Christmas Eve Sermon-Luke 2:1-20
So on Thanksgiving morning…my phone buzzed in my pocket…I looked at it thinking it might be a text from one my family members who was descending on our home for this year’s Thanksgiving Festivities…but when I looked at the phone, it was one of those CNN pop up news alerts that said something like “latest CNN/ORC Poll…61% of all Americans are concerned about political conversations among family members at their Thanksgiving meals.” Now I don’t know if I much trust polls these days…but that sounded about right to me. Though my own family is pretty good about not mixing politics and pleasure, I have to admit, if being honest, that I had my own concerns about nerves being frayed a bit, being a politically diverse family…as so many are, about what our own experience might be like…at our first post-election family gathering. I am very happy to report that our own gathering avoided any awkward moments or heated debates. Instead, we gathered around the table, enjoyed good food and drink, lovingly prepared…we laughed…we told stories…we prayed…we gave thanks to God for our shared life…and we offered for all to hear our own individual thanksgivings…those things for which we are indeed most grateful to God…like health and a roof over our heads…and enough food to eat…and most of all…perhaps on everyone’s list…was thanks for our family…for these essential relationships in which we experience most profoundly something of God’s love…as it flows from God to us…and then between each other…flesh and blood humans. My Uncle David, my mother’s brother…was with us…for the first time in a long time. He gave thanks with a tear in his eye for meeting 4 of his great nieces and nephews, including my two daughters, for the very first time…he had never had children of his own…so this was as close as it will be for him to have grandchildren of his own…as he shared this sincere feeling from a deep place of gratitude and love…there really wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Best-selling author and Research Professor at the University of Houston, Dr. Brené Brown, says that the two things that all humans crave and desire most is love and belonging…the gift of both freely giving and receiving love…and the gift of knowing that we are not alone or isolated…but instead knowing that we belong to each other…really belong to each other. Flesh and blood…real humans…contact and connection…sharing our lives with each other…lifting one another up when we falter and fall and even fail…the ability to, as Genesis reads, stand before one another naked and unashamed…and I am not talking about our bodies here…but the ability to bare our naked souls before another…our deeply held beliefs and values, our fears and insecurities, our hopes and dreams…to be our true selves before others. And, when we do so, vulnerably and authentically among those who love us, we feel heard and affirmed…we know we are loved entirely and belong entirely to each other. These are the sorts of relationships we are called to create and nurture and grow with our own essential folk, whether made up of friends or family members, those with whom we are blessed to share our lives.
We may disagree about all manner of things…disagree deeply even…and our hopes and fears are likely not all the same. But…but if we are willing to vulnerably share ourselves with one another…knowing that our love and belonging to one another is non-negotiable…then I believe we all will, or at least can, all flourish. We will become more and more the people God in Christ has made us to be…we will see our fears diminish and our confidence and hope rise. We will be even more willing to take risks with our time, talents and resources for goodness sake and for God. And we will be changed…transformed even…from self-oriented people who look for worthiness and meaningfulness through the things we do and the ideas we grasp on to, political or otherwise, and, instead, find our worthiness and meaningfulness in the life we share with each other…with friends and family and co-workers and fellow students and, even, those with whom we worship. And in doing so, we will and can only discover who we really are…what is indeed most important for us and for God’s world, which is often different than who we think we are…and what we think are God’s dreams for his world. When we really give ourselves in love to others…knowing that love will be received…for indeed we belong to each other…God shapes us in wonderful and life-affirming ways…shapes us into peacemakers and good will spreaders.
