Monday, December 24, 2012
+ I have a guest at the rectory next door. My guest will staying with me through Christmas, until Thursday. I have been so excited about this guest. And she is darling… Her name is Bella. And she is a beautiful Chihuahua.
She belongs to my friends, Greg and Lisa and their daughters Sophie and Phoebe, who are in town for a few days. They couldn’t get a kennel in the cities for Bella and Lisa’s parents are not excited about having a dog around, so I get Bella.
As I said I have been so excited about Bella, despite having a few weeks of some stress and personal turmoil. In fact, knowing Bella’s coming has got me through some of that stress and turmoil. It’s been a good kind of anticipation. The fact is, throughout our lives, most of us find ourselves clinging to life’s little pleasures. Little pleasures like a little dog coming to stay with us.
Now one of life’s pleasures for me anyway, that I actually CAN kind of control, is happening right now. One of life’s pleasures for me has always been Christmas Eve Mass. Some of my most pleasant memories are of this night and the liturgies I’ve attended on this night.
Another of life’s small pleasures is Christmas morning. I especially enjoy going to church on Christmas morning. The world seems different—so 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 I am looking forward to celebrating my first Christmas Day Eucharist with you here at St. Stephen’s.
If this was what Christmas was really all about, I’d be happy. Sadly, it’s not. Still, I understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas. It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. No body like glitz and glamour more than me! I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.
But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping.
But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver. It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.
The Christmas we celebrate here tonight, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. 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 is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas. Yes, it has a baby. 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. Babies and mothers died all the time. There was no medical knowledge as we know it then. 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.
But for us, this event is a little of glitz and glamour and warm-heartedness, and some of that awesome, God-filled mystery. The event we celebrate tonight is THE event in which God breaks through to us. The event we celebrate is the Incarnation.
Now, Incarnation seems like one of those big, strange, church words. But, for us, it does not have to be. For us, Incarnation means, God breaking through to us. Christmas, for us who are followers of Jesus, is about God breaking through to us in Jesus. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us.
For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world. It can be blinding and can be painful. And what it exposes is sobering. That is what Jesus does to us. That is REAL Incarnation. It shakes us up and changes 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. And it can happen again and again in our lives. What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy. The joy we feel today, 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, is a joy that promises us some THING. It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will all 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 humility. 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.
A few Sundays ago, I preached about how the prayer of Advent is, “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” This is the prayer all of who are followers of Jesus pray. Well, tonight, that prayer is answered.
Tonight, Jesus is that point in which God breaks through to us. Yes, God breaks through to us all the time. God breaks through to us in incarnational ways many times in our lives. And one of our jobs as followers of Jesus is to be incarnational ourselves—to be that point through which God breaks through to those around us.
But tonight, something different has happened. God has broken through in a very clear way to us. God, in this child, has become one of us. God is among us. God is with us. Not in some esoteric, symbolic way. God has come among us with flesh like our flesh, and blood like our blood. God has become a Child, like we were all once children.
By becoming this Child, our flesh is now made holy. Our blood has been made holy. Our bodies and souls are now holy. Or, as Paul writes tonight in his letter to Titus,
“The grace of God has appeared, brining salvation to all…”
This Incarnation is the grace of God in the flesh. It is something we did not ask for, nor would we even know how to ask for it. But here he is—Grace personified. Grace in the flesh. Grace we see and feel. And we now are compelled to leave the safety of this church, on this holy night, with that grace and sacredness dwelling within each of us as well.
Lord Jesus, come quickly, we have prayed all Advent. And tonight he has. Tonight, is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. The Light has broken through into our darkness.
Let us cling to this moment. Let us savor it. Let us hold it close. But, most importantly, let us embody it. Let it dwell within each of us.
Tonight, as the great German martyr Fr. Alfred Delp said, 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.
“Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them has light has shines,” the prophet Isaiah tells us.
We are those who lived in deep darkness. And it is upon us, this holy night, that light—a Light that will not flicker or fade and die—shines.