Sermon preached on the morning of Christmas Eve – Luke 2:1-20
Listen to the audio only version sermon here
Every Christmas, the parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols that proclaim the birth of God among us do more than recount the birth of a baby in an ancient faraway land. Every Christmas, these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols proclaim the birth of hope in us; hope not just that some far off supernatural being is going to come and save us from the worst of who we are, but hope that the Source of ALL, the Creator of Universes, the ONE Who IS, WAS, and Every More Shall BE, the ONE in Whom we LIVE and MOVE and Have our Being, this ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, is born over and over again to live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. The words just don’t do this reality justice, so we resort to the power of these parables, myths, stories, metaphors, and symbols, to move us beyond words so that we might approach the truth of our humanity. It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, is it any wonder that we approach this sacred celebration of who and what we are, by telling stories.
Together, at Christmas, we participate in the birth of a child. We see in the image of a new born baby swaddled in our hopes and dreams. All our longings for LOVE and peace rest in the images that live and breathe in this story that has been handed down to us. It is a story we know so well and yet, it is a story that we have barely begun to understand. Like all stories, we can simply listen to it, or read it, and respond with little more than a nostalgic nod to simpler times when we hoped that someone or something out there, or up there, would come and save us from ourselves, our warring madness, and selfish greed, or we can open ourselves to the transformative power that some stories have and we can boldly dare to participate in the story, engage it, wrestle with it, and make it our own. If we let it, this story can open us to that which lives and breathes beyond the words of the story. The characters in this story can live and breathe and have their being in us.
Sadly, we all too often get bogged down in the words themselves, measuring them and testing them as we try to pinpoint the origins of the words and miss all together the many truths that this story can convey. Some folks never get past arguing about the history. They just can’t seem to understand the power of myth to convey truth. The ancient scribes, who passed this story on to us, knew well the wisdom using mythology to convey truth. So, on this Christmas Eve, in the presence of one another, let us seek the wisdom of the ages remembering that wisdom is a precarious treasure; a treasure that has the ability to enrich our lives. At the heart of this story is a newborn baby. Each and every one of us is wise enough to know that there is nothing like a newborn baby to help you get to the very heart of reality. For who among us can hold a newborn in our arms and not wonder? Awe and wonder is the place where wisdom begins. A newborn baby positively oozes with the aura of the mystery that lies at the very core of reality. Who is this little creature? Where did it come from? How did get here? Who created it? What is it? What is life? What is it all about?
For years and years and years, the questions about the nature of reality, about who we are, and what we are, who created us, and why, have been stifled by answers given to us by others. For those of us who have long since felt stifled by the answers that have been provided, this story offers us the opportunity to look beyond the answers that fail to satisfy our longing to know more of what it means to be human. So, let us for a moment try to set aside the answers that tend to trip off our tongues on Christmas Eve. Let us instead just look at the baby. The beautiful newborn baby; any newborn, and indeed every newborn can bring so much hope and joy into creation. Newborns embody the potential of what might be. Newborns are a vision of the power of LOVE to create something new. They are in and of themselves the hope of what love can become. The presence of a newborn is not without its demands; demands to be cared for, to be fed, to be housed, to be cleaned up after, and most of all to be loved. The sheer magnitude of the task is overwhelming, frightening, exciting and rewarding.
On this Christmas Eve, all the potential of life itself will be born in a stable. In all that potential lie the hopes and dreams of all the earth. So, what are we to do with all that potential? What is to become of us?
