This sermon was offered on December 18th, the fourth Sunday of Advent, at St. John's Episcopal Church in Franklin by the Rev. Deborah Woodward.
The Christmas Gift of Joy and Wondering
Through the Eyes of a Grandmother
The Gifts of Joy and Wonder may be the best gifts of Christmas. This lovely phrase is not original with me.These words are part of a prayer of Thanksgiving from our Baptism Service. I love this prayer, which so abundantly celebrates our life in Christ, a life of joy and wonder.
- from the Baptism Service...
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon us forgiveness of sin,
and have raised us to a new life of grace.
Sustain us O Lord. Give us an inquiring and discerning heart,
the courage to will and to persevere,
a spirit to know and to love you,
and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
A story about Joy and Wonder...
Last week, we left the Malden Public Library in the dark of the evening, my five year old granddaughter and I.
“Gran, can I take the short cut,” she asks?
“Sure, Joey,” (Her name is Josephine, but “Joey” she is called)
So Joey left the sidewalk, climbed over a low railing, and darted across the library lawn and then disappeared...
behind the mightily tall,
real live Christmas tree planted in the frozen grass.
It was a real, live tree.She had checked out, on her belly,crawling, finding the thick trunk, hidden deep within.
I just let her be, hidden from me behind the tree, lost in Joy and Wonder.
But that is the end of the story.
Here is the beginning of the story...
The birth of Joy and Wonder took place in this way…
The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter One
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel came to Mary and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. But she was much perplexed by his words and wondered what sort of greeting this might be. Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’
The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter One
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
We begin with two wondering people.
This is what I find myself considering at Christmas.
The birth of Joy and Wonder
The sanctification of Joy and Wonder in this world.
The Wonder of it All, made Holy by the birth of the Savior.
That “Wondering” began with Mary and Joseph.
Especially, this morning, with Joseph.
He wondered what to do. He did not, at first, wonder how the pregnancy had happened. That was pretty clear.
In the usual way, she had become pregnant.
He wondered. “What to do about it.”
What to do with her?
Stone her to death?
It is gruesome. But that was one of the legal, “righteous” penalties. Did you know, they often would toss the “stone-ee” over a cliff in the hopes that the collision with the rocks at the bottom would render the victim unconscious; a kind of mercy, while the body was then further destroyed. The body and the child.
Or would he could cast her out, penniless and pregnant to be used and abused to death, she and the child.
These were the laws of righteousness.And he was a righteous man. Either death by stoning, or the divorce of the espousal, that legal agreement legally ended and she, cast out.
Isn't it odd? And the child that was to be born came, not to destroy the law. And yet the law might destroy him.
What was Joseph to do?
Joseph is ahead of the times.
Even before the child of wonder and joy is born, Joseph is a man who is true to the new law. He will honor the child who came into this world not to destroy the law but to fulfill it.
Joseph too fulfilled the law. For the fulfillment of the law is that we love first and absolutely.
The law of love was to be born and Joseph fulfilled that law. Joseph chose to take Mary in love.
Thank God for the angel's care of Joseph, or where would be we be?
Joy less?Wonder lost?
And so I return to last week's Joy and Wonder.
Outside the library, Joey stood behind the giant tree, in the dark.I could not see her. But I trusted that she was there and that she was safe and would eventually re-appear.
But earlier that evening I had had one of those, “where is my grandchild?” moments. You know those terrified times when they seem to have gone missing!
Back, inside the library building I had asked “Joey, can you give me a minute?Gran wants to check out a book before we go home.”
“Sure Gran, can I hide,”she replied?
She likes to play hide and seek, running back to the open stacks that border the reading room. There is only one way out. She would be hard to lose.
But then I can't find her.
The trouble with Joy.
The risk with Love.
Do we even dare to Love?
It is really important to enter into the childish Joy of Christmas, the Wonder of it all, as Easter people. For we all know the pain of love and loss. We all need the Easter promise, “It will be well.”
We Easter people have tucked securely in the center of our Joy the eternal promises that are born with the child - the promises that shine down upon us at Easter. It will all be well.
We need that assurance.Because….
To dare to love is a big deal.Harder than righteousness.
To surrender to Wonder is to take a risk.
To know Joy can feel like a fragile gift.
Yet- all are protected by the resurrection.
So, where was she?
There is a staircase at the corner of the library reading room that leads down to the lower level stacks. These stacks are closed so the stairwell is a dead end.
Finally, I found the stairway.There was no where else she could be.Heart in mouth, I peered over. There she was, of course, grinning at me.“Boo, Gran!”
And, of course, outside, she appeared out from behind the tree.
Shivering, I say “Let's head for the car.”
“No, wait Gran. Stop. Look!Breathe.”
“Gran, I can see my breath. Breathe Gran.”
So we stood there a while longer, in Wonder, as our breath turned to crystal in the icy air.
I suppose it is pretty obvious that my grandchildren are a Joy in my live. Simple and pure.
For me also,
For you, I dare,
There is another place of wonder and joy.
I mean the altar.
This place of altar, of Eucharist, of Thanksgiving.
This place, where the gift of God is birthed and given.
The wonder of the altar. This place where the child of Mary and Joseph is present in all his wonder, in our hands, bringing his promise,
It is safe to wonder,
Safe to surrender to the mystery.
Safe to stand still in the dark and behold Wonder of life.
Safe to simple stand and breathe and be amazed at the fact of life.
Safe to live and safe to love, safe to know Joy.
Because we know that all probability of loss has been secured for us into eternal life.
He is born.
We are saved.