Sermon Christmas Eve 2021 Luke 2:1ff Deep Breaths Rev. Betsy Hogan
It's a funny thing, isn't it. We know it's just a date on the calendar, Christmas. We might even know, if we've done even the least bit of reading about Christmas traditions, that it only landed on the calendar where it did, not even REMOTELY in relation to anyone actually knowing the date of Jesus' birth –
but solely as a quite clever absorption of pre-existing European celebrations of the Winter Solstice. The return, the restoration, the rebirth of the light, after the Longest Night.
So it's just a date on the calendar. And we know that. And yet – especially when AGAIN we may find ourselves working hard to convince ourselves of that – reorganizing our plans and our various bubbles so that now it's going to be "Christmas" on Boxing Day, or the 28th, or sometime in January, or who really knows...
Still, there's something that lingers about the day, the date, itself. That feels not quite right if we try to imagine it as ordinary.
Because there's something about special days that defies that attempt to be rational. Archaeology reveals and anthropology confirms that in every culture and in every age and in every corner of the globe, we’ve set apart days. We've gathered up specialness as a human family, we’ve wrapped it in garlands and lit it up with lights, we’ve held it together with rituals and traditions – we’ve set apart days. As special. Circled them on the calendar. And filled them with meaning.
We’ve made them holy. Hallowed them with that sense of specialness. And that’s good and it’s right. Even if sometimes it causes sadness.
Because the hard bit is that it DOES do. It does sometimes cause sadness. We’ve gathered together so carefully all that’s best and all that’s most beautiful and most perfect and most hoped for and we’ve laden down THIS DATE on a calendar with a whole human yearning for the uplifting hallowedness of grace –
And then any wrongness hurts more. It’s not rational, it just is. It’s like an unacceptable moral misstep on the part of the universe. Which should be expected to be dependable in this regard, recognizing that it’s Christmas. And everything should be good.
There’s an irksomeness about it, about any wrongness busting into it. Which is at once ridiculous – it's just a date on a calendar – but the same time actually makes total sense.
Because in fact we get to think there are special days that we can depend on for specialness. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, they can hurt and they can hurt more, and we can find ourselves feeling betrayed by a wrongness at a special time of year that just seems beyond emotionally acceptable, but we get to have days we hallow with an expectation of specialness. It IS good and right.
Because it reminds us to pause the ordinary. Even just briefly. Even if we've declared the vast majority of the specialness of the season to be a moveable feast – Christmas in January, Christmas whenever –
Still, the calendar beckons us, however briefly, to pause the ordinary. To hear again a story that in its very unfolding wraps us -- again -- in what's essential, in what's at the heart of our humanness and our faithfulness. To hear again a story that in its very unfolding wraps us -- again -- in all the first principles that we know are what grounds us. What we’re meant to be about, in this one wild and precious life we’re granted.
To be reminded there’s no Christmas without a young woman's passionate willingness to sacrifice her own comfort and security for the greater good. There’s no Christmas if the man to whom she’s betrothed isn’t able to understand and accept that embracing humility isn’t about humiliation, but it about love.
There’s no Christmas if the family who are told they don’t count unless they go back where they came from, are made space for. And then there’s no room in the inn, but they’re made space for. Where they can rest.
There’s no Christmas if the grace doesn’t stretch to embrace the poorest, the shepherds. If the light doesn’t reach beyond borders to wise men in faraway lands. There’s no Christmas if there’s no safe haven when violence is threatened. If escape hits a wall and there’s no refuge across the border.
This Christmas story itself as it unfolds every Christmas Eve, it draws us back and it attaches us fast to what we know is the best of who we are as a human family and what we’re meant to be about. The once-for-all-time of Godness incarnate, born into the world in the infant Jesus, is itself a story of goodness becoming incarnate, embodied, real, in our own lives.
So Christmas Eve is special and holy and hallowed. It’s a night to pause the ordinary, however briefly, to feel the closeness of the veil lifted, and the Love within, and all the strength of the hope for a fractured world –
But it’s also just simpler than that. It’s a night for deep breaths of a familiar story that every year reminds us afresh of the goodness we know is in us. The best of who we are. The first principles we know we’re made for, in the one wild and precious life we’re granted. The listening, the care, the welcome, the grace, the courage and the kindness and the love.
Mary, the story tells us, as all of it unfolded around her, she pondered all these things in her heart. On this date? It doesn't matter. And yet, yes. On Christmas Eve. On this holy night. Amen.