Christmas Eve 11 PM 2014 by Ken Dale

This past weekend Kathy and I were invited to a gathering over dinner with some of her colleagues at work at the Cancer Center in Augusta. Kathy, as you may know, is a research nurse there. Others in the group included three oncologist and two social workers. No doubt all of us have experienced in some way the reality of cancer in one of its many forms. It was wonderful to hear those doctors talk about the importance of being in touch with their patients ? making eye contact with them and not just the computer screen that held all the information. It was great to listen to doctors who spoke of contact with people and not their disease.

As a pastor, hospital chaplain and hospice chaplain I have walked that sacred ground with many people over the years. But the one that came to mind was perhaps one of, if not the, most challenging. Her name was Hannah and she was one of the sweetest little girls you could ever meet. She was often one of the first kids to show up at a day care at the parsonage at that time and would often come in and sit and chat with me as I finished my morning coffee. Hannah was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor at the age of 5 and it was pretty scary. She went through chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery to remove it, and then more chemo after the surgery. It was a tough road for Hannah and her family ? indeed all who knew and loved her.

One of the great joys I experienced was one Sunday morning when baptism was celebrated for little Hannah, her mother and grandmother. All the treatments and I?m sure the prayers worked together and she made it through and today she must be getting close to 30 years old.

Some years ago I got a sermon Hannah actually preached in the church she grew up in. Her text was from Isaiah ? the one you see on lots of Christmas cards ? about the lion and the lamb ? the predators and their pray coexisting. Her message was about our need, and God?s desire, for us all to accept each other for who we are. She also challenged her listeners to identify their polar opposite ? lion or lamb ? that person who makes you really want to tear your hair out ? and really reaching out to that person and accepting that person despite the differences. For God?s desire is for us to be whole ? and I think both individually and collectively. And for that to happen we need to reach out to one another and accept one another despite our differences. Hannah called that baptism by fire ? a cleansing fire and one that offered healing and wholeness.

Tonight we celebrate God?s reaching out to us ? to this world, in a way that we cannot miss. By faith we confess that God has actually taken on the life we each and all live, and shared our common lot, experiencing our living to the fullest ? good and bad, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, even death itself – and in doing so, offering us the possibility of wholeness, and the possibility of peace ? peace with God, peace with each other, and peace with ourselves. We know that fire also offers the gift of light. And tonight in a most wonderfully simple way we share that fire ? that light ? with and for ourselves, and with and for each other. It is a light that overcomes the darkness, a light that overcomes the darkness of hatred and anger and misunderstanding and all those things that work against the shalom, the wholeness that God desires for us, and offers us in event we celebrate tonight. We need to be about this because our world needs it so desperately.

Can I share a new image for the Christmas Tree? Redwood trees. Trees that reach out and are willing to grow to amazing heights as they seek that light. They grow to amazing heights and are able to endure the strongest winds because of their strength. And their strength is hidden, not really a secret, but not always visible. Their unseen strength lies in their roots ? but the secret is that it is because their roots are all intertwined ? they hold each other up ? they are all individual trees, but they stand together and down deep they are united together in a common cause of standing together as they reach toward that light and grow in many ways. Today there is too much ?us and them? in the world ? our goal should be that ?us? that includes ?them.? How important it is at this time we stand together ? whatever kind of ?tree? we may understand ourselves as ? overcoming our differences for the benefit of others.

Tonight ? we celebrate God?s reaching out to us ? out of love ? and reaching out to us by offering the gift of self ? to be by our side. Is there any greater gift? And like any gift, all we can do is receive it. And all God asks of us is that we pass it along ? as the prophet Micah captured ? do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. It?s interesting ? because that phrase came in answer to God?s people asking God what gift to give God. They had all sorts of ?traditional gifts? to choose from like, burnt offerings, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, even their first born. But God spoke to them through the prophet and said- no, it?s simple ? just do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Tonight God comes to be by our side so we can walk together. May we walk humbly as we consider the gift that is given ? the birth of a baby, who is called Immanuel which means God with us ? a light to be shared!