Isaiah 9:2-6 † Hebrews 1:1-3a, 5-12 † Luke 2:1-20
It is not a secret, this story. It’s no mystery either under these stars, in this realm, in this moment. The simple truth of this night is that steadfast love is what holds us. Steadfast love is what promises a future in even the most uncertain times. Steadfast love is what turns any crisis, any unstable and dangerous instant into possibility and promise and salvation.
This is not to say that suffering and death suddenly cease. It is not to say that tyrants have not and do not control more than they should. If anything, it anticipates that instability, suffering, and danger ramp up. This too, is surely obvious to any who care to pay attention to what happens to those who receive the shorthand designation “the least of these” in any given time.
Sometimes we have to grit it out. This is no surprise. It is not new news. Grit and determination and, well, steadfastness, is necessary to pull us through some of the most trying times. Will is as much a part of this story and all stories—our story—as grace is. But it isn’t a kind of will that is drawn from sheer determination alone. This too is gift, rooted in the long memory of human experience, embedded in our DNA, as ancient as the stars in the sky. A gift that is received as grace upon grace, there in the very heart of us when we witness generosity and feel something, call it a new life, welling up in us.
This is a story of love. It’s really that simple. It’s a story of love that is just too big to hold. It reaches from earth all the way to the heavens. It is as vast as the stars and the galaxies, and yet, rooted in the humblest of beginnings. It cradles all of time and space. It threatens kings and kingdoms. It challenges every claim to power. And yet, it sings to shepherds and wise men and angels. It cradles children and you who long for what you know might be, even if it isn’t yet. You beneath life’s crushing load, it sees you, and it speaks of promise and new life.
Steadfast love. The ancient Hebrews called it hesed. There before time; on hand in creation; here with us now in this fragile and enduring story.
And like any story that is true. It can be ignored. It can be easily missed. It is fragile. We can know its eclipse in our distraction and busyness and accumulation. Yet it cannot be destroyed. It cannot be forgotten. It cannot be overcome, this story of love, because it holds the world together. Because its story is told by every speck of dust, every particle of creation, every vast mountain and hillside that watches over us, even when it is clouded from view by storms, by darkness, by malice and indifference.
Every tree tells its story. Every brook babbles its claims and every ocean speaks to its depths. Love cannot be overcome because it is in your DNA; it is born again and again in you and me, in we who are made up of the same stuff as the stars, this story of love.
You children and you grandparents, you single and married, you gay and straight and non-binary, you who work with the homeless, you who are given the gift of companionship and generosity and kindness, you who live this story and its amazement, its treasuring, its pondering, convince me if you can that love is not that thing with wings, that thing that endures, that thing that burns deeply within you, that flower that opens with every spring. Convince me, if you can, that this is not what is most true, perhaps the only true thing on which all else is.
You beneath life’s crushing load, convince me if you can, that love is not that thing that ultimately changes the world, that only thing that ever has. Because this story tonight, this is a story of love. Hesed. Steadfast love.
It is a certain story, a particular story, a fragile story. It is a story of Quirinius, of Syria, of Nazareth. It is a story of Bethlehem. It is a story of a single family and a desperate journey, and a baby. It is a story of spurned shepherds who sleep under the stars, and kings and nations. And yet it is every story.
It reaches across the centuries to you and me and to our particular towns and homes and families and governments. It is not just for shepherds who sleep under the stars. It is for you who sleep under bridges and in your cars because there is no room for you in a world that already has more than enough housing to shelter everyone.
It is for you who are lonely and hungry, this story of love. It is for Java and Syria, for Parkland and Medina, and downtown Renton. It is for the Highlands and the Lowlands. It is for Washington and the other Washington. It shatters and scatters the chains of slavery. It enlarges every nation.
And it is for you in your abundance and your over-indulgence. It is for you who hide in fear in your big homes and your insulated lives. It is for you who sit back while others do. It exposes our excess. It cries out against our injustice. It challenges our fear. This is a story that puts us all to shame. And it is a story that casts aside shame. But there is no room in this room for shame. It’s too vast, this love, stretching to the heavens and reaching into our own lives with a generosity that refuses to dismiss us, a particularity that refuses to ignore us.
Do not be afraid, little ones, old ones, fragile ones, strong ones. Open yourselves yet again to this story of steadfast love. Let it cradle you as it longs to do. Let it be born in you today.
St. Andrew Sermons