Monday, 29 December 2008 16:13

December 24, 2008 Sermon

“Imagine Peace in our Hearts”
A Christmas Eve Reflection by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 24, 2008
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN


Imagine peace in our hearts is the word for tonight.   We remember the stories, the prophecy, the angels, the shepherds, the no room at the inn, the wise guys from the east.  We remember the holy child surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the menagerie of animals.

But Christmas doesn’t exist in the mind.  It exists in the imagination.  It exists in the heart.   Toni Morrison in her book, Beloved said that the only grace we can experience is the grace we can imagine.  If we can’t see it in our mind’s eye, we can’t have it.
    
I love this service.  I love the hopefulness that is here; the warmth from the cold; the reminder that God has not left us comfortless; the commitment we make to imagine peace as we celebrate the birth of the prince of peace.  I love the great music, the smell of pine and the candle-lit faces of family and friends experiencing peace in our hearts this holy night.  I need this service tonight.


I admit that I have found myself a bit distracted these past few days.  As many of you know, my wife Kim joined the statistics of people in car accidents this past Sunday.  She was not at fault, and not really hurt, but we are all a bit shaken up as we realized once again the fragility of life and the relative inconsequence of possessions.  

For the past few days, we have been dealing with insurance companies, rental car agencies and car dealers.  On top of this we had unexpected guests who were trying to get from one coast to another on Northwest Airlines, inquiring about room in the Donley Inn.  Then there was childcare to take care of, work to be done and, oh yeah, Christmas to prepare for.  About all we could do was imagine peace in our hearts.  
    
Kim, wise woman that she is, finally said to me last night to let go of the issues with the car.  It’s just stuff.  We’ll get another one.  We’ll take the rental car to visit family on Friday.  It’s Christmas.  We need to get some peace in our hearts.  We need to focus upon what’s really important.  We’re safe.  We’re going to see our families.  We are surrounded by our family of choice, right here.  Let the wonder of Christmas into our hearts, not the pressure of Christmas.
    
We like to think that the Holy Family were completely centered and Zen about their experience on their way to Bethlehem.  But I bet they had their share of hassles.  They had to walk many miles while in the last months of pregnancy.   For all we know, they went by themselves having been shunned by their families.  Once they arrived in Bethlehem, no one in Joseph’s family would take them in.  They would soon have to worry about Herod’s murderous paranoia and flee off to Egypt.  But on Christmas Eve, they paused at the birth of Jesus to experience peace in their hearts.  This child is what it is all about.  This small fragile child holds the hope for peace in the world. 

   
Whenever there is a birth, we pause and we wonder what he or she will see in his or her life.  We wonder what world we have given it.  We experience peace in our hearts.  We imagine peace for the heart of this child.

It’s easier to imagine it on Christmas Eve, because we have evidence of God breaking through the despair of our lives and reminding us that no one is left alone or comfortless.  On Christmas Eve, God grants Mary and Joseph reminders that they are part of a greater plan.  All of us are, really.  Our job is to recognize it.  Our job is to have peace in our hearts and move forward from that centered groundedness.  That’s where we find the strength to carry on through economic difficulties, family troubles, warfare and fear that is so close.  

And as you go from this place and you are stressed again, bring your mind back to this night and imagine peace in your heart.  That’s God’s gift to us.  It’s why we tell the story again in this quiet and holy candle-lit manner, so we can have peace in our hearts.

So tonight, I’m thankful for music.  I’m thankful for candles and ancient stories of divine subversion.  I’m thankful for my family’s relative health and safety.  I’m thankful for each of you.  I’m thankful for the peace that is in this place.  It warms my heart and it helps me to imagine it once again.  And I imagine it for all those tiny babies in our world who need visions of peace and hope that we might help create.

Yesterday, my friend Tom Burkett sent me the lyrics to a new song he had just written.  It was one of those that kept him up at night.  I think it captures the commitment we all need to make to imagine peace in all of our hearts.

Mary looks up from her paycheck, she smiles a little smile inside
She's worked a lot of overtime this month, it's been kind of a bumpy ride.
She doesn't pay any attention to the pink slip they tucked in with her pay,
Because her kids are going to find what they hoped for under the tree on Christmas day,

    One more star, one more birth, one more hope for peace on Earth,
    One more candle for the dark we hide within
    One more chance, one more turn, one more year for us to learn
    It is in our hearts that Christmas comes, in our hearts that Christmas comes
    Christmas comes again.

Joe startles awake when the phone rings, telemarketers again,
He's surprised to hear his nephew's voice say "We'll pick you up at ten."
Thought he'd spend the day in front of the TV watching the same old shows,
Now he's whistling while he pokes through his closet looking for some decent clothes

    One more star, one more birth, one more hope for peace on Earth,
    One more candle for the dark we hide within
    One more chance, one more turn, one more year for us to learn
    It is in our hearts that Christmas comes, in our hearts that Christmas comes
    Christmas comes again

Jesus turns the corner, he's dead on his feet
It's been a week since he's been warm, a couple days since he had something to eat
He smells the cooking before he sees it, hears the laughter of women and men
The sign on the window says "Welcome," on the door it says, "Come on in"

    One more star, one more birth, one more hope for peace on Earth,
    One more candle for the dark we hide within
    One more chance, one more turn, one more year for us to learn
    It is in our hearts that Christmas comes, in our hearts that Christmas comes
    We can choose when Christmas comes again.