Christmas Eve – December 24, 2018
Someone I greeted at the door last night after our magnificent service of Christmas Lessons and Carols told me that she would be back tonight and was anticipating my Christmas Eve joke. Well, truth be told, I hadn’t planned on one! But so not to disappoint—we’ve all seen some rather garish displays of Christmas lights in some neighborhoods.
Someone posted this on FB: Those of you who are placing Christmas lights in your yards, can you please avoid anything that has red or blue flashing lights together? Every time I come around the corner, I think I’s the police and I have a panic attack. I have to brake hard, fasten my seat belt, throw my cell phone on the floor, and toss my beer out the window—all while trying to drive. It’s just too much drama, even for Christmas
Tonight, however, is a night of holy drama.“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” What a breath-taking announcement that ushered in what prophets of old had foretold, no less than a sacred and awesome night in the history of our world.
Whether we are seeing Christmas through the wide eyes of a child, the weary eyes of someone who is glad the season is almost over, or the faint eyes of one who has seen many Christmases, tonight is a time when the curtain between heaven and earth is so thin that you can almost see right through it.
Basking in this beautiful church with the warm glow of candles, the reds and greens of flowers, and the glorious music, it would be hard for even the greatest cynic not to feel something of the totally unworldly tonight. The sense of holy mystery is palpable.
I suspect we all come here with a plethora of Christmas dreams and memories—some of them we cherish dearly; some may haunt us like the ghosts sent to Ebenezer Scrooge. Christmas has a way of becoming a time machine— eliciting memoirs of every other one we have celebrated.
No doubt some of us are here because we believe that God’s own Son, came down to earth on this day, took on flesh as a child born of a simple, young Jewish girl and that he came to teach us how to make life on earth even a little bit like life in heaven. Some of you may not be so sure about all that.
Others are here because deep in their heart they want to believe that there can be “peace on earth,” peace in a world that can feel very dark at times, that there can be good will among people in a time where open-mindedness and respect for our differences seems very hard to find.
But I strongly suspect that the one common thread among us tonight is that we want to believe in something, something beyond ourselves, something beyond our troubled and unsettled world and that is what appeals to so many people on this night where the hopes and fears of all the years are met in its mystery and spirit.
The prophesy of Isaiah which we heard in the first reading tonight speak of a new creation, as deep darkness is turned into light. It is in this new creation where the world will be freed from bondage and oppression ushered in by the very and full expression of God with us in Jesus who brings peace, justice, reconciliation and restoration.
In the Christmas story we see God become a helpless little baby, become one of us, teaching us that we have the stuff to become like God in whose image and likeness we have been created.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann in Celebrating Abundance writes that “Christmas is especially for those of us whose lives are scarred and hurt in debilitating ways. Of course, that means all of us. Christmas is about a word from God addressed to the world in its exhaustion…
Christmas is a time to stop and notice the newness that God is giving…”
It is sometimes difficult for me to escape from the culture of darkness that seems to have taken root in our world. Where and how can we find and shine the light of which Isaiah talks? I found a response in the suggestion on social media from an Episcopal priest whose inclination this Christmas is to preach about human dignity.
She referenced the structural inequalities such as racism, sexism, homophobia and elitism that diminish entire groups of people and the culture that has emerged in which name calling, ridiculing, and shaming have become acceptable behaviors.
In all of it we are losing a sense of a commitment to and vocabulary for affirming one another’s dignity as children of God.
The new creation of which Isaiah speaks is the place in which “God brings the fullness of God’s own dignity to an oppressed people and into the lives of even the lowliest, most marginalized person: a poor peasant, itinerant refugee outside the power structures of the great Temple; an unhoused baby lying in a feed trough; one who will be ridiculed and put to a wrongful humiliating death.”
God in Jesus did that to transform the shame and dishonor overwhelming humankind into worthiness, dignity and divinity. That God took on our humanity in sending Jesus to live in the flesh as one of us is the proof of this great gift.
Episcopalians at their baptism and again a few times each year make and renew promises that remind us of our vocation to partner with God in ushering in that new creation, the dream of God for our world. One of those promises is “to respect the dignity of every human being,” a promise I think anyone can make whether Episcopalian or not, believer or not.
What would our world look like if we only used respectful language when speaking to and about one another? What if we recognized the needs and possibilities of others and give them the opportunity to let their unique light shine? What if we defended those being humiliated, abused, or bullied and recognized in them their inherent worth as no less than God’s beloved creation?
The words of the Prophet Isaiah, written thousands of years ago, carry profound meaning for us: “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Don’t we all long for that light to shine in the darkness of our lives and in the lives of all for whom this holiday season is not so merry and bright?
Two thousand years later we can still welcome the Holy One born this night, for he speaks through those all around us. He looks at us through the eyes of store clerks and school children. He reaches out to us with the hands of the homeless and the wealthy.
He walks with the feet of the soldier and the addict. With the lonely and grieving he longs for a tender embrace. With the heart of all those who are in need, he asks us to give him food and shelter. And it is these simple yet extraordinary ways that God takes on flesh and dwells among us and is born again.
Civil rights leader, Howard Thurman, reminds us that “When the song of the angels is stilled. When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins…To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart.”