Sermon from Rev. Elizabeth Phillips
One Christmas Eve, many years ago, I found myself in a pew in a small Catholic church with my 3-year-old daughter sitting next to me…and my parent sitting next the her. It was the first Christmas after the divorce. As the service got underway, I began to feel the full weight of loss that comes with a life of a broken home with a young child at Christmastime. As I looked around the sanctuary, all I could see were perfectly happy families who would go back to perfect homes to a perfect Christmas morning filled with prefect presents and a puppy. To me, everyone else had the perfect life and my life was a complete failure.
In my mind’s eye, I found myself standing outside the church in the cold dark winter’s night looking in through the windows feeling that I no longer belonged anywhere. A sigh went up to heaven, “Jesus, why?” … Somewhere in the darkness, I heard God’s voice speak into the ears of my heart that He was with me; I was not alone. It was in Christ’s presence, I found the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to endure. It was then that I learned that Jesus Christ is more than an idea or an ideal, Jesus is more than a divine being dwelling somewhere up in the heavens far away, or a character from an ancient text. Jesus Christ dwells inside each and every one of us and especially so on the long dark nights of our lives when we reach-out in faith.
Emmanuel – God is with us.
When we think of Jesus and who He is, we understand Him to be fully human and fully divine. In Scripture, we read about Jesus’ life in ministry: His teachings, His preaching, the miracles He performed, and His death and resurrection. His life and actions and saving Passion are the foundation to our lives as Christians; they are like large boulders that form the fortress in which we dwell; they represent who we are and how we live as followers of Jesus Christ but there is more to Jesus than the boulders of His ministry. Nestled in between rocks of preaching and healing and miracles is the humanity of Jesus Christ; it is the heart and flesh that holds it all together. In Jesus’ humanity, He too experienced the full range of human emotions: joy, sadness, love, grief…grief even to death, compassion, sorrow.
In Matthew we read how, “Jesus went about all of the cities and villages teaching and proclaiming the Good News, and curing every disease and every sickness. He saw the crowds and had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless.” … Before Jesus raised His hands to heaven in prayer that the loaves and fishes would be enough to feed the crowd of four thousand or more, He first was moved with compassion for the people because they were hungry and lost. Before Jesus raises from the dead the last remaining son of the widow, He felt compassion for her and consoled her.
The word compassion literally means to “share in with the passion of others.” According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, “compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
… What an awe-inspiring and humbling reality to know that Jesus Christ, the God-man, is very much aware, very much conscious of our grief, our loss, our sorrows, our depression, our anxieties, our weaknesses and addictions…Jesus gets it! Jesus has compassion for us.
How wonderful is it to know that Jesus shares with us and connects with us emotionally as well as spiritually. Jesus was and is fully human and fully divine; fully God…And, God is love. So, in Jesus’ full humanity and the full embodiment of the very definition of Love, He literally cannot operate any other way than to be ever so connected to us in a deep and loving and real and powerful way; always desiring to help us in our time of need. In between the teaching and healing and the miracles – the awesome power of the God – was and is Jesus’ compassion for His people, for us; it is the heart of one human being reaching out to another to join in with them in the long dark nights of life.
Jesus weeps over Lazarus’ grave. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem for He loved them dearly and grieved the dire circumstance in which they found themselves. Jesus grieved, even to death, the night He was betrayed. Jesus: fully human – fully divine – fully God.
Emmanuel – fully God with us.
The Gospel reading for this evening is the story of Jesus calming the storm; it is a story that beautifully reveals the awe-inspiring power of God through our Lord Jesus Christ but at the heart of the story, what changed the course of events that day was “the reach”.
In the story, Jesus and His disciples have sailed-out to sea. A storm comes in with such intensity that it swamps the small boat and the disciples fear for their lives.
Yet, somewhere in the midst of the fury of the winds and waves…a drenched, trembling and terrified hand let go of the boat long enough to reached out to Christ because somewhere deep inside of that disciple, he believed that getting Jesus’ attention would make a difference. That was the pivotal moment of the story; the reach. And, in doing so, they came to know Jesus a little bit better…they came to know themselves a little bit better as well.
“Where is your faith?” Jesus says. He says this because the disciples were men of Jewish descent, they would have been taught from their youth that the God of Abraham is all-powerful and commands all of nature but the fury of the storm tested their faith. And, in all fairness, they were still trying to understand who Jesus really was and what that meant for them. In all fairness, we are still trying to understand who Jesus really is and what it all means to us as well.
Yet, somewhere deep inside of them and somewhere deep inside of us, we reach-out to Jesus believing that in doing so, He has the power to make a difference. It was the reaching-out that changed the outcome for the disciples. It is the reaching-out to Christ that changes the outcome for us as well.
As we enter into this Christmas season with whatever peace of mind or fury of a storm that might be raging inside of us, we are called to remember that God loves us deeply. We are God’s beloved children. We are completely and utterly cherished and precious in His sight so much so that Love came down to earth in God’s Son Jesus Christ so that we never have to walk this way alone.
O Come, O Come, Emanuel – Our Soul’s True Companion
The Blue Christmas service was our gift, the clergy and lay leaders, to all who are in pain and suffering during this Christmas season. We hope you remember you are loved. You are cherished. And, you will endure! Peace to you and yours. Merry Christmas. Rev. Elizabeth N. Phillips
6457 Quantico Road
Quantico, MD 21856
PO Box 92
Quantico, MD 21856