Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve, 7.30 pm

Luke 2
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

What are you doing here?

Looking over the listings for 8 o’clock, you’re missing some pretty good television.

AMC is showing White Christmas (1954), where Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing and save a Vermont Hotel.

Fox is showing Home Alone (1990), a new entrant into the Christmas movie canon, proving that the holidays may be about clever children and bad parenting.

NBC is showing It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), that heartwarming Christmas classic with evil capitalists, fallen angels and the ultimate personality test: where would you rather live, Bedford Falls or Pottersville?

And finally, Showcase is showing Donny Brasco (1997), chosen, I suppose, for the scene where Lefty makes Donnie some braised chicken for Christmas dinner, proving that even the Mob celebrates this time if year.

So, what are you doing here?

There are presents to be wrapped, food to be prepared, lists to be checked, wine to be decanted, decorations to be tweaked, kids to be settled, relatives to be anticipated, cookies to be set out and time found to relax.

What are you doing here?

It’s not like you don’t know the story already. Decree, census, Bethlehem, swaddling cloths, no room, flocks by night, sore afraid, glory to God, and the all the rest. You know this story as well as your own, maybe better. I may not have anything to add, just so you know.

So, what are you doing here?

There’s a low-pressure front coming in from the mid-west. It’s cloudy: The wind will blow at 20 km/h late this evening with a chance of light snow: the temperature steady near zero.

So, what are you doing here?

Maybe you don’t know why you’re here. Maybe I should have hidden your coats before I mentioned weather, chores, and the allure of television. Maybe you’re here because you’re family made you come, and to them I say ‘fair enough,’ because it can’t kill you to come to church on Christmas Eve.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve come to hear some music, and let me tell you, you’re in the right place. We have fine choral music, carols you seldom hear at the mall, and later on something called the “Shoes.” You’re just gonna have to come at eleven to find out about the Shoes.

Maybe, just maybe, you’re here to see your friends. Christmas is all about friends, and family, and the people that bring us joy. Maybe your table will only include two or one, or twenty-one, but for tonight, this is your table, and your family, and the people who treasure you and hold you dear.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve come for the preaching. Really? The preaching? There are more foolish reasons, but I can’t think of them at the moment. Maybe you hope that the old, old story can be retold in such a way that it becomes new for a new time. All I can say is I’ll do my best.

Maybe you’ve heard that church fathers picked the date to supplant a pagan festival, that Jesus is actually the Egyptian God Horus, or that Dan Brown made the whole thing up. All I can say is be careful what you read. Christmas is a miracle, and miracles require belief.

Maybe it’s like the old spiritual: you find meaning or make meaning depending on your circumstances. “Go tell it on the mountain” is a song in the African-American tradition, but it’s also an anthem to freedom (in the Civil Rights era), a song that begins somewhere near the abolition of slavery, or maybe it’s just a well-loved carol. Maybe it’s all those things at once.

I shared two readings tonight, both from Luke, in different formats and in different voices. The second, the most familiar, is the Linus reading of shepherds and angels. But the first, the one we read together, is the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, that takes its title from Mary’s own words:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

‘Generations will call me blessed, and holy is his name.’ We name her blessed indeed, mother of our Lord, and messenger to those in need of hope: the proud will be scattered in the thoughts of their hearts, the powerful will be pulled from their thrones, the lowly exalted, and the hungry filled with good things.

If you’re thinking this sounds more like revolution than Hallmark card, you would be right. Incarnation, God’s entrance into human living, is nothing short of a divine revolution. It is an event that redefines the relationship between God and God’s people, it reinterprets human history, and reveals the true nature of God: no longer aloof to our living, willing to enter and experience every moment of human life, even unto death, even death on a cross.

Tonight is a revolutionary night, and all of you are revolutionaries. You have come to see the child that was foretold, a baby and yet a king, a human child and God-most-high. You have come to see for yourselves God’s desire to be with us in a new way, in the past and for all time.

You are spiritual revolutionaries, willing to name yourselves among his followers, fellow seekers, alive to the message of star and manger and angel voices: that God is here, born to Mary, and born for us once more. Amen.


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