"Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled.
|["Jesous Ahatonhia" from the United Methodist Hymnal]|
That song is the first American Christmas Carol, composed around 1640, in the Huron language, by Fr. Jean de Brebeuf. The melody is a French folk song.
Do you like Christmas carols?
What is the story they tell?
What is the good news you hear in Christmas carols?
What is the Good News in the stories of Christmas?
Another word for Good News is Gospel! The message of Christmas is Good News. The message of Christmas is the Gospel.
When I hear the stories and songs of Christmas, I hear very good news —God loves you! With the same passion that a husband loves his wife, or a mother loves her child.
That's what the words of tonight's reading from Isaiah say: "For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you." (Isaiah 62:4-5)
God sent Jesus to meet our greatest need!
Do you get Christmas cards? I got one last week that really was good news. Here it is!
"God knew our greatest need.
As the angel said to Joseph in tonight's Gospel reading, "You shall name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
I think the Gospel has even better news than the Christmas card —our greatest need goes beyond forgiveness, it is for what comes after forgiveness. Our greatest need is for reconciliation! It's as if God came to give us a hug.
As another carol sings it, "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled." God is reconciled with us, and we are reconciled with each other. But we do not always look past our immediate needs, we need Christmas to remind us of our deepest needs.
The story of Christmas reminds me of a Native American story I heard last Saturday,
One day long ago the creator, Gitchi-Manitou, came to earth as an old man. He came to the door of a longhouse of the wolf clan. But the clan mother saw only a sick old man, and turned him away.
When he came to a second longhouse, the one who met him at the door told him, "we do not have enough for you." That clan was so concerned for its own needs that the old man was sent away.
This happened over and over, until he came to the poorest and smallest longhouse of all. It was the lodging of the bear clan. There he was welcomed, given food and a place to sleep by the fire.
The next day he got sick with an illness no one knew how to cure. He told the people who had welcomed him what medicine to gather and he recovered.
The next day he got sick again with an illness no one knew how to cure. This continued to happened for two weeks.
Then one day, in the place where the old man had been sleeping, there was a great light, and the clan knew that Gitchi Manitou had been among them disguised as a sick old man.
That clan had been given the gift of healing for many diseases that no one had known how to cure. They became the keeper of the medicines for the rest of the tribe.
Just like our native brothers and sisters, we need to look past our anxious concerns and immediate needs if we are to recognize Emmanuel, God with us, who came as a human child to heal us and bring peace and justice to our world.
But there is even more to God's Good news! God does not need perfect people to keep the message of Christmas alive.
I struggled with that Native American Carol, since I know that missionaries, even Franciscans, were not perfect in the way they shared the Good News. They were blind to the good that was already in the people they found here.
A wonderful duo named "Magpie" has changed one of the lines of that Huron carol, "Shame upon those blackrobes who could not see the God in you. Another Huron babe is born, another babe is born."
And missionaries over the centuries have sometimes identified their own ways with God's ways —as if you had to be French or English or Italian or American in order to be Christian. They, like some even now, had not learned how Jesus brought the Good News to his world.
Jesus helped the Jewish people, his own tribe, to discover what God had been saying to them. He found the good in the people he came to save, and did not reject the good that God had already planted in them. Paul proclaimed the mercy of God for all people, in the reading from the letter to Titus which we heard tonight:
And he recognized the presence of God in the people of Athens, as well as in all those to whom he proclaimed the Good News.
Yet, God used the work of our ancestors in the faith, as God continues to use us as messengers of the Good News of Jesus. The Good News gets through, even if the messengers don't completely get it. And some day we may see that we have not been perfect messengers of the Good News to our children, our students, the members of our Churches. And that's OK. It's even in the story of the ancestors of Jesus. The geneology of of Jesus includes murderers like David, prostitutes like Rahab and thieves like Jacob [Matthew1:1-25]. It's in the verses just before the passage about the birth of Jesus which we heard tonight.
And God does not even need a perfect Church. The church of today is made up of sinners like us. If Jesus needed perfect people to do his work and carry his message, none of us would be here, and the Church would have disappeared long ago.
Jesus does not need us to be here on Christmas, or any other day.
We need to be here with other sinners to hear the message of God's love over and over and to receive the power to be messengers of reconciliation. We need to be here not because of duty or law, but because we forget who we are and how much God loves us. Because we can so easily miss the presence of God in our lives.
We need to be here because we need forgiveness and reconciliation in our lives. And most of all, we need to be together to hear the good news so that we can become good news for the world.
We need to celebrate the Good News of the love of God and the peace of Jesus because the world is in desperate need of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.
The stories in the book, in the Bible, are not enough, as beautiful and powerful as they are. They need to be spoken out loud, they need to be sung in psalms and carols.
The songs of Christmas are not enough . They need to be loved and lived by people like you and me.
The Good news we have heard, in story and song, is what our dark world need so desperately. But the world will not hear the message until we live it.
Christmas is a time to let Jesus be born in our hearts, so his good news can be heard in our world. God wants to bless the whole human family during this season through you and through me.