Christmas Day — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:8-20

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifying Spirit. Amen.

“Mary treasured all these words
and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)

This one line of today’s scripture invites us to engage a holy pause…
a pause for which I am grateful.

The chaotic, busy, noisy hubbub of Christmas preparations,
which at Wal-Mart began before Halloween this year,
have subsided, at least for an hour this morning… as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

A birth, perhaps chaotically engaged as Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant and then scrambled to find a place – ANY place – to actually give birth to Jesus and lay down for a rest.

Mary and Joseph had just nodded off to sleep when the shepherds arrived along with a slew of gawkers who came along to see what all the excitement was about.

They jerked themselves awake as the shepherds related the almost unbelievable story of a multitude of heavenly hosts and an angel appearing out in the middle of the field in the dead of night, telling them that today, THIS DAY, the Messiah had been born.

The sign for the shepherds to know the story was true was that they would find a baby wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger.

And lo and behold, there he was! Jesus!

So, it must be true!

The words came tumbling out of their mouths before they could even notice that the holy family was exhausted and trying to find a moment’s peace.

Everyone who heard the story was amazed, and the shepherds ran off as quickly as they had come, glorifying and praising God.

But Mary,
dear faithful Mary,
treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

In our busy culture of doing and climbing and evaluating and accomplishing,

how often do we just sit and ponder Jesus…
sitting in silence with the message that our healer has come into our lives?

In the brief words today from Titus we hear:

“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to his mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5)

There is a story told about Saint Francis and Brother Leo that poignantly illustrates such pondering of God’s mercy:

“One day Saint Francis and Brother Leo were walking down the road.

“Noticing that Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked: ‘Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?’

‘Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.’

‘Ah,’ said Francis, ‘now I understand why you’re sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.’

‘Right,’ said Leo. ‘That’s why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.’

‘Leo, listen carefully to me. Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart.

Turn and look at Jesus.
Admire him.
Rejoice that he is what he is – your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior.

‘That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you’ve turned to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself. Don’t wonder where you stand with him.

‘The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness, and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace.

‘A heart like that is stripped and filled – stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.’

“After a long pause, Leo said, ‘Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.’”

‘No doubt about that,’ replied Francis. ‘But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew.

‘To cry out, ‘You alone are the Holy One… you alone are the Lord,’ that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn’t come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.’

‘Then how?’ asked Leo.

‘Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ.’

‘Jesus is Lord.’

‘That suffices.’

‘Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.’

“Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis.”

“Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul.” (Brennan Manning, “Shipwecked at the Stable” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, pp. 196-198).