Text: Luke 2:1-20 (the birth of Jesus)
Friends, with joy we have returned to Christmas Eve. Three hundred and sixty-six days after we last celebrated the occasion, we have gathered again to drink in the mystery of what is a favourite evening for many of us.
But while returning to church on Christmas Eve increased the Christmas joy I felt, it didn’t seem different in kind from what I known outside church.
Christmas is treasured by many who are not active in church. Beyond celebrating the stories of Jesus’ birth, Christmas is also a festival of light at the winter solstice; and a time for family, gift-giving and relaxation in a world that often seems starved for connection, generosity, and rest.
For many of us, Christmas is a time when the normal rules of competition and busyness are ignored. At its best, Christmas becomes an oasis in which we try to live — if only for a few days or a week — in the way we wish we did all the time.
As winter begins, we may welcome a chance to give thanks for the return of longer days with their promise of spring. In lives with many problems, we may be grateful for opportunities to gather with friends and family. In the hiatus between harvest and seedtime, we may enjoy an excuse to make elaborate meals and to give meaningful gifts to those closest to us.
As a New Year approaches, we may appreciate an occasion in which to give thanks for our blessings and to reach out to those who need gifts of warmth, food, and good cheer more than we do. Christmas may remind us to be present to those dealing with grief or living with sickness and fear.
Children, of course, love Christmas with its ancient rituals of evergreens in the living room and candles in the windows; and with its tales of flying reindeer, magical snowmen, and Santa Claus. Who doesn’t love that jolly old elf: a saint of healthy girth and red cheeks; and a Holy One who magically flies through the sky only to land in our homes with a merry mantra of “Ho, Ho, Ho!” on his lips?
What I have described so far are the soulful delights of Christmas: hearth and home, family and tradition, food and gift-giving. Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy them. Perhaps this year our family is in crisis and Christmas traditions ring hollow. Perhaps this year the recession has stripped us of the resources to celebrate as we would like. Perhaps this year the drumbeats of fear beat out ceaselessly by the news media have interfered with our ability to relax into the beauty and hope of Christmas.
Fortunately, we also have the spiritual notes found in the stories of the birth of Jesus. It is not that these stories don’t contain common and humble elements. Both Luke and Matthew write that Jesus was born in the humblest of circumstances — to Mary, a young peasant woman living under imperial occupation.
But their stories are also filled with spiritual highlights — Luke with his angels in the night sky singing glory to God and peace to people of good will; and Matthew with his mysterious Star which guides magicians from the East who bring extravagant and symbolic gifts for the baby.
Jesus’ birth reminds us of how our loftiest ambitions for healing, meaning, and purpose are realized in humble circumstances. Christmas connects sky with earth, angels with shepherds, star with stable, royalty with poverty, and worship with humility.
The stories tell of the birth of Jesus even as they also guide us to the rebirth of our own souls. The church proclaims Jesus as King; and it also teaches that an inner Christ lives in our hearts. We too are royalty. The church proclaims Jesus as the son of God; and it also teaches that we are children of God. We too are sacred.
In Jesus’ birth, we see God’s Love. Likewise, in our own hearts we see Love shining in the dark night. In Jesus’ poor and oppressed parents, we see agents of liberation. Likewise, in our own ordinary circumstances, we find agents of liberation: the members of family and community with whom we carry out the work of love and justice in the face of racism and war.
This Christmas, may our souls find nurture in many traditional delights; and may our spirits be lifted by songs of angels and stars; and of God’s Love born in the humblest of places — a stable in ancient Palestine and in our own waiting hearts.
Tonight, we have returned to Christmas Eve. In the peace of this holy evening, may we again offer each other a blessing of love, hope, joy: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”