The Very Rev. Tom Callard – December 25, 2019
Thank you for coming to church on Christmas Day. One of my favorite images of Christmas Day comes from a movie version I saw of A Christmas Carol, the Dickens story. When it is Christmas Morning after a long night of being visited by ghosts, and Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up and realizes it is Christmas Day and he is so happy. It is a wonderful moment and he is so happy. I’m happy on Christmas morning, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy as Scrooge was. For he has been changed.
Prior to that, as we know from the story, Ebenezer lived a miserable life and a life which was cut off from the world around him in profound ways, for it was a life incapable of feeling compassion. He had no care for the suffering of his employees or Bob Cratchit. The illness of Tiny Tim really meant nothing to him. For Scrooge the world in which he lived was nothing more than a means to his own end, a playground in which he moved things around to achieve his own goals.
And if there were suffering he caused or bad things that happened because of his actions none of that mattered as long as he was content. And, of course, in the visit of the ghost of Christmas past, he got to see that his life had pretty much been this way forever. His childhood had been compassionless, his upbringing was compassionless. He was taught a lack of compassion and shown a lack of care, and so the prison in which Scrooge lived was set out for him from the beginning.
And he lived in it until this Christmas Eve when he was visited by the ghost of Marley, his old business partner, and the other ghosts who came to show him that this life, this life without compassion, was not the only way. That there was another way. And so in the morning, on Christmas, the frightened and repented Scrooge opened his life to this new way, there with morning church bells ringing, and a new person was born.
I can only hope that something like that will come upon us this year. Maybe not so drastically, because we are maybe not so compassionless as Scrooge. But I hope it comes to you in some way.
One of the great gifts that comes whenever we interact with God is that God makes us more connected with life around us, and that connection always gives us compassion. God’s presence always unites us. Part of what is so profound about A Christmas Carol is the realization that each of us, to some degree, is like Scrooge, trapped in a world of our own making, in our own state where we imagine that we are disconnected from each other. That we are individual people each with his or her own competing interests and desires which are sometimes at odds with each other.
Humans did not always see things this way. If we go way back to our religious roots in the Hebrew Bible it’s interesting to realize that God for the Jews came not to the person or to the individual but God came to the people, all of them. Our Rabbi in Residence Mark Shapiro has pointed out that in the prayers prayed during the Sabbath service at temple, that the words I or Me are not prayed for, but that it is always We or Us. The Lord has come to save us. We are the beneficiaries of God’s grace.
And we see that in our Christian Texts in places like the Magnificat, in which Mary is told she will bear the Savior, and she rejoices that she will be part of God’s salvation for all of her people. And today in the gospel, the angels have come to the terrified shepherds to give them the good news of great joy for whom?: For all.
I am not so important to Jesus as I think I am. The I is not so much a beneficiary of the plan of salvation as the we. Obviously I am important to Jesus, you are important to Jesus. But it’s not because of anything particularly great or significant or important I have done or can do. But because I am one of the us and part of the we.
We see this most clearly in the second lesson, in Titus. I had a friend who is a priest named Titus Pressler, and I remember him saying once that he was the only Titus he ever knew. It’s not a common name. And the reading of Titus in our Church service is just as rare. The Epistle to Titus, from the New Testament, only appears once a year in our church readings. We only hear at Christmas. So you assume this must be a very Christmas like passage for us to hear it today.
Here’s what Titus says: that when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy. It is a great passage of grace and faith over and above our works or anything we can do.
And it’s a great passage of connectivity and compassion, because so much of our labor leads us to think that our work makes a difference in this life, that is it our labor and our success that separates the I from the world around me, and what gives us favor, and what makes us important. That we have within us somehow the power to save ourselves, that we have within us the power of God.
And if that’s what I believe, then you are just here to help me, to get me my success. So why would I care about you, beyond how I can use you. Why would I care about Tiny Tim, or anyone else? If life is determined by what I can do, then we’re all on our own. And we’re trapped like Scrooge in this prison.
But if I truly cannot make it on my own and do not have power or might, if I am beholding to God for God’s mercy, then maybe I do need you, maybe I’m not so able or so great, so maybe I can see you as another human being here in the same boat as me.
For Jesus came through God’s grace and Christmas happened not because of me. It happened for me. And it happened to me. As it happened to you.
I can imagine that in the night of Christmas as Ebenezer was visited and brought around to see his life, he came to realize that the thing stronger than himself and his own pain and fear was God. And love. And I can hope that we feel the same this year, every time we feel pain, and every time we have fear. I hope we realize that we have been give something stronger, which is God’s love.
This Christmas I pray that you and I will realize Christ as a gift that has come to us not because of what we’ve done this year but because of who God is, because of the love God has. There is no nice and naughty list in reality, there is only mercy. There is only God looking at us all, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Mother Theresa, and saying: I love you. I love you. Now who can you love?
Compassion is love for another connected to the shared experience of life. In a truly compassionate world, on an ideal Christmas morning, we would all wake up and come down and run out into the street freeing migrant children trapped in cages at the border. We would wake up and armies on both sides would put down their guns and enemies rush to embrace each other. Victimizers, bullies, name callers, racists would suddenly see that they have been wrong. For they are just like those whom they attack and hate. And we would find deep compassion for our planet and concern for those coming after us and this would lead us to protect our resources.
In a less than compassionate world, on your average Christmas morning, like today, it is up to those of us who carry the faith to work for this vision. To be as compassionate as we can be for those who differ from us, and to be extra compassionate for those who just don’t get it. And there are many.
So let our lives be love. Let this year be love. Let the true present of Christmas be for us the transformation that we share with others, with friends and family and strangers and enemies. Knowing that God has saved us and poured out on us, on all of us, the Spirit through Jesus Christ. And we are heirs. We have inherited it. We have been born into it. And today, it is born into us.
Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one.