Make Room for LOVE To BE Born Right Here and NOW!

What a strange Advent this has been. In the midst of this pandemic, so many of our rituals and customs have been set aside as we struggle to do our part to slow the numbers down and bend that curve. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of an appetite for John the Baptist’s ranting and raving this Advent Season. Public health leaders, politicians, and pundits of every kind, who are endlessly pleading with us to wear our masks, wash our hands, stay home unless it is essential to go out and worst of all don’t gather with friends and family for Christmas period. I don’t need some ancient prophet’s words echoing down through the generations crying to us from the wilderness, pleading with us to, “Prepare the way for our God!” 

This is a strange Advent Season in my home. We put up our Christmas tree this year. Normally, we wait, choosing to stay in the dark blue hues of Advent. But this year, knowing that it will just be the two of us, we have made an extra effort to decorate our home with all the trappings of Christmas. We’ve even violated our custom of trying not to play Christmas carols until Christmas. So, I’ve been hearing “O Holy Night” over and over again. It seems a little premature, but that line is stuck in my head, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” Lord knows our world is weary. So how shall we rejoice this year?

I wonder as I wander around the empty sanctuary here, what will it be like not to see many of you on Christmas Eve. I’ve been wondering what it will be like not to hear the familiar sounds of your voices singing with such reverence. I’ve been anticipating my own sadness at not seeing many of you raise your candles in the darkness, as we sing Silent Night with such hope and gladness. Considering all that we have been through this year, and all the challenges which lie ahead in the coming months, is it any wonder that the sentimental aspects of our beloved Christmas traditions are haunting our Christmas preparations in the midst of the countless restrictions we are trying to cope with? Oh, how we long, not for the darkness of reality, but for the darkness of our visions of some “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Our imaginings of the way things were, just might get in the way of our ability to experience any peace, or any joy, at all this Christmas.

Within the contours of our imagined sentimental Christmas scenes, the mess of life is all too often swept under the carpet of straw in that stable, upon which a gorgeous holy family stare placidly at adoring shepherds and angels, under the perfect glow of a celestial star. Even when we shift our gaze from the delightful stable, to our own remembered Christmas gatherings, the mess of life is all too often swept under imaginary rugs, so as to ensure that the reality of life in community can’t threaten to undo our visions of perfection. COVID may be an unwelcome visitor this Christmas, but every Christmas has its unwelcome visitors. I think that’s why the anonymous-gospel-storytellers allow John the Baptist to strut his stuff way out by the Jordan river somewhere, in the wilderness, so as not to have him intrude on our treasured tales of Jesus’ arrival. There’s nothing silent nightish about John the Baptist as he rants and raves about the need for people to, “Repent!” and warns anyone within shouting distance that it is time to prepare a way for the arrival of someone who will turn everything they have ever known around. For to “repent” literally means, “to turn around.” Repent! Stop going in the direction you’ve been going all your lives and turn around, prepare a new way of being.  Prepare the Way for our God!

Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas isn’t much like Silent Night. The “way” which John the Baptist is screaming at us to prepare, is not a way which will accommodate sweeping the messiness of life under the straw, or indeed, even under the rugs of our imaginations. Christmas is so much more than the Silent Night of our longings. Christmas, if it is any kind of Christmas at all, includes all the messiness we bring to it. Think about it. The story of new birth isn’t pretty. It is not tidy. Nor is it silent. Life is chaotic. Life is messy. Life is far too full of contradictions to ever be adequately captured by our sentimentality.

If your visions of Jesus’ arrival resemble the scene depicted in Silent Night, you really haven’t understood the chaos which new birth brings. Christmas is not about heavenly peace. About as close to Silent Night that Christmas ever gets is “shepherds quaking at the sight!” We ought to be quake to at the very idea of LOVE being born in us. Christmas is a radical subversive parable which was written to challenge whatever peace we have made with the chaos in our lives, a parable carefully crafted to reject our impulse to pull the covers over our head and pretend that life isn’t happening the way it is happening.

