Each year
the church marks the days
nearest to Christmas
by singing at Vespers
a series of seven ancient prayers.

Come, O Wisdom.
Come, O Merciful Lord.
Come, O Root of Jesse.
Come, O Key of David.
Come, O Morning Star.
Come, O King of the Nations.
Come, O Emmanuel.

Each prayer begins with
one of those Biblical names for Christ.
Whose birth among us
we hear proclaimed this night.
Whose birth among us
brings a new reign of peace
on earth.

A reign of peace characterized by principles
named in each of those seven prayers:
Justice and mercy.
Embrace and deliverance from affliction.
Healing and illumination.
Unity and salvation.

Salvation from all those things which would
separate us from God and from one another.
Salvation from all those things that would destroy
societies and the very earth we all call home.

It is an expansive.
All-comprehensive view.
Of God and God’s goodness.

A view, which if we’re honest about it,
seems bleak at the close of 2016;
and even more bleak as we look ahead to 2017.

The unanswered cries of the children of Aleppo.
Turmoil in the world’s oldest Democracy.
Communities where race
determines a young boy’s chance at life or death.
Families worried that parents and grandparents
will be sent back to their country of origin,
while their children and grandchildren born here
are left behind to fend for themselves.

—all of which is an utterly perplexing and
distressing twist
on the sanctity of family so many people in our country
otherwise profess,
the sanctity of family we see honored and enshrined in
Mary and Joseph’s own flight to Egypt.

I like to believe that even
the most unsympathetic of persons
looks at all this
and wonders what is going on.
Wonders what are we doing to one another.

It seems as though humanity itself has lost its moorings.

Many among us are distraught.
Some of us have given up hope.
Others of us have firm resolve.
Plenty of us are afraid.

Maybe there is no turning back.

Maybe we should give in
to the capitalism and commercialism around us
and be concerned not for our neighbor
but only for ourselves.
Maybe God has abandoned us.
In that case, maybe its not worth paying
any more attention to God,
and to the experience
of our grandparents, and great-grandparents,
generations of people who placed their trust in God.

Maybe God doesn’t exist at all.
After all, the church has been praying
for this expansive reign of peace
and it has not yet come to be.
Worse still, the church has often times
helped create or sustain
some of the most heinous moments of history.

While it is easy to look at all this turmoil
and say it is a sign of God’s absence,
or use continued discord to bolster a rejection of God.
Easy to say if the church has been praying
for this expansive reign of peace
and it has not yet come to be.
Easy to say that this Jesus born
to Mary and Joseph
is a nice story but nothing more.
While it is easy to say all these things,
to follow that logic
is to miss the point of Christmas all together,
is to miss the point of the church’s prayer at Christmas.
Miss the very very purpose of the Church.

You see each year as the church prepares for Christmas,
as the church prays O Come, O Emmanuel.
As the church comes together
around God born as one of us,
the church proclaims that it is precisely in the midst of
all this injustice,
all this neglect,
all this turmoil,
that God enters into humanity.

In the dark and shadowy places of this world.
Those places where greed outpaces respect for life.
Where the quest for power disregards the most vulnerable.

It is there in a manger.
And there on a cross.
There in the streets of a war-torn city.
And there in the detention center.
There at a bedside of a dying friend.

It is there—in the places we least expect,
the very places where it seems God is absent,
where God is truly present.

That’s what Christmas, the Nativity, the Incarnation
of God is really all about.
God enters human existence.
So that no matter how dim human existence gets,
there is still a light shining in darkness.
There is sill a remnant that will rise up and be strong.
There is still hope.

Because there is God.
And there is God in you and me.

Each and every single one of us:
the greatest resource, greatest treasure of the church
sharing the love of God that is in each of us
in moments when it seems otherwise impossible.
Yes, we can look at a world, a humanity in peril
a choose to worry only about our elves,
to divide ourselves along any number of differences,
to stand by as society falls apart.

But we can also look at a world, a humanity in peril
and be people who
are embodying
—literally incarnating—
God’s promise for the world
in flesh and blood.

You who march for justice.
You who sing of right ways to interact with one another.
You who seek the wellbeing of others before your own.
You who keep alive the ways of human interaction
in a world so quickly seeking to turn us all into a commodity.

You who,
in the face of a world headed in one direction,
tug it back
one loving gesture, one justice-driven action at a time.

The promise of Christmas is God getting as
close to what is means to be really human
as God can get.
And us getting as close to God as we can get.

It is there we see a new and radiant vision of God’s glory.
See as God sees.
See that our deeply, loving human actions
are not and never will be in vain.

Quite the opposite.
Christmas tells us they are the ways of life.
God’s life.

That’s what God in Christ Jesus established
all those years ago
from the manger to the cross.

And it is what God in Christ Jesus
continues to establish in our midst.
What God in Christ Jesus establishes and is celebrating
this Christmas in you and me.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
December 18, 2016 Jazz Vespers
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 7:10-16
Saint Matthew 1:18-25