Mother Nancy Betz’s Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve, Year A, Trinity Rensselaerville, 2016



Recently, three men were nervously waiting in the father’s room at the Good Samaritan Hospital as their wives prepared to give birth to their first children. The men were much too scared to be in the delivery room.

Soon, the head nurse arrived with good news from the birthing rooms. She said to the first father-to-be, “sir, you are a father of twins!”

“That’s great, he said. “I’m a baseball player and I am going to sign a contract with the Minnesota Twins. This will be great press.”

Soon, the nurse arrived and said to the second father-to-be, “Sir” you are the father of triplets.”

“Fantastic,” he said, “Because I work for the 3M Company. This will be great press.”

The third father-to-be got up and ran out of the room. He was moving so fast that he did not bother to take the elevator. Finally, the nurse yelled out the window as the man entered the nearby parking lot. The nurse cried out, “What’s wrong! Where are you going?”

He said, “I’ve got to resign real fast. I am the Vice-President of Seven-Up.”

That poor father-to-be was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I imagine just like the husbands and wives we have read about in the news who have given birth to six and seven babies. In truth I think that many people feel overwhelmed especially during the Christmas season. They are ready to just hang it all up.

Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve had just about all the bad news you can stand? On occasion that feeling grips me. Sometimes it feels like I am just recovering from one disaster when another one comes barreling in like a tidal wave.

You can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without being bombarded with the bad news of the bombings in Aleppo, the acts of terrorism in Berlin, Belgium, France just to name a few.  The incidences of domestic violence, drugs and child abuse seem never ending. There are times when the news just leaves me numb and I say to myself, come Lord Jesus come.

Every major holy day I go into a panic wondering what to say that has not already been said by far greater preachers then I. This year was no exception. While I was expressing this concern or maybe I was whining to my friend in Minnesota the other night he said to just keep telling the good news. He reminded me that we need to hear it over and over until it becomes an integral part of our very being.

So what is this good news that we need to hear over and over again? God loves us. God loves us so much that over two thousand years ago God sent his son into the world. God sent his son into the world to bring Light to a dark and troubled world. God sent his son into the world in order to implement God’s plan for divine salvation.

Now our Gospel reading for this evening certainly brought a proclamation of good news for tough times in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. But what about today? How does that holy event that took pace so long ago impact our lives today?

Every year I hear someone make the statement that this Christmas is going to be different. I remember hearing one father say that they were going to manage their time better and they were going to curtail excessive spending on gifts. They were determined to make this the best Christmas ever! His youngest son after hearing his father make such a motivational speech spoke up and said, “But dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas.” That is one very astute young boy!

And that is the truth my friends. We sure can’t improve on the very first Christmas but we can improve on the way we celebrate it today. There are two truths that came out of that first Christmas that can never be improved upon.

The first is, God himself entered into time and space. The Gospel writer John tells us that the Word became flesh and lives among us-full of grace and truth.

You see God is no longer just a theological nicety or an abstract concept. God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. I receive many Christmas cards and I am grateful for the thoughtfulness of so many. But I can’t help notice that many of the cards I receive have no relevance to what we really celebrate tonight. There are cards with beautiful scenes of snow-covered forests, lovely flowers specific to this season or cards with Santa Claus as the main focus. And when we do send cards that depict the miracle, we sanitize and romanticize the stable, and we forget the pain and agony of childbirth that was endured by a frightened peasant girl named Mary. The event we celebrate today was real with real people experiencing pain and unspeakable joy and fear that eventually drove them from their homeland.

In the book entitled God Came Near by Max Lucado, he writes, “The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit-became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe had become an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.”

“God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created.” It takes more than a simple country priest such as I, to do justice to such a wonderful and holy event. But friends the glorious truth is God has come into human life. For many this is an uncomfortable thing to accept. It is always easier to keep God at a distance. See if we keep God at a distance, God can’t mess up our life. We can stay just the way we are. We can be victims of our circumstances!

It is only when we let God be human and enter into our humanity, let God into our brokenness, then and only then can we allow God to pull us out of the darkness into the light that is Christ.

One of my favorite books is a short book called Little Pieces of Light by Joyce Rupp. The book begins by describing a Native American ritual that she was taking part in while at a retreat. In this ritual the room had to be in total darkness. The participants prepared the room by taping heavy black plastic over all the windows to keep out the light. When the room was prepared, the facilitator turned out the lights and the room was put into complete darkness. Joyce said it wasn’t long before she realized that in the darkness there were pinpoints of light coming from areas of the black plastic. It seemed that no matter how hard they tried, the light found a place to shine through. This reminded me that even in the most difficult times of my life there was always a trace of light to guide me out of my sense of dark despair. Christ as the light of the world always shines through and illuminates the way for me to find the goodness that is waiting to be uncovered.