Christmas is chaotic precisely because it is in the midst of chaos that we encounter the ONE who IS…that’s IS, with a IS with a capital I and a capital S. IS the third-person singular, of the verb “to be” the ONE who IS – the one our ancestors knew as YAHWEH, the great I AM – that’s AM in capital letters, the first-person singular of the verb “to be”, YAHWEH the I AM, is not off in the heavens looking down at some angelic nativity scene. The ONE who IS, is as Jesus taught us with his very being, the ONE who IS, is LOVE, and as LOVE the ONE who IS, is to be found in all the muck and the mire, right smack dab in the midst of our chaos. For not only do we live, and move, and have our being, in the ONE who IS LOVE, this very ONE, this DIVINITY, this GOD if you will, works in, with, through, and beyond us, in all of our chaotic mess, constantly creating hope in the midst of despair, creating justice in the midst of injustice, creating vaccines in the midst of this pandemic, and offering compassion, kindness, and LOVE, as we work together to keep as many people as possible safe and healthy. Even in this COVID chaos in which we are locked-down, LOVE is working miracles. We are not alone in this chaos.

Christmas is the celebration of new birth and birth is chaotic, messy, frightening, painful, and anything but silent! The parable of Christmas is a raw story, a bare bones story, to which we have added our own desires for a Silent Night. Whatever our imaginings about that holy night may be, one thing we can know for sure there was nothing silent about Jesus’ birth. It was a birth like any other birth, with all the mess of blood, urine, mucus, pushing, screaming, and amniotic fluid. This birth had more than its fair share of fear and anxiety. Whatever Jesus’ birth was it was not the Silent Night of our dreams.

Jesus birth was just like your birth and my birth. Like every birth, Jesus birth was chaos filled with the excitement and the worries which come before something wonderful happens. I suspect that Jesus’ young mother, Mary, was screaming, cursing, pushing, crying, bearing down, and sore afraid. Christmas was not a silent night and therein lies our hope for the world. For a god who is a creator of angelic, surreal, nativity scenes, would be a god far removed from the chaos and the reality of our lives. A god who is devoid of the messiness of life, isn’t any kind of god that I want to be a part of, let alone worship. I need to know that we are all part of something so much bigger than we can begin to imagine that isn’t some kind of distant creature, aloof, and separated from the reality of our lives. I want to be part of the SOURCE of ALL, ALL that IS, a deity, a force, a LOVE which is capable of working in, with, through, and beyond us to bring order out of the chaos, to inspire scientists to create vaccines. I want to be part of the ONE who weeps with those who weep, who suffers with those who suffer, a LOVE which dances, sings, laughs and rejoices whenever and wherever LOVE emerges in the midst of the mess and chaos of life. I want to be part of a LOVE which is beyond my ability to comprehend and yet a LOVE which works in, with, and through those who work to heal the sick, care the dying, toil away in laboratories seeking vaccines, who seek for justice for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, a LOVE which works, in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the wounds of the afflicted. I want to be part of a LOVE which challenges us, and at the same time, a LOVE which allures us in ways which empower us to live fully, love extravagantly, and be all that we are created to BE.

The Christmas story is the story of such a LOVE; LOVE which emerges in the midst of chaos, LOVE which empowers us to prepare new ways of being LOVE, which is born in a baby, for this is how LOVE is always born. This is how LOVE was born in you. At your birth LOVE came into the world and in you lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. A thrill of hope the wear world rejoices. Fall on your knees, fall on your knees” and LOVE will be there.

LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call, “God” is gestating in you. We will get our Silent Night. It may not be the Silent Night of our sentimental rememberings, but like all nights, it will provide darkness from which we can give birth to LOVE; LOVE powerful enough to bring peace on Earth and healing to the nations.

Prepare the way for LOVE to be born here and now! Trim your trees. Mull your wine. Wrap your presents. Sing carols. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom as we must. Reminisce to your hearts content as you, stay home. Stay safe. Keep your neighbours safe. Make room for LOVE to be born here and now! LOVE which IS, BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Our CREATOR, CHRIST, and SPIRIT, ONE. Amen.

