Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2011

Luke 2.1-20

+ I am almost embarrassed to say this. For those of you who know me, I am a consummate rebel. If everyone else likes something, I don’t (even if I really do). All of my life I have done this. I have said to myself: “I am not going to conform to what the world expects.”

And, for the most part, I can say that I have been fairly successful in doing just that in my life. And let me tell you: life is not easy for the consummate rebel.

Certainly, that’s how I’ve been about Christmas in the past. While everyone else runs around with Christmas cheer brimming over, and happy smiles on their faces, there’s me, grumpy and dour, forcing myself to buy Christmas presents at the very last minute.

But…I must be getting older or something. It hasn’t been that way this year. I almost hate to admit this, but I actually really enjoyed the secular Christmas season this year.

I have forced myself out of my rebellious state of mind and have just gone with it all. I forced myself to give one party after another at the rectory. I decorated. I bought presents. I served cider and egg nog and Christmas cookies. And, I also almost hate to admit this as well: but I made Christmas tree ornaments today.

This past week, our Senior Gin Templeton told me about Sputnik Christmas Ornaments from the late 1950s I was fascinated by it and, dare I say, obsessed for a while about these Sputnik Christmas ornaments from the 1950s. And of course, any of you who have been to the rectory and seen how I have decorated it in a very retro late 1950s/early 1960s style, I LOVE all that retro/ atomic/1950s kitsch. So, there I was today, sticking toothpicks into Styrofoam balls and painting them metallic gray.

But for me, the real joy of this season is not found in any of that. Despite all my previous curmudgeonly behavior regarding Christmas, I have always loved the theological and spiritual aspects of Christmas. And, by far, my greatest pleasure during Advent and Christmas is being in church. Ok. I’m a priest. What do you expect? Of course, I’m going to love being in church.

And the best time to be in church is always Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning.

One of life’s pleasures for me has always been Christmas Eve. And more specifically a Christmas Eve Mass. Some of my most pleasant memories are of this night and the liturgies I’ve attended over the years.

Another of life’s small pleasures is Christmas morning. I especially enjoy going to church on Christmas morning. The world seems to pristine, so new.

And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this evening that is, in its purest sense, holy. And tomorrow morning, because it’s Sunday, I am looking forward to celebrating the Eucharist again here on Christmas morning.

The Christmas we celebrate here tonight, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. I think we are all feeling it this evening. Something is just different on Christmas Eve. We can’t quite pin it down. We can’t quite define it. But we know it’s different tonight. We are feeling joy tonight.

But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.

The Christmas we celebrate here tonight is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas. Yes, it has a baby. ‘ Yes, it has shepherds Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.

A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event. They did not have the medical treatment we have now. hepherds were actually seen as kind of rowdy, roughnecks. Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder. And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world. Often signs like stars in the sky were seen as omens of war and disaster.

But for us, it is not so. The event we celebrate tonight is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and, ultimately, changes us.

The prophet Isaiah shares in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this evening:

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them a light has shined.”

For people walking in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world. It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes, sometimes, is sobering. Some of us who live in the dark do not want what to be exposed because we are so used to the dark.

Last Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we prayed together:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself

Tonight, this whole evening is about him coming to us and making his home in us. Now, a home, as we all know, is the heart of our lives. It is where we find our sustenance. It is a place we find our comfort. Without a home, we are aimless. So, to be a home—a mansion at that—for Jesus means that he doesn’t just come for a visit.

We’re not just hosting him tonight for a Christmas party. It means, he comes to stay—to live with us. In us. That is what Jesus does during this Christmas season. He comes to us and stays with us. He dwells with us and in us. And we become the dwelling places of Christ to those around us.

That is what we are commemorating tonight. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter. What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy. The joy we feel tonight, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, at the fact that this Child comes to us and finds his home in us is a joy that promises us something. It is a teaser, as well, of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day. It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.

But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event. What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in humble adoration. It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives. It should drive to be a true dwelling of Christ.

Tonight is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. God has broken through to us. Christ has come to us and is dwelling within each of us, no matter who we might be.

So, let us cling to this moment. Let make ourselves a true dwelling place for Christ so that others may know, through us, that love, that joy, that all-embracing acceptance that Christ shows us. Let us remember that Christ dwells in us always. We are his home. He will not be leaving us when we take the Christmas tree down and put away the decorations. And let this joy you feel tonight at that realization be the strength that holds us up when we need to be held.

Tonight, God has touched us. God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart. This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness as a Light that will never darken.

So let us, like those shepherds, leave here this evening, with joy in our hearts, with Christ dwelling within us, And let us, like them, “glorify and praise God” for all that we have heard and seen…

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