Christmas - Year B2011-12-24
St. James's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
|Let us pray. Loving God, help us to celebrate the birth of Jesus that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate and open the door of love all in our families, our city, our nation and our world. Let kindness come with every gift and good intentions with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessings that Christ brings, and teach us to be joyful. May Christmas morning make us happy to be your children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful hearts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. (Adapted from a prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson)
The most interesting thing that has happened in the Hollerith household this holiday season is that Melissa found Jesus at Home Depot. That’s right. It was quite a revelation. She discovered Jesus, Mary and Joseph – and she liked them so much she brought them home and plugged them in on our front lawn. She loves Christmas kitsch. Imagine my surprise when I came home one afternoon after Thanksgiving and found a large plastic glowing crèche set sitting under my dogwood tree. At first my inner Scrooge emerged and I began to grumble about how much money she probably spent buying a plastic Jesus. But then I just had to laugh. They are a lot of fun and we enjoy having them as conversation piece around the neighborhood.
The problem is, because they are made of hollow plastic, they weigh very little, so at the slightest gust of wind they blow around the front yard. At first I found this incredibly annoying. I'd come home every evening to find Mary and Joseph blown over or the baby Jesus upside down. Mary and Joseph would be all tangled together and it would take me a while to unwind them. One evening as I set about restaging our plastic holy family I thought to myself, thank God they are all connected by the same electric cord or I would be chasing these things all over the neighborhood. Thank God they are all connected.
That’s when it hit me and I had to smile. Of course they are all connected, isn’t that the miracle of Christmas - God comes to us as a human child and forever connects us to the divine and the divine to all of us. The birth of Christ on Christmas morn removes the separation between you and me and God. The infinite becomes finite, hallowing human existence, binding us to one another like some holy and mysterious umbilical cord. As I stood there smiling, untangling the holy family, I realized I had learned something from my plastic Christmas crèche.
Alan Jones, the wonderful preacher and retired dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, once wrote - “Unwrap God’s present to you this Christmas. God’s saving word of love means that each one of us belongs to the Holy Family. The miracle under our noses is that the human race is a family, and not just any family. We are a holy family... It is so simple! At the heart of everything is the woman, the man and the baby. Whether you are married, single, or part of an extended family; whether you are alone and feel bereft— whoever you are, you are well-connected. You were born into God’s holy family, called into being by the divine, ‘I love you.’”
Philosophers say this cannot be, the infinite cannot be finite, the universal cannot be particular. God, if there is a God, cannot be a Jewish baby born to an unwed mother in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. But that’s exactly what Christmas affirms. That’s the story of the baby in the manger. That God came to us – not in some generalized generic form, but so absolutely vulnerably human, just like you and me. Christ becomes one of us so that we might all become part of the body of Christ. It’s scandalous and it’s life saving.
Our lives are tangled together like the Mary, Joseph and Jesus of my crèche set. In-laws, siblings, friends, children – we all have relationships that are often complex and multifaceted. After all, it is a great blessing to have a best friend you can turn to no matter what life throws at you. What could be stronger than the bond of a couple that have weathered 50 plus years together? The gentle touch of a mother’s hand, the comforting words of a caring father – these and so many other things reflect the holy bonds the bind us together. It is true that some of the people we are tangled together with hurt us, disappoint us, and let us down. And we often hurt and disappoint the people we love the most. It’s messy being connected. But the fact remains that we are all connected, not just to one another but also to the God who sends us his son. As a result, it is never too late to revive a friendship, to heal a relationship, to say I’m sorry or to accept another’s forgiveness. We gather together on Christmas with family and friends not only to celebrate but also to renew our bonds, to strengthen our ties, to try again with the people we are bound to. Because of this night, all our bonds are holy bonds, holy connections grounded in the same sacrificial love with which Jesus comes to live as one of us.
Christmas is the length to which God will go to bring us back together. Because of this night the God who shared our flesh, who experienced our joys and sufferings, who walked and lived and died as one of us, lives in every person we meet and he works through every act of loving-kindness. He is present in the friend and the enemy, in the relative and the colleague, in the beloved and the stranger. In the birth of the Christ child heaven touches earth, the Divine becomes - us. He stoops low to raise us up. He esteems the lowly, the sinners, people like you and me. God binds himself to us so that we might discover who we are meant to be. In so doing he teaches us to bind ourselves to one another in peace and love and forgiveness. Tonight we celebrate that the High and Lofty one has become a lowly child. Tonight we give thanks for Immanuel – God with us. Amen.