Opening Night

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A homily preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC December 24, 2017, Christmas Eve.

Note: The homily begins at 51:00 in the mp3 file.  

Text:  Luke 2:1-20


Imagine that you are a composer who has gained a faithful audience over the years. Though some haven’t heard or don’t pay attention of your work, the harmony and rhythms, the tension and resolution in your music are loved by many. But you are determined to reach different audiences, to bring people together around your music.  So you break out of the normal mode, you use different instruments, perhaps, or play with old melodic themes in new ways and create a whole new kind of sound and music.  It’s a risk to do something unexpected.  Will people get what you’re trying to do? What you’re trying to communicate? //  Then it comes time for the new work’s big debut.  Opening night.  Your creative vision and passion have been poured into what you will share.  It’s your heart behind the curtain.  And it is pounding…anticipating…hopeful…  And when the curtain rises, what you have conceived in your heart is out there in the world to be received or rejected.  To be taken in and cherished or ignored and forgotten. 


Tonight, we commemorate an extraordinary opening night, we remember when the curtain rose on our creator, composer God’s most ambitious performance ever.  A whole new movement of love.  It’s an inspiring risk.  This opening night is God’s heart laid bare, vulnerable and breathing in the world—and not some ideal world, but this world, the same world we inhabit tonight.  This offering is a profound act of hope…God’s hope that we will receive and nurture the gift, that we will shield it and help it grow, that we will share its beauty and power with others.  The curtain rises tonight on the birth of Jesus, the light of the world, the perfect love of God in flesh, the hope of God for the world…the hope of the world for God… //


The ones first invited to this premiere were out in the fields, shepherds minding their own business when, all of a sudden, the world is invaded with messengers and messages from God. They hear news—good news—about a child who has been born, a child who will be a Savior.  They’re told where to go to find this child.


The shepherds have a choice at this point.  They can either believe the mysterious and wonderful news that they have just received and accept the invitation to go or they can talk themselves out of it…. “after all it was probably just my eyes playing tricks, my ears imagining music, my heart yearning so much for some good news that I made the whole thing up, and why would I be invited to witness such a thing?”….  But instead of allowing mere rationality or cynicism to rule, those shepherds let hope win.  I once read that what happens next is that the shepherds “rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.”


And, as the story goes, they weren’t disappointed.  They found everything just as the angels had said.  In that humble place were Mary and Joseph and a baby boy.  The spot of starlight fell upon the scene. And from the manger, in that new life, there radiated love and truth and hope and grace, the very heart of God on the world’s stage. //


And here we are, responding to the invitation to come and watch the curtain rise once again on this simple and glorious scene, this movement of God’s love for us, the act of God’s yearning and God’s hope.  Why do we come again and again?  I imagine that, like the shepherds, we are in pursuit of hopefulness. 


We want to hope.  We need to hope.  And we live in a world overrun with realities that inspire anything but hopefulness.  Every year we travel the long road from Bethlehem to Bethlehem, those twisting and turning 12 months that separate this night from the next Christmas Eve.  And in the course of that yearly journey, the hope that supposedly “springs eternal in the human breast,” gets battered and bruised and chipped away and used up so that by the time we wander into a sanctuary on Christmas, we need to be filled, we need our hope to be born again so that it can carry us through the journey of another year—or even another day.


The shepherds set out in pursuit of hopefulness with the promise of the angels still ringing in their ears.  They would be given a sign that they had found the source of their hope:  the sign was that baby of Bethlehem lying in a manger.  And they found their sign.  They got to see him, maybe even hold him.  Their pursuit of hopefulness was not a vain search.  Hope came to life in that baby.


Where is our sign?  What will be our sign that our hope-thirsty souls have found what they seek?  On this night, I hear the angel chorus speaking to all of us gathered here saying, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”…for tonight in Washington, DC and in towns and suburbs and villages and hillsides around the world, people are singing God’s song, are gathering to worship God, to pray for peace, to be filled with grace through Jesus Christ.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find yourselves in the midst of this world-wide congregation, maybe not even certain of why you are there.


In a world where fear and anger and distrust and greed and brokenness often seem to be the dominant powers; in a world that often seems bent on its own destruction, it is no small thing to pursue hopefulness.  And yet tonight and tomorrow millions of people will gather to sing, to tell the story, and to be filled with the hope that is born in and through Jesus.  This is our sign, our flesh and blood reality that confirms that our own pursuit of hopefulness is not in vain.  Because when people in drought-stricken, AIDS and Malaria-stricken Africa gather in hope; when people in the Middle East gather in hope; when people in South and North Korea gather in hope; when people standing in the rubble left behind from fires and hurricanes and floods sing the songs of Christmas; when people who are standing on the brink of disaster and despair and deportation gather together and light candles and drink from the well of Christian hope even in the face of every other kind of hunger and thirst, then it’s hard not to see at least a glimmer of hope ourselves.  Christian hope does not deny the circumstances of the present, and hope doesn’t help us get out of our difficulties.  But hope does give us the vision for God’s future, a future we can pursue, a song we can sing together.  In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God speaks to the people when they had lost everything—their homes, their faith, their traditions, everything.  God speaks to them saying, “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)


A future and a hope.  That is the promise.  And the claim we make however insufficiently or awkwardly, is that God did not abandon that promise.  God does not abandon hope in the world.  Not then.  Not now.  Instead God entrusts to the world God’s own tender son.  God has enough hope in the world to share the most precious life with us.  And because of that gift, the world has never been the same; because of the transforming power of the love that beats in that baby’s heart, the world has the possibility of hope forever.  Because of the love of God in Jesus Christ, we walk through even the darkest, longest night, across the most uncertain, frightening terrain, clinging to our hope in the God who clings to us.  Don’t give up on hope.  God hasn’t given up hope in us.


All around the world tonight the curtain has risen again, starlight shines, and the movement of love and grace and justice moves out into the world afresh.  Will you receive this most precious offering from our God? Will you, with God’s help, sing God’s song of love not just tonight but throughout the coming year?  O beloved ones, sing…sing and be the sign that others seek.


Let us pray: Loving, composer God, may we have the courage to hope, to receive your outpouring of love, to cradle and shelter the Holy One, to sing your song, and be worthy of your astonishing hope in us. Amen.