Monday, December 24, 2012
The Courage of Christmas
The Church is Beautiful
How beautiful the church is on Christmas Eve. You’ve outdone yourselves. I remember at Easter thinking how much I’d love to see this place at Christmas, but of course we all gave a dismissive chuckle to that notion. Who knew!
But here we are gathered in this sacred and holy place once again to hear the message of the angels. “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL”. What a wonderful and timely message. Timely and timeless at the very same time!
On my first journey to the United Kingdom, I found myself at a Bed and Breakfast in the Lake District in a town called Kendal. The local parish church was a lovely Norman structure over 1000 years old. My traveling companion and I were treated to an evening beverage and we discovered that the proprietor of the B&B was a member of the vestry. He and I got into it. He was interested in the American church’s liberal views on the ordination of women, a matter that perplexed our English cousins. Then, out of the blue, he asked me this question;
“Father, you’ll never guess what time of year our church comes alive with decoration and music. It is a time that really touches every heart in the town. You’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”
“Christmas!”, I said imagining what the old stone church would look like decorated in greens, poinsettias, a creche, and lit by candlelight.
“How in the world did you know?” said he.
“Every Anglican church the world over is precious this night. In fact, so are Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches.”
It is the night of the Incarnation of God. Emmanuel. God with us. And the whole Christian world, bows to this holy night with awe, reverence, and a profound and affectionate love.
Many there are who travel the world around in search of the holy. In one of the better movies I’ve seen this year, “The Way” with Martin Sheen, there is the story of a man, who, after the untimely death of his son, goes to Spain to walk the “Camino de Santiago”. It is a fine movie. After much soul searching this rather secular businessman and golfer discovers that there really is something holy within him. His heart learns of the healing touch that comes from a close encounter with his traveling companions and with the living God whom he discovers in their midst.
More recently, Cindy and I saw “The Life of Pi”; another pilgrimage of a sort in which a young Indian boy and a ferocious tiger share a life boat after a shipwreck and the boy discovers God in ever deepening discoveries of the life within himself and his encounter with the tiger.
I’ve been to the Holy Land twice and walked in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses, and so many others written about in holy scripture. I took a bus load of high school students. What we learned together! What goodness I’ve experienced in these pilgrimages.
There is something about all these journeys filled with their own spiritual intentionality that has the potential to bring us into a close encounter with the Living God, or that sense that within us something very holy resides.
Your journeys to Kanuga, the Cathedral, to the annual “Shackathon” or to “Crop Walk” are all of a piece. They are instances where we might discover God walking with us.
But whether your quest for God takes you far away to distant lands and different cultures, or whether that journey takes you deep within your own heart, what we always come to discover is that God has been with us all the way. This is especially true when we come to do battle with doubt, despair, danger and evil. We didn’t have to travel far away to find it. It has been here all the while.
That fact becomes clear to us on Christmas Eve, I think, in a way no other time of year can do, no other festival quite celebrates. Christmas brings with it a a joy and a wonder that brings both a smile and a tear to the same countenance. The radiant light that comes from a child in a manger evokes profound responses when we think of the journeys we’ve been taking throughout our lives. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”, Phillips Brooks, that great Boston preacher wrote one night when he was on pilgrimage in Bethlehem. All my joys and all my sorrows are reflected in the face of the Baby.
This year, of course, we are reminded of the Holy Innocents. Herod in a pique of paranoia ordered the killing of the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem when the Wise Men refused to tell him where to find this Baby King. More children, in recent weeks have been taken from us at the hands of yet another deranged mind. Every day in America inner city neighborhoods we must undergo similar heartaches.
And the Holy Child requires me to remember that right now. It will take courage to speak up for the children who now have no voice. Our own children are vulnerable in a dangerous world. I do hope and pray that you and I will speak up for them. There will be plenty of time for that in the New Year.
For now, the Baby also wants my heart to sing with the music of Christmas. Not only is our church beautiful, it is also filled with such lovely music. The music brings to my soul a tearful smile when I greet Christmas, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why I love Christmas so.
What more precious gift can there be but to see the sleeping Jesus in his cradle? Or the smiles and laughter of our own children, or the beaming faces of their proud parents, grandparents and friends? How refreshingly joyful it is to see our annual Christmas pageant. How precious are these children!
In the luminous night a star shines down from heaven, and our hearts and the whole world over are filled with this amazing music. Shepherds quake to see this sight. Kings and Wise Men go to the manger and discover there by the cradle, where the cattle are lowing, even as the world stands dark and cold; this Child radiates a profoundly bright warmth.
The Love of God made flesh and blood in that Holy Child comes down to dwell among and within us at Christmas. Jesus is God-with-us; our “Emmanuel”. Not only is God with us in the flesh and blood of Jesus, but in the flesh and blood of all those who love the Child. Those of you with the courage and the imagination to enfold him in your hearts may also begin to radiate his warmth.
This is the challenge of Christmas. Do you have the courage to create like God creates? Can you join Jesus in saving a fallen world? Can you discover the inner Way to make holy everything your life touches?
Christmas is a season of hope. We end one difficult year and soon we begin another. Living into Christmas and living into a New Year will take courage, creativity, and eagerness to bless and defend our children.
We are here tonight in this very beautiful, sacred and holy place, as millions are doing around the world hour by hour. I extend to you my prayers for all the blessings of Christmas. How wonderful that we can share this moment together. In the immortal words of one who knew what is means to discover God in the here and now; “God bless us every one”.