Christmas Eve 2018
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
On my way to Mass General Wednesday afternoon to visit All Saints’ sick toddler Molly and her mother, Cassy, my travel app had me on Blossom Street, when the traffic slowed and I saw something amazing: Santa and Mrs. Claus were five stories up in the sky in an enormous bucket attached by a ladder to a massive fire engine. They were right up against a large window halfway up Shriners Hospital for Children.
The first thing that jumped out at me is how unafraid Santa and his wife looked. Years ago my son, Andy, and I were in a much smaller bucket at a summer festival along the waterfront in Washington, North Carolina. We went up only as high as a telephone pole but I never let go of my death grip on the side of the bucket, knowing that every slight wiggle meant we would be soon crashing to our deaths.
But, apparently unafraid, Santa and Mrs. Claus were not holding onto the bucket but were smiling, waving and pointing to whoever was behind the giant window.
Who thinks up such crazy stuff? And how many people does it take to make it happen: how many firefighters were involved and how many police directing traffic; how many hospital personnel does it take to move how many sick kids into a room on the other side of that window? And how many politicians and lawyers had to sign off on it?
I don’t know the number, but I do know that all involved were moved to participate, consciously or unconsciously, by the event we celebrate tonight.
Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is set in motion, unconsciously, by Caesar Augustus, sitting in the imperial palace in Rome, thinking up ways to collect more money to protect his power.
But of course you can trace it even further back two thousand years through Jewish history. And then on back through time until you reach that unimaginable moment, 13.8 billion years ago, when the Love of Triune God irrupts in the Big Bang, which puts in motion the evolution of the universe, in which Love is not only the first cause, but also its inner direction, and final goal.
Paraphrasing the Christmas Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Love, and the Love was with God, and the Love was God. The Love was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Love and without the Love not one thing came into being…. And the Love became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Love’s glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
But then the angel of God announces the good news of the Love’s birth, not to Caesar, or to the High Priest, but to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the dark.
The angel says: “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
In a manger? A feeding trough for livestock? What is Love doing being born in such darkness?
What does this mean?
It means God has become one with us, in our “incomplete, unevolved, immature” lives. Love “took on not merely skin and bones”,…but also our “self-centered programs for happiness held in place by habits and over identification with one’s family, tribe, or nation,” says Father Thomas Keating.
In short, Love enters our narcissism and violence—In order to save us from those powers that grip us.
Most of us in a few hours will sit around a tree surrounded by gifts to be given and received. We will have plenty to eat and drink. We will be full, sated, content. We may, like the inn, have no room for Jesus.
But because we are temporary beings there will come times when the darkness comes upon us. Mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich entered her darkness when she was 30 years old, lying near death in 14th century plague-ridden England. The Crucified Lord appears to her as she lays dying: After recovering she ponders what is the meaning of Christ crucified visiting her: She writes:
I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For Love… So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.
How could it have any other meaning? For the Love is from the beginning, and the Love is the evolutionary goal of the Universe. The coming of Christ is the new Big Bang evolving human consciousness into Christ Consciousness, which alone can save the planet. See Ilia Delio, The Emergent Christ
On this night where is your darkness? What part of your story is less sunny and bright and more bleak mid-winter?
Pulitzer Prize winning author William Styron wrote a brilliant 84 page memoir about his struggle with clinical depression, titled Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. His darkness was an ongoing struggle to desire life over death. Could Love actually be in that darkness?
At the end of his memoir, Styron still knows the darkness, but he also knows hope in the present moment, so he ends his book like Dante ends The Inferno, an account of his tour of hell. You’ll remember Dante starts his journey lost in a dark wood, but when Dante and his guide, Virgil, finally emerge from the darkness of hell into the darkness of earth, Dante tells us,
“And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”
Christmas isn’t about putting up lights to banish the darkness, but to decorate it, to make it luminous, as a sign that even the darkness is full of God. That no matter how hard and confusing things may be, we are not alone. Immanuel, God with us, is leading us into a life of greater Love for all people, everywhere.
It’s not hard to believe in Jesus, “the Love made flesh”, when you see Santa and Mrs. Claus up in the sky, not afraid, encouraging sick kids and their long-suffering parents.
And we remember that every day there are firefighters, police, and hospital workers, along with folks like you and me doing OUR jobs, loving family and strangers alike. We too are living inside a story bigger than ourselves, a story of universal compassion, forgiveness, and justice that continues shining in the darkness, where the proud agents of division, hatred, and violence have not yet awakened to the announcement of the angel and thus are controlled by their fear:
But the angel keeps saying and we keep living:
“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger, and hanging from a cross, and risen from the dead, shining in the darkness of the world so loved by God.”