Sermon: Simple Gifts: Joy

12 December 2010


The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

December 12, 2010
Service of Lessons and Carols

“Simple Gifts: Joy”

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our minds and hearts be acceptable in your sight, o Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Today is the Advent Sunday of Joy.  Within our Advent Theme of Simple Gifts I stepped back for a moment to think about the things that bring me great joy in my life: a note from a friend, a cup of tea with my mom, a kiss on the way out the door in the morning, a little hand smelling of vicks vaporub because he wanted to do it himself this time, and an even tinier hand reaching up to touch my face.  These are the things that joy is made of for me.  The interesting thing is that none of them cost much if anything, but they do require that the other person and I give ourselves over to one another – to sharing together – to loving deeply and responsively.

Today is our service of lessons and carols.  The interesting thing about this service is that it celebrates the story that many of us have heard from birth – the story that the prophets foretold, that the angels set in motion, and that winds up in a manger.  The truth is that we can choose to gloss over this story, because it isn’t new to most of us.  But what if we were to really put ourselves into it?  To listen with new ears?  To enter into the manger to see those tiny hands and feet, to hear the little cries and coos?  To stand in awe with the shepherds and bow down with the wise men?  To look in amazement upon God, come to earth in the form of a baby and to love him that deeply like Mary and Joseph did?  What if we were to give ourselves over to the story – to feel God’s love poured out for us and to respond in kind?  My guess is that nothing short of joy would arise in our hearts and souls. 

This type of worship service, a service that has us reading through the scriptures leading up to God incarnate’s arrival on the earth, and singing the traditional carols of our faith, has been around for nearly a century now….but it stems from the creation of carols in the medieval times.  The job of the carols was to act, much like stained glass windows did, as a common denominator for those beginning in their faith.  For those who could not read the scriptures on their own, and perhaps could not even understand them in the languages in which they were read by priests, the carols gave them an entre into the manger – from the visit of the angels to Mary & Joseph, to the arrival of the baby, to the visitors coming both from afield and afar.  This simple story, a story of a king who wasn’t like any other king that anyone had known – is the story that binds us together with millions upon millions of people throughout the world – that joins us across cultures, races, nations, even denominations to realize that God’s love was and is so deep for us that he would give his only son to make things right and make us new once again – to begin to usher in his kingdom of peace, hope, love, and indeed Joy. 

We have chosen to sing a new carol today.  The Huron Carol, known to us as “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” was written by a Jesuit Missionary to the native people in what is now present day Ontario .  In keeping with our theme of honoring native people this fall we wanted to share it with our congregation today whether in actual song or just word.  This missionary, Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, recognized the importance of the Huron beliefs even as he told them and they came to appreciate the story of the birth of Jesus.  So he wrote this carol as a tribute to the amazing story of the birth of Christ but in a way they would understand.  It speaks of hunters coming to meet the baby instead of shepherds and tribal chiefs instead of kings.  It speaks of gifts of fox and beaver pelt instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Even despite these differences the story is the same and the God we worship is the same.  This carol was turned into a Children’s book and the illustrator, Frances Tyrrell, said this, “Lack of respect for other people’s beliefs has brought much heartache and suffering.  But the Huron carol deserves to be remembered and enjoyed because it touches something in all of us.  Its message – that even in the darkest winter there is the promise of light and new birth – is one of hope which we all can share.”

We are not living in the easiest or lightest of times, my friends, but there is a spirit and a hope alive in this place that is truly helping me to remember what this season is about.  It is about a simple story that we are invited into once again but with new ears to hear and hearts to respond.  It is about a small baby who grew to create the revolution that has brought us together as a family of faith.  It is about simple gifts that we have the opportunity to pass on to one another and beyond the walls of this sacred space as well.  So this day may we accept the challenge to hear this story like we are hearing it for the first time and to sing the carols as if the words touch the deepest places in our hearts and souls…may we realize the gift of Joy in the birth and light of the Christ child and in the sharing of scripture and song.  Amen.



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