The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Christmas Eve 2021
In those days, as our gospel began, takes us back to a time long ago, when Augustus was Emperor of Rome, and to the far away places of ancient Israel. In those days invites us to remember a story of old, and the simple folk who lived it: Jospeh, who had traveled a long way to the city of David to be registered and pay taxes, with Mary, his betrothed, who was heavy with child, and a few poor shepherds eking out a living in the fields. In those days is a story about the ordinary world of hard work and hardship, and yet a story that is more than the sum of its facts—a story truer than truth—a story always told on Christmas Eve about the birth of a child.
Tradition holds that Jesus was born in a stable of animals during the night and its attending darkness. Yet in our scripture “the night” has double meaning, in which evil and sin are forces of darkness, and things un-natured go bump in the night, fear looming large in its shadows. But too, when night falls upon the business and busyness of the day, its velvety black cloak offers us much needed rest and sleep; for like a seed in the ground or a child in the womb, new life must gestate in the dark to grow, sheltering from the light for a time. Night is the end to the day, and yet the beginning of the next, and so this time of darkness is a threshold of possibility to which the light of the sun has yet given shape and form (adapted from Rahner).
Perhaps this is why Jesus spent many a night in prayer, and so too, that Jesus is born at night—a beginning that held all possibility in its protective and mysterious womb. God slipped into the tent of our earthly existence with its rough edges and hard ways—a baby utterly defenseless and unarmed—as we were. Jesus makes our beginning his, and his beginning ours; for his birth changed the entire course of history, as author Frederick Buechner writes: the child is born, and history itself falls in two at the star in the sky. The world of AD is one world, and the world of BC is another.
It is impossible to perceive how different the world or we would be had Jesus not been born into it—changed of its countless prayers and ritual, saints, monastic cells and spired cathedrals, Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and all of the inspired—and misguided—rest. Jesus’ birth heralded a new way of new life and released into the world a life-giving power no less than the power of God (adapted from Buechner).
As Jesus was born in those days, so he seeks to be born this day into the dusty mucky manger of our hearts, swaddled in our hopes and dreams, and fears and tears, that the yoke of our burdens and the rod of our oppressors—the enemies of shame, blame, ignorance and judgment—are broken. Whether we who have gathered together are of great faith, little faith, or tried and failed faith, redemption and reconciliation are ours, if we will have it; for though we are the people of Isaiah who have walked in darkness, and are walking still through the darkness of a global pandemic and personal trials, we too are a people forgiven and freed from the darkness by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Christmas and the birth of Christ is then most especially for those suffering and in pain, who are lonely, outcast, and struggling with hard feelings and difficult circumstances; because unto us is born the humble Child who shares in our poverty, the Wonderful Counselor walking with us a pilgrim on the path, Almighty God coming in great power to dispute and reverse what has so squarely been, the Prince of Peace coming to make us whole, Christ risen with healing in his wings, ever coming to us anew; and so we must ask: what do I want this night, what do I need? More hope? Less worry? More peace? Less strife? More consolation? Less grieving? Or simply to be held close and cherished by the Savior? We have only to accept God’s gift, and open to its unfolding in the way of holy grace; then let our hearts rejoice at what God has done, let the earth be glad, let the sea thunder, let the field be joyful, let all the trees of the wood shout for joy.
Theologian and Jesuit priest Karl Rahner wrote of Christmas Eve: this blessed night, this sacred night, this silent night bears the quiet closeness of the infinite mystery of our existence, which is both sheltering love and inconceivable grandeur. Even our Creator is in awe of this holy night . . . not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse . . .
In those days are our days, and the once upon a time of the greatest love story ever told is our time: God with us, at the beginning of our stories and through to their end, the Alpha and the Omega, always and forever.
At the end of our worship, this small community of wonder will wander out into the night and back into our everyday lives. Look up into the sky, and wonder indeed. God’s promise may not yet be fully in hand but it is as real as the stars above.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into One all things earthly and heavenly, bless us all this holy night, that we shine with the brightness of the true Light and carry its flame into the world.
Alleluia, and amen.