"Mary and Joseph, and the child"-Sermon for Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-20
Though snuggling up on the couch as a family for a movie or our current favorite streaming tv show is a year-round affair in the Brandon household, I feel like during the holidays this past-time takes on a sort renewed emphasis. If the weather allows for a fire, it is even more wonderfully snuggly. Really, whatever the season, I enjoy almost nothing more in this world than the heart-warming feeling of gathering with my most beloved ones, hand in hand, wrapped in blankets and over stuffed pillows, safe and sound in our home after a long day spent apart to enjoy something together. And, of course, it is the closeness, the hearts intertwined, that matters so much more than the images dancing across the screen.
“Lost in Space” and “The Great British Baking Show” have been two recent go to’s for my family. And, one documentary we recently watched was on the life of the late, great undersea explorer and film-maker Jacques Cousteau…called “Becoming Cousteau”. And there is a scene in the documentary that is footage from an interview with Cousteau late in his life that recalled, in part, an unplanned meeting with, of all people, the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It was at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France. Cousteau’s magical film “The Silent World” premiered at the festival in 1956 and was the first documentary ever to win the top award at that, arguably most illustrious film festival, called the Golden Palm. And, I describe the film as magical because for many, really most people in our world it was the very first time to really see in color a whole new world. Today television and film is full of undersea documentaries and films, but, at the time, this truly was a novel and magical sort of experience to take in…unusual and mythical sea creatures that had no corollary on the land where we humans live…bright corals…colorful sea plants swaying in the oceans currents. For the first time we land dwellers were invited to peer into a largely unknown and undiscovered world…a part of God’s glorious creation that humans had not already conquered and controlled and manipulated to our own ends. It was a wholly other sort of world full of new discoveries, unimaginable beauty, and teeming with life…abundant life.
And, again, following the film’s premier, in the crowd pouring out of the theater, Cousteau bumped into the artist Pablo Picasso…a man, despite all of his own imperfections, was full of imagination and creativity…truly one of the great artists of the 20###sup/sup### century. And, Picasso told Cousteau that the movie deeply moved him…it blew his heart and mind wide open…to see and experience something so altogether new and unexpected and wonderful and beautiful. And, Cousteau responded by giving him a piece of black coral and told him that as he held it and rub it with his fingers it would become more and more smooth, bright and shiny. Though I don’t know of the two men ever met again, almost 20 years later in 1973 when Picasso died, Cousteau got a letter in the mail from Picasso’s wife…who told him that as the great artist died he had in his hands the very piece of black coral that Cousteau had given him. And when Cousteau was asked by the person interviewing him why he thought Picasso was holding the coral when he died, Cousteau responded something like…there at the very end of his life Picasso was dreaming of a whole different world full of beauty and possibility. What I might describe as a world of hope and beauty and love…newness and life…abundant life. And, I believe as Picasso held the coral while facing the grave and gate of death he was imagining, maybe even beginning to see…to catch a glimpse of the life that was still to come…not just heaven…but the world…all of creation as God is recreating, resurrecting, rebirthing everything that is…through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So, if you reasonably ask me, Miles, what might this sweet story of two men no longer with us on this side of glory have to do with Christmas…my answer would be everything…everything. For Jesus’ birth that we celebrate this night is the beginning of the restoration of Eden…that which I believe Picasso dreamed of has he faced his death with coral in hand. The word Eden is a Hebrew word that means delight. And, Christ’s birth is for this world…even you, even me…the rebirth of delightfulness…of new beginnings…of the turning of this world right side up…the reclamation of joy…of glory…of hope…the resurrection of a world so beautiful, so just, so peaceful, so lovely that only the God of heaven and earth could dream it up. For the defeat of sin and death…the utter undoing of the darkness and suffering experienced in this death-dealing world…that finds its culmination at Easter…in the bright resurrection light emanating from the Empty tomb…finds its genesis…it’s beginning…right here at Christmas…in the humble and vulnerable birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.
