Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing alleluia; Christ the Savior is born.

 In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good evening, and grace and peace, and the blessings of this night and of the season, and into the New Year.  Grace and peace.  Christ the Savior is born.

Detail, Nativity Window
South Transept, St. Andrew's Church
Highland Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Clara Miller Burd

It was in the moon of wintertime,” the poet Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote, “when all the birds had fled.”

And we would know the season perhaps at a sidewise angle this year, as the Shakespearian “winter of our discontent.”  The jingle bells and glittering lights of the holiday festivities doing their best under the shadow of fiscal cliff, and a world shaken by war and rumors of war, near and far.  But perhaps this year anyway their best isn’t quite good enough. 

There will be signs, Jesus said in the reading from Luke appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent, as we heard them in church here a couple of weeks ago.

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.  And perhaps we feel something of all that.  Signs of something. 

We survived the “Mayan Apocalypse,” I’m glad to say. But that doesn’t mean the times don’t feel somehow out of joint, even so.  Not feeling so sure we can count on congress and the President to get it all sorted out for us.

Nightly news from Afghanistan and Pakistan and Somalia and the Congo and the West Bank and the western forests of Burma.  “Man’s inhumanity.”  As we would hold in prayer every mom and dad who has tried to come through to this Christmas while trying to answer a child’s asked and unasked questions about the children of Sandy Hook School during the last week.  Social media and the newspapers and radio and television shows full of advice.  Much of it probably helpful.  But none of it enough. 

Some hard edge of the reality of this world we’d hoped to hold back, at least for a little while.  But sometimes it all gets away from us.  Things we’d rather not talk about, rather not think about.

“In the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled.”  So for Mary and Joseph.  Dislocated and distressed.  A shadowed past, a precarious present, and an uncertain future.  Far off on the margins.  In a cave behind a boarding house, too far from home.  And that newborn in the manger as subject to Herod’s sword as any of the little boys born in Bethlehem that year.  A Christmas of dreams and nightmares for them, Mary and Joseph, I’m sure tossing and turning, whatever hour or two of sleep they might be able to find in the midst of things.

How we long for a savior!  How we long for a savior!  Sometimes we get along by pretending we can handle all this ourselves.  But maybe not so much, this December.

 And yet, here we are tonight.  Christmas.  The quiet and beautiful church, soft candlelight, the familiar hymns and carols.  The old story.  The old, old story.  How many times have we heard it now?  Some of our usual strategies and defenses not working this year.  Feeling for the moment anyway a certain vulnerability.  Touch the pause button.  Give just a minute here to catch our breath, and we’ll get back in the game.  A sense of caution.  Hesitation.  Momentarily not much in reserve.  Just let it come for us: the old story.  In the moon of wintertime.

And so yes, Isaiah.  Yes, and yes, and yes.  All the old words, for all the old world we live in: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation.” 

What we desire to hear, with all our heart.  When the children in C.S. Lewis first discover Narnia they are told they have come to a world where it is “always winter but never Christmas.”  And it feels like familiar territory, to them and to us.  Wanting it, with all our hearts.  A yearning.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings . . . of Christmas.

Because it is the news of Christmas that is before us this night.  Not news that things will all get better if only we try harder, make ourselves smarter, elect the right leaders, pass better laws.  Which of course we try and try and try.  But sometimes all that trying just doesn’t seem to get us where we need to go.

News of Christmas.   News that God is God.  And that the Baby in the Manger, Jesus himself, flesh and blood, asleep on the hay now and with the whole story of his life ahead of him--he is Emmanuel, God with us.  God with us. God for us.  In the Manger, on the Cross—with us, and for us.  Overturning the power of sin and death, pushing back at Evil and winning the victory.  Calling us to himself. 

I love to tell the story, the old, old story of Jesus and his love.  To hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the only news of all the news that ever was, that is good news.  Not wishful thinking.  Not poetic symbol.  But true from top to bottom, from the beginning to the end.  From the Manger to the Cross to the Empty Tomb, and to this night.  Here and now.  Good tidings of good.  We can trust that.  Stake our lives on it

As for St. Paul in the reading appointed for the Office of Christmas Eve: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Which is the Good News.  Which we can be a part of, which we can lift up, however dark the night, however bleak the midwinter of our world.  To be transformed ourselves and as we carry that good news to become beautiful—to become radiant and beautiful, even as he is beautiful.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.  God of God, light of light, very God of very God.  Which we can be a part of: turning from all the powers of wickedness that rebel against God, and choosing instead to tell the story of Christmas.  Not only with our lips, but in our lives.  Answering the great baptismal questions not simply with our words, but every day: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

It is his grace and love that can make a difference, here in this world. In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.  Because it is his grace and love that is the perfect expression of God’s intention for us, of God’s future for us, which we can begin to live right here and right now.  Because it is his grace and love that is true Christmas.

May there be for us in this Christmas the compassionate heart of Jesus himself, his love, and a tenderness of our hearts, a gentle spirit, kindness, peace.  We would trust in him.  Christmas beginning this night, one Christian at a time, until in Christ it will all be Christmas.  Blessings to you, and with much love.

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