Christmas Eve 24 December 2010
(Isaiah 9: 2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20)
Contrary to popular rumor, I really do enjoy receiving and reading those holiday letters we often receive from friends, those letters that tell us what has been happening to families over the past year. At our home, we have probably received 20 of these letters this Christmas season, and I’ve come to notice something interesting about these letters. As I read them, what I have come to realize is that it took until yesterday for us to receive a letter where someone actually shared a hardship or a difficulty they experienced this past year.
Now, of course, these wouldn’t be much of a holiday letter if they read like a police report of people doing jail time, but I guess sometimes these letters sound more as if they are written by elves over-dosed on adrenaline than by the people we mingle with every day of the year.
It’s not been an easy year for most people. There’s been a lot of pain right here in this community. People are at their wits end around jobs and housing and sickness, and all the other things we keep hearing about.
I suspect for me this year, the message of Christmas is not so much some generic, mass-produced, sentimental whatever-ism type of love, as it is about the core expression of the Gospel, which is love. Love is the most important thing—but love is hard. Love is the best thing–but love sometimes hurts. Love is the most powerful thing. It is strongest thing. “Love is stronger than death,” we are told in the Scriptures.
But sometimes love is so strong that it feels like it breaks our heart. And if love is so strong, and rooted and grounded in real life, then it can also break us open to something new, something we don’t know, something beyond our means and our imaginings.
Just in case I can’t get that through my tinsel-dazzled head, this evening we tell the story yet one more time. An unwed, homeless teenage girl gives birth, amid animal smells and sounds, surrounded in a moment filled with love for her child, yet wrought with danger and the potential for a life of shame, nonetheless brimming with the unexpected.
God is fragile. God comes in human flesh, in vulnerability, in love, in the most delightful, most potential type of human life—a baby!
I think it can best be said that all the great loves come mixed with pain, and that is something God in Jesus makes very clear. God is willing to be completely in love with us. God is willing and able to love us through our pain. God is willing to love us in places we least expect, places we least believe where God can love us, and sometimes in places we least wish to find God’s love.
Tonight, so we come to celebrate and to claim that, despite the pain and suffering, our pain and suffering, this love, God’s love, is the power to create the world anew. We absolutely need to claim this on this night! That’s why this Baby was born. That’s why God came. We gather to tell the story of love that is all mixed up with pain. “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee this night…”
So on this night, where do you find Jesus? The answer to that question may be as disturbing as it is simple. We find Jesus everywhere we go, everywhere where pain and love are mixed together. We find Jesus in the office, in the prayer meeting and in the budget meeting, in the wayward woman, in the college dorm, at the breakfast table and at the Table of Holy Communion. We find Jesus in the vulnerability and in the messiness and in the confusion of our lives.
It matters that we know this because our lives, regardless of what they look like, can then tell the story of God’s love. If Jesus is to be reborn this night, it happens in people like you and me.
There is a love story from the African tradition which tells that…
…when a woman knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child in the womb. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and they teach it to everyone else.
When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of the marriage, the person hears her or his song, yet one more time.
Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person into the next life.
In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or an aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
You see, the tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is love and the remembrance of one’s identity. When a person recognizes his or her song, they have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
On this Christmas Eve, may the love of this night, fill you with peace, stir you to welcome this Word Made Flesh wherever you find Him. May love be your song and may you continue to sing it, despite the pain, through the pain. Such is the love that has come! Such is the love we celebrate this night! Amen.