Friday, December 24, 2004

Some years I am brimming over with Christmas cheer - the friends, the family, the presents, the love - overflowing. This year for some reason - there is a tinge of sadness and melancholy in the midst of it all. Maybe I have been listening to the news too much or hearing of too many events that I cannot do anything about. Maybe it is because a good friend died on St. Nicholas Day. Maybe is it the mess in Iraq.

I don’t feel ready for Christmas even though all the presents are purchased and some are even opened (Jim and I had a bit of early Christmas today). But ready or not - here it is! Tonight we gather to hear the story and live again the miracle of God being born in our midst. God who loves us and joins us in our human journey - birth, life, death. All the wonder and suffering that it is to be human. Emmanuel - God with us. With us and for us. The beginning of our journey, the journey itself and the end of our journey - in whom we live and move and have our being. As St. Patrick says, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of friend and stranger.”
(Hymnal #370)

John Shea says the signs of Christmas remind us that regardless of the state of our lives and the world - the promise of hope is always there. The star - stars are the most amazing things - I love to go out on a winter night and see the universe - I feel like I could almost fall off the world into the brightness. Yesterday I went out before dawn and saw a man made star tracking across the sky - for 4 minutes I watched (in my down robe and a blanket wrapped around me) as the Space Station trekked its way from NW to NE - two astronauts - one from Russian and one from the US - an amazing sign for someone who grew up when Russia was our enemy and fear ruled in our country. Now we journey through the universe together - who would have thought it could happen? At Jesus birth - the star marked the place where love could bring strangers together - Magi - scientists of their day, from another religious tradition, beautifully dressed with lovely gifts, shepherds - looked down upon by “nice” people - scruffy and somewhat scary, living in the fields with their sheep, a rough crowd, Angels - messengers from another realm of creation, singing with the songs of the universe, dancing in from the stars. Joseph - following his dreams, Mary - young girl whose heart was open to the will of God. All these people who would never be found together except by a miracle and the star shows us the way in the darkest of nights.
The tree - evergreen. No matter how cold the winter - its branches hold the promise of new life and green springtime. Wildlife gathers for shelter under its branches, cones provide food, and we bring them into our homes and churches to remember that even in the coldest of times - life continues.
The baby - born in less than ideal surroundings - typical of the birth of many children around the world. Babies come regardless of circumstance - rich or poor, in a hospital or in a manger, always with the same message - that God has not yet given up on us. And this particular birth makes all births holy - filled with the promise that love can overcome everything else and that the arc of justice bends towards earth - this child who will live into the fullness of who he was created to be - who shows us the way to live into the fullness of who we are created to be - who reminds of the fact that angels sang at our birth too - with our own special song. Can we hear it? In moments of despair and moments of joy - listen. Listen to the Angels singing sweetly over the earth - you are my beloved child and with you I am well pleased.

My favorite Christmas story is of a man who was having a terrible time in his life - he was probably going to lose his job, he had just had a big fight with his spouse, his daughter was in Iraq. It was not a good time for him. He decided to go out for a walk. As he walked through the falling snow - damp cold sifting down the back of his neck - head down, trudging along. The stores were alight with Christmas - bright icicles of tiny white lights, multi-colored strands of fat bulbs, gifts displayed in tinsel and a riot of red, green, blue, and silver. He saw none of it - so immersed was he in his troubles and the bad news of the world. Out of the corner of his downcast eyes he saw a manger scene, something about it made him stop. It was a big full-sized one - the figures gathered around - a fearsome angel, scruffy shepherds, Magi in all their royal garb, cattle, sheep, camels, and of course Joseph and Mary. Suddenly he became aware that there was no Christ Child in this scene - instead all the figures were gazing out with that sappy look adults reserve for babies - that aaahhh - isn’t that a wonderful child look. But instead of looking at a baby they were all looking at him. He was the beloved child - he is the one for which the whole world is waiting. He was filled with the love of that moment. His life had not changed but his world had.

In the words of another hymn by Christina Rossetti (Hymnal #84)
Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine
love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.

Look around for the signs of hope and have a Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"Are you ready for Christmas?" This question seems to have replaced the "How are you?" as the question for this time of year. It seems to require just a simple "yes" or "no" but for me it is a dilemma. As a Christian, an Episcopal priest, a mother, grandmother, wife, etc. it causes me to review all the various layers of Christmas and often paralyzes my response. Yes, I am ready - presents are purchased and mailed (online shopping and shipping makes this easy if I can just get an idea of what people want) and my Christmas letter is written even if it is not printed and mailed yet and may not be even with 12 days of Christmas. Yes and No as a priest - the service bulletins are typed and being printed (I hope) but I do not have more than a few glimmerings of what will be in my sermon. No - as a Christian - I am never ready for the amazing gift of the incarnation - God being born in our midst. Were Mary and Joseph ready? Mary - a young woman (almost a girl, perhaps) - on the road, hoping to find shelter before the baby is born, pregnant - God knows how - and with a promise but not much else. Joseph - old? young? - a wife, pregnant not by him, taking her on a trip because the Emperor does worry about the lives of his subjects or the inconvenience he is causing. Totally not ready for what is to be the first Christmas. Am I ready - ready to have God born in me this night - as we sing in O Little Town of Bethlehem? Is there space in my life for God who is going to be as demanding as a newborn? who reminds me that all people are created in the image of God? (even "those" people), who will call me to seek justice for all people? to live in the world with compassion towards all (interesting that word compassion - in the Hebrew the root is womb of God), to love my neighbor as myself? Am I ready for the outpouring of Love into my life - a love that is not bribed or purchased, but surrounds us and dwells in the spaces between us - in whom we live and move and have our being? No - not ready - but God like some wild child playing tag with us says "ready or not - here I come" and when we are caught we know we are "IT" -- captured by LOVE.
Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine,
love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign. Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)