Christmas Eve Meditation, Pilgrim Church UCC, (Poems from Upon A Luminous Night) December 24, 2014

On this Christmas Eve night, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—the Light of the World.  In good company with the shepherds living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, we marvel at the appearance of a multitude of the heavenly host singing their “Glorias.”  Traveling alongside the shepherds in great haste, we behold a newborn baby lying in a borrowed bed of straw.  Treasuring these miraculous events with Mary and Joseph, we ponder them in our own hearts, contemplating their meaning.  This is a night of beautiful, awe-inspiring wonders.

We can’t lose sight of God’s Incarnation as a helpless infant, born on the outskirts of town to a poor couple who aren’t even married yet.  The Incarnation is almost uncomfortable because it defies logical explanations.  Though it does matter that Jesus was born to poor, unmarried outsiders.  Poet Christine Rodgers writes: “The truth is this baby was born into poverty.  There was no room for him.  There were animals and outcasts around him.  His own parents exhausted and far from home.  This is how our God chose to come into the world.”[1]

This is the heart of our Christian story—that God chose to come into the world not as a powerful and mighty authority figure, but as a helpless infant born in poverty surrounded by animals and outcasts.  It matters that God chose to come to exhausted parents far from home doing their best to bring their child of promise into the world.  Mary and Joseph make a home where there is no home, with Jesus nestled in the manger while the shepherds tell of the angels’ message.

Instead of focusing on explanations to understand on a head level what occurred on this holy night, I’d rather focus on the heart level.  On the deeper meaning of the story.  What does the Christmas Story mean?

Now maybe you’re thinking, come on!  We’re intelligent people living in 2014, and we deserve an explanation for being in church on Christmas Eve when we could already be at parties or enjoying a quiet night at home.  Would it help to know that there are lots of ways to think about Jesus as Emmanuel—God with Us?  Maybe this little baby was the Word become Flesh to dwell among us.  Maybe we affirm that Jesus was a First Century Jewish man whose birth, life, teachings, and death reveal what a life completely devoted to God looks like.  That the fullness of his humanity and the way he lived points to his divinity and the divine spark within all of us.  Maybe it’s enough to say that Jesus exemplified all the convictions that we believe about God—that God is loving, merciful, just, and mysterious.  In all these ways and more, Jesus was and is God With Us—beginning the night of his birth in that rather unremarkable stable in Bethlehem.

Like the Magi who came before us, what we search for tonight is the truth and the meaning, not necessarily the facts and explanations.  After all, how do you reason a miracle out?  The world is still wounded, and yet this blessing comes each year when everything seems barren and dead in the middle of winter.  This blessing brings the promise of our deepest life.  The cry of an infant pierces even the deepest and darkest nights of our souls.  The questions become: “Will we open our hearts?  Will we give birth to love?  Will we answer yes?”[2]

This is a difficult task, allowing our hearts to be the star of the show.  UCC Minister Quinn Caldwell says it well, “So many of the stories that go with this time of year are miraculous: virgin births, angelic appearances, psychic dreams, and traveling stars.  You might be tempted to try to explain them rationally.  Get over it.  Miracle stories aren’t supposed to be explainable . . . they’re not supposed to be explained.”[3]

A Christmas TV episode that highlights the conundrum of trying to explain miracles is from The Middle.  This comedy series is about a working-class American family—dad, mom, two sons, and a daughter as they go about their lives in Indiana, in “the middle” of the country.  The daughter is Christian and religious, partly because she has a crush on her youth minister who randomly appears when she’s in trouble, like her Guardian Angel with an acoustic guitar and a dashing smile to boot.

In the Christmas episode one year, she discovers that her intelligent younger brother doesn’t seem to believe the same way that she does.  He’s a bookworm and begins reading the Bible, experiencing doubts about the historical nature of these accounts.  He says, “I do have a lot of questions though, like Jonah inside the belly of a whale, wouldn’t the whale’s digestive juices dissolve him? And how could Noah have two of every animal on one boat?  Many are mortal enemies.”  No one in his family answers his questions to his satisfaction.  So at his sister’s urging, he goes to speak with the dreamy youth minister and ends up with even more doubts after their conversation.  In exasperation, his older sister says, “You have to believe.  I’m not sure you get to even celebrate Christmas if you don’t believe.”

At the end of the episode, brother and sister are looking out the window at the snow gently falling on Christmas morning.  The sister comments on how amazing it is that each snowflake is unique and that it must take God a lot of time to do that.  It’s a miracle!  Her brother quietly asks, “So do you really believe that all that stuff in the Bible is true?”  “Oh, absolutely!” she responds.  After a moment of contemplative silence, her younger brother sighs, “I don’t know, but it’s a really cool story.” [4]

Facts vs. truth.  Explanations vs. meanings.  Maybe we just recognize that our Christmas Story is a really cool story that gives hope to a hurting world, and hope in our broken lives.  It’s a story that can save us for new life if we listen with hearts wide open.  The birth of Jesus Christ shows us that we, too can be light and love and peace in the world.  May it be so, Amen.

[1] Christine Rodgers, “Song for the Poor at Christmas,” in Upon a Luminous Night.
[2] Christine Rodgers, “Invocation,” in Upon a Luminous Night.
[3] Quinn Caldwell, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas, 63.
[4] The Middle, Season 3, Episode 11, “A Christmas Gift”