Christ Church Westerly

"An Ordinary Christmas"

 

The Rev. Sunil Chandy

Rector

Christ Church Westerly, RI

 

Merry Christmas

 

Tonight is Christmas Eve, and for many of us, we are familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. 

 

It begins, with shepherds watching their sheep. There are angels, prophesies, and of course Empires and Kings that provide-the backstory. In fact folks, the very cosmos is involved, as the God is ever present in the story. 

 

The Gospel of Luke describes powerful forces at work because the birth story of Jesus begins a new phase in the struggle between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness. 

Between a hopeful vision for the world- a vision filled with justice, peace and goodwill as opposed to a world filled with greed, violence and hate. 

 

But in the midst of this epic struggle, Luke does something extraordinary- he focuses his attention on ordinary folk- like you and me, he moves our gaze to simple shepherds, an ordinary carpenter, a teenage mother, and a new born infant. We watch as they respond in faith to the fulfillment of God’s promise.    

 

And this is not just in this birth story, in the scriptures that follow,  Luke, focuses on Simeon and Anna, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John and countless other ordinary folk as he advances the movement of that Epic Universal Struggle- a struggle that is won finally for Good in sacrifice of that same child who would grow to be know as Jesus.  A man who tells us that God’s Vision of a Just Good World is a reality for us- if we act with faith and compassion!  He reminds us of this even at his death on the cross that for every act of violence and hate-- if we respond in faith and love--the forces of Good will win over the forces of evil!

 

Why does Luke do this? And Why is this important to us?   

 

Because in Luke’s story the ordinary people are forerunners ... of future believers.  And he Luke invites, to relate to the them.  To see ourselves in them.  To understand that we can be like them, the shepherds-- are who are waiting for purpose, waiting for something meaningful to be apart of and to be joyful about.  Or we are like Mary and Joseph  caught up in a violent, and busy world, and  filled with pressures and forces we can’t control.  For you see their world is not unlike our own, filled with fear, terrorism poverty and a host of other problems.  But Luke reminds us that it is to this broken world that God chooses to establish a new way. 

 

And this new way it must be chosen by of these simple folk.

 

In response to the visit of the Angles the shepherds move from terror to rejoicing. Joseph and Mary moves from anxiety and worry to reflection and recommitment to God. 

And our response to the Good news is a choice as well that will help the vision of God to be a reality.

 

Because friends Choices matter, because what we choose to believe about ourselves and our world defines how we live in it.
 
I would like to offer you a gift today.  It is a story that I heard over 15 years ago and it changed the way I see myself in the world.  Its about a boy named Teddy.

 

He was one of those kids! Disinterested in school; wrinkled clothes; uncombed hair; you know the type--a deadpan face; unfocused stare. Miss Thompson his teacher, just couldn’t relate to Teddy. He always answered in monosyllables. He was unattractive, unmotivated. He was just plain hard to like.

 

You know how parents say they love they love their kids all the same. You know that’s not true, sometimes you love some better than others. Well for teachers I think it’s the same thing!  Miss Thompson said she loved the all the class the same way but deep down this wasn’t completely truth. Whenever she marked Teddy’s work, she got a bit of pleasure Xs next to the wrong answers, and when she put the Fs at the top of the papers, she did it with a flair.


She knew better; she had his records and knew his history.

 

1st Grade: Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but poor home situation.

2nd Grade: Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help at home.

3rd Grade: Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th Grade: Teddy is very slow, but well behaved. His father shows no interest.

 

Well Christmas came and the kids in Miss Thompson’s class brought her presents. Among the presents was one from Teddy. She was surprised.

 

Teddy’s gift was wrapped in ugly brown paper and held together with Scotch tape. On the paper were written the simple words, "For Miss Thompson from Teddy." When she opened Teddy’s present, there was a half bottle of perfume (not the really expensive type) and also out from the bag fell a gaudy rhinestone. The other kids started to laugh, but Miss Thompson had enough compassion to silenced them by immediately putting some of the perfume on her wrist and then holding her wrist up for the kids to smell, she said "Doesn’t it smell lovely?" And the children agreed with "oohs" and "aahs."

 

At the end of the day, when school. Teddy stayed behind. He came over to her desk and said softly, "Miss Thompson...Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother...and her bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you liked your presents." When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her, for her cynicism and lack of compassion.

 

The next day when the children came to school, they were welcomed a new Miss Thompson.  She chose to became a different person, no longer just a teacher going through the motions; she had become an agent of God. A person committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. She helped all the children, but especially the slow ones, ones like Teddy Stallard. By the end of that school year, Teddy showed amazing progress! He had caught up with most of the students and then She didn’t hear from him for a long time. One day, she received a note that read:

 

Dear Miss Thompson:

I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.