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LOVE Story: Shattered Angel

Way back when, when I was growing up, I always wanted Christmas to be perfect. But the reality of life, with all its inherent dysfunctions coupled with financial limitations meant that we just couldn’t pull off the perfect Christmas. I used to comfort myself with the notion that when I grew up things would be different. When I grew up, I’d do things better. I’d save up my money so that no one would be disappointed and there’d be enough to ensure that the house would be filled with Christmas cheer! The decorations would be perfect, and no family arguments or disappointments would be allowed to ruin my dream of the perfect Christmas. I knew that just as soon as I had my own place, I’d be able to pull off the kind of Christmas that would be so full of peace and harmony that the angels wouldn’t be able to keep from singing. But, when I did finally move out, I only sort of got my own place. I couldn’t quite afford the rent by myself, so I put a notice up in the office where I worked, and I got myself a roommate to help me with the expenses. Helen and I had very little in common. Those first few months were tough. She liked things her way and I liked things my way. We didn’t really like each other much, but we tolerated one another because we loved the house which we could only afford together. It was an old barn of a place perched on a hilltop overlooking Vancouver’s Jericho Beach. The location was truly magnificent. So, Helen and I put up with one another’s strange ways. We tried to get along, but in various subtle and not so subtle ways we let each other know that if we had been able to afford the house on our own, we certainly wouldn’t put up with a roommate. We were both strong willed and opinionated, but we didn’t argue instead we used passive aggression to get our points across.

Looking back on it now, I wonder why we ever thought that having a Christmas party was a good idea! Why we ever thought that we could celebrate together I do not know. But at the beginning of December, we decided to have a tree trimming party and invite our respective friends to gather in our home to usher in the Christmas season. There was trouble right from the very beginning. Helen wanted an artificial tree, I insisted on a real one. Helen thought we should have a potluck meal. I insisted on serving our guests a three-course meal. Helen wanted us to make decorations for our tree. I insisted on purchasing only the finest decorations I could afford. Helen wanted to serve all sorts of alcohol. I insisted on limiting it to beer and wine. Helen wanted to play games. I don’t play games at parties. It went on and on with both of us insisting on something and then the inevitable negotiations in order to arrive at a compromise. But I was convinced that everything would work out fine once our guests arrived, so I plowed ahead with the preparations.

When the day of the party arrived, Helen and I experienced a bit of a breakthrough. We admitted to one another that we were too tired and pre-occupied to actually enjoy the party. Over a cup of coffee, we actually considered cancelling the silly party. When our friends arrived, it seemed as though we might have done them a favour if we had cancelled because they too were tired and preoccupied. T’is the season. Apparently, we’d all just carried on out a sense of social obligation. 

Not surprisingly, during the course of the evening the conversations, fuelled by the beer and wine, became a little heated. A bunch of guests were arguing over something so important that now, I can’t even remember what they were arguing about. Politics reared its ugly head, and somebody tried to get the conversation off politics, which led to some people arguing about sports and other people arguing about religion and whether or not Jesus was actually born in a stable. Comments were made. Helen’s friends thought my friends were outrageous and my friends felt the same about Helen’s friends and so the party limped along to a merciful end. 

When the guests finally left, the tree was decorated, with an odd mixture of tacky homemade decorations and cheap store-bought items. It was far from perfect. Helen had won the day, and instead of the beautiful shiny star which I had purchased for to top the tree, some old family air loom of hers, a china angel was perched precariously on top of our limp little tree. I was simply trying to straighten it; I swear I never meant for the tree to come crashing down. It mustn’t have been put in the stand correctly in the first place. Why else would it have fallen over, just as Helen was telling me to be careful? The tree and all its stupid decorations crashed to the floor, including Helen’s precious china angel. The angel’s neck was broken. It was a clean break, the head severed with one crack. 

I must have known that some glue could have put that angel back together, so I don’t know why I did what I did. But I picked up the headless body and I flung it on the floor. My perfect Christmas shattered into pieces on the floor along with Helen’s precious angel, given to her by her sainted grandmother when she was just a little girl. It smashed into a thousand pieces, the shards and splinters scattering through the living room, into the kitchen and into two adjoining rooms and out the door and down the steps. The evidence of my rage and the hopelessness of it all spread everywhere. 

