Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sermon: Our Story, too

Baby, Crying, Infants, Cry, Kid, LittleSermon for December 28, 2014
First Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For readings click here
Lord, open our lips, 
that our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen
Listen here on Sound Cloud 

·        The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, …
for you have found favor with God.”
·        And an angel of the Lord appeared … in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid,
...for the child conceived in [Mary] will save people from their sins.”
·        “…and they shall name him “Emmanuel” which means God is with us.”
·        And [Mary] gave birth to her first born son
and laid him in a manger.
·        And the angel said to the shepherds,
“Do not be afraid, for I am bringing YOU
good news of great joy for all the people:
TO YOU is born this day
a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.” 
·        And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.

This is a familiar story. 
And yet we listen, don’t we, with
deepening silence,
increased attention,
and heightened expectations. 

We listen to this astonishingly powerful story
of a young girl giving birth to her first child,
nearby only shepherds and stable animals
but heralded by angels above.

While we listen and reflect,
let’s not forget
how daring, downright eccentric
and perfectly ironic is this story from Luke. 

Juxtaposed against
the powerful Emperor
and his demand for a census,
we hear a story of a newborn baby
in meager surroundings. 
Perhaps this is what draws us to this story –
the emperor on the one hand
and the vulnerable Mary on the other. 

This vulnerability draws us every year.
This vulnerability is a package
of palpable fear and hope
bundled with a mother’s heart. 

We all know of this vulnerability:
in faltering relationships,
in illnesses of family members or friends,
in foreboding of safety for those serving abroad,
in the delicate weight of caring for an elderly or frail loved one. 

Perhaps, like the shepherds, we are drawn toward this vulnerability from our fields. 

The shepherds,
lowest in the social standing
of first-century Palestine,
had no right, no expectation,
no hope in the world of being met by the divine. 
So, of course they were terrified
when the glory of the Lord shone around them.
That intimate conversation with
the divine messenger drew the shepherds,
and it draws us,
to a surprising scene:
where there is vulnerability:
fear and hope all wrapped in one. 

What is being born in you, this Christmas?
Is it a new call to reach out to those who are
hungry, thirsty, or imprisoned?
Is it to make friends with people on the border?
Is it a draw to nurture your inner life more?
Is there a new determination
to stand up for justice and peace
or to approach life with a more expansive heart?
Listen, the angel is saying, to you,
        “Do not be afraid.”

For this is where we meet the divine.
This is where God dwells:
in the lowly, the unexpected,
the vulnerable spaces
traversed with courage.
If God can work in and through ordinary people[1]
like a young mother and plain shepherds,
God can also work in and through us,
through our flesh, our very lives
to which God is committed.

This story is a story from not just long ago. 
It is also our story, all of us gathered here. 

God came at Christmas for us
to pour out hope and courage
amid dark and dangerous times of our lives. 
And just as God entered into time and history
so long ago, God enters our lives even now. 

This is why we yearn for this familiar,
astonishingly powerful story over and over: 

This is why we listen
with heightened expectations every year:
·        to care for that vulnerable birth of God’s love in our lives
·        to testify to that pervasive light of God’s dream for the world
·        and to receive the Word of God among us, who loves us deeply, with grace and truth.


[1] Inspired by David Lose, commentary on Luke 2:1-14 at

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sermon: In The Beginning Was The Word

Torah, Bible, Inside, Religion, Hebrew, Book, Judaism
Torah, from Pixabay
Sermon for December 25, 2014

Christmas Day

The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse

St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ

For readings click here

Lord, open our lips, that our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen

Listen here through Sound Cloud.

Merry Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God

and the Word was God. 

What are words for, I wonder? 

Poet Regina Walters wrote:

“Your fear is contagious
Your anger spreads like weeds
Your joy moves with the speed of good news.
As you speak with me you create the world.”

Indeed, what are words for?

What if there were no nouns?[1]

Would our world still be composed

of distinct and separate things?

What if our only language

for describing the world was dance? 

Would we constantly move around in


Would it be like watching the waves?

What if there were no pronouns,

would you and I cease to exist

as independent beings?

Here is a story[2]: 

A mother takes her daughter to the zoo;

she stops before an enclosure,

holds the girls finger and points to a shape.

“See the zebra?” she says,

“Zebra. Zebra. That is a zebra.”

The girl looks puzzled, looks at the shape

and says, “horse.”

“No” the mother replies, “not a horse, a zebra.”

Slowly, the girl says, “zeeba.” 

“Not quite, zebra.”

“Zebra,” responds the girl,

to which the mother says,

“right, now you have it! Zebra, see the stripes?”

and in this moment,

words have changed their world,

to a world now inhabited by zebras.

Before this, her world had horses,

but no zebras. 

Through this word exchange,

zebras have now been born.


The Hebrew term for word is dabar,

which actually means both word and deed.[3] 

So, to say something is to do something. 

Words have the power of creation.

With words, we both discover

and create who we are. 

