About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, December 23, 2005

2005 Christmas Eve

2005 Christmas Eve
December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas. Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you. In our own country, we say it many ways. In the Hispanic farm communities, they say, “Feliz Navidad.” In the Korean immigrant churches, they say, “Sung Tan Chuk Ha.” In Hawaii, they say, “Mele Kalikimaka,” which is impossible to say without moving your hips. In Alaska, the Native Americans say, “Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!” (The nights are three months long, so they can afford to stretch it out. By the time they all finish saying it, it’s spring.) Here in East Tennessee, we say, “Merry Christmas, y’all.” Or, in Sevier County, “Merry Christmas, you’ns.” In our own country, and around the world, everybody says it a little differently. The words, and the feelings beneath the words, are as individual as every person who says them. Because Christmas is going to mean unique things to each one of us. All of us have our own Christmas memories. All of us have our own traditions – family traditions and personal habits. Some people love Christmas and can’t stop decorating, can’t stop buying presents, can’t stop holding mistletoe over people’s heads (even though it gets them in trouble at the office party). Some people prefer the quiet of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. And some people have trouble saying the “Merry” part of it all. We say Christmas differently, we celebrate Christmas differently, we feel Christmas differently. Preachers tell us to remember the “true” meaning of Christmas. But the truth is, there are true meanings of Christmas. There are more meanings of Christmas than there are ways to say it. And what Christmas truly means to you might not be precisely the same as what it means to the person on the other side of town, or even the other side of the pew.

“Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Not even the angels had one word for Christmas. Some would have heard, “City of David,” and said, “The King! The restorer!” Some would have said, “David who?” Some would hear, “Messiah,” some would hear, “the Christ.” Our own Bibles can’t even agree on precisely what to call him. Different versions call him very different names, and we each hear these names according to our own experience. To you, “Savior” might mean one thing. To me, it might mean something else. I suppose it depends on what you need to be saved from.

So even though we’re sharing this moment, this worship, I know that when I said, “Merry Christmas,” and you said, “Merry Christmas,” back, you might have been wishing me something very different than I was wishing you. Does that mean that one of us said it wrong? I doubt it. If not even the angels can agree how to say, “Merry Christmas,” how could we expect to say it perfectly right?

I know for some of you this IS Christmas. The hymns, the anthems, the bells, the candlelight. And for some of you this is just another part of a long, parental plot to make you sit still and wait on the one night you physically can’t.

“…they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

From the very first, Christmas has been amazing, something you both run and tell others about, and something you ponder in your own heart. Christmas is loud and quiet. Christmas is incredible and understandable. All the wishes of Christmas – all the true meanings of Christmas, whatever language they’re said in and however you might hear them – all of Christmas is about God. God who is so much bigger than we can ever comprehend. God who we try to squeeze into our hearts and squeeze out of our words. God who is great King, Savior and Lord. God who is a baby born in a manger. God who is. And God who loves. No matter how we say it. Or even if we don’t. Christmas means God. God in our dark, silent nights. God in our bright Yule mornings. The God who loves simply can’t leave us alone. God will find a voice to speak to us. God will find a language we understand.

Whatever words we use to say it, God’s Word has become flesh. God’s Word lives among us. It IS said many times, many ways. And it’s worth saying until we can’t say it any more. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Day

John 1:1-14
Christmas Day, 2005
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church PCUSA
December 25, 2005

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.

Morning. A Bethlehem morning. The golden light of morning peeks over the horizon, over the tops of the earthen homes, turning their ordinary clay rooftops a gentle, kingly gold. Morning, and Bethlehem, the city of bread, awakens to breezes of dough kneaded, baking in the ovens of mothers making meals. Up long before dawn, the women and their work give the city its name and provide its daily life. When even the roosters are sleeping, the mothers bow before their bread-boards, quietly pounding, rolling, shaping their families’ lives by the flicker of a lamp and the light of the stars. Their Sabbath is over. Their week has begun. Six more days of creation greet them with a sigh. God of earth and heaven, God of sky and sea, God of hope and glory – is, for these women, the God of kitchens and God of mixing bowls. God of spoons and God of sprinkles, God of the flour wiped across their foreheads and squeezed beneath their fingernails. Their altar is their hearth, their synagogue their home. They breathe and the Lord God fills their lungs. They cough, and they see the angels’ dust. Quietly, so only the stars can hear, they hum songs of faith, songs of life, songs of promise. Here, in a Bethlehem morning, in homes where hearts beat and stomachs growl, here is God’s heavenly chorus. And it goes…

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with warm, baking bread,
with warm, baking bread
and the sound of children, turning in their beds.
With stiff hands and the sound of the oven fire,
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Morning. A Bethlehem morning. A mother with a baby sleeping on her breast twitches awake. What child is this, she wonders to herself. What child is this who stirs and whimpers his toothless newborn yawns. The first bronze light of his first morning catches the matted curls of the first hairs of his head. Rising and falling with each of his mother’s breaths, his tiny face scrunches, then relaxes with peace, heavenly peace. A baby sigh. Mary closes her eyes and smells the bread from the house nearby and imagines how it will look, broken and steaming, fresh from the oven’s heat. With butter. Newly churned butter, melting across the crust, gliding in a line to a pool on the wooden plate beneath. Her one craving – the simple luxury of the butter, slick on her fingers and lips. Oh, Joseph, please find some bread today, and, if you can, just a small taste of butter. Just enough to make the flavor of the loaf sing. The bread of life will join with all creation in song. And its song goes…

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the babies clap their hands;
let the mothers sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world by its daily bread,
and the peoples with the taste of mercy.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth of baking bread. The mornings of working mothers. God created the dawns lit by glowing hearths and stars lingering in the sun’s new sky. God created joints that ache and backs that pop because the world makes them wake up too early for too long. God created the sparkling frost of first daylight and the chilly wind that makes us yearn for the shelter of a mother’s arms. In the beginning, God created. And in the first dawn of the first morning, God’s firstborn opened its eyes and looked out at all that was and all that might be. There’s a part of God that remains an infant. It’s the part of God that makes a new day new, makes fresh bread smell fresh, makes us see the world as if we’ve never seen it before. The Firstborn of God brings first light upon all that was, and is, and ever will be. And if you listen very closely to a baby’s breath, to a mother’s sighs, to the world as it wakes up and shakes off the sleep of its own long, dark night – if you listen very closely, you can hear God’s Firstborn singing even today. And the song goes like this…

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth.

Let’s stand and sing.