Text: Luke 2:1-20 (the birth of Jesus)
On April 12, I titled my Easter Sunday reflection “Silent spring.” This referred to the gospel stories about Easter, to the private nature of the rebirth of love within our hearts, and to the eerie quiet in Edmonton during the pandemic.
In April, Canada had entered the second month of its pandemic restrictions. Tonight, as we celebrate Christmas Eve, Canada has entered the tenth month of restrictions. City life is not as quiet in December as it was in April, but this is still the most subdued Christmas most of us can remember.
The events described in the Bible that lead to Easter and Christmas are noisy ones – journeys to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, crowds shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday and heavenly hosts singing to shepherds on Christmas Eve, cries of “Crucify” on Good Friday, and the pain and labour of childbirth at Christmas.
But while most of the events in Holy Week are loud and public ones, the resurrection on Easter morning is not. It is witnessed by no one, and at first leaves hardly a mark on the life of the city or world.
Most of the events that lead to the birth of Jesus in in Bethlehem are loud and public ones, except for the scene with which the story ends — of a family rapt in awe before a newborn whose arrival has brought them a sense of hope, peace, joy and love.
During a normally frenetic December, many of us revel in the quiet and stillness of Christmas Eve. Malls close early, people gather with their families, and the news cycle stops spinning if only for a day; and for many of us, few things are more comforting than singing “Silent Night,” in a sanctuary lit only by candle-light.
But this year, the normal busyness of December was dampened long before Christmas Eve. And although I am looking forward to singing “Silent Night” with the small crew gathered here for this livestream, and although I hope many of you will light a candle at home and join us as we sing, there is also fear and frustration in the unusual quiet of this December.
Still, the things we love about Christmas Eve remain. Advent is about preparation for birth, and few things are more risky and life-changing than birth. Happily, once birth has occurred, there is sometimes a pause – a moment when exhausted parents glimpse the beauty, mystery, and eternal possibilities of new life. After the labour, fear, and pain of childbirth, sometimes parents get a moment of blissful quiet in which to ponder in their hearts what has happened and how their life and that of their child will now unfold in new and unknown ways.
This moment of pondering and blissful quiet is what I feel when I sing “Silent Night.”
The rebirth we celebrate at Easter and for which we hope in any moment of crisis can be both joyous and quiet. It is about the dissolution of our egos and a reconnection to cosmic Love, which we trust is our Source.
The birth we celebrate at Christmas and for which we yearn in any moment of pain or oppression is about the mysterious beginnings of our spiritual development.
Lent can feel like a difficult season, but this is appropriate because personal and social life are rarely without difficulties. They form the context in which moments of enlightenment emerge; and so we work, pray, and struggle for Easter moments during Lent as at any time of the year.
Advent can feel like a difficult season, but this is appropriate because the conception, gestation, and birth of a baby are rarely without difficulties. Nevertheless, childbirth is a moment of awe, mystery and joy in which we can contemplate the infinite potential that lies within each of us.
Tonight, I pray that each of us might feel like a newborn who is beginning a journey from birth, to death, and to rebirth within the Heart of Love.
For most of us, 2020 has not been an easy year. A new coronavirus has become a global pandemic bringing with it sickness, death, and economic dislocation. Racial injustice and social inequalities have been exposed as never before. Leadership has been tested everywhere and often found wanting.
Nevertheless, we have prepared for birth at Christmas this Advent. And so tonight as Advent ends and Christmas begins, we pause in wonder and awe before the new life that we can now glimpse in Luke’s story.
We don’t know what 2021 will bring to us as individuals, as a church, or as a society. But we know that it will include Easter, both in April and at any unsuspecting moment of crisis that leads us to new life.
Christmas Eve is here, and on this dark sacred night, I am so happy that we have gathered again before a newborn baby and to say to one another in joy, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”