Homily Christmas Eve, 2016- the Rev. Gary Hamblin

Christmas Eve 10 pm December 24, 2016/ St. John the Apostle Anglican Church
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Luke 2: 1-20
The Birth of Jesus
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the
world should be registered. This was the first registration and was
taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own
towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth
in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because
he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to
be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was
expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to
deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and
wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because
there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping
watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood
before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and
they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘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 Saviour, who is
the Messiah,the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child
wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly
there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising
God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the
shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and
see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known
to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the
child lying in the manger. When they saw this, 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.The shepherds
returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and
seen, as it had been told them.
Christmas Eve 10 pm December 24, 2016/ St. John the Apostle Anglican Church
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Introduction
Have you ever noticed that the entire Christmas story begins with a lot of
questions? When the angel appeared to old Zechariah telling them that he and
Elizabeth, long past her childbearing years, would have a son, he asked, “How will
I know this is so?” Then, when that son grows up to be John the Baptizer, he will
ask his political opponents, “Who has warned you to flee from the justice you are
going to receive from God?” When the angel appeared to Mary to announce that
she was to conceive a child, she too had her question, “How can this be, since I am
a young woman?” When she traveled in haste to visit her cousin, Elizabeth greeted
her with a question, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Later on, the three Wise Men would ask wicked King Herod, “Where is the One
that has been born King of the Jews?”
Who Brought You Here?
Thus, these are questions that begin the Christmas drama and so they prompt me to
ask you some questions, three of them in fact, each wrapped in a story, for
Christmas is a time of storytelling.
The first question is this: who brought you here? I don’t mean, who physically
drove the car tonight. I mean in the long run. I mean, who in your background is
responsible for your being here in church, whether it is every Sunday, or even if it
is only once or twice a year? Who planted the seed of faith in you? In that sense,
you have my first question: who brought you here?
The Farm
My grandparents, who emigrated from the United States to Canada in 1904, started
life in their new country on a farm in Saskatchewan. It was a homestead, a half
section of land, 320 acres. They plowed the virgin ground and grew wheat and oats
and barley, had milk cows, beef cattle, horses to pull the plow, chickens, and pigs
and, of course, dogs and cats.
Part of my life was spent on the farm, beginning in the 1940’s, when my parents,
wanting a little rest from my brothers and myself during the Summer, Easter and
Christmas school holidays, sent us to the farm and the care of my grandmother,
aunt and uncle.
My grandparents named the farm the ‘Midway Farm’ because it was located
roughly midway between the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, on highway 11.
I remember one summer on the farm, in particular. The weather was hot and dry
and the grain crops had been mostly eaten up by grasshoppers or ravaged by hail
storms in the early spring. The farmers were on ‘hard times’ but, fortunately, still
Christmas Eve 10 pm December 24, 2016/ St. John the Apostle Anglican Church
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had adequate sources of food preserved from previous ‘good’ years. The same did
not seem to be true for many others, because, that summer, there were many
strangers who knocked on the farmhouse door, looking for food for themselves and
their families. My grandmother was especially good to them, always giving them a
home cooked meal, or some potatoes or eggs to take away. Some of them would
return the favour by chopping wood, helping with the farming or weeding the
garden.
My aunt used to wonder why the strangers seemed to come to her farm, but not so
much to the neighbour’s farms, which she discovered after talking with her
neighbours. So, being forthright, she began asking the strangers if they had gone to
any of the neighbouring farms and if not, why not. She was curious, not resentful.
The answer she got surprised her. It turned out that the ‘Midway Farm’ was well
known by the transient men, women and families who travelled along highway 11.
By ‘word of mouth’ the message was passed on from one to another that if they
were hungry, they could always get something to eat at the ‘Midway Farm’.
My aunt asked my grandmother if she should close and lock the gate to the farm
yard so that access to the farmhouse was not so easy. My grandmother said “no,
keep it open. We should give to anyone who needs food. We have always done
that.”
What a wonderful message my grandmother gave to my aunt, my brothers and
myself – to give to those who are in need without judging them; and, knowing that
we are valued by the people we help, even strangers. Our concern for others was
ingrained in our values. And, all because the ‘Midway Farm’ was marked in the
memory of strangers because they knew they would be fed there.
So, who brought you here? Who made the mark on your spirit? Whom are you
marking?
Who was the faith-person in your background? Who marked you for Jesus? Whose
values are you living by? And, most of all, whom are you marking, introducing to
the faith, passing on values to?
Who holds you?
My second question is this: who holds you? Who holds you with love,
encouragement and affirmation?
This church building is located in a most marvelous and interesting
neighbourhood. It is urban, but not inner city. It is Inter-cultural with a mixture of
children, youth and elders, from many ethnic and racial groups; You can see all of
this when you walk along St. John’s or in the Coquitlam Mall.
One day, while I was sitting and having a coffee in Tim Hortons near where I live,
I witnessed a very touching, emotional scene. I couldn’t help but overhear the
Christmas Eve 10 pm December 24, 2016/ St. John the Apostle Anglican Church
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conversation among three young people who I think were probably about 18 or 19
years old. One of them, a young East Asian man, was busy having coffee and
working away at his notebook computer. He was joined by two young women, one
looked indo-Canadian and one, white. They were very excited and very emotional,
the face of one of them wet with tears. The young man stood up and he was
embraced by the women. Soon, without a word being spoken, they were all in
tears. After several minutes of holding each other, one of the young women spoke,
“I am so sorry that you have lost your job”, she said, “You must know that it is not
your fault. They just don’t recognize what a wonderful person you are and that you
would give them the shirt off your back, if it was needed.” The other woman said,
“Yes, when I heard they laid you off, I asked my brother if they were hiring at his
shop and he said yes, and that he wants you to call him right away.”
