Advent and Christmas might be the most hectic time in the church year. But it can also be the fullest and most blessed. All the serving and sharing, the singing and decorating, the gathering and singing some more…it all leads up to something that feels almost magical, as we gather in a candle-lit, greened up sanctuary on Christmas Eve.
Or i should say, sanctuaries. Because part of the magic of that sacred gathering is knowing that, in sanctuaries all over the world, others gather to sing the same songs, light the same candles, and pray the same desperate kind of hopes that we share in our little spaces.
I’m not going to say that Christmas has no meaning if you greet it alone, or home with your family, or in a hospital room or in a fire station or–God forgive us–if our secular, consumer impulses lead us to the mall on Christmas Eve, and you find yourself having to work late, in order to sell us a last minute iPod or scented lotion basket. For that, we are sorry. I know that God can show up in your life and heart anyway, and do miraculous things that I have not yet dreamed of. Though I hope, next year, we will be a little more considerate in our shopping so that you can greet the Christchild in a place that doesn’t smell like food court hot dogs. And cranberry sparkle lotion.
Anyway…God comes wherever we are: even if we’ve failed to pray the right prayer; even if our gift list and baking duties are unfinished; even if social media got the better of us, and we spent the season in a bitter sniping match over politics, religion, or some unholy combination thereof; even if we are not quite ready, and not quite worthy of the ‘nice’ list; a child is born to us. If we are ready, it will be kind of a big deal. If we miss it, there’s good news–this child is here to stay, and we may still have the chance to meet him, to know him, and to look a little more like him in our words and our deeds and even our purchases.
For the whole rest of the year, you will hear me give witness to the good news that God is not JUST in church–that the secular world holds glimpses of the holy; that following Jesus takes us out into the darkest corners; that faith asks us to bridge the gap between sacred and earthly; and that many folks who do not call themselves believers, live and model our faith far better than we ‘Christians’ manage, even on our best days.
But for tonight–just for tonight–I am here to say that, if you are able, there is no place to be but in church, at Christmastime. There, we give new life to an ancient story, and remember that God’s love is born to the world; we light candles and sing some songs we already know, and we break bread at the table; and we remember that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, our own little families, our own broken stories and fragile bodies. We remember that the hope of the world is just that–it is, in fact, for the whole daggone world, and not just for us anymore–and only then can we know the fullness of joy and peace of Life that is big enough for all the world, yet ready to fit itself in a manger. Let us go and see this thing which the Lord has told us about…let us go and see it in person, with others who believe, and can help us tell the tale.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”