A Christmas Message from Ben+

Chapel friends,
Since so many of us could not gather on Christmas Eve (or had to endure my Children’s Message), here is a version of my homily from the 4p service.  I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas, and a safe and healthy 2021.  May God bless us and keep us, now and always.
For some reason, perhaps the Holy Spirit, perhaps a lack of creativity on my part, the first verse of our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 11:1, has been rolling around in my head most of Advent.  The prophet declares, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  This verse says a lot.

For one, Isaiah 11:1 is very much in keeping with the prophesy that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.  The aforementioned Jesse was David’s father.  Jesse’s grandmother was that unlikely matriarch of the Old Testament, Ruth.  Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite, but when her husband died, Ruth did not abandon her mother-in-law, but she said, in some of my favorite lines of scripture, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  If not for Ruth’s courage, David would not have become king.  And then fast forward to our Gospel, and those words so familiar, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.”  That child was Jesus, the shoot from the stump of Jesse.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

But, besides that fascinating bit of biblical genealogy, that verse, Isaiah 11:1 has stuck with me for another reason, I believe, and that is one word: stump.

Probably not the theme you were expecting: stump.  Stumps are dead.  When you have a stump in your yard, you call a stump grinder to get rid of it.  Stumps mean the end.  They are the unceremonious end to the story of some tree, large or small, old or young.  And now all that is left is an old stump.

But, the end is never the end with God.  Or, to paraphrase a lesser prophet, the late Senator John “Bluto” Blutarsky, “Nothing is over until [God] decide[s] it is.”  From one couple, thought to be barren, Abraham and Sarah, God built his chosen people.  From the pit and snare of slavery, God liberated his people and brought them to the promised land.  From a far-flung corner of the Roman Empire, the Messiah, the Emmanuel, the God with Us, was born.  And when the world tried to silence him, God conquered death and raised all of us to new life.

And we too see shoots growing from stumps all around us today.  When Paul Day and his fellow compatriots saw an old, decrepit antebellum chapel in the middle of nowhere, they built a modern, thriving parish.  And when those ancient pews couldn’t hold us anymore, you built something new.  And when the world gave us a pandemic, our nurses and doctors and scientists and leaders circled around us and protected us.  And as a new year dawns, a shoot has sprung from the stump that was 2020.

So, do not be afraid, as the angels tell the shepherds this night, for see, we have, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”  And that good news, and that great joy, and that savior are here, still, as much as they ever were.  So, do not be afraid.

Christmas is a lot different this year.  And Christmas is a season when we cherish tradition and family more than any other.  So we may be grieving, we may be angry, we may want to cancel Christmas all together.  But, a shoot [has] come out from the stump.  And that shoot is hope, that shoot is love, that shoot is Jesus.  And from that shoot, God will restore and redeem all things.

Keep the faith,