Each Night a Holy Night 12/31/17

Each Night a Holy Night
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Heather M. Hinton
December 31, 2017 ~ First Sunday after Christmas (Year B)

Do you believe that a child can save a whole people? Do you believe that a child can lead the people out of drought and darkness? Do you believe that a child can show us all the way?

Simeon did. And so did Anna.

To be sure, it’s not what they were expecting. They were expecting a Messiah, a Savior. But they expected him to be a royal warrior, someone whose power and might would overthrow Israel’s oppressors. It wasn’t until they saw the infant Jesus held in his mother’s arms and accompanied by his father that they even considered the possibility that the Messiah would be a vulnerable, weak, powerless baby. But as soon as they saw him, they knew.

Simeon, old though he was, rushed to the little family and took Jesus into his arms, and he sang:

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel. (Lk. 2:29-32)

“My eyes have seen your salvation.” Which is to say that in Jesus, Simeon has seen the means God will use – is already using – to save all the people; all the people, not just Israel, but also the Gentiles, the fates of the two peoples intertwined.

You have heard me say it before, and you will undoubtedly hear me say it again, that central teaching about salvation which we learned as we began our Crossroads program more than two years ago: in the Bible, salvation has nothing to do with what happens to us after we die. The word we translate as salvation is about our present lives. Salvation means rescue, deliverance, liberation, protection, healing, and being made whole – not sometime in the sweet by and by, but right here, right now.

Do you believe a child can save a people? Do you believe a child can save the world?

Simeon did. He held that baby and sang and declared that his waiting was over. God could release him from his vigil at the Temple where he kept watch for the coming Messiah. God could release him from his long life.

Do you believe a child can save a people? Do you believe a child can save the world?

Anna did. Anna: another elder of the people, 84 years old and basically living in the temple because she had been a widow for most of her life. Anna saw that baby and lifted her voice in praise to God; she immediately began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption – the salvation – of the people. (v. 38)

***     ***     ***

The mighty warriors of the Maasai tribe in Kenya believe that the children can, and will, save them. When the Maasai people meet each other, it is with the question, “Kasserian Ingera,” which means, “How are the children?” Even the mightiest of warriors, indeed even those who have no children of their own, greet one another this way. [1]

The hoped-for answer is, “All the children are well.” Not my children. Not my brother’s children or my sister’s children. All the children.

Of course, the only way for all of the children to be well is for there to be peace. For there to be enough food, shelter, and water for everyone. For there to be art and joy and love and peace in everyone’s hearts. For there to be an end of war and conflict. When the tribe ensures that all the children are well, they ensure that all the people are well: whole. Healed. Protected. Liberated. As the people care for the children, the children save the people.

If a member of the Maasai entered our sanctuary this morning and asked how the children are, how would we answer? Not my child. Not your children. All the children. In a speech she delivered at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days earlier this year, UCC Rev. Traci Blackmon asked, and answered, that question. And like Rev. Blackmon, I venture to say that we would not give the hoped-for answer, for it is quite clear that the children are not well – not all of them.

Consider:

• 16 million children live in poverty in the United States of America

• 10,000 children die of gun violence every year in the United States of America

• More than 300,000 children are sex trafficked every year in the United States of America

• Some 230,000 children are born to teenage mothers every year in the United States of America

• 13 million children live in households with food insecurity in the United States of America

• 9 million children will lose their health insurance with the tax plan that just passed in the United States of America

• 1 in 7 children in Massachusetts struggles with hunger; nearly 6% of children at Muraco Elementary School right here in our own wealthy neighborhood qualify for free or reduced lunch

• And on and on and on

“How are the children?” the Maasai and Rev. Blackmon ask. Now consider:

• 3.1 million children around the world die from hunger each year

• Every 90 seconds a child somewhere in the world dies from water-related disease

• 50 million children live as refugees throughout the world

• And on and on and on

Is it possible, as the Maasai believe, that the well-being of our children is the best barometer of what we value and how we as a people are doing? Is it possible that a child – that every child – can save the world? If so, what does it mean that when asked, “How are the children?” we must answer “Not well”?

What would happen if we treated every child as a treasure? What if, with the birth of every child, we sang praise and celebrated the reality that this child just might save us? Not in the same ways Jesus saves us, to be sure. But what if we remember that we are all part of the Kingdom of God, that we are all responsible for bringing that Kingdom more and more into being? What if we remember that every child is central to the healing of the world? How, then, would the children be? How would we all be?

I’ll leave you with this poem by Sophia Lyons Fahs, a poem I first encountered in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal of my teenage years:

For So the Children Come

For so the children come
and so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wisemen see a star to show
where to find the babe that will save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night,
Fathers and mothers –
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night –
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.

Friends, liturgically this is the First Sunday after Christmas. Secularly it is the last day of 2017. As first and last meet, let us ask, How are the children?

And maybe, if we dedicate ourselves to doing the work of Christ, next year we will be able to say at the very least that the children – all the children – are doing better than they were in 2017. Amen.

[1] I found this information in a number of sources. The one I primarily use here, paraphrasing closely, is that found in a sermon by Unitarian Universalist Rev. Patrick O’Neill, which can be found here. I also rely on UCC minister Rev. Traci Blackmon’s speech at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in 2017, which can be found here.In that speech, Rev. Blackmon uses the refrain, “How are the children,” and I have echoed her words here.

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