CHRISTMAS DAY 2017
A few months ago, when I received the assignment to preach on Christmas Day, I got pretty anxious. The idea of coming up with something to say that was not just another cliche, drove me headlong into reading and studying a goodly number of homilies, meditations, and other reflections by famous people on the meaning of this great feast day. I wanted this homily to be my best ever. Actually, if I’m really honest, I wanted it to be THE best ever: the most memorable reflection on the deep meaning of Christmas that has ever been delivered from this or any pulpit. Needless to say, I managed to get myself pretty wound up by all these expectations–a psychological state not very conducive to the flow of imagination or creativity. I was all stuffed up with a kazillion brilliant ideas, and couldn’t write a thing. You might say I was trying to put Christmas into the perfect package, the perfect box, and tie it up with the perfect bow. I was so busy with the packaging that I lost track of the gift itself.
Well, lucky for me, in the middle of this muddle, as I walked in darkness, I saw a great light. I remembered words that are good tidings of great joy; words of wisdom and counsel; words that made all my crooked ways straight. I remembered a slogan that has been breaking into my consciousness on a regular basis in recent months: RELAX, EVERYTHING IS OUT OF CONTROL. At this time of year, these are wise words of consolation for all of us to take to heart, as we are caught up in the whirlwind of shopping, cooking, parties, concerts, and, dare I say, liturgies. It helps to remember: RELAX, EVERYTHING IS OUT OF CONTROL. But this catchy slogan is much more than sage advice for how to cope with the fact that life just keeps coming at us. For me, at this year’s Christmas, these words unwrap the gift–actually, they express the gift–the gift that I had been trying desperately to wrap in a brilliant package of concepts and ideas. I had forgotten something that Mary Gordon imparted a few weeks ago in her Advent homily: that we live in mystery, that we are held, we are buoyed up, by a vast sea of mystery; that what we know, and think we control, is just a tiny, transient island in this vast ocean of mystery.
Yesterday at sundown, we began the twelve-day feast of Christmas, which will culminate with the Sunday of the Epiphany. We are beginning our celebration of a great mystery. On the face of it, this is our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Cleverly, this Christian feast has been linked to all the solstice celebrations of light that had a deep mythic heritage in the various host cultures in which Christianity took root and tried to grow. As a result, we also think of Christmas as when the divine light entered the world. But our feast is more than the commemoration of an event that occurred roughly two thousand years ago. This is not like the 4th. of July. We don’t say “Christ was born to us.” We say “Christ is born to us”… “Christ is born today.” Those who fashioned our liturgical tradition, have taken up the familiar words of poets like Isaiah and of story-tellers like Luke, to remind us that the infinite, eternal mystery of God is right here, in the midst of our finite, temporal life. So we begin this year’s singing of familiar songs, this year’s telling of familiar stories, just like we did last year, and, God willin’ and the roads ain’t drifted over, we will do again next year, and the many years after that. We do this to remind ourselves that right here, right now–indeed, in every moment–Christ is born to us; and, as well, Christ is born in us, Christ is born between us, Christ is born among us. We need to be reminded because it is so easy for us to forget. We need a familiar mythic tale, repeated year after year; a tale that calls out “Sleepers, awake!” to rouse us from our sleep on our little islands of certainty and control; urging us instead to cast adrift in the vast of ocean of our mysterious God and lose sight of shore. Because we are slow learners, because we forget and cling to what we think we can control, we need these temporal cycles of ritual practice to remind us…to remind us year after year, that our human life in time is a continual revelation of the eternity of God…that each of us is a revelation of a divine mystery that flows through us in every moment. We keep getting the reminder: RELAX, EVERYTHING IS OUT OF MY CONTROL.
Today we sing the songs and tell the stories of Christmas to remind us to awaken to and take possession of the deep truth of our lives: that we are, as Paul tells us today, “…the exact imprint of God’s very being”…that the center and source of our lives is our being as a relationship with God…that, when all our packaging falls away, we are a relationship with a mystery that is out of our control…a mystery that is so great and vast and boundless that there is, indeed, no room for it at the inn…that the only place that has enough room is our endlessly breaking and opening Heart…my Heart, your Heart, our Heart: the great Heart of Belonging that we share…together, holding hands, buoyed up in the vast ocean of God.
Today, my sisters and brothers, Christ is born to us; Christ is born in us, Christ is born between and among us. Merry Christmas to us all.