Good morning and Merry Christmas from all of us here at Washington National Cathedral to you!
I’d like you to hold on to a question that I will pose this morning on this Christmas Day. And then, I’d like to share with you a true story.
The question is: What are you here for on this Christmas Day 2007?
Now, last summer I had the opportunity and the honor to travel to Spain to meet with 28 bishops from all over Africa, including three primates—Anglican primates—and I was joined by 22 of my brother bishops from the United States. And we spent an entire week in El Escorial, Spain. We spent time every morning in prayer and Bible study and then time in sharing the Eucharist at the end of the day. In my prayer group was this bishop from Northern Sudan; his name was Bishop Bullen. For those of you who know about Sudan, it is one of the most troubled and violent parts of the world.
In telling this story, Bishop Bullen spoke about gathering with his clergy and his people in their cathedral. Not a cathedral like this great Cathedral that’s bathed in light this morning, but a cathedral whose tin roof is held up by about 20 stark polls. And as he was gathering with his clergy and his people to pray on a very special day in the life of his diocese, the service was stopped by the invasion of a group of child soldiers who were from the Janjaweed. Child soldiers, all carrying automatic weapons. And they marched Bishop Bullen out of that Cathedral with his clergy. And outside of the Cathedral, to the horror of the people who were gathered there, he—the leader of this Janjaweed child-soldier regiment—told them all to knell.
The leader was but fifteen years old, and he carried an AKA-47 with him. After the bishop knelt down, this fifteen-year-old soldier pointed his automatic weapon to the bishop’s head and said, “Today I will kill you. But before I do, would you like a cigarette?” The bishop said, “No.” But he asked this young fifteen-year-old, who was pointing this AKA-47 at him, “Might I have a moment to pray?” The young man said, “Would you like a blindfold?” He said, “No, I want to die like a man.” So the bishop, knelling, began to pray.
And he prayed, “I thank you, Lord God, that on this day I know where I will go, and I thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. And I ask you to forgive this young man who is about to take my life, that he too might have a place in your heaven.”
And after he finished his prayer, this young fifteen-year-old soldier, this leader of the Janjaweed regiment, dropped his AKA-47, and he reached out and picked up the bishop with his hands, and he looked the bishop in the eye. And he said to Bishop Bullen, “I want what you have. I want what you have.”
Today, this Christmas Day, the question is: Why are you here? Is the gift of this new born Christ so implanted in your heart and your soul and your mind that when you leave this great Cathedral this morning and you go into the world, that you will touch somebody’s else’s life in such a way that they will look at you and say, “I want what you have”?
Why are you here? Why are you here?
Is the Christ whose birth we celebrate today so central and obvious in your life that someone would want to have what you have on this Christmas Day?