christmas is like that for us. It is like streamers of warm and wonderful family memories of images that we treasure and hold dear, that we wrap around ourselves every Christmas. It keeps us warm in the winter. It makes us feel comforted and hopeful. It brings us back to childhood - every Christmas, year after year after year.

You know, the truth is no matter how avant-garde or forward thinking or progressive we may believe ourselves to be as Christians, every Christmas we all turn into traditionalists. If you are like me, you are, just as I am, an absolute sentimentalist whenever it comes to this Christmas season.

I don't want Christmas to ever change. I don't want to ever stop hearing this story in Luke. I never want to stop seeing that image of the baby Jesus in the manger. I want to feel that again and again and again. I am so nostalgic for it. It is so comforting to me. I never ever, ever, want my Christmas to change.

And, then, somewhere in the distance I hear the small sound of a tinkling bell. It is the bell of irony. And that small bell reminds me of the irony of our faith that on the very feast of the nativity of Christ Jesus, when we so much want nothing to ever change, we are, in fact, celebrating the great moment of change in human history. We are, in fact, celebrating a moment when God enters into history and nothing is ever the same after that.

Incarnation means change. It means God coming into our time and into our space and into our lives and into our comfort zone and shaking things up and making them be recreated in a new way and challenging us to confront change and to be active in doing something, being co-creators with God in the world around us.

Christmas is nothing but a constant celebration year after year after year that no year is ever the same and that our lives are never the same and that every year we are, in fact, older and, hopefully, wiser but still engaged with our God, the God of history, in making things happen.

How ironic, how ironic, that on a day when we want absolutely nothing to change we are, in fact, celebrating the greatest change ever. Change is not something that we as Christians should fear. Change is the nature of life. It is the nature of the church.

We must not take our sentimentality for a Christmas season and extend it over the other 364 days of a year to try and build walls of supposed tradition to hold back the change of our creative God. We should not be fearful when the things that we do in the church and the things that the church does in the world around it suddenly seem to be different.

We must not fear the new but be active agents of bringing the new as God brings the new into the world every day, every week, every month, every year, and, yes, every Christmas. Change is the name of the game through Christ Jesus.

So what do I suggest that you do on this Christmas Day? What do I suggest that you do to celebrate this wonderful moment of change in your life? I suggest that you wrap up in Christmas like I'm going to do. That you once again enjoy those visions of angels and shepherds and the manger and the baby in the straw and the animals and Mary and Joseph and keep it exactly the way it's always been for you.

Just today, just for this one day, let it be comforting and traditional. Let it be familiar and warm and loving. There's time enough tomorrow for you and me to step out in our own incarnation and once again pick up our gifts and go to work with God to face change and make change for the glory of God's name.

But for today, for this one special day, let us relax into the peace that is holy and into a time where time itself seems to stand still and the winds and tides of change are held back with the sounds of angelic voices drifting through a starry, cold night.

Almighty God of change, God of what is new and what is coming to be, we want to be your partners, we want to be your co-creators, in the world around us. But on this day, we want to rest with you in that timeless moment of your nativity in the mystery of your incarnation. Let your Spirit so comfort us today, so wrap us up in the swaddling clothes of your truth and compassion and mercy that we rest gently in your arms as a baby lying in a manger and know that there is time enough tomorrow for us to join you in changing the world. Amen.


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