+Once, a long time ago, when I was brand new priest, I had a parishioner at another congregation come up to me and critique one of my sermons. This is common thing that happens when you’re a clergy person. Now that I’m older and crustier and less patient about such things, whenever anyone makes a critique I listen politely and then, I very gently direct them toward the pulpit and say, “Next Sunday the pulpit is yours. I’m sure you’ll preach much better sermon than I ever could.”
Back then, though, I wasn’t the savvy, with-it, together priest who stands before you tonight. Back then, this parishioner came up and said, “You preach way too much about love.” I was a bit shocked by that statement. I was, uncharactesrically, speechless, actually.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“All you do is preach about love. Love, love, love.”
I didn’t know how to respond then. But if I was going to respond, knowing what I know now, I would ask, “What should I be preaching about? Hate?”
I will say this: I very unapolegtically preach about love. Even to this day, I will preach about love. I will, hopefully, with my dying breath, preach about love. I’m a poet after all.
And love, after all, is a good thing. A very good thing. Now, I‘m not talking about sweet, Valentine’s Day love with hearts and cupids. I am talking about real love. Solid, strong, oftentimes messy love.
And I can tell you this: love is what Christmas is about. A love from God to us. A love very unlike any other kind of love.
When we think long and hard about this night, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that night when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story. It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land. What happened on that night was a joining together—a joining of us and God. God met us half-way. God came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.
On this glorious morning, we celebrate Light and love. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, we realize---there is an intimacy—a love—to that action on God’s part.
God didn’t have to do what God did. God didn’t have to come to us and meet us here. But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable love. Or, as the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti put more eloquently:
Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.
We will never fully understand how or why God has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. We realize that we are a people loved by our God. All of us—no matter who we are, or what we are, or what we’ve done. We are loved. And the proof of that love happened on this day. And that love is all powerful. It is all encompassing. It is all accepting. It is radical. And it breaks down barriers.
One of the things I enjoy doing at our Wednesday night Masses throughout the year—and we sometimes do it at Sunday morning masses too—is time travel. We sometimes will take a trip back in time. Well, this Christmas morning, we can take a little trip back in time, back 100 years today, to Friday, December 25, 1914. On that day, in France, World War I, of course was raging. It was already six month along and it was going to be bloody and more horrible than anyone could even imagine.
But, on that Christmas day, a brief and unofficial truce was declared and, for a moment, the German troops and the English and French troops crossed the battlefield and met. They drank, they laughed, they sang Christmas carols, they played soccer. For a moment, in the midst of the darkness of one of the most horrible wars of all of humankind, there was a glimmer of light and peace and joy.
Even in the midst of our darkness and turmoil, even in the midst of the wars that are raging within us, what this day represents is peace and joy in our war-ravaged lives. This day is all about the love that descends into the wars of our own lives. Our lives are different because of that love that descended into our lives. This baby—this love personified—has taken away, by the love he encompasses, everything we feared and dreaded.
When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened. We find ourselves expressing our intimacy back to God. But the love and intimacy we feel between ourselves and God is a very real one tonight—in this very holy moment. We find that this love we feel—for God and for each other and for those we maybe don’t always love, or find difficult to love—that radical love is more tangible—more real—than anything we have ever thought possible. And that is what we are experiencing this morning.
Love came down. Love became flesh and blood. Love became human. And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing today. We are rejoicing in that love personified. We are rejoicing in each other. We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time. And we are rejoicing in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him.
We are rejoicing in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land. We rejoice in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. We rejoice in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.
But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
See, now you know why I love to preach about love. This beautiful day, let us each cling to this love that we are experiencing today and let us hope that it will not fade from us when this day is over. Let us cling to this holy moment and make sure that it will continue to live on and be renewed again and again.
Love is here. Love is in our very midst today. Love is so near, we can feel its presence in our very bodies and souls. So, let us share this love in any way we can and let us especially welcome this love— love, all lovely, love divine—this love made human into the shelter of our hearts.