Again, A Meditation for Christmas Eve

(**This meditation was inspired by Bishop Will Willimon’s column Christmas: Herod in Trouble)

Well, here we are, and it’s Christmas Eve, again.

15622100_10154798199711798_3402226716789131753_nOn the edge of yet another year, we hear the ancient story read, picture a peace-filled stable scene, and open our hearts to hope that all that sweetness we imagine in the story’s retelling will be the order of the day for us all.  Maybe for one night we can block out all we know to be true: the despair of our world, the groaning of our planet, the hatred and political divisiveness in our country, even our own broken hearts—just block it all out and immerse ourselves in the story we’ve heard every year for our whole lives.  Again.

But this year in particular we need to listen up, listen closely, to remember the circumstances surrounding this story.  Born into a foreign-occupied region to parents herded from their homes to be registered at the direction of the government, this little one came into the world with the hard labor of an unmarried teenager squatting on the dirt-packed floor of a filthy stable, and he was visited by common laborers and foreigners who practiced another religion altogether.

This is not as sweet of a story as we’d like to think.

It seems to me that as we hear this story again this night, we cannot afford to forget that this is one of the most political stories in our entire faith tradition.  Recall Matthew’s account of the wise men’s visit: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened.”

While we gather tonight to tell this story again, our world and our country are in chaos.  Millions of impoverished suffer with the effects of climate change.  While we light candles and sing carols, families who have lost everything huddle in the bombed out rubble of Aleppo, wondering if relief will ever come.  And we have elected a president whose words devalue women and people of color; who scoffs at the increasing crisis of our planet; who speaks openly of registering our Muslim brothers and sisters; and who makes light of his plans to reengage a nuclear arms race.  How can we gather here with all of that in our minds and hearts, and not feel afraid?

But listen again.  If fear is all we feel, we are missing the power of this story.

Tonight we hear the story of a baby’s birth, and it’s not we who should be afraid.  Instead, the powers that seek destruction and preach division are shaking in their boots at its very telling.  Because this is a story of the birth of love, the strongest power of all, the promise that God is with us.

And when those of us who tell the story of the baby’s birth walk with courage into the year ahead insisting that Black Lives Matter…

Herod is afraid.

When we protest the destruction of our earth and resist policies and laws that lead us further toward global warming and no future at all for our children…

Herod is afraid.

And when we line up to be registered along with our Muslim brothers and sisters, because we will not stand for this kind of hatred and profiling to be part of who we are as Americans…

Herod is afraid.

When we raise our voices, and gather together, and protest a national stance of aggression, violence and destruction, when we say no to refugees drowning and babies dying and our efforts directed toward the proliferation of deadly weapons…

Herod is afraid.

Perhaps you are thinking right about now: “I didn’t come here tonight to hear a political message!  I wanted to hear about sweetness and joy and swaddling clothes and most of all: love.”  It is true: the story of the birth of any baby is a sweet story of hope.  But love…love is something else.

We can’t afford to forget, tonight of all nights, that surrounded by fear and menacing powers, with the pain and exhaustion of hard labor, there was a moment when a teenaged mother and brand new father held a tiny new baby in their arms and felt the deep power of love all over again.  Real love.  Love that does not bow to fear but instead gathers its courage to show up again, again and again and again and again, love that is tenacious and bold, love that will always keep working, and won’t ever give up. It’s love that is born tonight.  Again.

Listen to the words of the poet, May Sarton:

“Christmas 1974”

In the year of the darkness,

In the year of the words,

The millions of words,

Accusing, excusing, breaking,

Demanding, lying, refusing,

In the year of the desert,

In the year of the bombs

When hatred pollutes the air,

What we long for is silence.

There have been so many deaths

But no one funeral,

No way to mark the place,

Set terror at rest, say Finis,

No time for mourning,

No healing zone.

In the year of the failure,

The drying up of waters,

We have been stricken

One by one, as though by plague.

No one sleeps without dread.

Each struggles to survive

Alone, longing,

Deeply afraid in the night.

Even the whales are dying.

Who punishes? Who forgives?

What have we done?

Must we go to Bethlehem,

Make the hard journey again,

Dying of thirst as we are?

Must we go to the place of hatred?

And war without end?

Must it all be done again

From the beginning

After two thousand years?

Yes, sick at heart,

Plagued, lost as we are,

Let us make the hard journey.

Who can be sure?

But perhaps if we go there,

It will happen again,

It will happen to us,

An infant will be born again

Out of blood and on filthy straw.

How naked, how vulnerable,

How desperately in need

This breath between past and future!

The infant Hope.

Or shall we kneel again at last

In the healing hosanna

Of silence?

Yes, let us make the journey.

Perhaps it will happen again.

Tonight, we hear the story of a dark night and a dirty stable, scared young parents, surrounded by societal misfits and weary foreign strangers, and after hard labor…a baby is born again.

And Herod is afraid.

Hear the story again.  And remember that miracles are possible and God is with us and love, love is stronger than fear.

Blessed Christmas.

Amen.