Christmas Eve, 2018

Published on Dec 30th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I have had a few interesting conversations this year with people who remember the feelings they had at Christmas when they were a child.  Part of the sadness that many express is that they can’t seem to manufacture those childhood feelings of awe, mystery and even magic as an adult.  Many of us feel overwhelmed by the pressures of Christmas and instead of feeling joy or peace, feel anxious and somewhat dazed.

         Of course, it can be challenging in this day and age—in any day and age, really.  We all have to wade our way through consumerist pressures, travel plans that can go awry, feelings of loss for those who have died, missing family and friends who are too far away, the increasing tendency for Christmas to be over on Boxing Day when there are still 11 days left to the festival. The days are short in the North; we have to clean our homes, prepare special baking.  Christmas can be messy and chaotic.  It can be fraught with all kinds of issues and challenges.

         Maybe you can guess where I’m going with this?  Maybe you’ve realized that Christmas isn’t meant to be a quiet celebration of the birth of Jesus, meek and mild; maybe you’ve come to the same conclusion, that Christmas is a raucous reminder of God’s love in a messy world.

         I remember when I was a teenager, that time of our lives when we try to figure out the contradictions of the world.  I overheard my dad, a UCC minister, muttering to my mother about the over-sentimentality of Christmas; he and my mother would talk about the idea that Christmas is about God becoming human—a vulnerable thing in the first place—in a world that is full of oppression and uncertainty.  Sentimentality is OK, but it is not the whole of what Christmas is about. I suppose I began then to lose that innocent sense of childhood Christmas and the baby Jesus meek and mild. The Christmas we spent in Ottawa in 1995 was probably the last my innocent Christmases.

         Please, this isn’t meant to be a downer about Christmas; Christmas invites a reflection on the deep meaning of God’s presence in a world of confusion, chaos and despair.  The time of Jesus was a time in which the Romans oppressed the Jewish people; there was great disparity between those who were rich beyond compare and those who were abjectly poor.  There were those who lived out the Torah with faithfulness and those who did not; there were those who wanted to rebel and those who wanted the status quo.  And Mary and Joseph because of a census, had to travel on dangerous roads while Mary was pregnant to a town where there was no room and all that was left was a stable; there’s nothing romantic about a stable.  It was a shelter, but it was dirty and noisy and likely cold.  And into this world, Jesus was born.  The Holy One promised, the Human One who embodied God’s love in a new way!

         But that’s the point, isn’t it?  God isn’t some distant idea or deity that is removed from the day-to-day living of all life. God is intimately part of life, part of the very DNA of life.  God is vulnerable as a baby, as fierce as a mother protecting her children, as open as the gift of love, as demanding as peace with justice.  Jesus is a very human reminder of what was always true to the Jewish people, that God travelled with them in all they experienced—first as the Ark of the Covenant—the Presence.  Jesus for us is the Presence, a different Ark of the Covenant, a promise that we are not alone, that God is with us in all we face.  That’s the story of Christmas; that’s the story of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, that’s what we affirm: “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.  We believe in God who has created and is creating…” in this world of challenge, bringing peace with justice, bringing the courage to address our major world issues like climate change, civil strife, and refugees on the move with nowhere to go.

         As Brother David Steindl-Rast concludes in his Christmas letter on the gratefulness.org website, “…once you have been simultaneously aware of light and darkness and know from experience that you can entrust yourself to what Dylan Thomas calls ‘the close and holy darkness,’ the dark womb of light, you will look with new eyes also at all that is dark around you. With new courage and with new creativity, you will strike match after match to light up the world, but you will not fear the darkness, because you will recognize it as the not yet light.”  And we will recognize that God, vulnerable, loving, open, and welcoming is there with us to light the match.

         That’s the Christmas Gospel. Amen.

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