Given on Christmas Eve at UPC of Amsterdam, NY, 2013
There are many things that I, like most of you, enjoy about the Christmas season. I enjoy the music, something that I begged my wife to let us start listening to about 5 seconds after Thanksgiving was done. I love the Christmas specials, with the Charlie Brown Christmas being at the top of the list. I love Christmas movies with the classic about hijinks of the the Griswold family topping the list if only because it reminds me so much of my own family complete with about 17 cousin Eddies. I love gathering each week with my church family and journeying together to the manger as we have done this last month, lighting candles along the way to shine in the darkness and all these things have been a part of my life since childhood, a lifetime spent journeying with people through the Advent season. But more than any other one thing, one experience, one hymn, the thing that I look forward too the most, that I desire to experience each year, is the bite of cold stinging my lungs walking out of church on Christmas Eve night and looking up into the sky. See that is when the journey gets real for me. More than movies, specials, songs, candles, the moment when it is me and God and silence and dark and cold and stars all brought together into a single spectacle of the immensity of the moment is when I feel like I am experiencing the Christmas season. Because it is then that I can imagine the shepherds tending their flocks by night. It is then that I can envision a couple sitting in a stable birthing a newborn baby, wrapping it in swaddling clothes and placing it in a manger. It is then that I can see the star rising over the place where the baby is born and calling the magi from the east to come and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh before having a dream and returning home by another way. The passages of this story, so familiar to many of us that they could very well become the chorus that play in the midst of our lives, that we have heard read or read ourselves for 30, 40, 50, 90 years, shake off the dust that often cover the most familiar of passages and spring forth with new life, new meaning, a mystical union between word and creation that causes these scenes to jump of the pages of our bibles and our minds and become real all over again. In the silence and holiness of the night, we know and believe of the beauty of the messiah and the truth of the story that points to something greater than ourselves, greater than our families that gather together, greater than kith and ken, and encompass not just the faith, but the world, but creation. And in that moment, when the cold air spikes through my lungs, for that moment, it feels as if I am breathing the very breath of the holy spirit. Moving with her, abiding with her, loving her, as she brings the Christ into existence in the form of a baby in a stable in a nothing town in a nothing country in a part of the world forgotten by most. It somehow seems appropriate that the Christ child slip into that moment that he might change the world. That’s how Christmas has happened for me for more years than I can count and it is never late. It is always just in time.
For some, the Christmas moment does not come the routinely or easily. For many the loved ones who have returned to God over the past year are especially missed in their normal place at the family table. For some, the consumerism that has overwhelmed the season and the holiness of the holy day makes it almost impossible to retain the magical and the mystical moment of God and humanity coming together to form a child who would save the people from their sin. For more, the near constant violence that infects our world and our land is simply too on display even in the midst of the arrival of the prince of peace to see him dwelling in our land. Over the last few weeks it has seemed as if the biggest struggles that humanity has with itself certainly that we have in our own country, have been put on full display once again. The tragedy in Colorado coming on top of the anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, violence once again rip through our schools and the moral fabric of our society rendering many of us unable to experience the sheer elation that we sometimes feel is required for this time of year. Those tragedies hit especially close to our home because of our own involvement with the tragedy a Virginia Tech. And even if our own little world is perfect, even if we have made plans to gather with all our loved ones in one place, we know that for many, this holiday season will not be “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many, the holidays are a time of what has already happened and those who are not gathered around the tree and it would be wrong to simply presume that everyone is happy. And so, when the state of our times begins to wear too much on me and I begin to feel incapable of the joy and elation that Mary experienced, I, like her, turn to my own children and I am transfixed by the way in which Seamus is transfixed by the Christmas lights around the tree and our house. I am emboldened in my own joy by watching the way in which Jameson bounds out of his room each morning to ask what day it is and how many days are left until Christmas. I am excited to think about how I am going to balance two sons on my lap as we have the traditional reading of ’Twas The Night Before Christmas before they are sent off to bed for a night full of visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Because for them, for most of our children, Christmas is still a magical time of year with presents and tensile and egg nog and carols and snow and it still has the power to transport them to other realms and land with moving nutcrackers and all the hot chocolate you can drink. And maybe we should let the kids take us there with them. Because in a world of violence and hatred, a world of hunger and struggle, a world of skepticism and doubt, there is a magical nature to the way in which we conceive of the holidays too. The Bible tells us of light shining in darkness, of the year of God’s favor, of a baby, in a manger, the vessel of God, slipping in to creation, in a town considered the lowliest of towns, in a trough for horses and pigs, too a poor, single, Jewish mother, who, when touched by the holy spirit could not contain her joy, could not contain her hope, could not contain her faith.
The troubles of today are enough for today. Doubt and skepticism are for those weathered by the strain of time and awareness of all the brokenness of the world, but for this one time of year, for this one infinitesimal period of our overall life, children, Mary, a baby in a manger, call us to experience joy and experience it in abundance. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.