The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Day
Love Came Down at Christmas
Christmas is a mystery. In some ways, it’s a familiar story about a birth under less than ideal circumstances, like so many births. But, it’s also an utterly fantastic birth. A boy- child without human father born of a virgin mother; heavenly choirs of angels sing tidings of his birth to simple shepherds; a new star appears in the heavens to mark the site of his birth and strangers travel from faraway lands to pay homage.
We talk about the Incarnation but we really don’t know what we are talking about when we do. The Word, the creative principle of the cosmos, fully becomes flesh yet continues to be fully the Divine. What does that mean? There seems little room for such an unreasonable possibility. It’s entirely unreasonable. For centuries, Christians have tried to wrap their heads around this birth. The whole premise is beyond possibility. And that’s at least part of the reason why we have these stories so beyond possibility about a birth so beyond possibility.
Have you heard the news? The papers are full of it. They’ve been full of it every day in 2010. And it’s mostly been bad news. The terrible sufferings in Haiti after the January earthquake, and then the hurricane: the homelessness, the cholera. And the seemingly endless cycle of violence, of suicide bombings – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine. The plight of the Palestinian people and all who face injustice in the Holy Land. The frightening escalations of war-like rhetoric, and threat of a nuclear attack in Korea. And then this year, the appalling financial crisis , with so many suffering anxiety and loss – the loss of jobs, the loss of homes through mortgage foreclosure. And then anxiety about our nation which seems so polarized between blue and red states, between wealthy and poor. More and more bad news.
Such a diet of bad news, day after day, can profoundly affect the way that we see our own lives. We can look back over 2010 and pick out the bad news – for ourselves, our families, our work, our homes.
Isaiah 60: 1-3, 18-19; Psalm 36: 5-10; 1 Peter 2: 4-10; John 1: 1-5
If we know someone is coming, we wait for them. After a while, waiting becomes longing. Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light. Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.
We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years. Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70] For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional. The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things. Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life. Continue reading
The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Psalm 146: 4-9
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11
Several years ago one of my favourite newspaper columnists[i] wrote about how she loved going to Church on Christmas Eve, especially if there was a light snowfall that night. She wrote about how she loved to hear the nativity story and sing the Christmas carols familiar from her childhood. She wrote about how she would line up with the other members of the congregation and kneel before the altar, decorated with poinsettias, and receive Communion. She wrote about all this and then ended her column wondering why she bothered because even though she had grown up an Anglican, she had long ago stopped going to Church a long time ago because she didn’t believe a word of what was said in Church on Christmas Eve, or any other day for that matter.
One of my favorite buildings in all the world is the Chartres Cathedral in North France. I had the privilege of living in France for a year near Chartres and I used to love visiting and getting to know the amazing work of art.
I especially loved the stunning west front of the cathedral and those incredible stone carvings of Adam and Eve, the prophets, apostles, saints and martyrs. But at the very center, that favorite scene of all: the Last Judgment. And it was illustrated by that favorite symbol – the weighing scales. Each poor soul would in turn, stand before the terrifying judge of all, as his good works were put into one side of the scales, and his evil deeds into the other. Would he be a sheep or a goat? If his evil deeds outweighed his good, down he would go into the fires of hell. But if on balance he had done enough good works, up he would go to join the heavenly host. And what a host! You’ve never seen such smug, self-satisfied faces as those in heaven! And we may sympathize with the view that if they are the ones going to heaven, I might prefer the other place! Continue reading