Church Within
Christmas Service of 1999

Offered by

Minister Judy Girard     [visit]

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12-25-99 Christmas Service of Church Within
Today's Service is offered by: Minister Judy Girard

Welcome by: Pastor Daniel
Greetings my Beloved Sisters and Brothers, and welcome once again to The Church that is Within.

Merry Christmas!

(from: The Bible - Matthew 2:1-2, 4)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod
the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his
star in the East, and have come to worship him." And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. "And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

( Isaiah9:2 )
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who
dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

(from Stephen Schmidt)
That we might find hope in hopelessness
God came.
That we might heal our neighbor's hurt
God came.
That we might keep faith when life turns faithless
God came.
That we might rejoice in our sufferings
God came.
That we might doubt while yet singing joyfully
God came.
That we might seek meaning in life's mysteries
God came.
That we might love
God came.
And time passes, centuries end, memory fades.
This God-child, this Story, this Time
Lives on and on.
Set apart for gratitude and grace
And look to tomorrow
A new millennium of praise.

The Sermon
This morning during my prayer time I had a very interesting meditation. I took the story of the birth of this baby 2000 years ago and played within the scene. I literally placed all of the characters in my mind: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the innkeepers, the shepherds, the sheep, the angels, the wise travelers, the star and King Herod. One by one I had a conversation of sorts about what part this particular character was playing in the scene and then spent time looking at the ways I had been that character. It was an interesting and profound experience.

I'll show you what I mean.

There is Mary, who first said “yes” to God's request to bring his spirit to life in this world. In what ways do I say yes and bring to birth in others and myself the light and love of our Father. In what ways do I embody the spirit of God? And what about the times when my answer has been “no?” While I can acknowledge the fear she must have felt, it is pretty easy to identify with Mary. She's one of the “good guys” and feelings around her in this story are all pretty positive.

And what about Joseph, a man of great courage in the midst of uncertainty and doubt? A man who trusted and followed when he did not know where he was going. Can you even imagine having a dream telling you that your young girlfriend is expecting a child? Imagine the sense of bewilderment. Perhaps even a sense of betrayal. Do you know what it is like to raise a child that is not yours? Then think about being responsible for getting your family enrolled far away from home. Traveling with a woman who is about to give birth and desperately seeking a shelter for her in the late hours of the day. But he steadfastly moves forward and comes through for Mary and the child.

I thought about the innkeepers, prosperous from the boom in business, but who could not find a space for this man and woman. Can I find space in my heart and my life for the homeless? The displaced? The young pregnant woman? And am I willing or begrudging as I offer what little I have—a stable. So we have a mix of “good guys” and “bad guys” here, but in the end at least there is shelter for the family and we walk away feeling pretty good. The last innkeeper is the hero.

I identified with the baby Jesus. Tiny, dependent, nurtured, loved. I don't think it was an accident that God chose to manifest as a child. It is as a child that I can allow my heavenly parent to care for me, nurture me, guide me and love me.

There are the shepherds who care-take; who shelter their flocks and keep them from harm. The shepherds who are at first afraid of the unknown and unfamiliar. Or the sheep that make warmth and who make a space in their dwelling. The sheep that know the sound of their master's voice and follow willingly.

There is a star shining brightly in the sky. The star that lights the way for all to see. There are angels who announce the Glory of God and the wise travelers who make their journey following the light. The wise travelers who share their gifts and talents to benefit others. When do I shine brightly so that other's can see? How do I announce the Glory of God? And when is it that I allow my wisdom and gifts to be freely shared?

The last conversation I had was with Herod. Not someone I think about much in context of this marvelous story. I tend to sort of pass over him. I feel compassion for the innocent children whose lives were lost, but I have never pondered Herod for very long. Herod, who from his place of ego and fear is threatened by one he deems to be more powerful and therefore who must be eliminated. In what ways am I like Herod?

The truth is that we are all every one of these characters. The whole story is important. At Christmastime, I find myself focusing on the birth of this baby. Many believe he changed the course of history. He definitely was influential no matter who you believe he was. It is easy to focus on Mary and to challenge myself to be more willing to say “yes” to our Father; to bring God to life every day. Joseph, a wonderful adoptive father, rejoicing shepherds and warm fuzzy sheep. Any of the other characters give me kind of a warm and good feeling.

But this morning, it was Herod who struck me most. I had been struggling all week with some pretty intense and negative emotions. Not emotions that exactly fit in my framework of Christmas. I was struggling with how to balance those feelings with the feelings of joy usually associated with this holiday. I wanted the emotions to go away. There was no room for them in my heart. Yet, I knew that somehow I had been given the opportunity to be free from these feelings.

The answer came through Herod. There is a Herod in all of us. He is an important character in the story. Without him, we might not have the appreciation we do for all of the characters and the decisions they made. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I idolize Herod or want him to be here. It is not that I want to model my life after Herod. But, recognizing that he is a very important part of the story, helped me to realize that without ego-centered and selfish acts, without saying “no” to the God in my life, without knowing what it is like to not feel at home, or not having enough to eat or being cold, and without knowing what the darkness is like before the star rises in the East, I have little appreciation for what the birth of this child has done.

So I am grateful for Herod. Having walked in the darkness, I am truly much more capable of seeing, and experiencing and being a great light.

The Prayer
(from Robert Louis Stevenson)
Oh, God...
help us rightly to remember
the birth of Jesus, that
we may share in the songs
of the angels, the gladness
of the shepherds, and the
worship of the wise men.
May the Christmas morning
make us happy
to be your children.

God's Love and Abundant Blessings,

Judy Girard,
Minister, Church Within

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