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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve
Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Every year we re-tell that same story … we sing it in our carols, we might arrange it on our mantle-pieces, or build it life-size and flood-light it outdoors … we gather around it like we do this evening and hear it read. Bringing our imaginations to it we might even see our breath out in the hills beneath that diamond studded sky, or feel the desperation rising as every door shuts in our face knowing we need somewhere safe and sheltered NOW!
Every year we tell it just the same … as though it matters somehow, that in that little baby born in that humble smelly barn God came to our world in a new way that night.
Every year we tell it just the same … as though it was true somehow.

As 21st century people we might well dare ask, “what’s it to us now?” Before we tell it again because that’s just what people --at least some people-- still do on Christmas Eve, why would it matter? What’s it to us now?

I want to tell you a story of how I first came to know how true this story really is.

It was a day in January in Ottawa in 1983 … but who knows when it really all began … for these things are likely germinating for some time before they ever break to the surface.
January 1983, I’m in my early 20’s. For years there’s been this question that has stood like a great boulder in the way:  if there is a God of love, how can there be suffering in the world? To me, the one naturally negates the other … if there is a God of love, there should be no suffering; if there is suffering, there can be no God of love. And clearly as I saw it, there was plenty of suffering. Meanwhile I’m growing up in a home with parents for whom the Christian faith is central and alive -- they’re not oblivious to the pain of the world, nor are they saccharin people! My regard for them and their way of being in the world allows me to imagine that maybe there’s something about this Christian faith I’m not getting … something yet to dawn on me … so without turning my back on the whole thing, I hang around the edges of church.

So then, here I am in my early 20’s and I’m in the midst of this personal crisis. Reaching the end of being able to sweat it out on my own, I screw up the courage to make an appointment to talk with the minister at the church I was attending. I had heard her speak a number of times and appreciated the way she so candidly wrestled with real life questions and faith, together.
The morning of the appointment comes … I actually show up! And I put it out there, what I’m dealing with. I have no memory at all of the content of the conversation …whatever Sharon said, I haven’t a clue. What sticks to this day though is the profound experience of compassion … the way I was received so completely.

It was as I was walking back home that it somehow dawned on me that what happened there was Christ in our midst! Somehow I just knew to name it as that. And then it further came to me “Oh!! This is how there can be suffering and a God of love in the world at the same time … God enters into the suffering of the world in and through human beings -- in this case through the person of Sharon -- to heal and to gentle, to transform the suffering. This is the Jesus story! I thought …God’s love embodied -- coming to light right there through Sharon.”
By now my feet are barely touching the ground … I’m floating all the way home … that boulder that stood in the way is no more … there’s this amazing sense of break-through. Not just in an intellectual “now I understand” kind of way … but as well in a ‘deep down, something powerful has come home to me’ way -- a way that, over the next few days, triggered the rearranging of my life! If God enters into the suffering of the world through human beings … this then is why I am here … to bear the love of God … to be a means for God’s liberating love to touch and transform places of suffering.

Did I at the time connect that experience with the story of this night?
No. I was just this young woman in Ottawa who was trying to find her way … who, in the struggle and messiness of life, was met so unexpectedly by a searing love, that flooded her world with light, with insight and joy and purpose. And even more or all tangled up with that is what it was to be found … me --little young me in this big wide world-- found! met, touched, called into this wild unfolding of divine wisdom where Word becomes Flesh … where the power of God’s love is embodied … life-giving love brought close, in and through human flesh, human encounter.

Now, of course, I see it … the heart of the story we tell tonight, it’s there, played out all over again … and repeated, I’m guessing, a gazillion times over in a gazillion different ways … this drawing near of the presence of God to our particularity, opening wide our hearts, our ears, our eyes, that we become recipients and bearers of a love that reaches wide, and wider still.

So here’s the thing about this story we gather around tonight …
It keeps on happening … this life-changing love being born into our world … born into our world in and through Jesus, whose way and Spirit among us stirs up the embers of that powerful love within the lives of ordinary people, like me and you … such that we find ourselves moved to reach out in generosity and care, or to stand in solidarity in the face of fear or hatred, or extend mercy where harshness or calamity threaten to destroy. It keeps on happening … this bodying forth of God’s love in the places where it is needed.  This is the night we peer into the manger and see how much the holy child looks just like us!

This is the night we lean into the mystery of God-with-us … whatever that might come to mean for us and for our world!
This is the night we let go in wonder … and take our lead from the shepherds and make a move, trusting a powerful great goodness indeed has come into the world … and our part is to receive and to share in it that it might become us … and we become it … so powerful a love.

“Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.

Perhaps it takes
a lifetime
to open our eyes
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us -- …

the love 
so searing
we cannot keep
from singing,
from crying out
in testimony
and praise. …
Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
over which
the dawn breaks. …

Perhaps this day
the light begins
in us.” [1]

Merry Christmas everyone!

[1] Jan Richardson, “Where the Light Begins,” in Circle of Grace, Orlando: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015