And this, my friends, for me, is Christmas. For at Christmas, the first Christmas, God came among us as a flesh and blood baby…a real human…born into a real family. A human whose own flourishing depended entirely on the love and belonging he experienced among his own family and his own friends…just beginning with Joseph and Mary…and then extending to all the people with whom he would bare his own naked soul…those to whom he would belong and who would love him entirely. These essential relationships, begun at Christmas, were at the center of his own flourishing…they were the necessary support system that Jesus needed to grow into and learn who he really was. Moreover, these relationships provided Jesus the relational food and nurture that empowered him to live his special life, to fully live into his own ministry, proclaiming God’s love for everyone…healing the sick and brokenhearted…and eventually enduring even the cross and grave…for our sake…for you and for me…to establish life and love forever…for Easter...which follows the cross…proclaims for all the world to hear that life and love are indeed stronger even than death. But it all begins with Christmas…in the midst of sweat, blood and sheep manure…through the womb of a teenager…in the presence of a carpenter…on the floor of a cave…in an ordinary corner of the world in which we really live. In this very human moment full of pain and wonder, God’s life and work among us all begins with the forging of a family, the birth of a human life, connected to and dependent on other human lives…love, belonging, relationships…that is what is established at Christmas. The hope of the world…finding its genesis in human contact, human connection, human relationships. At Christmas, God indeed shows us the way and invites us to participate in creating what the angels announce, peace on earth and good will toward all people, and this begins and is ultimately accomplished, said as simply as I can, through human, flesh and blood, contact and connection…through our love and belonging…one to another.
Jessie Kelly, a member of our church family and a member of my own family, wrote a note to Santa when she was in the third grade…and with her permission I have shared it with you on the screens…it reads, “Dear Santa, I am a third grader from Fulton Elementary. I do not want anything for Christmas, but peace and love. Christmas isn’t for getting presents. It is for celebrating Christ’s first birthday. Some people think it is for getting presents, but it is not. I just hope you will give this to everyone. I just hope so. Love, Jessie Kelly.” I just want to say in response to that lovely, sincere letter, that perhaps only a child could dare to write…amen…that is so awesome…and indeed I want to actually be more like what that letter suggests…a peacemaker and good will spreader. Now, gifts that are thoughtful expressions of gratitude shared between those we love at Christmas is a lovely tradition…I really mean that…done thoughtfully, responsibly…I would say the tradition of gift giving can even be an expression of God’s own generosity in our lives. I also think watching children and loved one’s open presents under the Christmas tree is…well…sort of magical and heart-warming. But wouldn’t we all trade all of this and so much more for peace on earth…good will shared between all the people of the world, even just all the people in our own communities and families…even, maybe especially even, good will shared between those who look, live and believe differently than each other. Well here’s the thing…we are invited, we get, to participate in shaping our families, communities, whoever makes up our essential relationships, even the world around us more and more into the world that God dreams of…the peaceable kingdom…the world that a young Jessie and so many others dream of…beginning with God.
Christmas is a time when many invitations go out…usually to parties and other festive gatherings…and I think we should all spend more time together in fellowship…so I’m all for it. Well, Christmas, the entire season…each and every year…is one great, big invitation to enter into this good and glorious work of peacemaking and good will spreading. And Christmas, the moment in time and space when God came so very near, in flesh and blood, born into a human family, entering into human relationships, human contact and connection…shows us how we do this most blessed kingdom building work…which is to go deeper with each other…to be more vulnerable with each other…to be more honest with each other…to listen better to each other…to be more open to the thoughts, feelings and ideas of each other…to remind each other that our love and belonging one to another is utterly non-negotiable. If you say nothing else to one another this night and the Christmas day that follows…please say this to each other, “I love you, you belong to me”. For God’s plan to redeem all of creation begun at Christmas, continues even now with us, beginning with how we love well those with whom we share our lives.
Like the babe of Bethlehem oh so long ago, perhaps tonight we can be born anew…into the relationships that make us who we are…to appreciate them in a whole new way…to nurture them with fervor and commitment…to love one another through our differences…that together our most intimate relationships might witness to the world…might shout out to the world…joining our voices with angels and archangels…a cosmic orchestra that is divinely inspired…saying…this is what peace looks like…this is what good will looks like…our shared life…my family’s shared life…my friends’ shared life…my church’s shared life. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if the world looked at our own relationships and said…see how much they love each other…see how well they care for each other…see how well they listen to each other…so how honest they are with each other. For this Jesus came into our world in flesh and blood…for contact and connection…the creation of relationships…rooted in love and belonging…that shape and forge us into the people we are called to be…peacemakers and good will spreaders…a holy family. Amen.