A message by The Reverend Sarah Jackson Shelton, Pastor
on Thursday, December 24, 2015
Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Truth be told, the nineteenth-century author who bequeathed us the image of a fat, jolly, white-bearded St. Nicholas was himself a dour, straitlaced academician. As a professor of classics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, Clement C. Moore’s most notable work prior to “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was a two-volume tome entitled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.
Fortunately, for us, the man had children. In fact, he had six! Legend has it that on Christmas Eve of 1822, during a sleigh-ride home from Greenwich Village, Moore wrote the poem. It was not written for publication because of its obvious lack of academic worth. Moore, however, had to finally acknowledge his authorship of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” when a family member submitted it to an out-of-town newspaper. It became an overnight sensation.
The headlines from that year sound pretty calm: James Monroe was elected for his second term of office, Maine was admitted as a 23rd state, the tomato was proven to be non-poisonous and part of Florida was sold to the United States by Spain for five million dollars. Most of the world’s unrest found its source in overseas revolts: the Greek Freedom Revolt occurred against the Ottomans; Portugal had a constitutionalist revolution and the 1820 Radicals were sent to Australia. The news of our own recent days from around the world, within our nation and the grief within this family of faith, left me in a quandary of how to reach out to you with the hope that Christmas offers and that we so often find in the reading of Moore’s fanciful poem. Whether inspired or delirious, the only way I found words was to pay attention to the meter, rhyme and form of Moore’s poem in order to compose my own. So with apologies to Moore and a plea for your patience to listen all the way through, I will begin without further ado!
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the church
Each listener sat quietly upon their pew perch.
They left behind stockings hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that prayer would ease family tension so easily aired.
The children were dressed in their holiday best,
And all sat so stilly, down to the last guest.
The preacher was ready with stole, robe and verse,
But something was nagging, some small little curse.
Once home, the children asleep in their beds
With visions of Brooks Brothers and hunting gear in their wee, little heads.
Big Momma donned his kerchief and I my night cap
We hoped to settle in for a long winter’s nap.
But as we pulled from hiding, the last present out
We both stood in terror. There was not one doubt
That there on the box were the most dreaded words.
They were the worst words that parents have ever heard.
“Assembly required” the words read so proudly
“Assembly required!” we said all too loudly.
Tossing aside the written instructions
We were left to make misinformed deductions.
Then in the garage there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter.
There stood my dear husband, so kind, yet incapable
To watch him use tools is a matter so laughable.
We fussed and we fumed. We were tired and frustrated.
Not using a drill, my hands were lacerated.
At last we did manage to finish our work.
We fulfilled our commitment, no duties were shirked.
Our lesson, so well learned, that even this season,
The question gets asked for a very good reason:
“Is assembly required for this great big ol’ task?”
There’s only one answer in which we will bask.
“No assembly required,” is the best answer yet.
“No assembly required” is surely the best bet
To insure peace on earth and good will to all people
As we assemble once more beneath Covenant’s steeple.
We gather each year to hear the same story,
Of shepherds and wise ones and angels in glory
Ox, ass and sheep were there in the stable
To welcome parents so timid, yet so very able.
Surely Mary—that mother so young and naïve—
Knew nothing of how this child was conceived.
And Joseph, so silent and yet very present
Took her to Bethlehem, yea, on a donkey they went
No room in the inn. No bed, bath or bottle.
Yet hay in a manger gave the right model
For a King of the lonely, sick and poor.
His love for all people would surely endure.
The shepherds heard the angels’ glad song.
The wise men had a star to guide them along.
They assembled about a crude stall at his birth
To know the real meaning of God’s peace on earth.
You see, assembly’s required. Not for gizmo or gadget
Assembly’s required…not to dabble in magic
Assembly’s required to break out in mirth
That this baby named Jesus has been given birth.
Not just long ago, but right now and right here
To fulfill the promises we hold so near
Of peace on earth, good will to all,
Of loving forgiveness to both the great and small.
Like them, we live in a world gone hysterical.
We assemble in search of a mighty big miracle
To combat angry politicians, and news full of fear
As Isis threatens those we hold ever so dear.
Shootings in schools, riots in streets,
Whole towns being bombed, wounding the meek.
Immigrants denied access to free and strong nations.
Have we forgotten our common relation?
Darkness and gloom are so all-consuming
In a culture that assigns worth by what we’re producing,
And so we assemble to know otherwise
Claiming exceeding joy just like those orient guys
Let’s raise a candle against the dark night.
Let’s raise a candle to spread love through Light.
Let’s raise a candle to remind us of the One
Who came to live on earth as God’s only begotten Son.
This Christmas Eve receive a great gift
A gift that is sure to give spirits a lift
For to assemble right here in this most sacred space
Speaks to all of God’s unconditional grace.
So receive a warm wish in this holiday season
That Jesus the Christ child is indeed the best reason
To require assembly in order to remember the babe
Who loved us so much His own life He gave.
This table spread with a sacred, holy feast
Is for those who desire to replace fear with peace.
And while you are at it, take some courage to share,
Because the love of God provides enough joy to spare.