Date: December 24, 2015
Title: “A Change in Plans”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Christmas has always been a big deal in my family. Growing up, there were always celebrations and presents and much “Ho-ho-ho’ing”. Even as an adult, I knew there was an unspoken expectation that we would be together, that Christmas would not be Christmas without the whole family.
My first year in ministry – as a student pastor for a Lutheran congregation in Denver, Colorado – I almost didn’t make it. I thought I had a brilliant plan. Of course I needed to be on the job Christmas Eve, but I could easily fly out the next morning – December 25th – to join the family in sunny San Diego. I knew it was going to be different, but it would all be good. I had my airline ticket. I had my bag packed. I had all the presents purchased. I had a plan.
And then, on December 24th, at about noon, it began to snow. This was not just some sentimental “isn’t it pretty, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” kind of snow. This was a full-blown, monumental, epic blizzard. This was the kind of snow that rushes across the plains, that drifts sideways and piles up in unbelievable mountains in fields and forests, on highways and byways, and even on runways. This was “close the airport, make the record books” kind of snow.
When it finally stopped falling the next day, Denver had received its third biggest snowfall on record, and we all experienced an unexpected change in plans!
I was lucky, really. One of the members of my congregation had a four-wheel drive Jeep. Christmas morning Brian dug out his Jeep and took me to the airport. We had to stop three or four times to help push ambulances and police cars out of the drifts, but we made it to Stapleton and I ran into the terminal – and smack dab into the hundreds of stranded travelers. The airport had been closed for nearly 24 hours at that point, and there was no end in sight as we all milled around, wondering how Christmas was going to end. This was definitely an unexpected – and unwelcome – change in plans!
I was standing in the crowd, feeling sorry for myself, when I heard a ticket agent very quietly remark: “It looks like there may be a plane heading out to Salt Lake City from Gate B-1 in about 15 minutes.” There had been no public address announcement, no big fanfare, not even any attempt to find any passengers holding tickets for Salt Lake City. And I didn’t care. Nor did the other 50 or so folks who happened to hear this good news, and joined me in a fast, but nonchalant walk to B-1 and our ticket out of “Snowville”.
We weren’t bound for San Diego. It was an unexpected, and much appreciated change in plans, when that plane lifted off the ground and headed over the Rockies…the only plane to leave Denver for the next three days!
I thought about that long-ago Christmas when I went to Portland International Airport at 11:00 yesterday morning, and then again at 1:30 this morning, to pick up my two daughters, carrying on the family tradition of coming home for Christmas. I actually love going to the airport at Christmas (even at 1:30 in the morning), and I usually will try to get there a few minutes ahead of the scheduled arrivals. Because then I get to watch as passengers emerge out of the security area. I get to hear the happy shouts of “there he is!” or “she’s coming!” or “hooray! You made it!”; and I get to see the smiles of recognition and hugs of joy as families are reunited and friends reconnect.
Watching the airport drama unfold, I thought to myself, if this were all that Christmas is about, these reunions, these connections, these momentary glimpses of gratitude…it might be enough. But the truth is, Christmas goes far beyond that. Christmas goes beyond the happy families reuniting to encompass the families torn apart by resentment and anger and violence. Christmas goes beyond those we envelope in welcome home hugs to include those we try our best to guard against, to keep at bay or to deny any entrance to at all. Christmas goes beyond loved ones to strangers, beyond neighbors to refugees, beyond friends all the way to enemies!
Christmas goes beyond our best-laid plans to the most unexpected changes we can imagine. Theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer put it this way: In the child of Bethlehem, the life of the world that is to come has come into the life of the world that is. Talk about a change in plans!
This past Sunday the children presented the Christmas story in the form of a pageant at the 10:30 worship service. I thought it was only fair for the 8:30 service to also have a pageant that day. We didn’t have the usual rehearsals, and we only used some leftover costumes and props. I asked for spontaneous volunteer actors in a “DIY” (Do it Yourself) pageant. When the story had been told, I asked them all to reflect upon the meaning of Christmas from their vantage point as Mary or Joseph, shepherd or sheep, angel or wise one or even old King Herod.
These everyday theologians hit the nail on the head when they said: Christmas tells us that God comes to ordinary people living ordinary lives. Indeed. The world that is to come comes into the world that already is – into the world of we who are ordinary, we who live ordinary lives of loving and losing, of risking and growing, ordinary lives of working and playing, ordinary lives of succeeding and failing, ordinary every lives. The world that is to come comes into the world that already is – no matter what plans we are busy making.
Then the 8:30 pageant brought it on home when someone else said: And the point of the story is that everyone can participate in Christmas. Everyone can participate in Christmas – everyone can play a part in the drama of God-with-us, because sooner or later, everyone is going to have a change in plans.
I made it out of Denver. I got to Salt Lake City, and I only had to spend one night waiting around that airport on stand-by. When I finally made it to San Diego that Christmas, the travel travails didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that I had finally arrived. That is the promise of Christmas, when you get right down to it. It doesn’t matter where you have been, or what you have done or even where you are right now. What matters is where you will let God take you, and what you will let God make of you, and how you will help God change you. What matters is you and God with you.
Heather Murray Elkins offers this piece of advice for those who experience any change in plans and those who would participate in Christmas: When you walk to the edge of all the light you can see, and are asked to take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen: either there will be something solid for you to stand upon, or you will be taught to fly.
So may we all take wing this night. For the Light still shines and the darkness will not ever overcome it. Merry Christmas! Thanks be to God! Amen.