Christmas Eve – Set 3 (Year C)
God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord. Amen.
The Estuary of Christmas
One of the best Christmas records ever recorded was released in 1979. It has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas in the Lepp household. I have been listening to it again over the last few days as I searched for some additional inspiration for tonight.
We have sung and will sing some beautiful pieces of music tonight. However, nothing (at least to me) compares with this album. It is silly, it is sublime, and I will go so far as to say it is also profound.
That record: ‘A Christmas Together’ by John Denver and the Muppets! I kid you not. It is a glorious mix of auditory fun. Miss Piggy’s 5 Gold Rings in the Twelve Days of Christmas is not to be missed. Ralph the Dog’s soulful rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is divine. Silent Night sung in German by all the Muppets will bring you to tears. In between the silly songs there are some profound lyrical gems that reflect the Christmas season. One of these is ‘When the River Meets the Sea’; the inspiration for the title and contents of tonight’s sermon.
The official term for a river meeting the sea is an estuary. In an estuary, the freshwater of the river meets the saltwater of the ocean. The combining of the waters makes a difference as the salt content is changed. When we discover the kingdom of God; we are changed.
I think that we see something of an estuary in our readings and songs tonight. The essence of Christmas is the greatness of God coming down to meet us and sweep us into the bigger picture of his love and His kingdom.
The people of Israel who Isaiah was prophesying to were in slavery in Babylon. They had been taken away from their homes, families had been separated and some would never be reunited. Most of the Israelites were desperate to go back home, back to what they knew and how it was. The Israelites needed to be reminded that better times were ahead. God had not forgotten them; He was making a way for them to be rescued. Isaiah is alluding to the beautiful feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation to the Israelites in captivity. This is not only physical captivity, but spiritual, emotional and social. This messenger is Jesus.
St John begins his Gospel in darkness and mystery, casting us back to the opening of Genesis when in the beginning there was nothing, but God created order out of chaos. Like a human author who creates a new world with words on a page, God speaks a word and things come to be. A burst of light and a new life coming through Jesus.
John proclaims that the light in the midst of darkness is Jesus and this needs to be worked out. These big readings hold grand visions and promises that break into the lives of people who are struggling and in need of some good news.
In an estuary, water is continually being circulated as the ocean tides and the mouth of the river combine their waters. In the estuary of these readings we see the coming of the promises of God meeting the reality of the people waiting for the Good News. When we meet God we should be continually stirred up and have our contents changed. This is the Good News of Jesus.
We sing it in our songs too:
Yea, Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning, Jesu, to thee be glory given; Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing.
It came true!
‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee (Jesus) tonight.
Who’s got some hopes and fears here tonight?
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Anyone meek of soul?
Good – the dear Christ wants to enter!
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.
Anyone else weary on the road tonight? Take a rest and listen for the angels.
Shortly we will sing probably the most poignant lines of all:
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings;
Born that man no more may die.
More light and better life in 2022 to all? Healing?
Tonight we go back to the beginning, to when the Word became flesh and all things came into being through him and lived among us. We see his glory, the Son full of grace and truth. Just as true now as it was then.
The final thing about estuaries is that they are, according to National Geographic, excellent for community living. They provide fresh water and hygiene. The earliest civilizations in the world developed around estuaries around 4000 thousand years ago. Where the river meets the sea is good for life and living. Not just for us but for everyone. Jesus came for everyone, every single person. No one is excluded – however much we may wish to exclude ourselves.
The Word made flesh and dwells among us full of grace and truth. This is no man-made solution; this is all God. Jesus came from the will of God.
Like the river meeting sea, we can flow into the life and love of God and become part of his most glorious story. I will end with the words from this beautiful song.
When the River meets the Sea
When the mountain touches the valley
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully
Though our minds be filled with questions
In our hearts we’ll understand
When the river meets the sea
Like a flower that has blossomed
In the dry & barren sand
We are born & born again most gracefully
Thus the winds of time will take us
With a sure and steady hand
When the river meets the sea
Patience, my brother and patience, my son
In that sweet and final hour
Truth and justice will be done
Like a baby when it is sleeping
In its loving mother’s arms
What a newborn baby dreams is a mystery
But his life will find a purpose
And in time he’ll understand
When the river meets the sea
When the river meets the almighty sea!