They continued talking for a few minutes and then they got up and went on their
way, arm in arm.
Holding each other is among life’s greatest blessings. Who holds you? Who
affirms and encourages you? That is my second question. Who holds you? Whom
do you hold? Or should?
Who are you?
My third and final question is the deepest one of all. It is this: who are you? I
don’t mean, what is your name? Who are you? Because who you are, is what you
do. It is not the other way around. What you do does not make you who you are,
but who you are, determines the kinds of things you do. If you think you are
nothing, with no past and no future and no God, just a bunch of impulses that need
to be satisfied, then you will do nothing things, selfish things, hateful things. But if
you think you are a child of God, full of dignity and worth, then you will do Godlike
things.
Robert Smith tells a boyhood story. “It has been many years since I saw her, “he
relates, “but in my memory she is still there every holiday season. I especially feel
her presence when I receive my first Christmas card. I was only twelve years old
and Christmas was only a few days away, and the season’s first blanket of snow
magnified the excitement. I dressed hurriedly because the snow out there was
waiting for me. What would I do first? Build a snowman? Slide down the hill?
Throw some snowflakes in the air and let them flutter down?
“Well, our family car pulled into the driveway and Mom called me over to help her
with the groceries. When we finished that, she said, ‘Bob, here are Mrs.
Hildebrand’s groceries.’ No other instructions were necessary.
As far back as I could remember, Mom shopped for Mrs. Hildebrand’s food and
delivered it. Our 95-year-old neighbour lived alone. She was crippled with
arthritis, and she could only take a few steps with a cane. I liked Mrs. Hildebrand. I
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enjoyed talking with her. More accurately, I enjoyed listening to her. She told me
wonderful stories about her life, about a steepled church in the woods, horse and
buggy rides on Sunday afternoons, and her family farm that had no electricity or
running water. She always gave me a dime for bringing in her groceries. It got so
that I would refuse only half-heartedly, knowing she would insist, and five minutes
later, I would be across the street at Beyer’s Candy Store.
“As I headed over with the grocery bags, I decided I would not accept any money
from Mrs. Hildebrand. This would be my present to her. So, impatiently, I rang the
doorbell. ‘Come in’, she said, cheerfully; ‘put the bag on the table’. I did so more
hurriedly than usual because I could hear the snow calling me back outside. She sat
at the table, picked up the items out of the bag and told me it was snowing. As we
continued, I began to realize how lonely she was. Her husband died some 20 years
before. She had no children. Her only living relative was a nephew who never
came to visit her. Nobody even called on her for Christmas. There was no tree, no
presents, and no stockings. For her, Christmas was just another date on the
calendar.
She offered me a cup of tea, which she did every time I brought in the groceries.
‘Well, I thought, maybe the snow could wait a bit.’ We sat and talked about what
Christmas was like when she was a child. Together we traveled back in time and
an hour passed before I knew it. ‘Well, Bob,’ she said, ‘you must be wanting to
play outside in the snow’, as she reached for her purse, fumbling for the right coin.
‘No, no, Mrs. Hildebrand. I cannot take your money this time. You can use it for
more important things,’ I insisted. She looked at me and smiled. ‘What more
important thing could I use this money for, if not to give it to a friend at Christmas
time?’ she placed a whole dollar in my hand. I tried to give it back, but she would
have none of it. I hurried out the door and I ran over to Beyer’s Candy store with
my fortune. I had no idea what to buy – a comic book, a chocolate soda, ice cream,
and then I spotted a Christmas card with an old country church on its cover. It was
just like the church Mrs. Hildebrand described to me, and I knew I had to buy it.
I handed Mr. Beyer my dollar and borrowed a pen to sign my name. ‘For your
girlfriend?’ Mr. Beyer teased. I started to say no but quickly changed my mind.
‘Well, yes,’ I said. ‘I guess so’. As I walked across the street with my gift, I was so
proud of myself. I felt like I had just hit a home run in the World Series. I rang
Mrs. Hildebrand’s doorbell. ‘Hello, Mrs. Hildebrand’, I said, and handed her my
card. ‘Merry Christmas’. Her hands trembled as she slowly opened the envelope,
studied the card and began to cry. ‘Thank you. Thank you very much,’ she said in
almost a whisper. ‘Merry Christmas to you’; and, she gave me a big, warm hug.
On a cold and windy afternoon a few weeks later, the ambulance arrived next door.
My mom said they found Mrs. Hildebrand in bed. She had died peacefully in her
Christmas Eve 10 pm December 24, 2016/ St. John the Apostle Anglican Church
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sleep. Her night table light was still on when they found her and it illumined a
solitary Christmas card with and old country church on the cover.
Who are you? Who you are is what you do. A kind boy, trained by his parents, did
a kind deed. It follows. Are you a Christian? A disciple? Who are you?
So, in the tradition of the Scriptures, I have left you this Christmas Eve with
three questions the feast itself provokes: Who brought you here? Whom are you
bringing? Or should? Who holds you in love and affirmation? Whom do you hold?
Or should? Who are you? Does that cause you to act the way you do? Or should?
As you celebrate Christmas this year, I hope that you will stop for a moment and
reflect on these questions.
From the very beginning, Christmas raised questions. From the very beginning,
Christmas offers answers
-The Reverend Gary Hamblin
Sources: William Bausch, A World of Stories.