The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Christmas Eve, 2011 – The Sacrament of Holy Communion
From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Behold, your salvation comes….
From St. Paul’s Letter to Titus:
The apostle wrote, when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us…in virtue of his mercy…that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
And From the Gospel According to St. Luke:
The angel appeared to the shepherds and said, Be not afraid, I bring you good news of a great joy…for to you is born this day in the city of David a saviour …who is Christ the Lord.
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Sometimes the most important things in life are the little things that that we so often overlook but that really do make all the difference. Among all of the beautiful words that proclaim the astounding account of God’s saving work in history – that saving work beginning with the account of the conception and birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, every word carries great import – but many words – little words -little words that make a big difference – get overlooked.
For instance, at every celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion when we recite the Nicene Creed – the perfect declaration of the essential truths of our Christian faith and religion – every word, even the prepositions, are vitally important. One collection of little words get special emphasis every time we speak them. They are the words regarding the Incarnation. We say, with special emphasis and slowly, and was made man.
Why the special emphasis? Because in Christianity, God miraculously becomes man. That’s the essence of our faith. It’s the event in human history that changes everything.
Let’s look at another example. The most important part of the message that the angel proclaims to the shepherds is that the Savior is born. Of seemingly lesser importance are the time and place of His birth – the time, this day and the place, in the city of David, which we know to be Bethlehem.
But the time and place carry tremendous importance even though they may not seem to be all that critical. With the identification of the time, we know that the eternal God for whom time has no consequence except in the realm of His creation in which it operates – that is, in our realm – the time means that our Eternal God has entered into the process which carries us away to our natural end – natural death by virtue of the natural order of the natural law established in this natural world by the same super-natural God. The time of our savior’s birth thus breaks the power of time with its gloomy progression releasing us from the otherwise inevitable consequences of passing time.
And the place means that God, who has no limits of either time or place, chose to take on human flesh in a very specific place a tiny village in the near east. Other than the fact that the greatest King of the Hebrew people had been born in that village some 1,000 years prior to the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem remained completely unremarkable. The tiny little town was of no consequence in the world, pretty much overlooked in the total scheme of things – overlooked at least until the specific time of the Savior’s birth. And then that little village became holy so as to make every other village, town and city holy – to the extent that God would be received, honored, glorified and worshiped in that place and in those places.
That’s why this particular place is so very important – God became man there. His Word became flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth – in the little town of Bethlehem. Hence, the natural order of the natural world had been – and continues to be – redeemed. Time and place get redeemed and Death starts walking backwards. Eternal life – triumphs. For the tiny little baby boy, born in that tiny little village would grow up to become the man who would hang on a cross to defeat the powers of sin and death and – yes – save the world.
Everything changes with the incarnation of God. For those who believe, time no longer has the last word. And neither does place. For, at that time and in that very special place, all places become a place or the place in which salvation may be received. Instead of just one holy city, all cities can become holy – even the city in which you and I live. And we can become holy at any time as we live in any place. And so can anyone else – for God was born as a baby boy at a specific time and in a particular place.
Yes, everything changes. God is no longer an impersonal and unknowable power or force in or beyond the universe – He has become personally knowable right here and right now. He no longer lives beyond our touch but touches our hearts, minds bodies and souls. We can embrace Him by faith and rest in the divine embrace even as Mary embraced her little baby. God is no longer just the source of and the power of the Law but reveals Himself to be the source of and the power of eternal salvation given to us by His grace because His loving kindness. Just as we can so easily love a little baby, so He loves us as His redeemed children.
Everything changes. The angel said to the shepherds, Fear not… Hence we need no longer fear that our lives are meaningless as the existentialists claim or merely natural as the pagans believe, or under the divine wrath as Islam teaches or condemned to suffering as the evil one would want us to believe – but rather just the opposite – we are children of God – essentially meaningful, supernaturally valuable, eternally redeemed and graciously saved by, in and through God’s self sacrificing and most holy love.
He came to us to take us unto Himself. So we come to Him. We come to His sacred table, where we can take Him into ourselves that He may dwell in us as we dwell in Him. He said, this is my body. In this bread of life, we eat of the Word made flesh to dwell among us and taste our salvation. And He said, drink this cup of the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for many for the remission of sins – so we drink of our redemption.
As the shepherds went to see the newborn Christ, so we become new born – born again – in this Sacrament of His Body and Blood. They went to Him 2,000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. He comes to us right here and right now.
And tonight, as we celebrate that most holy night of
2, 000 years ago – tonight, because of that night, everything changes. God became man – the Word became flesh – to redeem time and place and save us because He loves us. Simple as that.
With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with hearts, minds, bodies and souls receptive of your great gift of salvation. As we embrace the Child of Bethlehem, so embrace us with your gracious loving kindness. At this time and in this place, as we receive this Sacrament of Eternal Life, so enliven us that we may serve and please you to the honor and glory of your Son, Jesus Christ –
the Child of Bethlehem
and the only Lord and Savior
of all mankind,