Christmas Day Reflection

Luke 2: 8-20

In the bleak mid-winter,

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow

on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter,

Long ago.

So begins a Christmas hymn in our hymnal that few of us have probably sung. The first time I sang it in worship, I found the words describing the cold winter’s night of our Savior’s birth haunting. The poetry written by Christina Rossetti creates quite a different sense of that holy night long ago. It conjures up an image of a forbidding coldness like the eternal winter in C S Lewis’ story of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But this harsh imagery of winter only sets the stage for what follows…

Our God, heaven cannot hold

Him,

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee

away

When he comes to reign;

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable sufficed

The Lord God incarnate,

Jesus Christ.

Christmas is the amazing story of God working out his purpose through the ordinary means of flesh and blood. The great God of the cosmos descends the stairway of heaven and the Lord God incarnate is among us. The incarnation is one of faith’s great mysteries. Who can begin to grasp the fullness of this “soul-stirring, heart-warming, intellectual challenging” and surprising, tender movement by God to stoop down from heaven to be Emmanuel, God with us?

Angels and arch-angels

May have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim

Thronged the air;

But his mother only,

In her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved,

With a kiss.

Christmas is about the wonder of a child. You pick a baby up and cradle it in your arms, and your heart swells. With each new birth, life is changed; it will never be the same again. What was true for Mary is true for every parent.

At our “Homemade Nativity” Christmas Eve service yesterday afternoon, mothers and fathers brought their little children to be part of a worship service that was like a big birth party for Jesus. There was holy chaos as the children enacted the Christmas story in a wonderfully participatory and symbolic way. There was Mary and Joseph and the three wise men there of course. But in this version of the story, the children were given the opportunity to choose a part for themselves. There were many shepherds and numerous angels as well as kids dressed up as cows and sheep and a donkey. Some of the children put hats on their heads – construction worker hard hats, baseball caps, a fireman’s hat and cowboy hats – demonstrating just how everyone – people from all walks of life – are included in God’s kingdom that Jesus inaugurated here on earth.

You could see joy and excitement and wonder in the eyes of the children as they milled around the manger to find their place and to sing songs.

The truth is, children are so much better at the wonder of Christmas than we adults. For many of us, as we have grown older and gone through the experiences of life, the mystery of the Christmas story has become dulled. We know too much. We have seen too much CNN. Christmas comes and goes each year, and then…well, its over until next December. And so we tend to stand at a distance from this glorious story.

Einstein wrote, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” And I suspect there is a part of each of us, maybe for some buried deep down in your subconscious, that longs to return to the wonder of Christmas we have left behind. A hope somewhere deep inside so precious you are afraid to even admit it exists.

Well on this Christmas Sunday morning, I want to invite you to again enter into the mystery of this sacred story. To listen…and to imagine…and to let go…by revisiting the meaning of Christmas through the familiar words of carols we love to sing in this season.

How silently, how silently,

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of his heaven.

No ear may hear His coming

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive

Him,

Still the dear Christ enters in.

Christmas is the story of a surprising God who comes quietly into the world, and also quietly into your life and mine. The carols that we know so well express the theology of Christmas eloquently. Through the power of music and poetry, they disarm our knowing resistance and allow us to experience the holiness of this sacred story.

Born in the night, Mary’s Child,

A long way from Your home;

Coming in need, Mary’s Child,

Born in a borrowed room.

Every birth is a God story – your birth, your children’s’ birth, your grandchildren’s birth. Each a miracle of life…but Jesus’ birth gives meaning to all the rest. The Great Creator places the little Christ child in our arms and says, “Here – this is the meaning of love.”

Hope of the world, Mary’s Child,

You’re coming soon to reign;

King of the earth, Mary’s Child,

Walk in our streets again.

Christmas is about the hope of something better coming into being. A world of beauty and harmony, of the lion lying down with the lamb, of a great light shining on all the people who have walked in darkness.

A week ago, Susan Bottum and a group of us drove down to St. Gregory’s Episcopal Boys School, one of our church’s outreach agencies and a partner this year for Children’s Ministries. We brought with us a lighted Christmas tree that we decorated with ornaments that our KUC children had helped to make. As we gathered in the hallway, we met some neighbors from Holy Comforter across the street who also help to support the mission of the school. Then we all went into a classroom to watch a Christmas pageant put on by the kindergarten and first grade classes. The program was wonderful. The children said their memorized lines and sang their songs with great gusto. And they treated us to a very rockin’ Christmas song none of us had ever heard before. St. Gregory’s is located in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. To get there, I drove on Cermak Avenue past abandoned, boarded up buildings. It was a cold, bleak looking street. But within the walls of the school, sitting there with teachers and some of the children’s parents, we shared in

God’s dream of a better world that came down in Bethlehem that first Christmas – a world where the light of caring and faith continues to push back the darkness.

O Little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and

dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all

the years

Are met in thee tonight.

Christmas is about the light of hope and the silence of expectancy. Years and years ago, a light was born in the dead of winter. And that light was the Christ child who became our salvation. Salvation from purposeless, meaningless lives. Salvation from our insecurities and fears. Salvation from our loneliness and broken dreams. The promise of salvation for the whole world.

It came upon a midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the

earth,

To touch their harps of gold;

“Peace on the earth, good will to

all,

From heaven’s all gracious King.”

The world in solemn stillness lay,

To hear the angels sing.

Edmund Sears wrote these words in 1849 as the clouds of a civil war to come were darkening the horizon of the United States. It is a most unusual Christmas hymn in that there is no mention of Christ or his mission, only the angelic response to his birth that heralded peace on earth.

Christmas is about God’s dream of a world at peace. A future day that only God can envision when, “the nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”…and there will be peace in Iraq (and our troops can return home to their families), peace in the Middle East, peace in Chechnya, peace in Darfur. A hoped for world in which there will be no more warfare.

Peace on earth is also emblematic of forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace for you and me in our lives. Peace that heals and brings together. Peace that reunites.

Is peace possible? We certainly hope so. We pray it be so. Christmas invites us to dream that the impossible can happen. And so we join with the angel chorus…

Sing choirs of angels,

Sing in exaltation!

Sing all ye citizens of heaven

above!

Glory to God, all glory in the

highest!

O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord!

When we give voice to the angel’s song of Christmas, we stand at heaven’s door. Every time we retell the story and sing the carols, Christ comes closer. If we dare to let our hearts be open to the beauty and promise and hope of this incredible story, our response can only be to seek to give back.

What can I give Him

Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would

bring a lamb

If I were a wise man, I would

do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him:

Give my heart.

Christmas is about recognizing the gift of God in Jesus Christ that we have received and opening our heart in response that God’s love can be born within us again and again. May it be so for you and me.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. .