(The following sermon was delivered on Christmas Eve in 2006 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Saint Albans, West Virinia. I was my last Christmas Eve service there as Rector. I now enter semi-retirement, collect my full pension and take a smaller congregation back home in Massachusetts. The following was an articulation of my gratitude to the people of St. Mark's and to God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of us all.)
I owe it all to my Dad. In Aramaic, the word Abba means “dad”. Jesus speaks of his abba. And when Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to say; “Our Abba, who art in heaven.” When Christmas comes I cannot help but think of my Abba as well as “Our Abba”. My abba gave his life for me too in a way at Christmas years ago when I was a child. Neither he nor I knew at the time that his loss would be the gain of my soul.
But in the fullness of time I came to know of God’s goodness and the generosity of God.
I came to know of Abba’s extravagant salvation plan.
Our Abba who art in heaven; I owe it all to my dad, “Our abba”.
Think of it, Jesus is referring quite literally to the family when he thinks of God. He talks not of a theological construct, but of someone as familiar as dad. The one who loves, teaches, corrects, scolds and plays with you. The one who give you security, and somehow makes you feel better when things look so bleak, who knows just the right things to say, whose soothing voice, whose twinkling eye, and whose no nonsense honesty is the very core of growing up in this unsteady world. Abba.
And so it is when I say “Our Abba” I cannot help but stop short and call to mind of all those special people.
When I think of my dad, I think too of my mom, that feisty and difficult woman. Oh how we fought, but she did the best that she knew how.
I think too of my maternal grandmother who introduced me to the story of scripture. I loved those stories then. I love them now. Like the one of the call of Samuel and of course the one we tell this holy night of the sleeping child and the young girl Mary who was his mother, and Joseph her betrothed. And the animals were there, I always thought that was a nice touch by God for the story. I love the animals. And then the Angels sang and the shepherds hurried to see this thing that had come to pass, and eventually Kings and those with wisdom from near and far away came to do him homage.
Our Abba who art in heaven; I owe it all to you, my abba.
My uncle and his partner Jimmy who took me to see the Red Sox. All the moms and dads along the way, the teachers, the priests, the families of my friends who took me in; I owe so much to all these people. When I say that prayer, I find myself stopping short and thinking of so many people.
My professors in College and in Seminary, my Bishops, and my parishioners all my companions along the way; those I baptized, those whose marriages I have blessed, the sick that I visited, those I’ve buried, and all their families. I think of the bible study classes, and the children who were the source of so much hope and joy. And there were those struggles in the community where we sought the healing touch of Jesus.
When I think of my abba, I think of all of these people who Jesus told us to love. I cannot help but remember his command that we love one another and then I think again not just of my abba, I think of Our Abba who art in heaven. I say Our Father and then I stop and remember and the prayer is hardly begun.
The Glory of God is here tonight. It shines as brightly as the first star of Christmas that shone the night that the savior was born. Those who are wise enough to follow the light of that star will find their way to heaven…heaven: a place in the human heart and in the heart of God where the light of God shines.
Jesus loved his abba as I love mine. He was obedient to his abba, we’re told, even unto death on a cross. And there on the cross he called out again, Abba, Father…dad…daddy…and then he died.
He owed everything to his dad. And we all owe everything to Our Abba. For in our goodness as well as in our darkness, the love of God shines through every corner of our lives. I owe everything to him and so do you. We all owe everything to Our Abba who art in Heaven. The little one that is born tonight is born so that we might have life and have it in all of its wonderful abundance.
Just as a for instance, the wonderful years of my ministry, the blessing of my life with Cindy, my children David, Joshua, and Michael, the dogs and cats too…don’t forget the animals…God didn’t not tonight on this holy night…most certainly not. For all the creatures of God owe their lives to him.
You see we have the good sense to know that all that we have and all that we have is from God. And so now my Abba says come on home. And to you your Abba says I too will bless you in the fullness of time with another priest who will love you, tend you, care for you and celebrate the sacraments with you. And thus the
Our Abba who art in heaven; it is an ageless prayer that the savior taught us in order that we might see the inexorable march of life’s many blessings. And so now he calls me home to the salt sea. But I shall never forget the mountains of
And so Merry Christmas to you. Goodbye is not a bad word. It means in the old English, literally, God be with you. And so God is. Born in a manger, a sweet little baby born “Emmanuel” or God with us. And so if I say Good bye…all I’m saying is God be with you.
God be with you all this Christmas. And thus let the Glory of God shine on this holy night.