Christmas Eve 2020

          And so it is Christmas. Granted, a Christmas like no other, no matter what your circumstances are.  And yet, we are hearing a familiar story. But this familiar story, for me, has taken on a deeper meaning because of the challenges presented this year. The ‘light shining in the darkness’ has taken me deeper this year.

There is the somewhat obnoxious question to ask when going through a difficult, painful, dark time, of “where is God in this story?”  The spirituality of Advent has been about finding the gift in the darkness. And tonight, we are reminded that Jesus was born as one of us, in the darkness of the evening, in a lonely and lowly stable and so God does indeed understand and know our pain.

This familiar Christmas story is one that we tend to sentimentalize, to make it cozy and comfortable, almost fairy tale like. But there were no talking animals, no drummer boys, it wasn’t a fairy tale. It was real and nowhere close to perfect circumstances. It began with an arduous journey. Joseph and a very pregnant Mary on the long road, on foot, to Bethlehem – and not by choice – ordered by a decree. And when they arrive, it seems that hospitality is in short supply. No room at the inn.  How would you like to deliver a baby in a stable?  It would have been far from cozy and comfortable. It would have been a little scary.

So year we note the juxtaposition between the global grandness of the Emperor decreeing that all the world should be registered and the narrow lowly focus on Joseph and Mary giving birth to a baby in a stable.  What is stunning about this juxtaposition is that Luke confesses it is through the latter – the small, seemingly insignificant, and powerless couple – rather than through the Emperor and his Empire – that God will save the world.

This sets the pattern for how God will act in our world.  Few if any remember much about Augustus or Quirinius, yet close to three billion people will celebrate the birth of the child born to Mary and Joseph this Christmas Day. So, if you feel like you’ve lost all control over your life, remember that God continues to care for the world through the small, easily overlooked gestures of love and fidelity, whether it’s the helping hand of a neighbor, a meal offered with love, the phone call on a lonely night, the sacrifice of a congregation’s traditions for public safety, and on and on.

I loved the recent article about a local 15-year-old student from the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, based in West Chester. She wrote a song entitled “Lonely Christmas”.  She apparently started working on a song with her father last year but it just didn’t work and then, the pandemic happened, and WALLIS (her stage name) managed to come up with a song that has become the embodiment of 2020.  It’s surpassed 1 million views on YouTube and the music industry is interested.  Some of the lyrics are:  “I think about the cozy Christmas’s when I was with you.  Oh, this lonely, lonely Christmas.  Everybody’s throwing stones looking for fights and hugs are not polite. It’s alright, we’re just stuck at a red light.”

I love that – “we’re just stuck at a red light”.   In other words, in our words, the light is shining in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.

In many ways, God is at work, still changing, loving, and blessing the world. And at a time when it feels like so many of the grand gestures of Christmas have been taken away, perhaps we might find both comfort and courage that God is at work in the many, many small gestures we offer.

I can imagine that, for the folks living in Bethlehem at the time, this night was, for the most part, like any other.  Who would have thought that the long-awaited Messiah – the Savior of the World – would come at this particular place and time? Yet, that’s the way God works – God pours out his blessings of grace and love when you least expect it, wherever you happen to be, without warning, and without a lot of to-do.  Even in the dark.

Two thousand years ago, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Calvary were pretty ordinary. In fact they were so ordinary, they were ignored, forgotten, and largely hidden from the rest of the world. Yet it was in these ignored, forgotten, hidden places, marked not by wealth and power, but by poverty and isolation, that God chose to come among us, not in deeds of wonder and power, but in the ordinary, hushed cries, of a tiny baby, and the deep groans, of a broken, dying, defeated man.

In the words of Br. James Koester:  “The miracle of Christmas is that God is waiting to be found in places of helplessness, and dependency, in the midst of poverty, and among the ordinary, ignored, forgotten, and hidden of this world.

The miracle of Christmas is that Jesus was born, not to power and wealth, but to helplessness and dependency, to the ordinary, ignored, forgotten and hidden places, not only of the world, but of our lives as well.

Like our first parents, Adam and Eve, we search for god in the bright, the shiny, and the new, and all that looks good to the eyes. Yet Jesus is waiting to be found by us in the poverty of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary. It is there we will find Him, tiny and helpless, surrounded by the shepherds, and lulled to sleep by the song of the angels.

If you are looking to find where Jesus has been born tonight, do not stretch your hand out to the shiny, the bright, and the new. Look to those ordinary, ignored, forgotten and hidden parts of your life, and of our world, and there you will find Him. And then with the shepherds, kneel before him and know him to be, Emmanuel, God with us.”

Christ is born in us over and over and over again.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come into our hearts, this Christmas night!    Amen.