A short homily offered at the Service of Christmas Lessons & Carols, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
The choir sang a wonderful anthem a few minutes ago called “Out of your sleep” by Richard Rodney Bennett.
Out of your sleep arise and wake,
For God mankind now hath ytake.
All of a maid without any make:
Of all women she beareth the bell.
And through a maide fair and wise,
Now man is made of full great price:
Now angels knelen to man’s service,
An at this time all this befell.
It’s from an anonymous 15th century text, but even though some of the language is strange and poetic, we hear its joy: God’s coming down to earth raises us to heaven. Mary favored among all women and made empress of all heaven, earth, and even below. The angels serve at humanity’s pleasure, foes become friends, and grace rules the day.
Out of your sleep, the anthem sings: Wake up to life! Wake up to love! Wake up to God!
Sometimes it takes a lot to wake us up.
Among my favorite movies are those with the clay animated figures Wallace and his dog Gromit. For them, waking up is fairly involved. cartoon characters Wallace and Gromit, it takes a little more than any of that. There’s an alarm that triggers a tea kettle, which makes steam which activates a giant hand that pokes the underside of the bed. Then there’s the smell of cheese—a good Stilton or “Stinky Bishop,” usually—and then a spring-loaded bed, a slide, a chute that lands them into their clothes, with a cup of coffee made just like they like it.
We wake up, of course, not only in the morning, but all kinds of things can jolt us awake. Someone swerving into our lane on the road. A change in what we thought was to be our employment for the rest of our life. The arrival in the family of a child–a niece or nephew, or a grandchild. An unexpected test result from the doctor. And then, the other extreme, after worry and fear, we receive clean results from the doctor, and life is different from before.
The Christmas story is about waking up. Joseph wakes from his dream to find that it’s all true. Mary awakens to herself, finding that with God, she’s stronger, more faithful, more loving, more forgiving than she even imagined possible. The shepherds wake to a new world and the magi awaken to new ideas, a paradigm shift, and a world larger than they had thought.
And what about us? How might God be calling us out of our sleep this Christmas? Are you being called to awaken to another person? To a part of yourself that’s been slumbering? To a new place in which God might be calling?
With the Baby Jesus himself, may we awaken this night to a new world of faith and a new world of love.