I said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, rather than answer these questions, let me engage this story the way the ancient purveyors of wisdom often revealed truth in one story by laying down another story right beside it. The Jewish people call this midrash; the art of interpreting one story with another story. Years ago, my friend Henry and I worked together in the travel industry. In addition to working as a graphic designer, Henry was also a Jewish rabbi. I learned a great deal from Rabbi Henry about the celebration of Christmas when he invited me to join his family for dinner on Christmas Eve. Rabbi Henry explained to me that it was the custom amongst his Jewish friends to gather on Christmas Eve for a commemoration they called Nittel Nacht. Nittel Nacht customs date back to the days of pogroms in Eastern Europe, when people calling themselves Christians persecuted the Jewish people. On Christmas Eve, Nittel Nacht customs revolve around keeping a low profile. Nacht means night in Yiddish and Nittel is said to be a Yiddish word patterned after a Latin word for birth. So, on the night when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ among us, some Jewish people gather quietly often in silence, during which they refrain from studying the Torah. Rabbi Henry explained that their own Nittel Nacht customs had grown over the years to include inviting gentiles over to share a meal. The idea being, that if there were gentiles in the house the perpetrators of the pogroms would just move on. Henry told me that he saw Jews and gentiles breaking bread together as a fitting way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who lived his life as a faithful Jew and by his life gave birth to Christianity.
Henry and his wife Rachel were at the time new parents and as I hadn’t yet seen their newborn son, I was delighted to accept their invitation. That’s how this particular shishka found herself holding a newborn Jewish baby named Joshua, on a Christmas Eve long ago. The Hebrew name Joshua which when translated into Greek and Latin then becomes Jesus in English. Joshua’s older sisters little Rebekah and Rachel, explained to me that I needed to be very quiet on this Nettel Nacht, because if we were very good girls, their Daddy would put a Christmas movie on the VCR. They were hoping for their favorite “A Christmas Story,” which is also a favorite of mine. Rabbi Henry, declared that there’s something wonderful about a shishka, nursing baby Joshua, laughing with two little Jewish girls about a silly Shabbos goy, who is desperately scheming to get a red ryder bb gun for Christmas, when everyone knows that such a toy would result in a little boy “shooting his eye out!”.
Imagine my delight when Rachel announced that every Nettel Nacht they were inspired by “A Christmas Story” to order out for Chinese food. ..Deck the halls with boughs of hori, ra ra ra ra ra ra ra……it was piking duck and laughter all around. As the narrator of “A Christmas Story” insists, “That Christmas Eve still lives in my memory because all was right with the world.”
I held the all potential of new birth in my arms. Generations of bad blood between peoples and nations disappeared as we learned one another’s stories even as we created new stores of our own. LOVE was born among us. Joshua the name in Hebrew means God is Generous. Such a God is LOVE itself. On this Christmas Eve, as it does on every Christmas Eve, the mystery of new birth awakens the divinity that lives in all of us so that LOVE can come again, and again. The awe and wonder inspired by the newborn laying on the straw, opens us to the infinite possibilities of LOVE. The peace that we long for tantalizes us with persuasive playfulness and suddenly we become childlike in our willingness to enter the dreams of our imagination.
Tonight, all the potential of life itself will be lying in a stable. In all that potential lie the hopes and dreams of all the earth. LOVE comes enfleshed over and over again. LOVE is here enfleshed in every vulnerable child. LOVE is here enfleshed in our neighbours’ need. LOVE comes, enfleshed in every Palestinian, in every Muslim and every Jew who looks to Jerusalem longing for peace. LOVE comes, enfleshed in every refugee that arrives in Canada and in each and every refugee that remains trapped in the camps. LOVE is here, enfleshed in our indigenous sisters and brothers. LOVE is enfleshed in every refugee, all 60 million of them, longing to find room and safety for themselves and their families. LOVE is here enfleshed in the longing of the lost and lonely ones who cross our path.
Will our hospitality be as indifferent as the folks who were caught up in the busyness of the season that required that they be registered? or as limited as the innkeeper’s, or worse yet as antagonistic as Herod’s? Can we enter into the magic of this holy night and engage the story and dare to be moved by the LOVE-child so that we can see the Divinity that lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us? Dare we let the child open us so that we can be the LOVE that brings peace on earth and good will to all?
On this Holy day, let us embrace the newborn. Let the new born LOVE find in us the praise of angels, the dedication of Mary, the awe and wonder of shepherds, and the adoration of the magi. Let LOVE be born anew in you so that all the world may know the LOVE that we call God! LOVE is born anew! May the child in you be the LOVE that is God. Amen.