With words, we elicit response from each other. 

To say “I love you”

Or “I forgive you”

Or “I’m afraid of you,”

To say these things, we create a reality

that can never be undone. 

Something that is hidden in our heart,

with these words, is launched

through speech into time

and is given substance; is created. 

When God said, “Let there be light,”

there was light, before which

there was only darkness. 

When I say “I love you”

there is love, before which

there was only vague silence.

Only by speaking I give it reality.    

In the beginning was the Word,

says the gospel, before which

there was Silence (with a capital S).

Then the Word. The Deed.

The Beginning.

The beginning in time of time. 

The Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

By uttering,

God makes God heard

and makes God hearers.

And, along the way,

one of those hearers “sent from God” was John. 

He came as a witness to testify

to what God said and what God did.

He came to testify to God’s words,

“Let there be light”

before which

the world didn’t know light

or couldn’t say light was there.

Sometimes, we, too, don’t recognize *that* light

or we can’t say if it’s there.

And so we ask, “where is God, anyway?”

Like when we have our first Christmas

after our loved one died,

or when we are stressed by the media season

of consumerism, rampant since Halloween,

or when images of beheadings by ISIS

showers our news,

or when Ebola outbreaks spread fear and panic,

or when school shootings

evaporate any sense of security. 

Yea, sometimes, we, too, don’t see that light.

Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer reflected on *that* light that shines

just below the surface of everything. 

She says, *that* light is

“…the light that happens when you see a sunset

and your heart becomes too big for your chest,

or when you see

the first red or yellow leaf of autumn

and it’s bittersweet

and so incredibly exciting at the same time,” or when you meet someone

who has every right to be bitter & resentful

but is effusive with gratitude,

or “the first time you hold your baby

in your arms and time expands

in all directions from that child.”[4]

*That’s the light that is shining

just below the surface of everything.

And so, there was a woman sent from God,

whose name was Ruthie,

and there was a man sent from God

whose name was Gene,

and there was someone else sent from God

whose name was your name. 

Y’all came as witnesses to testify to *that* light,

so that all might believe through you,

through your words. 

Y’all were not the light,

but came to testify to the light.

Like John, we are to testify to *that* light shining

just below the surface of everything.

We are to testify

with words of hope

in the midst of darkness. 

God calls us to speak (and so create)

of hope, with hope.

Not in a greeting card or wishful thinking

kind of way,

but hope that is “gritty” –

the kind of hope arising from God’s Word,

the kind of hope we have to

“get up every morning and choose to make

the world a little kinder place

together, with others.”

And then the next morning,

we get up and do it again.

And then the next morning,

we get up and

(even though we have been disappointed, )

we do it again.

That’s the kind of hope Niebuhr described when he said, “anything worth doing

will probably not be achieved

in one lifetime,

so we are all saved by hope.”

That hope, in word and deed,

is a tougher kind of hope to live with,

because it’s hidden in our hearts.

But when we get up and say it again,

hope is created, before which

there was only cynicism,

the easy alternative

to disappointment.

God’s Word of hope is a gritty hope

that takes courage,

because at some point

our heart will be broken.

But we get up and say & do it again,

because that Word made flesh

renews our courage

and reminds us about *that* light

shimmering just below the surface,

that has been there “since the beginning”

and will be there for ever.

In our Judeo-Christian story,

Word after word,

God kept trying to find just the right word. 

When creation itself doesn’t seem to say it right – the sun, moon, stars, nature –

finally, God tries flesh and blood. 

Word after word,God tried,

saying it to Noah, saying it to Abraham,

saying it to Moses, saying it to David. 

God tried saying it to John the Baptist

and it almost worked. 

So God tried once more.

The exact Word of God,[5] Jesus.

And this flesh, Jesus, is how God

finally manages to say what God is

and what human is. 

In this flesh, Jesus, God knows

what it is like to be human

and we know what God is like.

Just as your words have you in them –

your breath, spirit, hiddenness –

so Jesus has God in him.

What was hidden in the heart of God,

with this Word,

was irreversibly released

through speech into time

and was given substance.

And this is good news!  The Word,

God’s breath, spirit, power, hiddenness,

became flesh and revealed God’s glorious light. 

In this unexpected grace,

we find our calling to testify to that light. 

In this unexpected grace,

The Word is made flesh and lives among us;

that’s where God is, in God’s Word

and in our words and our lives.

And so, today we, too,

risk becoming a word of hope for the world

and testify to *that* light that

shines just below the surface of everything.


God sees us as God’s own creation,

God’s own Word and deed. 


God promises to be with us

into the new year

with all that it might bring. 


God’s Word – Jesus – commits to be with us

through all of our living

and struggling and yearning

and loving and dying. 

Why? Because,

In the beginning was that Word... 


Merry Christmas!

[2] Ibid. Gergen

[3] Inspired by Frederick Buechner essay “Word” at, ~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

[4] Krista Tippett – Carrie Newcomer interview

[5] Ibid., Buechner