Sunday, December 24, 2006

Eve of the Nativity - Year C

Is it just me, or did people start celebrating Christmas early this year? I’m not talking about usual suspects, like folks at the Mall who put up tinsel and Christmas trees just as they’re putting away the Vampire masks, taking down the over-sized spider webs, and chucking the left-over candy that didn’t make their way into Halloween bags.

Or the Christmas-crazy neighbour who leaves his lights on twelve months of the year, regardless of threats and hostile phone calls. You expect that sort of stuff.

I’m talking about folks who, this year started blasting Christmas music in their homes on November 12, instead of the usual December 1, while their neighbours flicked the lights on that evening.

Why can’t we wait? What’s the hurry? Why is Christmas such a big deal, even to those for whom Christmas is simply office parties, gifts, and turkey?

We say that Christmas is for children, but I think it’s more about childlikeness than childhood. Even those who don’t believe in Jesus, or don’t know if they believe in him, or wish they could believe in him, Christmas holds something, but we have trouble saying exactly what that something is.

I think it’s too easy to say that we’re simply childhood nostalgia junkies, although I’m sure that’s part of it. I had some really good Christmases as a child and some Christmases that I’d rather forget. Maybe we come to see the candles gently push away the darkness. Maybe we come to listen to the calm and hushed silence. Maybe we come to bathe ourselves in the familiar. Familiar songs. Familiar carols. Familiar stories. When everything in the world seems alien.

When we are nostalgic for childhood, I don’t think it’s because childhood was such a fabulous time, but because we remember when the world was still new, and life brimmed with hope and expectation. Childhood reminds us when our mistakes didn’t cripple us, when we were not too wounded to look forward to the next day, when tomorrow was bright with possibility.

At Christmas we see the hope to become new – to leave a jaded, cynical existence behind – to see in the promise of a new born child, the promise made to us as well.

Sometimes when we tell the Christmas story, we dwell on the power and glory so much that we drain the flesh and blood from the story, which I think misses the whole point of what God is trying to tell us.

I think the point of the story is hidden in the manger, reaching out for his mother’s milk and soiling his diapers; whose newborn cries are God’s unexpected response to our cries: our cries for help, our cries for healing, our cries for peace.

Because what if it was left up to us? Or left up to you?

What would you do if you had to clean up the mess we human beings have made? How would you deal with war, violence, anger, corruption? How would you deal with fear of the future, destroyed relationships, or ravaging diseases? How would you deal with terrorism, fanaticism, or fundamentalism?

Would you send in the tanks? Would you break out the big guns? Would you launch the missiles?

Would you stage a protest demanding the government adopt your agenda? Would you picket outside of Wal-Mart insisting they take on your faith language? Would you rally the troops, get out the vote; make sure your voice is heard?

Would you send a baby? A helpless child completely dependant on those he came to save?

That doesn’t sound like a smart move, does it? At least by any human standard. But that’s the way God does things. Somehow in the worship of that child and in the celebration of his birth, everything else seems to fall away. Come, look at the baby! Forget your greed, your pride, your sin, your grief, and your shame; forget your failure, your illness, your loneliness, come gather around the baby. In the birth of the newborn child, you too, can be born anew.

You too, can be carried away in the care and love of this baby, for that’s what God wants you to do. It is God’s hope, that in all the oooing and ahhhing over this baby, this child born in a manger, that we might learn to oooo and ahhh over all the babies in the world, and to ooo and ahhh over the big baby inside all of us, waiting for everything old to become new again.

By pouring the wonder and glory of God into the baby, Jesus, God invites us to see with new eyes – to see within each other and within ourselves the preciousness of life. Life is always God’s response to death. Through Jesus’ birth, may you know that YOU have been born at the right time, and so learn to see and live the preciousness of life around you and within you.

This is how God sees you – precious and holy. And in giving us the gift of Jesus to transform our vision, our lives, our world, God invites you to see yourselves and others as precious and holy as well.

So maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just seeing things. Maybe people always start their Christmas celebrations early and I’ve just noticed it now.

But as I look back at it, if someone needs a message of newness and holiness to fill their air in their house, then maybe its never to early. Maybe its something that God is asking us to do all the time – remember Jesus, remember that small, vulnerable child born in a barn; and in doing so, we remember that we are precious and holy.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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