Merry Christmas! Thank you for being here this afternoon; yet another pandemic Christmas – and for me personally, the kind that I never envisioned, even based on our current context! Only a few days ago, we were busy practicing for the pageant, choosing and rehearsing the music, and I was composing an entirely different Christmas message than what you’re hearing now. We all had our sights and hearts set on a certain way to celebrate Christmas, which we thought would finally make up for last year’s restrictions. Alas, if there’s one thing we are learning from this pandemic, it is that from time to time, we must let go of what we think is the right, best, or optimal way to do things. This is not always easy, but also not at all unprecedented!
Just like the ancient people of our Scriptures, each of us contends for a “place at the inn” in pursuit of happiness. And just like them, we find that, occasionally, we are walking in darkness. As we hear every Christmas, the prophet Isaiah’s contemporaries had, indeed, lived through the time of utter darkness, as their land was conquered by a much more powerful kingdom; but eventually, he writes, they have “seen a great light”. The “messenger of peace” has arrived with great news of their deliverance. What good news could I give you, today? I’m afraid there is not much I could say to you this Christmas Eve that you don’t already know, even if I were able to be present here with you. I can only remind you that in the midst of life’s swift and relentless changes, true joy may still be found by fixing our eyes on the one and only thing that never changes – that is, on God’s ongoing birth within us.
And, I can also tell you a story, a memory of mine from one of my first Christmases as a mother. One night in late December of that year, I was tucking the children into beds and reflecting on how hard I’d been working to fill my home with the magic of the season. I felt exhausted, but quite pleased with my efforts; that is, until the moment my eldest daughter, maybe 3 or 4 years-old at the time, chose to pose to me the following questions, “Mommy, why do you say “no” all the time, to everything I ask for? And why can’t I just choose something that I want to do, for once?” Stopped in my busy tracks, I responded, “Ok… well what is it that you’d like to do?” After a pause, she said, “... I don’t know... something that will make me always happy”.
Don’t we all presume that happiness hinges on freedom? Don’t we also envision that making others happy entails seizing the opportunities to make big, superhero impacts on their lives and the world? And then we wonder why God says “no” – every time we ask. But like this child, if we are honest with ourselves, none of us fully knows what it is that we truly want. Like her, we have a vague sense that we could, somehow, be happier than we already are – if only we were free to do “what we wanted''. Thus preoccupied with the acute awareness of our life’s limitations, we don’t seem to notice the 99% of the time when God, through the people in our lives, not only says “yes”, but in fact provides for our needs “before we ask, knowing our ignorance in asking”.
The good news of Christmastide is that God has already said “yes” to the world at Creation, and continues to do so moment by moment, as He is being born in and through us. The ordinariness of Christ’s arrival and life on earth teaches us that God’s peace comes through living in an ordinary community that does extraordinary things. We worship, pray, and make music; we give and receive simple gifts, tokens of appreciation, and kind words. Perhaps, this year, we might find that this is enough. It is enough to come here to worship without expecting a magical experience, perfectly executed liturgy, or lively entertainment. It is enough to come as the poor shepherds did, bringing the only gift we can offer the Christ Child – the gift of acceptance. The acceptance of God’s presence in our lives; the acceptance of people who are different from us; the acceptance of change; the acceptance of joy that breaks through the perceived lack of freedom… What is it this year that you are learning to accept, as your own offering to God? This Christmas season and beyond, may God’s presence bring you peace that is deeper than your fears, stronger than your doubts, and greater than any challenge that life brings you. Thanks be to God.