Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve

Joseph had to make his way to his ancestral home. And I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it. It was long trip. His wife was pregnant. He probably didn’t have a whole lot of cash in his wallet. But the government wanted him where his family tree was planted.

We’re often told that we’re supposed to be “home” for Christmas. But sometimes I wonder just where that should be. As one whose lived in three different provinces, moved into countless apartments and houses, paid rent to way too many landlords, I wonder what “home” really looks like.

Tonight is a reminder that “home” is kind of fluid. It’s not as fixed as we might like to think. Some of us might not even know what we mean by “home.”

Sometimes, by “home” we mean a sense of the familiar, a feeling of safety and security. A place where we can be truly ourselves, we can forget to wipe our feet at the front door. We can belch at the dinner table and someone will still pass us the potatoes, although with a snide remark. Home means stability. A rootedness that we don’t find anywhere else. A connection to our past.

If that’s what we’re looking for then I wonder if Christmas is really the place we find it. Christmas is a story about people on the move. Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to fill out a government form. A baby born in the cheapest and most transient of places, before being shuffled off with his family as refugees to a different country. Few people in Bethlehem that night were born there. Even fewer were there by their own choice.

The shepherds wandered with their sheep from watering hole to watering hole. The three wise men followed a star in search of a king. No one stood still. Everyone moved. Kind of like most of our lives. In constant movement.

Maybe that’s why we’ve tried to nail this story down, plant it firmly beneath our feet. Our lives are in perpetual motion, everything is changing, our world keeps spinning faster and faster and we simply need to take a mental health break, to settle down, kick back and bathe in the familiar for a while, if only to catch our breath.

And even if we find our way “home: for Christmas, “home” might not look as homey as it did last year. A few extra grandkids spilling juice on the new carpet. A bigger turkey to feed the extra mouths. The noise of the football game competing with the Nintendo Wii downstairs.

Or maybe there’s the empty chair at the table, the stocking not filled, the smaller bird to feed fewer mouths. All the Christmas traditions where everyone takes a part is now a more solitary exercise, and the memories that rise up to meet us remind us of who is is not there. Flesh and blood is replaced by ghosts. Impressions. Uninvited silence.

Perhaps this was your best year ever, and the changes in your life were definitely for the better. You finally feel like your life is on track, your health, your relationships, your career have all been enriched in 2009, and you see greater possibilities waiting for you in 2010.

Or maybe this was the year the x-ray found the spot, or your marriage disintegrated, or you lost your job. Maybe this was the year that you suddenly realized that all you worked for all those years was collapsing around your ankles, and there was nothing you could do about it but watch it happen.

Or you could be somewhere in between. 2009 was just another year. 2010 looks like it will be the same old same old that it was the previous decade. The world changes. But does it get any better?

I think it’s appropriate that Christmas comes around the same time as the winter solstice - the darkest time of the year. It was probably planned that way. While we don’t know the exact date that Jesus was born, December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun"), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness" whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true God, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival (Christian History).

But I like to think that December 25 was chosen because the days are starting to get longer after six months of increasing darkness. And with the longer days comes the promise of spring. I think that represents what Jesus has done in the world, bringing hope and light to a dark world. Promising warmth and comfort to a hurting world. A refuge from the world’s pain.

So, “home” could be right here, as we gather hearing God’s saving story. Maybe this is “home.” As Joseph found his home in the city of David, Bethlehem is OUR home. This is Bethlehem - here, now - where the saviour is being born among us, into our dark world. In the best of times and the worst of times, the saviour who was born in a messy world, blesses us and makes us holy. Jesus - Emmanuel - God who is with us - is joined to our darkness so that we would be joined to his light.

Bethlehem is here. Right now. In our lives. Wherever Jesus is being born amidst life’s pain, there is Bethlehem. Wherever God’s kingdom of life, hope, joy, peace, and love find expression, there is Bethlehem. Wherever people think of each other before they think of themselves, there is Bethlehem.

Wherever a prayer is said, whether with a smile or through clenched teeth, with the hope that someone, somewhere is listening, there is Bethlehem. Wherever God is praised with heartfelt joy, or wherever the rumour of God is a hunch, a suspicion that we aren’t alone, a longing to touch the divine, there is Bethlehem. It is there that Jesus is born.

So, maybe we have it backwards. We’re not the ones who are supposed to find our way home on Christmas. In Christmas, Jesus finds a home in us. At Christmas Jesus makes his home in us.

“O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today”

Look to the person on your right. Now look to the person on your left. There is Bethlehem. There is God’s home.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Rhonda said...

Fantastic Christmas message. Thanks for sharing!

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:18 AM  

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