Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born every holy night.
Listen to the sermon here
Christmas Eve reminds me that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The adults in this little boy’s life were somewhat perplexed by the little boy’s desire and did their best to distract him with all sorts of stories about the baby in the manger. They even went so far as to promise to bring the little boy to church on Christmas Eve, where they assured him that there was a chance that there, he could speak to God. But the little boy knew in his heart of hearts that a private meeting with God would be so much better. What he really wanted was quality time with God. He remembered seeing a show on the television about God and Jesus and a bunch of stuff he didn’t understand. The show convinced the little boy that God must live somewhere very far away where there is lots and lots of sand and all the men wear dresses; except for the soldiers, who wear flappy skirts. The little boy decided that this strange land far away, was just the place to go so that he could meet God. He knew that this land must be very far away because he’d never seen it on his travels. So, the little boy decided to pack his back-pack with some food for the long journey. The fact that his Mom had just completed the shopping for their Christmas feasts meant that he had lots of wonderful things to choose from. So, into his back-pack he loaded up a few tubes of smarties, some chocolates shaped like turtles and best of all some always forbidden fruit that came in the form of cans of pop.
With his pack, full of provisions, the little boy set out on his long journey to meet God. When he’d travelled about half a mile or so, he met an old woman. The old woman was sitting on a park-bench staring at some pigeons. The little boy sat down next to the old woman and opened his back-pack. He was just about to take a drink of pop when he noticed that the old woman looked hungry, so he reached back into his pack and produced a tube of smarties, and proudly offered them to her. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled fondly at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. Her smile was so lovely that the little boy just had to see it again, so he offered her some chocolate turtles and a can of pop. Once again, the old woman’s face beamed as she smiled with delight. The little boy was overjoyed.
The two of them sat there on that bench all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how very tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. That’s when the old woman gave him the biggest smile he had ever seen.
The impending darkness sent the little boy back to the safety of his own home. When he opened his front door, his Mom was surprised by the look of joy on her son’s face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy replied, “I had lunch with God.” And before his Mom could get in a word, he added, “You know what? God has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her grown son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked his mother, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties, and Turtles and I drank pop with God.” And before her stunned son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected!”
I’ve always loved this story because it is so delightful to imagine God in the guise of a little boy or as an old woman; almost as delightful as imagining God in the guise of a baby lying in a manger, in a stable, long ago. God comes to us over and over and over again in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of shapes, in all sorts of guises. As Julian of Norwich was fond of insisting, “We are not just made by God, we are made of God.” Think about that for just a moment: We are not just made by God, we are made of God; not just you and I, but each and everyone we met is not just made by God, they are made of God.
Tonight, we open ourselves to the MYSTERY that is the source of the cosmos, the MYSTERY that lies at the core of all that is, the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Some of us call this MYSTERY, “God”. But however, you imagine this MYSTERY, each and every one of us is a part of this MYSTERY. We are all part of God. Tonight, as we gaze upon the child lying in a manger, can we begin to see the MYSTERY of Christmas?
The story of a little boy dining upon sweets and swigging pop with an old woman, may just be a sentimental little story. But so too is the story of a baby lying in a manger. Just a sentimental story. But dear ones, stories are only stories until the moment arrives when we begin to see what it is that the stories reveal. We need to look beyond the sentimentality, beyond the nostalgia so that we might see what the stories we treasure reveal.
Tonight, is the night for stories filled with nostalgia and for sentimentality. But the really good stories, the really important stories, the sacred stories empower us to see beyond sentiment and nostalgia. Tonight, the Christmas story reveals to us the MYSTERY that lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us; the MYSTERY that many of us call God. Tonight, as we conjure up images of the newborn child, the MYSTERY is born in us once more.
The creators of our sacred stories used images that generations have recognized because they could see themselves in these images and they hoped that others would see themselves in the characters they created. Think about Mary, a young girl, in danger of facing the wrath of her community because she was pregnant. Joseph, confused, living in a land oppressed by enemies and trying to cope with injustice; refugees, homeless, confused and unwelcome, struggling to find a safe place in which to give birth in a world full of injustice.
Look beyond the obvious, look deeply into the metaphors to see the MYSTERY at the very heart of this birth. Human biology, human need, human tragedy, huddled together, to give birth. The child is born in us. Christmas is a reminder that the child is always being born, always in the manger, and always being welcomed. All our potential is born again, and again, and again.
As we gaze upon the manger, at all our potential lying there ready to grow, we can begin again to dream dreams of a new way of being in the world; dreams of joy, compassion, justice, peace, and LOVE. As we gaze upon the manger, we can begin to see ourselves as more than what we have settled for, and we can begin to imagine all that we might become.
As we shift our gaze to the motley crew of characters that gather around the Christ-child, we can begin to see others as more than they appear at first glance, we can begin to see the most unlikely of characters as reflections of the MYSTERY as they reveal to us our shared humanity. It’s tempting to linger near the manger, but we know that the story doesn’t end at the manger. We know that Herod is waiting. Christmas is not a sentimental event, Christmas is about seeing the joy and the hope, in spite of all the bad stuff. When we step away from the manger to carry on our way, we need nourishment for our journey; the kind of nourishment that we receive in meals shared with others, the kind of nourishment we receive when we can see the Divine in all those we meet upon our journey. For once we have seen the child born in poverty and we experience the embodiment of all that potential, then we can begin to see the MYSTERY that dwells in everyone. Once we have seen the child born to us, we can begin to see God in little boys and girls everywhere, in old women and old men, in young people, and middle-aged people, in friend and in foe, in the wise ones, and in the foolish ones, in the sublime and in the ridiculous, for the MYSTERY that many of us call God, lives, in, with, and beyond, all of creation.
On this holy night, and in the days of Christmas that lye before us, my prayer for each of you and indeed for all the world, is that we can begin to see the face of God in one another, so that the MYSTERY born on this night, and every night might grow into all the potential that is our God who is LOVE. So, as we feast, whether it be smarties, turtles and pop, or turkey, stuffing and gravy, or simply bread and wine, as we share with one another, rejoice and be glad for we feast, as we live, move, and have our being, in the MYSTERY of our God who is LOVE.