+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Earlier this week, as I was preparing for tonight’s sermon – and by preparing I mean, of course, procrastinating, because like all of you I had ten thousand other things to do and I wasn’t yet ready to handle the big thing at the top of my list – a video came across my Facebook feed that stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps you’ve seen it, too. It was a presentation of a Christmas pageant that purported to be a realistic account of the nativity of our Lord, and it started out the way that many other Christmas pageants do. Mary and Joseph enter the stage and ask an innkeeper if there is any place that they can stay the night, because they expect the baby to be born at any moment. The innkeeper, of course, tells them that there is no room, and at that very moment the scene is rent by cries of pain from the young girl playing Mary. She is ready to deliver the baby, and the rest of the characters jump into action, spouting medical jargon that would be very familiar to anyone who has been in a birthing suite during childbirth. Concerns about hygiene and warmth and all manner of other things crop up over the remainder of the pageant, things that very infrequently make it into our presentations of that night, and frankly, the whole thing seems a little bit irreverent.
But why? Why does presenting this story in a way that more closely mirrors reality produce that kind of reaction in us? Why are we so averse to having that “Silent Night” disturbed by Mary’s pain or Joseph’s panic or the child’s cries? I don’t know for sure, but I have some guesses. One of them is that we have been raised singing songs that sanitize the night of our Lord’s birth. Our memories of this celebration are tied up with the sweet melodies of carols, and the beautiful words that attempt to describe an event that is so incredible that we continue to have trouble wrapping our minds around it. Another is that we have become so caught up in the trappings of the season and our own hectic lives that we yearn for a time of peace and quiet and calm, and the celebration of Christmas is perhaps the one time of year that our culture allows us to muse on those realities without mockery. The last, and perhaps the most significant, is that we seem to have this idea that because God’s ways are higher than our ways, the incarnation couldn’t possible have been as messy as our lives actually are.
If God chose to be born in our world, then it couldn’t have looked the same way as it did when ordinary folks like you and me were born. It’s inconceivable that Christ could have chosen such a birth, a birth that was accompanied by the fear or the anguish or the anticipation or the messiness of human existence. And yet, that’s precisely what happened, and that’s precisely what this event is all about. It’s about God making the choice to fully enter into our world, to leave the place where “all is calm and all is bright” to be present in a world weighed down by “the hopes and fears of all the years”.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t sing our carols. I love “Silent Night” as much as the next guy, and I look forward to singing it by candlelight later in this evening’s service and adding another beautiful memory of this celebration to the ones of years past. But as a father of three young girls who has been kept up many a night by the cries of a sick or scared or restless child, I’m convinced that Christmas is about something more. It’s about the birth of God in Jesus, and the knowledge that Christ is just as present to us in all our not-so-silent days and nights as in those fleeting moments of peace and calm that sometimes descend upon our world. It’s about the birth of God in Jesus, and the conviction that the Christ who was attended by angels and shepherds is attended in our own day by the lonely and marginalized and hurting people of our world. It’s about the birth of God in Jesus, and the promise that in Christ the song of the angels continues to reverberate through our world, cutting into the songs of fear and anger and hostility that are playing on loop around us to sound a note of hope and joy.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer for you this night and throughout the season to come is that you would know once more the joy of Christ’s presence in your midst. May your gatherings be illuminated by the sun of righteousness. May your relationships be leavened by the peace that passes all understanding. May your travels be safe and your homecomings restful. But more than that, may you be reminded all year of God’s grace and love for you and for our broken world, grace and love that flow in and through us, so that every silent night and crazy day will find a measure of hope and peace. Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas to you and your and to our whole world! Amen.