Sermon: The Longest Night

prison-bars-with-candle(EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is a sermon for December 21st, the longest night of the year. On this night many churches have a “Longest Night” service for those who are struggling to find joy this Christmas, often due to grief. This sermon was shared at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Richmond Virginia, in 2017.)

“The Longest Night”

A Sermon by Matthew B. Harper

The longest night of the year. A time when darkness comes early and stays late, when night feels unexpected and interminable. Tonight we gather to acknowledge that darkness, and to dwell in it quietly; we know it exists, and it’s okay that it does. “Merry Christmas” may not feel all that ‘Merry,’ but it is Christmas and we know the light of dawn is just over the horizon.
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Poem: “Jesus’ Birth”

by Timothy J. Donovan

“Jesus’ Birth”
Holy child of virgin birth,
born to bring salvation to this earth.

Down from heaven you did come,
so that your Father’s will is done.

Not to bring peace, but the sword,
to separate your own from the horde.

Capstone of God’s glorious plan,
to bring redemption for every man.

Lying in a manger with your star overhead,
destined to die and be raised from the dead.

To fulfill the promise you’ll be hung on a tree,
becoming a curse to set men free.

Saturday, First Week in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

And Jesus said to them…, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:20-21)

When Mary accepted God’s call to her, I don’t think that she had any idea what was coming. She risked so much, and lost so much, all for God. Being pregnant and unmarried she risked being rejected by Joseph and her family, she risked being stoned for adultery, she risked being condemned. When Mary traveled to Bethlehem she left her friends and family behind. There would be no midwife to deliver her baby, no family to welcome it, and no village to celebrate, rejoice, and bring gifts.

In all that Mary lost, she willingly gave it up for God. And God, in turn, blessed her so overwhelmingly. With no midwife to announce the birth, God sent the choirs of heavenly angels. With no family to gather, God sent the shepherds. With no village gifts for the child, God sent the wise men bearing gifts for a king. Mary offered up to God what little she had, and God gave it back to her with divine abundance.

We get so caught up in stuff this time of year. We get so focused on things. And I love stuff, I love things. But these things are so incidental to our faith. In my life I have lost so much. And not just lost, I have thrown away, wasted, squandered and destroyed so much. And I think that to some degree we all have. We offer to God what little we have left. And God blesses us, God restores with divine abundance in ways we could never have foreseen.

God restored to Mary, and through Mary’s offering God blessed all of humanity beyond compare. Our God is a loving God of restoration. God restores, and God continues to restore to us.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a king, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. (Hymn 66)