And, like Cousteau’s film that opened our world’s eyes to an entirely new and beautiful world living just below the waters, just beyond our own experience, at Christmas, as a profound expression of our faith in Eden’s resurrection that Jesus’ birth establishes, we transform our communities and homes into fully alive, otherworldly, beautiful and magical places. We light up the dark night with lights on the outside of our homes. We bring ever-green trees into our dwellings and place them on our mantles…living things that remain green even in the coldest times of the year when much can’t survive. We add lights to those trees bringing even greater merriment and bringing more light into our love filled homes. We lovingly set up our nativities that give adoration and pay homage to new life coming into our world in the shape and form of a new born baby. We open those bright, joy-filled places to friends, family and even strangers to enjoy a cup of cheer, to connect, to hold on to and love each other deeply. I hope you enjoyed seeing some of our St. Julian’s families joyful, light and love filled, Christmas decorations in our opening video…my thanks to those who shared a pic and Katie, again, for putting the video together.
And, all of this, whether as simple as a shiny piece of coral or as over the top as the Griswold’s home in “Christmas Vacation”, all of this points the eyes of our hearts, and all those with eyes to see and ears to hear, to what lies just beyond our own experience…the world that God began to recreate at the very moment of Jesus’ birth. A world that, in the fullness of time, all of God’s people…all that God has made…will stand fully alive, whole, healthy and healed…from every tribe, language, and nation…the rainbow-colored people of God standing in solidarity…arm in arm…heart to heart…something so beautiful and glorious that it exists beyond human imagining…beyond that which humans can create…beyond even the incomprehensible beauty that exists even now in the world all around us. This is the hope that we claim today…that our songs employ…and prayers describe…and decorations symbolize…a whole new world, more beautiful than anything that is, where all the tears are wiped away and joy and love abound for all without distinction…and all established at Jesus’ birth…our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
So, tonight we rightly revel in the beauty of what is around us and, more so, what is still to come…that unseen, breathtakingly beautiful world…overflowing with light and love. For, the glorious light of God’s incarnation that shines forth on this most holy night is the hope for the living of our days. And, that hope is where we find the courage as we even now shine our bright lights and shout out into the present darkness…you have no power over us…your end has already come…through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I want to conclude now by coming full circle…back to the couch where a family gathers at the end of the day to rest weary souls…to reconnect at the day’s end…to grab hold of each other and find rest for our hearts that find solace and care in the arms of those we love…if not THE Holy Family…what I describe is, indeed, a holy family…and I speak not of the Brandon’s, in particular, but when any of us gather with those we love…kin and friends alike. For, it would be easy to think that all I describe is only future looking…that we can only fully know and experience Eden, the life that God intends for each of us that was firmly established at the first Christmas, at some future point…as we pass from this life into the next or some such. But, I for one believe that is not so.
For, I believe that the fullness of God’s unimaginable, unending love that makes us fully alive and makes meaning for the lives we live and creates joy and beauty for the living or our days is close at hand. I imagine there were no twinkling Christmas lights, other than the stars in the night’s sky, strung around the stable in which Jesus was born…no ever green trees or wreaths or ornaments or baubles. But people were present…Mary with child at breast…pondering with wonder the goodness of God…feeling like contained there…in the love they already shared…was everything that she or the baby needed…the fulness of God…an experience of heaven on earth…Eden restored…the most beautiful, otherworldly moment experienced in blood and bone…in heart and flesh…in time and space…God’s love fully known in the love shared between mother and son.
Likewise, I believe the fullness of God’s love…all that we look forward to and hope for…is present even now…even as God is still bringing his rebirthing work for our world to its completion. For, the magic and wonder of Christmas…can always be found in the present…in the very moment love is freely given and freely received…as we take delight in those we love and those we are loved by. In those most beautiful, otherworldly, love-filled moments Jesus is born…Eden is made manifest…life overflows…light shines in the darkness…we are who we were made to be…fear is made scarce…hope emerges…Christmas is here. Amen.