Sermon. December 24, 2020. Christmas Eve
Rev. John Steitz
There is a poem by Howard Thurman in his book, The Mood of Christmas, that I think is very appropriate for our Christmas this year.
“I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my life,
Candles that will burn all year long.”
For many of us this will be a different Christmas than the one we hope for, the one we are used to celebrating. We might only be able to connect to loved ones we dearly want to hug through a phone call or internet chat.
Let us light candles of joy, hope, courage, peace, grace, and love. Let us light candles knowing that the Light of Christ glows in each of our hearts.
I will always remember the candles from one Christmas Eve. It was Christmas Eve, 1968. Apollo 8 was circling the Moon. That year I was an acolyte in the Christmas Eve service at our Episcopal Church. This was a big deal.
The priest at this church had been planning this service for quite a while. There were many participants in the service and I was one of at least eight acolytes. We gathered on a Saturday to practice the procession. We were given instructions on how to act during the service, and what to do if we began to feel faint. (I guess someone had fainted during a pervious Christmas Eve service and he didn’t want it happening again.)
It was cold that Christmas Eve night in the Hudson Valley. More than a half century later I can still remember the crunch of the snow and the crispness in the air.
We acolytes had gotten to church early to change into our uniforms and get our last minute priestly pep talk, which as far as I can remember was some version of “don’t mess up.”
With the other acolytes I lined up right outside the sanctuary. The moment we had been training for had come. The priest began to light each of our candles.
He got to about the fifth acolytes when someone opened the door to come into the building. Swish out went all the candles.
Three times the priest tried to light all of the candles and three times someone entering brought with it the swish extinguishing all the candles.
The priest then recruited three or four men to hold the doors closed while he lit each of the candles. People were banging the doors to be let in.
With our candles lit the team of acolytes all made into the sanctuary and we all got through the service without anyone fainting. Now I wish I could share what the priest’s Christmas Eve sermon was about, but aside from making sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing at the right time, I can only remember thinking about the astronauts circling the Moon in Apollo 8, which seemed like a huge miracle to me at the time.
I also remember wondering if they might catch a glimpse of Santa Claus from their lunar vantage point. As it turned out, James Lovell had this exchange with Mission Control in Houston:
Lovell: “Houston, Apollo 8, over.”
“Hello, Apollo 8, loud and clear” came the response.
“Roger, please be informed that there is a Santa Claus.” Lovell replied.
What is a Christmas or Christmas Eve memory that you can share? Share this memory with your loved ones. Even if you cannot get together in person you can share through a letter, a phone call, or a chat on the internet.
Years later I was in a Quaker meeting for business. Like every Friends meeting this is considered a worship service. Things got very heated between opposing viewpoints. Not on either side of the debate I watched.
A weighty Friend, that as an elder whose counsel is given weight by the others, spoke up. All that was said was that we should wait upon the Spirit to speak.
Immediately there was silence, and we waited. For twenty or twenty-five minutes we waited. Nothing was said. The storm was calmed. The whirling and swishing of anger passed. When we emerged from the silence the conflict behind us. The way opened for a path forward that was different than any that had been expressed.
Not only did we wait upon the Spirit during this silence. We waited to regain our understanding that there is that of God in each person. We waited to reclaim our ability to respect the essential dignity of each person there. We waited to renew our being centered within ourselves in the Inner Light of Christ.
I learned a lot during that Quaker meeting for business. When we see the Inner Light of Christ within ourselves we are able to center and be calm even in the midst of controversy.
When we see the Inner Light of Christ within others we are able to treat others with respect and dignity even when we might disagree. Maybe especially when we disagree.
Quakers understand that the Inner Light of Christ is within each one of us. The Inner Light of Christ is beacon guiding us, centering us, calming us.
The Inner Light of Christ is like a candle that is never extinguished.
Oppression and injustice cannot extinguish the Inner Light of Christ. The pandemic cannot extinguish the Inner Light of Christ.
We as a congregation celebrate the Inner Light of Christ within ourselves and in others in a variety of ways. Through our daily Prayer Circle ministry, we hold many people in prayer, affirming the Inner Light of Christ within them. Through our Open and Affirming ministry we especially lift up the Inner Light of Christ within those society marginalizes. Through our Music ministry we lift up the Inner Light of Christ of those who sing and play music, and those who are spiritually enriched as they listen.
Hold in prayer the Inner Light of Christ with you. Give thanks to God for the gift of being the person God created you to be.
Hold in prayer the Inner Light of Christ within each person in your family. Give thanks to God for the gift this person is. Not the gifts and talents they have but simply the gift they are for being the person God created them to be.
Extend this beyond your family. Hold in prayer the Inner Light of Christ of those in our community and in the world. Give thanks to God for the gift these people are.
As we center and are guided by the Inner Light of Christ we are able to light candles this Christmas that will burn all year long.