Christmas Eve Sermon
Resources: Home By Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor,
Cloth for the Cradle, Iona and Rev Gal comments
Please close your eyes just for a moment and let go of all those things you have been busy with; the shopping, baking, cleaning, wrapping … let them all go and just and breathe.
God of the Manger, God of us all, we gather tonight in this holy place where hope is born to welcome you into our very souls once again.
Can you feel a hum in the air – The time of frenzy preparations is over. The stores are closed, the gifts are wrapped, - and the celebration begins. That membrane that separates heaven and earth is thinner – Everything that happened yesterday is before Christ and everything that happens tomorrow is after Christ – which leaves us right now, that eternal NOW – when God comes among us and is made out of the same stuff we are all made.
That’s the main thing we are waiting for tonight – but it’s not the only thing is it? I imagine that there is at least one person here who is waiting to find out what’s in that box propped against the Christmas tree. And someone else who is looking forward to waking up in a house filled once again with children and grandchildren who have come home for the holidays. There are families part of Grace church who have had new babies this year – which means that they will be waiting for the first Christmas morning when they wake up to their own nativity scene.
There are those for whom this is a hard time- and no matter how much they try to muster up a feeling of joy, there is still the empty chair to deal with, the stocking that stays folded up in the box this year and is not hung. All those rituals that were designed to share and do with others is now done alone. Christmas is the season when you want to see if the hurt has let up any since last year. On one hand you want to let go so you can go on with your life, but are afraid that letting go might mean you stopped caring and so you hang on.
For better or worse Christmas Eve acts as a time machine that takes us back to every other Christmas Eve. Right? We remember those times when we were in the front row of the holiday show and not the stage manager of it; the smell of pine boughs and cloves stuck in oranges, turkey roasting. We carry an image of mom and dad sitting around in their bathrobes sipping coffee while kids chase the new puppy through the sea of wrapping paper. And even though we are now the mom and dads, we still carry those memories of when we were the children – for me as a child growing up in Michigan I loved those times when the snow would softly blanket the trees behind our house. I would go stand outside at night and watch the snowflakes fall, as if in slow motion, reflecting the street light as they fell – it was like watching diamonds falling in the night air. The snow blanketed the noise and there was a silence that you don’t often hear.
Last week I got an e-mail from a friend of a friend who wrote: this is the time of year when we all think of our friends and our families - when we think of the people we love - and try to tell them how we feel. And this year, like everybody else, we have been thinking hard about how to reach out to the people we hold in our hearts - About a week ago, my daughter solved the problem when she emailed a link to NPR's This I Believe website. She pretty much said what the season's all about.
If you have never heard the This I Believe series on NPR you should check it out. Anyone can send in their stories and they are truly amazing reflections on life. This woman’s daughter sent in her story –– she wrote that she was the kid who took everything for granted and rebelled – she scoffed at religion and its threats of damnation. She ran away from home, got a tattoo, shaved half of her head, became a truant and barely graduated high school.
Bu then her father died when she was 19 and she wrote “I realized that that all of life’s lessons I had so adamantly rejected were meant to be taken seriously. .. I now have a new belief. .. I believe that I would never have learned how precious life is unless I lost someone irreplaceable, I stay healthy because I appreciate my body’s fragility, I enrolled in and graduated from college to gain knowledge previously ignored. I teach individuals with Autism to give people opportunities to live better lives. I’m getting married because I have found my life partner. I love being alive!
My father never got to experience the new me who was molded from his death. I am the product of his passing. I am a living painting, drawn by an artist whose work may not have been complete if he was still alive.”
No wonder the place is humming .. we bring to the manger all the losses as we gather around the manger looking for a glimpse of new life – and fresh dreams.
Because we come to God in Christ, not with a childishness, but with child like wonder. Sometimes we find those experiences of new life by listening to the child like parts in ourselves or, if not, in the children around us - I am blessed to still have young children living with me. And if I make time to listen to them I remember the child like sense of wonder.
A few nights ago I was waking past my 10 year old daughter Maria’s room at night and saw her sitting in bed praying – very seriously –
I sat down next to her – and asked what did she say when she prayed?
Well, tonight I was just asking God what his favorite color was. And? “It’s purple, she replied matter of factly, God said that purple is the color of royalty and God is a king after all. Right now God is wearing purple pajamas with angels on them!-
It began over 2000 years ago when on that first Christmas - God in Jesus, crept in beside us - a vulnerable human child, trusting human hands to hold him, trusting human hearts to love him.
Whatever the circumstances of our lives just now, in all of our mixed experience of being human,– the ones who walk past the empty chair, and the ones who simply take the time to ask God what his favorite color is – and get an answer – that the God of creation comes.
I close with some words from a reflection from a book called Cloth for the Cradle …
'When the world was dark and the city was quiet, you came. You crept in beside us. And no-one knew. Only the few who dared to believe that God might do something different. Will you do the same this Christmas?
We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden or want to be, but because the fullness our lives long for, depends on us being as open and vulnerable to you, as you were to us, when you came, wearing no more than nappies, and trusting human hands to hold their maker.
Will you come into our lives, if we open them to you - and do something different?
When the world was dark and the city was quiet you came. You crept in beside us. Do the same this Christmas, God Do the same this Christmas.'