By Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin, a Christmas Eve sermon
[This sermon is a reflection on the biblical stories from the angel’s appearance to Zechariah to the shepherds returning from Bethlehem — stories imagined, acted out and recorded by seven different families with young children from the community.]
Friends, we gather tonight in the darkest time of year, in a year that for so many has been the darkest they have ever known. And right here, right now, in this virtual but very real moment, come the children of this community, like angels bringing joy and delight to our hearts, bringing the ancient and ever-new good news to the people who walked in darkness. Angels, messengers of God of the impossible becoming possible. There are SO. MANY. ANGELS in these stories!
An angel arising from behind the altar where Zechariah was coloring, I mean, doing his work and tending the incense. The mildly maternal-looking angel telling Zechariah how it’s all going to go down and then giving Zechariah a big long, silent time out for not believing her.
Another angel with green wings coming to Joseph in a dream!
Another angel descending to sit on the floor next to Mary like best friends with dolls, giving her the news of her unexpected pregnancy, patiently answering her questions, letting her process her feelings until she was ok. An angel doing what a best friend would do.
And another fairly timid angel barely mustering up the courage to announce to the shepherds the good news and to tell them not to be afraid. And a great army of angels singing praises to God!
Did you know how many angels showed up in these stories? We usually only hear the story of the angel and Mary and the angels and the shepherds, but this year we heard all the stories surrounding the births of cousins John and Jesus. SO. MANY. ANGELS! So many messengers of God, coming in all shapes and sizes, colors and genders, ages and abilities, coming to announce that the impossible was possible after all!
And I’m not just talking about the impossibility of the miraculous pregnancies. This good news that the angels announced was way bigger than that. You see, these angels were coming to the Jewish people 2,000 years ago when they were living under the brutal knee of the Roman Empire. The good news of the angels wasn’t just about unlikely babies being born, it was about the world those babies were being born into, it was about their collective liberation, it was about freedom and having enough food to eat and the possibility of living without fear. “Be not afraid.” The good news wasn’t just about miraculous births it was about another world being possible, coming alive right there, right then, even in their darkest night.
But did you notice something? The angels came to so many: Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Shepherds…and everyone believed them! Everyone was willing to take a chance, to dare to do their part, to play their part in this new unfolding story, in this new world breaking into the old…everyone…except Zechariah.
Why? Why couldn’t he do it? Why couldn’t he lend his voice and his power to help this new world emerge? Maybe his heart had been broken too many times over the years and he had grown bitter from the losses. Maybe his hopes had been dashed too many times and he had succumbed to the sad comfort of cynicism and despair. Maybe he felt that the powers that be were too strong, too distant, too manipulative, so he fell into helplessness, seeing himself as a victim of life rather than a participant in it. Maybe all of this had made his imagination so small that he simply could not believe in possibilities beyond his own negative thoughts.
And the result? Silence. He lost his voice. He couldn’t speak. If he couldn’t imagine another world being possible then he would forfeit his right to be part of making it happen.
And isn’t that how it rolls with us too?
When we succumb to despair,
When cynicism and perceived helplessness get the best of us,
When we cannot see and hear beyond our own negative assessment of what’s going on,
When we cannot dare to imagine a different world, a different way of being because the world as it is has succeeded in keeping our imaginations so small,
When that small imagination closes our eyes and ears to the messengers, to the angels all around us — angels of all shapes and sizes, colors and genders, ages and abilities — telling us about what is possible and is actually unfolding right here and right now if we would just look and listen,
When we succumb to despair, we lose our voices. We become silent.
And if we have learned anything at all from this year, it is that silence is deadly.
So thank God is wasn’t all up to Zechariah. Thank God for Joseph, and Mary, and Elizabeth, and the shepherds, who all heard the message of the Angels and said YES! All of them leapt over the bounds of their imaginations and their fears, and played their part in the birth of a new world!
And you know what? Zechariah finally did to! And when he finally dared to take his part in the impossible becoming possible, then guess what? He found his voice! He was silent no more!
Another world is possible, my friends. Or as Arundati Roy puts it, “another world is not only possible, She is already on her way.” The angels among us — angels of all shapes and sizes, colors and genders, ages and abilities — are announcing it, proclaiming it! Inviting us into it! Saying, Do not be afraid! Find your voice! Do not let the darkness of despair or the limits of your imagination dictate what is possible, join us! Join us in this great labor of love. For in the angel’s words to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Amen.
Solveig Nilsen-Goodin offers spiritual direction and coaching, as well as support and accompaniment for leaders, activists, organizers, healers, and anyone longing to “heal-the-whole” on any level. She is currently interim pastor/spiritual director for Salt and Light Lutheran Church/Leaven Community and is working toward her Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) focusing on accompanying people through the many ways we experience death and grief throughout our lives.