The United Churches – Christmas Eve
December 24, 2016
For those of you who have joined us for the Sundays in Advent, you know that in addition to reading scripture that we have also been reflecting on the story written by Charles Dickens entitled A Christmas Carol and upon the transformation and redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge, through the visits of nighttime spirits, had the opportunity to reflect on his past, view his present and see into his future. These nocturnal visitations had a profound effect on Scrooge and he became a changed man. On Christmas morning, he became a model of generosity and kindness: he visited his nephew Fred and accepted his earlier invitation to Christmas dinner, he gave his clerk Bob Cratchit a raise, and became like “a second father” to Tiny Tim, providing him the medical care he needed to live. As the final narration states, “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, … His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him…it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
Keeping Christmas well. What does it mean to keep Christmas well? I’m sure, if you are like me, you have tried to do it all well…pacing yourselves with the decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking and attendance at Christmas parties and special events. Your home is ready for the relatives. Your Christmas cookies are decorated and your pies are on the counter, the ham is in the ‘fridge. You’ve been generous in your Christmas donations, sending checks to charities and putting dollars in the red kettles. The paper boy has gotten a tip. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. We are at church together, and we will raise our candles while we sing silent night. We are keeping Christmas well.
We also know that keeping Christmas well isn’t about any of these things at all. Keeping Christmas well is not about our baking skills, or how many guests we have at our Christmas table, or how many presents are under the tree, or about how well off we are individually or financially. Keeping Christmas well is about our relationships with those near and far. Keeping Christmas well is about how “well-off” we are as a community. How well off are the residents of our local community? How well off are the people of our state? Our nation? How well off are the people in our world? Are these communities well blessed and well loved?
I cannot ignore those in need in Olympia, because they are quite literally at our door step here at the United Churches. Last Sunday morning three men were camped outside the door of the church office. After other members arrived I invited our campers in for coffee and expressed my sorrow to one of the gentlemen that he had spent that wet and cold night outside. He responded that it was no big deal, sleeping outside. He said two thirds of the world sleeps outside. The big problem he said are the children who have no clean water to drink. I agreed of course, feeling embarrassed.
We all want to keep Christmas well, and yet in our city, our nation and our world things are not well. Communities are not well, relationships are not well. Children suffer unbearably in Aleppo, Christmas Market participants die in attacks in Berlin, there are wars in Somalia and Sudan, homeless campers in Olympia, people in our very congregation grieve the loss of loved ones.
In a world much like this and much different, in a time and space where communities suffered and people starved, God entered the world as a vulnerable baby, born to ordinary parents in an ordinary town. God showed up on earth in fleshy, ordinary, extraordinary form, as a baby. An infant. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God did not come and build a palace, or a golden tower. God came in the intimacy of a breath between a mother and infant, in the vulnerable nature of flesh and straw, in the immediate presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
That is our hope in a nutshell. God is experienced in the intimacy of our relationships. As we embrace the incarnation of God choosing to become human, we begin to understand the depth of how important God thinks we are, we begin to understand the depth of God’s hope in us. We keep Christmas well as we embrace our most intimate relationships. We keep Christmas well as we open our hearts to our neighbors. We keep Christmas well as we share what we have with our communities. We keep Christmas well as we make peace in our world. Christmas is our chance to be reminded of this hope: the hope we have in God becoming a human one, and the hope that God has in each and every one of us. Christmas is our opportunity to re-commit to this hope, our opportunity to believe again in God who believes in us. May it be so. Amen.