Text : Romans 16:25-27
Theme Verse : “Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed...” (Romans 16:25)
Soft spoken and humble preacher, Fred Craddock, once famously offered a message about Doxology, an expression of gratitude that he personified as a companion for the sake of making a point. Could Doxology truly tag along with him everywhere he went? Doxology is a churchy word we most often associate with a little ditty we sing when the offering plates are carried to the Table in worship. Doxology literally means, “words of glory.” Can we bring such praise with us as we make our way to the manger later this evening? Mary will. The shepherds will. Can we arrive at Christmas with a loving doxology? Time will soon tell.
reader : Rick Bohls
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
special music :: 'Doxology' (P.Wickham) :: The Rising Band; Katie Herbert, Andi Gross, vocals
Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
As soon as I was able to stand on my own two feet, I’ve stood in worship to sing that very melody – always as the offering was being carried in by the deacons. I’d sit next to my mother in the church pew. The organ would blast that first note and on our feet! “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Mostly, I’d stare up at the big cross that hung over the baptistry in the church of my childhood. I never once had to read the words. I learned them before I could read at all so I’d just stand and sing and stare at that cross. Now, I was a kid. Occasionally I looked around as I sang those words that were etched in my heart. Some people didn’t sing at all. I wondered if they felt like they weren’t very good singers or if they were just not very thankful. Maybe just grumpy? I couldn’t always tell. Some sang the words but with about the same expression as if the words they were singing were names that started with “Q” in the phone book. Others would smile at me if we made eye contact which usually made me quickly turn my gaze back to the cross. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” What a tune! We’d sing it and then we’d sit back down. I’d grab that little dull pew pencil and check that part off the bulletin. Doxology. Check! Done! Moving on! It never crossed my mind as a child that Doxology was supposed to go with me when I left that place. You mean I’m supposed to take Doxology home? I could stand and sing the tune with the best of them. But why would I take Doxology with me? I could hardly pronounce the word. I’d like to say such was a childhood problem. If I’m honest, however, there are many Sundays when I may be good at singing the tune and checking it off the bulletin list but I can’t say I’m always intentional about taking Doxology with me when I walk out these doors. You? Hmmmm…. let’s let that sit for a moment, shall we?
After all… it’s Christmas Eve! What’s all this talk of Doxology? Shouldn’t we be talking about Jesus in Pampers and Shepherds arriving on dirt bikes? We’re almost there, after all. And it is the last sermon in our Advent sermon series we’ve been calling “Arrive.” How will we arrive at Christmas? Will we make it to the manger with hope, peace, joy, love? That’s what we’re after today… that last piece. Arrive with Love. Can’t we just get on with it so we can get back here later to raise candles and sing silent night and all? We could do that… put in the obligatory to-do’s so that we’ve faithfully honored the fourth Sunday of Advent even as it’s Christmas Eve. And… kudos to you, my friends. You are so faithful to say, “Yep. I’m in for the whole thing!” and not just skip the morning to get right to the good stuff of Christmas Eve. The whole of the journey is so important and I’m so thankful you are here this morning.
So I’m thinking… since we’re here and all… we get the opportunity to think a bit deeper about how we’ll arrive at the manger later today, tonight, at Christmas. In many ways, it is a choice. I love the beautiful poem someone read to me earlier this season. It was on a conference call with some other ministers as we were kicking off Advent, wondering how we’d get back to Christmas again. She said, “Just close your eyes and take this in.” Maybe you’d like to do the same. It’s a poem by Daniel Ladinsky from a collection entitled, “Love Poems from God.” The poem is called, “If you want…”
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing…
if you want.
If you want. If you want? What do you want? We’re so close. Most of the hustle is over at this point. We’ve all made choices along the way. We’ll commit to that party. That event. We’ll help with that project. We’ll wear the ugly sweater to that place but not that other place. We’ll get this gift or that gift card. We’ll charge that. We’ll sing those songs. We’ll turn the station when that one comes on. We’ll decorate this way. Write that letter. Make that call. Arrange that schedule. We’ve all made the choices. Today – it’s just about the arrival. If you want? What do you want? How are you going to land at Christmas? If you haven’t cracked open your soul so far this season — maybe this moment isn’t a bad time to do so. Maybe we let Doxology ooze into our very being … maybe that’s how we’ll arrive at Christmas with love.
Doxology means “words of glory.” Paul offers a doxology at the end of his letter to the Romans that we’re offering up this morning as soul food. Paul’s epistles are not always the easiest to read. He often uses really long sentences. I’ve preached sermons on a single Pauline run-on sentence before with plenty of preaching material left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes he changes subjects midstream and chases wild geese to alter the expression just a little. Paul can also lose sight of the Good News once in a while when he gets so immersed in the issues he’s writing about but he always brings it back home. Doxology taps him on the shoulder and he can’t help himself. His pen lets doxology fly.
At the end of this letter to the church at Rome, after giving final instructions for life in the church, he paused, almost as if he wasn’t sure what to say next. But he goes with Doxology. Words of glory. “Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ … to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” Doxology. Words of glory. We need to understand something here about Doxology. Doxology is not simply a repeated mantra like “I will overcome this” or “I choose to live large” or “I will have courage to follow my heart!” Really, I-declarations are not part of Doxology. Doxology exists to help us remember who God is.