Tears filled Helen’s eyes as she picked up the angel’s head. Its seraphic smile mocked us both. Helen looked at me with the saddest expression I’d ever seen. I expected her to launch forth into a tirade. But all Helen could manage were the words, “It doesn’t matter.” 

Without another word, she left the living room. I listened to her climb the stairs and walk slowly to her bedroom. I stood in the aching silence and felt tears trickle down my cheeks and I realized that it was I who had ruined Christmas. Not my friends, not my family, not even Helen or her friends, but me. I had ruined Christmas; it was my fault. I had tried so hard to make it perfect, and then I ruined it all. 

I leaned against the kitchen counter and stared at the pieces of china lying on the floor, casualties of some strange warfare within me. Why couldn’t I be as good as I wanted to be? I don’t know how long I stood there, but my self-pity was interrupted by the sound of Helen’s footsteps coming back down the stairs.  Without a sideward glance, she got out the broom and dustpan, and in silence we began to sweep up the shattered angel. I couldn’t find words for my shame. It seemed so pitiful to say, “I’m sorry,” but I did, and Helen simply said, “I know.” We cleaned up our party in silence. Regret and remorse kept me awake most of the night. 

In the morning, Helen told me not to worry, stuff happens, things get broken. She seemed to be trying to make the best of things, but I knew her grandmother’s cherished angel was no more, and worse, something in her granddaughter’s heart had been broken. As for me, all I could feel was a dull lingering ache. For the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, I kept finding fragments and splinters of that shattered angel in strange places. In out-of-the way corners, when the light hit them just so, they were everywhere. Each time I found another piece of that angel, I thought about how much it had meant to Helen, how many memories it held in its eyes, and how much LOVE beneath its wings. I wondered about Helen’s grandmother and how she must have treasured that piece of china. 

I wondered how she got it in the first place and what made her give it to Helen. And then, there was the decapitated head. Helen had carefully put it on the mantle that night, when I broke it. I didn’t dare move it, so it stared accusingly at me whenever I went into the living room. 

I wanted to buy Helen a new angel, but she wouldn’t let me. Helen insisted that we put my shiny new star on top of our tree. I suggest that we make something. I don’t know what I was thinking, I’m just not a crafty person, but together we made a beautiful angel. Well, not exactly a beautiful angel; more like the body of an angel. Somehow, Helen devised a cloth body, on which we attached the precious china head. So, on top of our tree, sat the most unusual angel, who watched over something quite miraculous. Somehow, the shattering of the china, released something in Helen and me. The passive aggression left our house and was replaced with the beginnings of a real friendship. We talked together about Christmases past; about hopes and disappointments. We learned about one another’s lives and we began to laugh and to cry, and to talk and to shout, and to disagree and to compromise and to care about one another. When each shattered piece of the angel would appear, I would truly apologize, and Helen would genuinely forgive me. 

Giving birth to LOVE is a process; a beautiful, wonderful, painful, difficult, glorious process; kind of like picking up those pieces of shattered china. They were everywhere. I found what might have been the last piece of the shattered angel’s body before going to bed early Christmas morning. I’d just come home from the midnight Christmas Eve Communion. Maybe it had fallen out of the trash bag, but however it got there, the small piece was lying on the driveway just where it intersected with the back alley. I found it because the light of the moon, or the stars, or the neighbours’ outdoor light, hit it just so. 

Giving birth to LOVE is like finding those pieces in curious places after the shattering happens. Finding little pieces and slivers of what Christmas means, of what the gift is, in the corners of our lives, in the cracks of our failures and shattered dreams, in friends’ small expressions of LOVE, in chances to begin again, and again. Alleys and starlight. LOVE then and now, here and there and everywhere. The light penetrating the darkness and hitting just so, unexpectedly, off what is broken and somehow mysteriously revealing LOVE. I picked up the broken piece from the driveway and held it as I walked to the back door, somewhere between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. 

I remembered the grandmother, and the granddaughter, and then another woman who long ago had been in painful labour in the darkness of night and a child born in a not so perfect, out of the way place, a gift of LOVE.  LOVE then and now, here and there, working in a broken world amidst broken people who break things.