Christmas Eve 2010 @ All Saints Church – 5:30 p.m.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all people.”
And it’s Christmas again! The familiar words that conclude the Christmas Story in Luke’s gospel echo in our ears once again on this Christmas Eve as we gather surrounded by light and beauty and music and community to celebrate the mystery of Christmas. We welcome again the promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby. We wonder again at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death and we claim a Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator -- the finite for the infinite -- the human for the divine.
It is a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom -- a longing that is represented tonight for us as Christians in the baby in the manger. It is the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us. Yes, we manifest the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate came down at Christmas to be among us as one of us. Came to show us how to share that love with a 21st century world yearning for the “peace on earth, good will among all people” the 1st century angels proclaimed.
Let’s face it, for so many this has been a particularly dark and challenging Advent. Whether personally or systemically we are all figuring out the “new normal” of these transitional economic times. Some are grieving as they experience a first Christmas without a loved one and others are coping with challenges that seem too numerous to count.
One new story stands out to me from Advent 2010 and that was the celebration of the life of Elizabeth Edwards. Watching the news reports about protesters planning to picket her funeral, I also saw an interview with a North Carolina woman who was organizing a counter-protest. “What’s the goal of the counter-protest?” asked the reporter. And she said, “When we show up we change the story.” And I thought, “You go, girl.” And then I thought, that’s the Christmas story in a nutshell
Jesus showed up to change the story. The God who loved us enough to become one of us showed up on Christmas Eve – showed up to show us how to walk in love with God and with one another.Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign.
That love, my brothers and sisters, is the point of Christmas -- and the triumphal power of that love will be made tangible for us not in the way Jesus will die but in the way Jesus lived – and in the way he empowers us as people of the resurrection to live ours in alignment with God’s love, justice and compassion.
And now I want to tell you a story about what that looks like. It comes from one of my favorite writers – Robert Fulghum and it’s called “Giants, Wizards & Dwarfs.”
Being left in charge of about 80 children 7 to 10 years old while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the parish hall and explained the game. (Picture Ed Bacon in Sweetland Hall with all the Minisingers and Mastersingers
!) It's a large scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody know which side your are on or who won.
The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out, "You have to decide now which you are: a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF". While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pant leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"
A long pause. A very long pause. "Where do the Mermaids stand?" I say. "Yes, you see, I am a Mermaid." "There are no such things as Mermaids." "Oh yes there is, I am one!" She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category - Mermaid - and was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where the loser would stand.
She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things, without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the Mermaids - all those who are different, who do not fit the norm, and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes? Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation or a kingdom on it. What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here, by the King of the Sea!" So we stood there, hand in hand, while the Wizards and Dwarfs and Giants rolled by in wild disarray.
“It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist,” Robert Fullghum concludes. “I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.”
And so have I. I have held the hand of more than one who has come to this church of ours. I have seen the joy and amazement on their faces when they find there is not only a place to stand but there is a community to stand with them, where they are welcome and invited guests. The love that came down at Christmas is the love we work to make tangible 24/7 here at All Saints Church – the radical welcome that says “whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey there is a place for you here.” Wizards. Dwarfs. Giants. Mermaids.
The love that came down at Christmas changed the story of a human family living in bondage to the fear of death and liberated us to live our lives of peace, justice and compassion. And making that love manifest to the world is the work we have been given to do … no matter how long it takes.
Joan Chittister famously said (and I have frequently quoted her famously saying it): “We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again.” And some significant inches were reclaimed during this Advent season.
Last week’s repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ended seventeen years of state sanctioned discrimination against gay and lesbian military personnel and on Monday the Senate approved the New START treaty – a bilateral nuclear arms agreement -- by a 71 to 26 margin.
Other good news from Washington included the extension of unemployment benefits, the approval of health care legislation for 9/11 first responders and an encouraging spirit of bipartisan cooperation. There is much to be grateful for – and there is also much work still to do. Sadly the Dream Act -- which offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children -- fell short of moving forward.
Here’s what the rector said in his year end “Faith in Action” Statement: “Standing in alignment with God’s love, justice and compassion calls us always to be advocating for those on the margins. While we rejoice in these important steps forward we also redouble our efforts to make God’s love tangible by working for comprehensive immigration reform and call the new congress to prioritize issues of poverty, peacemaking and equality.”
Do you hear the echo of those ancient words in yesterday's ones? And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all people.”
Tonight as we hear those familiar words … as we gather surrounded by light and beauty and music … as we welcome again the promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby and wonder again at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death let us not just settle for the joy of Christmas but commit ourselves to what Howard Thurman has called “The work of Christmas:”When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins -
To find the lost, To heal the broken
To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner
To teach the nations, To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
And tonight I want to add “to stand with the mermaid.” Because that, my brothers and sisters, IS the Work of Christmas: to build the house of love God has commissioned us to become ... a day at a time... an inch at a time... a mermaid at a time. To change the story by showing up. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to teach the nations, to bring Christ to all, to make music in the heart. Merry Christmas! Alleluia. Amen.