The shepherds are cued up for their big surprise tonight. You know the ones – there on the hillside of Bethlehem – watching their flocks by night. Jesus was born. The angel appears to them and offers doxology – words of glory – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14). Spoiler alert. He favors you. He favors everyone. Doxology doesn’t stay on the hillside, it goes with the shepherds to see Jesus at the Humble Inn Maternity Ward for one. After passing out cigars, the shepherds return without forgetting to bring Doxology along with them. Luke says, “The shepherds returned to their night shift, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen …”. Doxology is not just a little ditty we sing as the deacons bring the offering forward in worship. It is a companion that is to go with us into every corner of the world. What do you think? Do you leave Doxology here? Or… do you take Doxology with you?
Soft spoken and humble Disciples of Christ preacher, Fred Craddock, says that one evening, while he was sitting alone on his porch under the stars, an idea came to him. He realized it was not a new idea, nor his alone. But he “exercised an owner’s prerogative by giving it a name.” Craddock named the idea Doxology. He says, “I took Doxology inside to our family dinner table. Supper is family time, and conversation is usually a reflection upon the day. . . . Tongues are loosed and all of us share our days. Supper is a good time and pleasant, and the whole family agreed that Doxology belonged at our table.”
Craddock reports that the next day Doxology went with him when he and his wife went downtown for some routine errands, but somehow (with Doxology along) they did not seem so routine. “We laughed at a child losing a race with an ice cream cone, his busy tongue unable to stop the flow down to his elbow. We studied the face of a man staring into a jewelry store window and wondered if he were remembering or hoping for better days. We spoke to the banker, standing with thumbs in his vest before a large plate glass window, grinning as one in possession of the keys of the kingdom. It was good to have Doxology along,” he said.
“But then,” he continued, “I had to make a stop at St. Mary’s Hospital to see Betty. Betty was dying with cancer, and the gravity of my visit prompted me to leave Doxology in the car. Betty was awake and glad to see me. I awkwardly skirted the subject of death. It’s all right, she said. I know, and I have worked it through. God has blessed me with a wonderful family, good friends, and much happiness. I am grateful. I do not want to die, but I am not bitter.” Craddock said, she was the one who had the prayer. “Back at the car, Doxology asked, ‘Should I have been there?’ ‘Yes,’ Craddock said, ‘I am sorry I did not understand.’”
Craddock went on to say that he took Doxology with him when he went on vacation with his family. “There is no question Doxology belongs on a vacation.” When the vacation ended and he was back in school, Craddock received word that his oldest brother had died. He drove to the place where his brother had lived, wondering on the way what he would say to his sister-in-law, newly widowed. He says, “I was still searching when we pulled into the driveway. She came out to meet us, and as I opened the car door, still without that word, she broke the silence: ‘I hope you brought Doxology.’”
“Doxology? No,” says Craddock. “I had not even thought of Doxology since the phone call. But the truth is now clear: If we ever lose Doxology, we might as well be dead.”
To what part of your life do you need to feel more alive? Could you take Doxology into that tough conversation you still need to have? Can you invite Doxology into your marriage? Might you show the children in your life how to include Doxology into even the most mundane moments of life? To take Doxology with us wherever we go, no matter the circumstance, we create the pause in which we recognize God’s loving presence in our midst and offer words of glory. Maybe that’s what this morning is for us. It’s all Doxology. It’s a pause before the moment this evening when this place will be wall to wall with pilgrims eager to see the baby in the manger again. But maybe you and I will come with this added pause that will create a landing strip so that we can arrive with love on the most holy of all nights. And you know what? I don’t think we are the only one’s who are “in it for the pause” as Anne Lamott puts it. I think God may be in it for the pause too. For what happens when we pause to appreciate, acknowledge and be still in the presence of God? Doxology happens.
Savor this moment, will you? Things will soon get congested and full and we’ll be caught up in the candles and the magic of it all. But right now? Right now – that soul we cracked open earlier? Let it be filled with Doxology. See how that shapes your drive home. See how it changes your embrace with your family or with that church friend you’ll see tonight home for the holidays. See how it molds your heart when you raise high that candle and sing for peace and hope to flood into the world. After it is all said and done…the instructions made… the doctrine preached… the correction offered… all Paul had left to say was: “Now to God who is able to strengthen me according to the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ … to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” Doxology. Words of glory. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye, heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
* * * * *
 Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. Daniel Ladinsky. Penguin Compass.
 Exegetical work tied to this passage and the word Doxology as inspired by Bob Kaylor, Senior Minister of the Park City United Methodist Church in Park City, Utah. Kaylor is also senior writer for Homiletics, where he gave insight into this passage from Romans.
 http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2012/111812_8am.html. While Craddock’s sermon personifying Doxology is the main inspiration here, this link is where I pulled the pieces shared here by Victoria G. Curtiss. She sites Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, ed., Craddock Stories, pp. 153–155 in her work.