Date: Christmas Eve, 2017 – 7:00 pm
Title: “The Art of Christmas”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
It was Thursday night. There were just two days left until the “big one”. Sunday was coming, that relentless return of the Sabbath. And not just any Sunday – December 24th, Christmas – when there would be five worship services, four of which would need a particular word from me. The pressure was definitely on. This is serious business!
I had just settled into a time of reading, reflecting, and meditation – serious business that would be a prelude to the writing. It was serious business. The dog was on my lap, quietly snoring in contentment, the tea was hot and sweet, the prose was poetic and I had relaxed into the business at hand…when the doorbell rang.
It was a jarring interruption, an unwelcome intrusion in my silent night. Who could it be? What could they want? Didn’t they know I was engaged in serious business? Grumpy and distracted, I went to open the door, when just above the cacophony of the dog’s barking, I heard the strains of Christmas: Joy to the world! The Lord is come! And heaven and nature sing…repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy…
Eight young people, maybe 15-17 years old, stood under my porch light gifting me as they practiced the Art of Christmas. I was humbled as I remembered that the Art of Christmas has more to do with love than with lists, it is more concerned with being than with doing. The Art of Christmas takes us out of ourselves and away from our own over-blown sense of importance. When we practice the Art of Christmas we welcome every interruption, we honor every intrusion into our hubris, because we recognize that every moment holds within it the promise of God’s grace. When we practice the Art of Christmas we begin to see clearly, even in the deepest, darkest night, and we somehow find the courage to “be not afraid.”
Be not afraid… what a ludicrous greeting the angel brings to the shepherds. What a crazy notion God lays on us tonight – Be not afraid. Anyone with any sense at all is frightened on a night like this. The world is full of rationality and political posturing, we are given to over-consumption and the plunder of earth’s resources…to say nothing of the violence and the culture clashes, the terror and the rage which has come to be all too ordinary and commonplace. And we ourselves – we are all a mix of beauty and brokenness, of love and lies, of holiness and hiddenness.
Yet still God says to us Be Not Afraid. Parker Palmer puts it this way when he writes:
When God tells us “Do not be afraid!” that does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear. But “Do not be afraid!” says we should not be the fear we have.
Yes, we have places of fear inside of us (I’m a little bit nervous about driving in the ice over Sylvan Hill at midnight tonight, if the truth be told). We all have places of fear inside us, but we have other places as well, places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to live from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety.
We all have places of fear inside us, but we also have places like trust, hope and faith, precisely because life is lived in both darkness and in light. Al Zolynas puts it succinctly in his poem “Under Ideal Conditions”:
Say in the flattest part of North Dakota
On a starless, moonless night,
No breath of wind
A man could light a candle, then walk away
Every now and then he could turn and see
The candle burning
Seventeen miles later, provided conditions remained ideal
He could still see the flame
Somewhere between the seventeenth and eighteenth mile
He would lose the light
If he were walking backwards he would know the exact moment
When he lost the flame
He could step forward and find it again
Back and forth…dark to light, light to dark
What’s the place where the light disappears?
Where the light reappears?
Don’t tell me about photons and eyeballs
Reflection and refraction
Don’t tell me about one hundred and eighty-six thousand
Miles per second and the theory of relativity
All I know is that place
Where the light appears and disappears…
That’s the place where we live.
That is the place where we all live. So it behooves us – we who are engaged in the serious business of Christmas – it behooves us to not lose sight of the darkness or the light. Christmas is a story of birth, to be sure. And what is born is not just a baby lying in a manger. What is born and continues to be born in us is a new way of living in both the darkness and the light, where we may have fear, but we will not “be” the fear we have!
Some 500 years ago Martin Luther pointed out: The angel does not merely say that Christ is born; the angel says for you… for you Christ is born. The angel does not say “I bring news of great joy”; the angel says To you I bring news of great joy.
All of a sudden the Incarnation becomes much more personal, as we understand the invitation is given to us, to practice the Art of Christmas. For if God can be made known to untrustworthy shepherds and somewhat sketchy astrologers, then surely God can be made known to you and me. If God can be born to an oppressed people struggling against the most powerful empire of the ancient world, then God can be born to we who are oppressed and we who are the oppressors of this world. The place where the light appears and the point where it disappears – that is where we live, because God lives within us. Thanks be to God! Merry Christmas.