Good evening. God bless you and welcome! (looks at watch… 11:25!) What are we doing here? This is WAAAY past my bedtime! Usually Mrs. Lentz and I are like the couple in the “Twas The Night before Christmas: ” “And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.”
And I suspect that most of you are not in church on a typical Saturday night at 11:00 p.m.
But this night is different.
I look forward to this night almost more than any other night of the year. There is magic and mystery and expectation – there is memory of both past gladness and past sadness, we are aware of who is with us and who is not with us. This is my first Christmas without my father.
Yes, this night is different. And all over the world people gather – in Aleppo, in Kampala, in Bejing and Moscow. Since the second century – people have gathered on this night.
Yet, this well-known Christmas Eve story from Luke that we read every year, feels different to me this year, even more contemporary than usual in light of our recent divisive election and all the violence in our world – Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul – and on the streets of our cities.
This night is different.
You have just heard Luke’s re-telling of a night long ago when Rome ruled the world and a man and pregnant woman couldn’t find a place to sleep and a baby was born.
I picture a Syrian or Palestinian Refugee, a Mexican trying to find shelter, the homeless on our streets and in shelters this night. The first Christmas was more like that.
Our story proclaims that God became flesh and dwelt among us, became one of us. It is way too late to get too theological about the Incarnation, so I will share with you a passage from Bruce Springsteen’s new autobiography, Born to Run. Leave it to “The Boss” to make the story of the first Christmas all the more lively and real (to me) as he describes the birth of his first child:
It’s a boy! …. All protective veils slip, all defenses are down, defeated, all emotional ‘conditions’ are suspended, all negotiations are ceased. The room is filled with the light of blood spirits past, present and future.
The spirit made physical. You are not safe; love and risk are everywhere and you feel a flesh-and-blood link in your tribe’s chain, a trace of dust in God’s hand as it passes over the Earth….
We are one short breath of night and day, then dirt and stars, but we’re holding the new morning.
The Christmas story and the birth of Jesus is more like that: “blood spirits, dirt and dust, love and risk everywhere. “ That is making it real!
In Jesus we see God. You and I make Jesus more holy then we have to; tonight he is all pink and bloody.
In Jesus God is made physical – no safety; love and risk are everywhere.
There is a flesh and blood link in your tribe’s chain
A trace of dust in God’s hand as it passes over the earth.
We all wonder, sometimes, where God is, if there is a God. I know I do. But then this Christmas story reminds me to look within at the secret places and desires of my own heart; in the traces of dust, the vulnerable places, the vulnerable people.
Jesus is one of those “vulnerables” and if Mary doesn’t feed him, he doesn’t make it out of the manger. If we don’t let the children in, they die at the borders.
Jesus is both the highest expression of God and our own aspirations. God and you and I want the same thing: We want peace, and love, and community; we like to opine about inclusion and diversity where everyone is welcome and honored; where our vulnerable children can live into their gifts and where the world just becomes a better place.
But if you and I don’t feed the dreams, and engage in the care and nurture of our deepest hopes, “the hopes and fears of all the years,” nothing will happen. If you and I are not willing to take a risk or two, even make a few mistakes – how will we ever accomplish anything?
“But we’re holding the new morning.” YES! You and I get to show what this night is all about, what God is all about, what Jesus is all about:
You want to see God’s love – well, then show love to somebody.
You want God to get involved – well, then go get involved in something.
You want something to happen to shake up the world – well, then go do something to shake up the world.
You don’t have to be perfect – just do what you do – don’t be passive and wait, make something happen.
One of the great troubadours of American Music Leonard Cohen, who recently died, once sang these words:
Ring the bell that you can ring
there’s no perfect offering
there’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
God slipped through the crack of time into this imperfect world ringing a bell of hope, of love, of peace, of joy, of reconciliation and of resistance….
Under the nose of the oppressive Roman Empire – Jesus was born, a refugee, needing to prove he was legal; his parents signed a registry so they could be vetted – that is why Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem in the first place.
This night is different – because God is breaking through into our world and hopefully into your hearts – and you need to stand up this night, and we need to stand up together and make it happen!
You and I need to stand up together against all who seek to divide,
and all who seek to demean,
and all who seek to dismiss and intimidate,
and all who seek to dismantle,
all who offer a false hope!
You and I have to move beyond good ideas and higher thoughts and make them real, flesh them out – which is what the incarnation is – Christmas is.
God offers himself – and that is all that I want you to do to make this night different and tomorrow different as well – offer the gift of your life; you are worthy, you are needed, you are the expression of God’s desire; you are the “flesh and blood link.” Don’t give into the excuses that you are not good enough.
I just wanted you to remember why this night is so different, worth staying up late for; I just wanted you to know what this is really about.
So go home in a bit and enjoy each other (maybe after some milk and cookies!)
Go home and love each other.
Go home and open gifts and wrap yourself up in the magic of the day.
And may the Cavs beat the Warriors! (amen)
But then remember you cannot stay comfortable, or at the manger, for too long – it leads to developmental issues. You have to move beyond fantasy into the real world.
The great theologian Howard Thurman reminds us of the work that is ahead of us:
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.
Remember the gift that was given this night and the gift that you and I are also called on to give.
It is up to you and me to “flesh out” this Christmas story or it won’t make any difference at all.