December 25, 2022
+ As you all know, in addition to being a priest, I am also a poet.
I don’t often talk about being poet.
It’s a very important part of my life.
It’s something I’ve been much longer than I’ve been a priest.
But it’s something I just don’t bring up very often at church.
But it is something, as I said, that is important to me.
And my life entire life is seen through the lens of poetry.
I see things poetically.
I know that sounds strange.
But I see things that maybe most people don’t.
Or more importantly, more specifically, I see things sing that maybe others don’t.
Which is why I love poetry, and why I have a special love for particular poets.
One of the particular poets I love is the great British poet Christina Rosetti.
We all know Rossetti in some capacity.
Many of the hymns we sing are hymns that were actually her poems set to music.
And one of the most famous is “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
I love that hymn so much.
I love the words of it.
I love the poetry of it.
And it’s a poem and hymn that reaches right down inside me and just grabs me.
Rossetti herself was actually a very devout Anglican.
She was, in fact, a very devout Anglo-Catholic.
She never married, never seemed to have shown a romantic interest in another person in her life, and lived a very secluded life in her family’s home.
She was sort of like a British, Anglo-Catholic version of Emily Dickinson.
She was also my mother’s favorite poet, which is also why I think I love her so dearly.
My mother loved the poetry of Christina Rossetti.
And when my mother died 5 years ago next month, I found myself unable to write for the first time in almost 30 years.
Many of you know about this struggle in my life.
It was awful.
My 13th book of poetry was published 2 day before my mother died.
At the time, I jokingly said, “ this is my lucky 13th book.”
It was most definitely not.
And I have not been able to write in quite the same way as I did before my mother died.
There have been no books in 5 years, very little published, though I have finally been able to produce some work.
But when my mother died, when I couldn’t write poetry, I found myself reading Rossetti, and listening to music set to her poems.
In fact, in the weeks after my mother’s death, I listen to Tame Impala’s version of “In the Bleak Midwinter” over and over again.
And at this time of the year, as I struggle with Christmas and the holidays, I find myself clinging to another Rossetti poem,
Love Came Down at Christmas.
We know this best as a beloved Christmas hymn:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Rossetti published this poem in 1885.
And it was an instant success.
In so many ways, it captures the beauty of Christ, as well as embodying a very simple, very Anglo-Catholic theology of the Incarnation.
For me, this poem captures perfectly this strange feeling I have experiencing this morning.
Yes, as much of a scrooge I am about Christmas, as much as I’m depressed at Christmas, I still somehow LOVE Christmas Day mass
This morning— Christmas is here.
This morning, we celebrate the Love Rossetti sings about.
And we celebrate this Love that has come to us from our God.
We celebrate this Love that has come to us in our collective and personal darkness.
We celebrate the Love that has come to us in our despair and our fear and our nagging, exhausted grief, in our sadness and in our frustration.
And we celebrate this Love that been shown to us.
When we think long and hard about this day, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that day 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 day 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.
God didn’t have to do what God did.
God didn’t have to reach out to us and send down this love upon us.
But God did.
But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable intimacy.
After, God is a God of love.
We are loved by God, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
We are accepted by God, even when don’t feel accepted by anyone.
We are—each of us—important to God.
We are, each of us, broken and imperfect as we may be some times, very important to God.
Each of us.
And because we are, we must love others.
We must embody and give birth to this Divine Love from God so others can know this amazing love as well.
Knowing this amazing love of God changes everything.
When we realize that God knows us as individuals.
That God loves us and accepts each of us for who we are, we are joyful.
We are hopeful of our future with that God.
And we want to share this love and this God with others.
That is what we are celebrating this morning.
Our hope and joy is 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.
This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful morning.
This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of longing.
Let the hope we feel today as God our Savior draws close to us stay with us now and always.
Let the joy we feel today as God our Friend comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.
God is here.
God is in our midst today.
God is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing.
And God loves us.
Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.
That is what we are experiencing this day.
Love came down.
Love became flesh and blood.
Love became human in Jesus.
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.