Love, Teddy Stallard

 

Four years later, another note came:

Dear Miss Thompson:

They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I like it.

Love, Teddy Stallard

 

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson:

As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were still alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.

Love, Teddy Stallard

 

Miss Thompson went to that wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat. She deserved to sit there because her faith and Godly response helped to change a young man’s life, a life that would touch the lives of others!

 

Yes my friends Luke is right- it is the faithful, courageouschoices of ordinary people like you and me who will build the kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish! 

 

So Friends, this Christmas, for this year- for every act of violence or meaness that you experience or see find a way to respond to the world in love!  For every fearful or angry moment you may have choose to respond in faith and compassion! For this is the model of the savior child born in bethlahemand it model for establishing God’s dream of a Kingdom of Peace.

 

Amen

 

 

Advent IV "The Faith Of Mary"

The Magnificat:  The Power of Mary’s Choice

By the Rev. Sunil Chandy

Christ Church

Westerly, RI

 

 

Today in the Gospel of Luke we hear the story of Mary the  mother of Jesus meeting her cousin Elizabeth.  She sings one the most beloved hymns in Christendom, “the Magnificat.”  What Advent Season would be complete with out the Magnificat?  Lets look at this ancient Christian hymn or canticle and understand the powerful effect of the choices of Mary and how these choices affects us today.   

 

The Magnificat , also known as the Song of Mary,  comes from the first word of the Latin version of the canticle's text – Magnificat anima mea, Dominum --(My soul doth magnify the Lord).

 

In our Anglican tradition this canticle is usually sung or recited during the main evening prayer service, Evensong—And occasionally at Holy Eucharist as it was today- sung by our choir so beautifully!

 

In the first part of the hymn, Mary the future mother of Jesus -declares her gratefulness to God for choosing her to be the mother of the savior. 

 

The 2nd half of the song expresses the thanksgiving of the nation. God is the powerful one who has destroyed the enemies, scattered the proud, and reduced the rich. The lowly he has exalted, and she declares that he will remember his promises to Israel.

 

The Magnificat stands as a powerful testament of the faith.

Mary’s faith is deep but we need to look closer in the Gospel of Luke to understand how deep it is. 

 

Luke’s Gospel decribes the meeting of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.  Earlier in the Gospel we learn that Elizabeth much older than Mary- and well past child bearing age. Yet as Mary meets Elizabeth we understand that her condition is also the result of a miraculous pregnancy.  Her child would one day grow to become John the Baptist.

 

And as the two cousins meet,  Luke describes that Elizabeth’s unborn child moves within her womb. Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary’s response is the Magnificat

 

I love this wonderful picture that Luke paints for us…but this beautiful Christmas card word image may masks the danger and uncertainty that Mary must have been feeling. 

 

Yes there was danger for Mary.  She is a teenager and unmarried in the small community of Nazareth- and unlike our own, in her community, women were stoned for committing adultery.  In Mary’s birth community one’s behaviors directly impacted the status and perception of the family.  There were enormous pressures to make sure that unwanted behaviors and mistakes don’t occur.  And though Scripture and the church believes that the pregnancy was the result of God’s miraculous intervention, the people of Mary’s community would not know.  So the teen would be hard pressed to explain her situation. 

 

So she was in danger.  This might explain why she leaves her community of Nazareth and travels over 80 miles to see her cousin in Judah.  I can only image the worry and anxiety she must have been going through.  Questioning herself and wondering what to do?  It is in the midst of her worry that she reaffirms her course of action. She will believe in God and She will have the baby and will raise it faithfully! 

 

And as she meets Elizabeth - who is also in midst own unexpected pregnancy.  She is greeted with affirmation, welcome and love.   These two women live in the midst of life that is filled with harsh realities and yet they dare to believe… and have hope---in a God who can do marvelous things even when circumstances suggest otherwise. 

 

This hope that she passes on to her unborn child. 

Imagine Mary singing this lovely Magnificat canticle as a lullaby to her child!  Imagine how that lullaby, and the choice of Mary to have a hopeful and faithful attitude might influence and nurture the faith life of that child.  And imagine it is God that uses that child borne of unexpected and inconvenient circumstances to change the way we see God and the world. 

 

Yes the story of the young Mary is a powerful one for us as well to struggle with our own lives, and sometimes our lives are filled with harsh realities, and it may seem easier for us to lose faith. It might seem easy for us to see only the problems of life, it would be easy for us to loose sight of our faith.

 

This is why Mary and her choice is powerful!  The simple and wonderful faith of that teenage girl shows us that we too can have faith in a God!  And as we have faith, we too can give birth to the Kingdom of God in our lives and in the world! 

Amen