[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] “The eternal hope and yearning of the human race emerges from darkness into light in the birth of this child both humble and divine,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori noted in her homily for Christmas Eve, 2011. “We gather to celebrate his birth and recover that eternal hope.”
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori presented her homily during the hour-long 2011 CBS Christmas Eve television special originating from the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General Theological Seminary in New York City. The special aired nationwide on December 24 and is available for on-demand viewing below.
The following is the text of the Presiding Bishop’s homily.
Christmas Eve 2011
The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. God has increased their joy, for a child has been given, whose authority shall grow continually, and bring endless peace… from this time forth and forevermore ((Isaiah 9:2-7)), says Isaiah.
The eternal hope and yearning of the human race emerges from darkness into light in the birth of this child both humble and divine. We have burdened his shoulders with every earthly failing and divine hope – for light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, food for our hunger, righteousness in place of injustice, an end to violence and war, and a lasting and eternal peace. Those yearnings continue to burst forth in human hearts, and we live in hope that his reign will ultimately bring them to reality. We gather to celebrate his birth and recover that eternal hope.
I met a young man named Jesse not long ago high in the mountains in a town in Colorado. He told of being thrown out of the place where he was living, through no fault of his own. He said it was the second time he’d become homeless. The first time he was put out into the darkness of a snowy night with no money and only the clothing he wore. He wandered the streets until the police stopped and asked him what was wrong. They took him to a community agency that helped him find a hotel room for the night. The second ousting from his temporary home meant that now he would flee that town, and seek shelter and refuge in a warmer, desert clime. He may not have had the traveling companions of the babe born in Bethlehem, but he did have a surrounding community of care and help, bringing light into his darkness.
Jesus was born for this – for the homeless Jesse and his brothers and sisters in the cold and hungry darkness of rejection and violence. Jesus is born anew in human hearts every time we meet the vulnerable – which is all of us, once we awaken to the reality of our own longing.
We are all filled with the same yearnings for an enduring home and healing in a community of peace. Particularly in this season of want and uncertainty we look for stability, confidence, and faith in something or someone beyond our own insufficiency. That God might cast off divine glory and be vulnerable enough to take on human flesh seems beyond the ken of many. Yet it is that very vulnerability that offers hope – when we know our own need and hunger and yearning.
This frail infant is clothed with divine glory – the lowly lifted up and the hungry fed at his birth. And over all this drama of divine entry into human flesh hovers a community not unlike this one. Angels draw our attention to the holy in our midst. Parents, elders, and teachers steward our growing wisdom and awareness and guide us into growth toward the full stature of Christ – the glory of God in a human being fully alive ((Irenaeus)). Shepherds keep watch, lest danger come to the vulnerable.
Jesse’s angels guided the night-watching shepherds to his side and led him to shelter. The elders of Leadville guided him into the heart of a welcoming community table ((St. George, Leadville community meal. http://www.hikinghumanitarian.com/day-112-91311-leadville-to-blm-cg-on-co-91)). That table has room for all who hunger and thirst – in body and in spirit. It is peopled by the poor and the better off, by Spanish speakers and Anglos, by people from Ireland and Greece, by the wounded and the outwardly well. Each one comes into a stable like this one, hoping to meet the holy. We meet that holy child in every vulnerable human being, in every one who hungers and thirsts. We meet him growing to maturity in all who answer their neighbor’s vulnerability and need. He is present with us at this table and at every table and meeting where need meets response. Salvation lies all around us.
Where is the holy child born again? Who gathers to watch over, nurture, and guard the growing redeemer in our midst? Will we indeed recognize the image of God on all faces, and call that divine mark into fuller stature and greater glory and more abundant life? We share this creative and redeeming drama in ways beyond our knowing. Will you gather around the holy one?
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church