You see God in Christ does not run away from the darkness. Quite the contrary. God sets up residence right smack dab in the middle of it. If we let the light of Christ in, then our fear of the darkness will dissipate. The light of Christ can change the darkest of the dark.

Bret Harte, in his classic short story The Luck of Roaring Camp, tells of the birth of a baby on the American frontier – a baby that made a radical change in a rough-and tumble mining camp. The only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal, a disreputable woman at best, died in childbirth, leaving a healthy young baby boy to be raised by the now all-male camp.

These rough, hard men made a decision that would reflect changes that would come later. They considered hiring a woman nurse to care for the baby but eventually decided not to. Their logic was this: a nice nurse wouldn’t come to their camp, and they didn’t want any more women who weren’t nice hanging around their baby. And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp.

The cabin assigned to little “Tommy Luck,” as they called him, was kept scrupulously clean and whitewashed. The beautiful rosewood cradle that they purchased for the baby made the rest of the cabin look wretched, so they had to fix up the rest of the furniture in the room. Then quarantine was imposed on those who wanted to hold little Tommy Luck so they had to clean up for that privilege.

Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity so that new measures were taken to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean. Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, less noisy and boisterous, no longer the “Roaring Camp” of the story’s title. The story of the baby of Roaring Camp is the story of the regeneration of a people. A baby changed the whole atmosphere of Roaring Camp. Two thousand years ago, a baby changed the atmosphere for all who have come to know him.

In the person of Jesus Christ, light has come to a darkened world. Jesus, later on in his ministry said, “I am the light of the world.” He commissioned his disciples, which includes you and me to share the light of the world.

Someone has put it like this: “Christmas is a joyous day for children. For parents, peace on earth comes several days later – when all the batteries wear out!”

Well, the message of the first Christmas is that “Peace on earth comes to everyone when Christ enters into our lives – into the brokenness of it all – Christ came to us – he did not run away!

The message of Jesus Christ never wears out. It is offered to all who seek peace with God. Jesus’ light shines in the darkness and all who follow the light go home giving God praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life they have received in him. This my friends is the good news that comes to those of us who, like the Seven-up man, feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. Know that the Christmas story is for today what it was for Bethlehem two thousand years ago – Good News for tough Times. Amen.




Advent 4 Sermon by Linda Anderson


Year A

December 18, 2016


Babies and gifts


My nephew, Dan and his wife, Lauren, are expecting their first baby in April.  This will be the first grandson for my brother and his wife, the first great-grandson for my mother.   Lauren’s side of the family already has a little one.  Her sister has a little girl named Grace, who is a toddler.  Lauren has posted a photograph on Facebook that beautifully captures the wonder of pregnancy.  Lauren is standing, smiling down at Grace, who is reaching up to place her tiny hand on Lauren’s round belly.   She has been told that Lauren is expecting a baby, and soon she will have a cousin!   How does Grace try to understand this?  She reaches up to feel the round place where the baby will come from.  She wants to feel this place to grasp the meaning of the idea that a baby is in there!   A baby is coming!

Lauren and Dan are deep into the baby-naming selection process.  They don’t want to know whether the baby is a boy or girl until birth, so they have compiled a short list of boys names and a short list of girls names.  They talk about this one or that one.  Can they go with Maggie as the name, or should it be Margaret?  Oliver is a name they like, but what might that nickname be?  Is Ollie a name that they like, too?   They are waiting to see the new baby to bestow upon it the name that suits it best.

Personally I love this part of pregnancy!  I love being the aunt who gets to propose this name or that.  What is the meaning of this name?  Does it carry the cherished memory of a family member or hold certain promise?   Currently one of their approved names is also the name of one of my cats.  I told Dan that this cat is a super sweet, mush of a cat.  And Dan said, “Well, that’s gonna be our kid, obviously!”    And I said, “Obviously!”

Dan and Lauren have conceived this child together, with immense love and contagious happiness.  They have wanted to have a family and this is their dream come true.  They are expecting a baby under the best of circumstances, glowing with love and support from their family and friends.  They will wait until the baby is born to bestow upon it the name that suits him or her best, with great hope and anticipation for the future.

