Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Eve sermon

Christmas Eve 2017—St. Andrew’s, Northford

          Sing, Choirs of Angels, sing in exultation….

          Hark! the Herald angels sing, glory to the new-born King….

          It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
          From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold….

          Angels from the realm of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth.
          Ye who sang creations story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

          The shepherds feared and trembled when lo! Above the earth,
          Rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior’s birth.

          It’s all about the angel-song. A dark, chill, starlit night, shattered by the rustle of wings and a sound not heard by human ears before.
          There were shepherds, of course, there to listen. And the mother and babe and dear, good Joseph…and the animals in the barn…. All of it is necessary to bring the Night alive…. But it begins with the angels, with their voices raised in song….
          The first Nowell, the angel did say, was to certain low shepherds in
                   Fields where they lay….

          The angels hovered ‘round and sang this song,
          “Venite adoremous dominum…”

          Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night
          And the mountains in reply, echoing their brave delight.

          Oh those angels….those angels….and their song….

          Over a dozen years ago I discovered that I had developed tinnitus—commonly known as “ringing in the ears”.
          It began one chilly night when I was on the back porch, letting our then dog, Sadie, out and listening to the crickets. When I came back inside to the warmth, I realized I could still hear the crickets. Then, almost at the same time, I realized what I heard wasn’t crickets—it was below freezing and there were no crickets singing….
          So I went to the doctor and was first examined by his 3rd year Med Student intern. I told the Med Student about the crickets.
          He looked dutifully in my ears and asked: “are they crickets or cicadas?”
          I told him, “Well, I thought of them as crickets, but I guess they could be cicadas.”         
         “It’s tinnitus,” he told me. Then he said, “tinnitus can be quite severe…some people are so troubled by it that they commit suicide.”
          “You can’t tell people things like that!” I said, “What Med School do you go to?”
          (It was Yale, by the way….)

          Looking back, I realized the first symptom was hearing music after the music was over. At night, just before I go to bed, I switch off the radio in the kitchen that is usually tuned to classical music. I’d get half way up the back steps and realize the music was still playing. So I’d go back and check the radio. I must have done that a dozen times before I realized the music was in my head—echoing on long after it ended.
          Which causes me to think about the angel song—how it must have stayed with the Shepherds all the way to Bethlehem and back, how the echoes of that celestial music must have still been in their heads when they laid down to try to sleep…how it must have greeting them the next morning when they awoke at dawn and how it must have lingered through the day.
          How long must that angel song have stayed in their ears? Did the shepherds just get used to it and go on with their lives—or did it sing within them always? How could you ever let go of music like that? Why would you ever want it to end…?
Once, again years ago, In Saturday’s Waterbury Republican American there was a large block ad on page 3 that said: DEAR FRANK, GIVE US ANOTHER CHANCE. I LOVE YOU, BONNIE.
          The pathos and pain of that ad touched me deeply. I could hardly breathe thinking about Bonnie and Frank—their broken relationship, the anguish of it all.  No angel song echoes in Bonnie and Frank’s ears—all they hear is suffering and loss.                      
          It is not a good time to hear the Angel Song. Things collapse around us. The sounds of fear drown out the Angel Song.   
          At this holy time—the birthday of the Prince of Peace—the Middle East is in chaos, hundreds of thousands of refugees have no home, terrorism escalates around the world, climate change threatens us more each day.  The sounds of war and weather drown out the Angel Song.
          Surrounded by the affluence of the richest state in the richest country in the world, we cannot help but see the sharp contrast of the bitter poverty on the edges of our wealth. The cries of need and want drown out the Angel Song.
          And all of us—like Frank and Bonnie—have heartache and pain in our personal lives that tend to distract us—like ringing in the ears—from the Angel Song.
          The writer, Madeleine L’Engle captures all this well. Listen:
                        “This is no time for a child to be born,
                        with the earth betrayed by war and hate
                        And a nova lighting the sky to warn
                        That time runs out and sun burns late.

                        That was no time for a child to be born,
                        In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
                        Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—
                        Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

                        When is the time for love to be born?
                        The inn is full on the planet earth.
                        And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
                        Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

          The clanging of greed, the tumult of war, the sharp cries of injustice, the shrillness of fear—a cacophony of noises drown out the Angel song.
          Yet love still takes the risk of birth.
          Again, the Child is born. Again, the Gift is given. Hope, like a fledgling, spreads her wings within our hardened hearts.
          When is the time for love to be born?
          There is no time but this. And even in this dark time—on one of the longest nights of the year—a Light will shine if we can be the people who take the risk of love.
          A Light will shine if we can let Hope find a home in our hearts and Justice spring new born in our lives.
          A Light will shine if we only still the clamoring of fear and greed and hatefulness long enough to once more hear the Angel song.
          “Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
           beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
           and warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring;
           O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing.”

          Once more, once more as always, Love takes the risk of Birth.

          O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing….

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.