Christmas Eve. 10 PM. Service and Communion.

Christmas Eve   Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Gathered as we are tonight, it’s not the first Christmas Eve that the world is in such turmoil. There have been other exceedingly frightful times when people like us, and not so like us, have gathered, sensing the world --their personal or wider world -- teetering on disaster. Which is not to make light of the seriousness of our own time. Without me having to list them, we know too well the tragic losses, the horrors that cause us to tremble or weep or sink into despair.

So here we are tonight … many of us haunted by the fear that we have gone too far, yet hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe there is still some possibility of redemption. We come into this place this evening where the story of this night, set in another dark time, takes us into a crude animal shelter where we are met by a tiny, vulnerable new born baby. Well, what hope is that? … what good it this for the life of the world?

If we were to stay with the story of this child, we would discover that what meets us here, tonight, is something revolutionary in the quiet. If instead of walking away despondent, we were, with the likes of the shepherds, to enter that unlikely birthing room and not worry about dung on our feet and straw sticking to our knees, and we bend low to see this vulnerable baby, we would be looking “level eyed into the face of God”! [1] If we stay with the story of this child, we find out that this is God’s Word of Love come to us in flesh … the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God in the beginning … the Word that fired the universe into being, that from the beginning desired life in relationship … this Word of Love now shows up in human form … climbing into our skin, to share with us the fullness of our humanity.

There in vulnerable flesh, God’s life-creating Word of Love greets us tonight … announcing “I am with you … I am with you … I am with YOU!”

If we stay with the story of this Jesus child, we will eventually see him embody and hear him say some of the most outrageous, revolutionary things:
“don’t be afraid; follow me;
what do you want me to do for you;
let anyone without sin cast the first stone; come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest; love your enemies;
you will do even greater things than me;
you feed them;
Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing; Peace be with you!”

If we stay with the story of this Jesus child, not only will we learn from him the way of love -- what it looks like, how it works its way out in our tender vulnerable flesh, how it makes its way into the most unlikely places. Not only will we learn from him the way of love.  What we will discover is that finally this love is more enduring than we ever thought possible … such that not even the worst violence we commit will ultimately finish it, destroy it.

And the wonder that greets us tonight, if we were to stay with the story of this Jesus child, is perhaps even more wild than that!

Back to that moment when in that stable we stoop low to look level-eyed into the face of God … what we are given to see is not something unrecognizable, but an uncanny resemblance to ourselves!  This is what comes to break through to us tonight: just when we imagined ourselves too far gone, in touch as we are with our human capacity to inflict such harm on one another, on ourselves, on the planet, on the heart of God … Jesus comes to reveal us to ourselves! … to give us to see the image of God in ourselves.

“Born to save us” we find ourselves singing in some of our Christmas carols … save from the same root as in the word salve … as in soothe, heal. He comes to restore us, to re-turn us to our God-given selves. He comes to ignite in us our deepest essence … our capacity to bear the beams of Love. He comes as one of us that we might see and know again our worth!

You see, the real reason for the season is not Jesus, all by himself, but the revelation of this great love embedded in human flesh … this love that by its very nature won’t be contained but pushes out, finds its way into some of the most unlikely places -- crude and violent places-- that they might become places of holy encounter.

Here’s just one sampling of such a thing … one person’s recent experience:

“ Today,” he writes, “I helped distribute gift bags to all the inmates at the state prison. Nine of us greeted them, and gave them the packages, and we all shook their hands. All 1380 of them. To greet 1380 people, to encounter such a wave of humanity, eye to eye, hand to hand, hit me deeply. They were in all states of age, race, health, stature and personality. Some were meek, some imposing; some fit and some in shambles, some appreciative and some aloof.  But they are all neglected, condemned, and treated as less than human. One guy said, ‘This is the only touch of normalcy all year.’  It took us a couple of hours, but for each of them it lasted less than twenty seconds.

As they filed by one by one and I greeted them and shook their hands I wished I could pack so much more blessing and hope and dignity and the promise that God is with them than was possible in one quick, “God bless you.” (How powerful a single moment can be!) I prayed that somehow they might even unconsciously behold some grace, experience some love.
It was like serving communion: one after another of God's beloved people coming by, each with their own story, needs, wounds, sins and gifts, each getting a little symbolic gift in a brief holy moment, a gift of pure love no matter their past. You hope they get it.

Joseph was asked to trust that Mary's child was of God. We too are asked to trust that God is present and at work in everyone we meet.  I know a few of these guys have done terrible things. But God is still in them. They still have something holy going on in them. Everyone has a “holy child” inside. Everyone. Some of us are pretty rough mangers. But the child is holy. Few know it. But all are longing to know. Every holy child is longing to be loved.” [2]

These encounters that reveal and reflect the truth of the beloved … they are happening everywhere --not only but perhaps most especially in the most unlikely places … among the white helmets in Syria, those brave men and women who wade into the wreckage to care for the dead and the wounded; among those fearlessly speaking out against the poisoning of bees; among those who dare show up at a neighbour’s door when tragedy has struck so very close to home.
This is the thing about the mystery we celebrate tonight: it keeps on happening … this life-changing love being 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 let go in wonder … and take our lead from the shepherds and make a move, trusting a powerful great goodness indeed is pulsing in and through God’s earthy material 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.

[1] Anonymous, Prayer #14, in the Christmas collection, Bread of Tomorrow - prayers for the church year, edited by Janet Morley, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1992, p 45

[2] Steve Garnaas Holmes, “Holy Child,” posted on Unfolding Light