What must it have been like for Mary and Joseph?  In today’s gospel, Matthew focuses on Joseph.  What must it have been like for Joseph, to find out that Mary, his bride-to-be, was pregnant?  This was not part of his plan.  His bride-to-be, pregnant?  A baby?  Not his own?  I imagine he was feeling great shame and probably anger and betrayal, too.   And fear.   This was not a culture kind to women who conceived out of wedlock.  In fact, Mary could lawfully have been stoned to death.  This was not the marriage Joseph had envisioned, certainly not the family he had hoped to have and not the best of circumstances.  But God had a different plan.  Joseph had decided to quietly disentangle himself from his betrothed.

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”


When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:20-25


This baby was going to come with a God-given name and a historic lineage.  This baby was going to come as the fulfillment of a prophetic promise and with a divine mission.  In fact, this baby would be Divine.  And Joseph and Mary signed up for the job of parenting this child.   I don’t know about you, but I am fairly certain that I would not be up to the challenge of mothering a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, in a culture where I might have been killed for being pregnant before my wedding took place.

In fact, I find I have a hard time just celebrating the birth of this baby, Jesus.  Somehow I get so bogged down in the expectation and ritual and “doing it right” that the baby gets lost in the gift wrap.  No matter how hard I try to keep the baby in mind, I get caught up in trying to make the holiday one of Norman Rockwellian perfection.   This year is no exception.

Last week I invited three of my clients to a Christmas lunch at my house.  I am fortunate to work for some wonderful people.  I have enjoyed getting to know them and I thought it would be a really nice gift to them to prepare a meal to share and have some time enjoy each other’s company.   Did I mention that the idea of being a hostess comes so much more naturally to me than the reality?  That I am not the most regular housekeeper?   And then there’s the whole thing about cooking, not my forte, really.   Fortunately I have a neighbor whose heart is so big and generous that he can’t contain it, and he offered to do all the cooking for this lunch.

Monday morning I was up at 4 am, trying to clean my house and oh yes, paint the kitchen.   My neighbor was leaving with bags of ingredients and returning with trays of cooked food, saying, “Yes, you are insane.  You must not paint more than one coat.  What else do you need?  Coffee?  Ice melt for the path to your house?  Rugs for the entryway?  I’ve got it covered.”  Back and forth he went, bringing what I needed for my lunch as I worked furiously to pull it all together.  When my guests arrived, the fire was going in the woodstove, the kitchen had one coat of lovely new yellow paint and miraculously, delicious food was warming in the oven.  I was so nervous and exhausted that I could barely process what was going on.  I found it a challenge just to serve the food he had prepared.   But my guests, who were all friends, seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I thought things were going okay.  Until I remembered the dog.  Where was my dog?  My troublesome not-quite-two-year-old pupteen?  He was awfully quiet and come to think of it, I hadn’t seen him in some time.  I found him on the bed, enjoying this party immensely and happily chewing a nice big hole in my client’s leather boot.   [sigh]  My client, after her initial shock wore off, told me not to worry about it.    Yeah, so it’s pretty clear that I could not handle the task that was set before Mary.  But let me share a quote for you by Nadia Bolz-Weber from her book Accidental Saints, Finding God in All the Wrong People:

 “Let me tell you about this God.  I told them that this was a God who always used imperfect people.  That this was a God who walked among us and who ate with all the wrong people and kissed lepers.  I told them that this was a God who rose from the dead and grilled fish on the beach with his friends and then ascended to heaven and is especially present to us in the most ordinary things: wheat, wine, water, words.  I told them that this God has never made sense.  And you don’t need to either, because this God will use you, this God will use all of you, and not just your strengths but your failures and your failings.  Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful, so don’t ever think that all you have to offer are your gifts. 

We celebrate the birth of this baby, Jesus, more than 2000 years after his birth.  We do our best to relive the excitement and hope of his birth by sharing gifts.   We celebrate the coming of this baby, “God is with us,” by doing our best to practice what he taught us – to love.  And we may find, like I did, that sometimes when we are busy trying to give love perfectly, we find that we are receiving love, unexpectedly, generously, wonderfully.

Chirstmas Eve Service at 5 PM

We will hold our Christmas Eve service at 5:00 PM. Mother Nancy Betz will officiate. We will indeed have a children’s pageant! Many thanks to all who are participating and to all who organized! We will sing as many carols as possible during the service. We look forward to seeing you!