Is 9: 2-7; Ps 96; Ti 2:11-14; LUKE 2: 1-20
“Fear not, for lo, I bring you good tidings of great joy! For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. AMEN.
Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to you and yours! On this joyful occasion, welcome to St. John’s, and Merry Christmas.
The angel said to them, (and to us I’d opine,) “Do not be afraid; for see— I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Think of what there was and is to be afraid of. Make your list briefly—guns; money—macroeconomics/personal finances; health, unmet hopes/expectations/needs; and so much more. The personal list is there too, things done and left undone, whether sins of omission or commission, and an uneasiness of not being/doing/aiming for more—on whatever level, but especially the personal. Why didn’t I… When will I ever get to…Can’t I be better at…
It’s all highlighted at Christmas because we understand the Saviour is coming, is come, and not only is our Christmas shopping and wrapping incomplete, we’re not ready either. Advent’s days of increasing darkness don’t help much, and somehow we get to Christmas Eve, sit down, hear beautiful music (thank you Sister Kristina Francis, Martha, Mana, Lorraine, and John,) breathe deeply, and clutch, “I’m not ready.” We grind along in Lent and whether we’re ready or not, after six weeks, it’s spring—and Easter is so welcome. We imagine before Christmas, that Mary was in some holy bubble and that poof, into the world Jesus was born. Even when we hear about the Roman occupancy, the evil king Herod, the corrupt tax collectors, the poverty and hunger of their world, let alone the conditions in worlds beyond the Roman Empire, like that in what would become Australia, or the countries of Africa, North America, and beyond. Some how the world we imagine Jesus being born into fits exactly onto the front of a Christmas card, or a glittering Advent calendar, and hears no crying, smells no rancidness of poverty, sees no horrors or distressing sights, touches no rot, but for us, we experience it all. And we’ve had all year to fix it, and hear we are again, not ready.
Madeleine L’Engle says this better in her First Coming:
“He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!”
Never, since the Creator let go of the Creation— in the history of the world—so far—has there been a perfect, untroubled, balanced world. Never, and actually, it isn’t all our fault. The Holy One made the world and let it go, let go, and from then on—oh—rot set in, whether by omission, commission, or artifact. It did, and we’ve been scrambling to fix it up ever since. The Holy One who made the creation and loves it, has always had an eye out for this lovely blue marble and must have been watching with curiosity, pleasure, horror, and more, at how it’s going. The Holy One, the creator of the world wasn’t and isn’t a moron, however. More than an intelligent designer, the Holy One is a loving energizing, involved watchful factor, however, always pledging to keep hands off the creation.
When I imagine how difficult it is not to have fixed it all, even though I couldn’t do it, then I wonder what it felt like to be able to do something and then to hold to that pledge of hands off. Imagine what it would be like if the Holy One did tinker from time to time, whether stopping a storm, rescuing a worthy person, adjusting an illness, or other mega or minor fix, all would be both chaos and untrustworthiness. Up would no longer be reliably up, or down, down. The temptation to just jiggle it all, a little, from time to time, must have been so tempting. Imagine then the Creator’s delight in the idea not to meddle, but to have it fixed for all time for all. I suspect the Creator never “got” how complex human life and existence is until that initial propulsion through the birth canal. Whoa, and a new thought, a new reality.
The Holy One ventured to take our human nature on, and try living a human life. Given there’s no way out of life alive, the Creator found life as a creation all the things we find it, and more. A good life lived is a mystery, with temptations and pleasures. With the promise of that life lived once for all, we know, we hope, we expect that somehow it’ll all come out ok. We can’t fix it all, but we can do what we can. What is it that you do? Are you an artist? A secretary, bookkeeper, administrator, doctor, layer, chief, rich man, poor man, unemployed struggler, writer, musician (I have a soft spot for them, and I’m guessing that the Holy One does too, and that’s why so many of the images of Heaven include choirs of angels, harps, cellos, and voices cherubically singing out God’s praises,) or a shouter, a whiner, or other social commentator, or what IS it that you do. That is our part, but since God’s acting to live as one of us, we are told that God both loves us and counts our living as enough for us to do with our one life, and so we hope.
Here’s part of English singer Tracey Thorn’s version:
“When someone very dear
Calls you with the words, ‘Everything’s all clear,’
That’s what you want to hear,
But you know it might be different in the new year.
That’s why, that’s why
We hang the lights so high. Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy!
You loved it as a kid,
And now you need it more than you ever did.
It’s because of the dark
You see the beauty in the spark.
That’s why, that’s why
The carols make you cry. Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy!
So light the winds afire
And watch as the flames grow higher.
We’ll gather up our fears
And face down all the coming years
And all that they destroy,
And in their face, we throw out Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy!
It’s why we hang the lights so high
And gaze at the glow
Of silver birches in the snow.
Because of the dark
We see the beauty in the spark.”
I heard this lovely song early one morning, and heard in it both “the hopes and fears of all the years” and the urgency for us, for me to “Go, tell it on the mountains, go tell it on the mountains.” We often leave it there, but it’s really not enough to tell “it.” We reach out towards that mystery and want to know, understand, and verify: “the hope that is in us.” It is a mystery, but only to this extent—how to express our sense of wanting IT to be better, fixed, and eternally glad. It’s true both that we can’t fix IT and IT is promised to be fixed. God promises, put God’s own life on the line as guarantor of that fixing, saving, Salvation. Then we must say more than “Go tell it on the mountain.” We need to join with angels, archangels, country and western twangers, poets, even theologians, clarinet players, and whoever else joins in those heavenly choirs, to shout out, “Go tell it on the mountains, Jesus Christ is born this day. Jesus Christ is born this day.” Good News. AMEN.
© Katharine C. Black Christmas Eve 24 December 2012
St. John the Evangelist Church, Boston, MA