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Soon and very soon, just a few hours from now, we will be caught up in story and song, in our children’s almost frantic anticipation of presents under the tree, in wonder and maybe even worship. Soon and very soon we will be reveling in the romance and audacity of a familiar but still preposterous story; we will, perhaps, be wondering what difference that story makes, even as we tell it one more time.
But . . . not quite yet. On this morning of a day that is both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, we still have a little time to open our hearts. We have time to consider not only the sentimentality of Christmas but also the radical promise of a God coming to turn the world around and upside-down. We still have time, there is always time, to open our hearts to the grown-up Jesus, the troublemaker and healer, the one who would transform us and turn our lives around, the one who would be Lord—the boss—of us.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? We love the promise that even those of us living and walking in darkness will see a great light. We love Mary’s song, the Magnificat, and its celebration of a God who casts down the powerful and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away. We love it that the good and glorious news of peace and goodwill comes first not to kings and presidents, not to the rich and powerful, but to humble, dirty, smelly, and poor shepherds that were looked down upon by respectable people like us.
We love the little-baby, big-picture aspects of the Christmas story, the mystery of the Word becoming flesh, the hard-to-believe reality of the Creator of the universe slipping into our skin and moving into our neighborhood, bringing and being a light that no darkness can overcome.
It is the very best love story of all. Ever.
And, like most love stories, this one has its elements of rejection and heartbreak.
Did you catch that line in the reading from the gorgeous first chapter of John? In the middle of all that mystical stuff about the Word becoming life and light and flesh and glory and grace and truth, there is this sad sentence:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
And then another:
He came to what was his own, and his own people—that would be us—did not accept him.
And then there is a “but”:
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
We who wait and watch for his coming, we who anticipate and celebrate his arrival . . . Do we receive him when he comes? Do we make room in our lives for his way of doing things? Do we allow him to turn us around and upside-down? Or do we just move on, same as it ever was—same as we ever were?
I realize this may sound like a harsh word on Christmas Eve morning, but remember: It’s really the Fourth Sunday of Advent! There is still time to prepare the way for the glorious (and sometimes disruptive) transformation this baby portends. There is still time, there is always time, to open our hearts to a love that will remake us more fully in God’s image.
Indeed, this is the holy work of a lifetime. This is the healing, transforming Love that is forever and always, constantly, coming—not just once a year. This is the promise of newness and healing that is always available to us.
This is, in fact, the good news: That peace and goodwill, wholeness and justice, are available not only for the world, not only for the poor, not only for Lucio and his family and millions of other immigrants, not only for the 9 million families on the verge of losing health insurance for their families, not only for the families who’ve lost their homes to hurricanes, floods, and fires, not only for the homeless in our community . . .
But also for us.
The fine and fabulous print of that glorious good news the angels brought the night Christ was born is the practical good news delivered by a rabble-rousing rabbi and healer from the backwater Nazareth: That God’s reign will come on earth as it in is heaven when we allow it to come into our hearts. That the injustices and suffering of this world will change when we allow ourselves to be changed. When we open our hearts. Again.
That God’s reign is coming even now, because you have opened your hearts—not only to a poor baby born in a stable, but also to the Risen Christ who lives in and through Lucio Perez, to the Christ in the guests at Not Bread Alone, to the Christ in the sanctuary staff volunteers of other faiths and no faith, to the political organizers working for justice, to new ideas and ways of doing things, to neighbors and family members, to one another.
Soon and very soon, we will hear and celebrate again a marvelous story and a miraculous birth. Author Arundhati Roy says “the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.”
Maybe this year, when we hear the story, we will open a hearts a little wider and let the mystery penetrate a little deeper. Maybe this year, when we hear the story, we will realize that the story hasn’t ended yet, that it is ongoing. Maybe this year, we will become more aware of our own part in this story; maybe this year we will more fully understand that how this story plays out is up to us.
Maybe this year, even in these days of unrelenting injustice, we will understand that we are children of Christmas, and that Christmas is all about incarnation, embodiment, empowerment and justice. Maybe this year we, like Mary, will say “yes” to the possibility of new life and hope being born in and through us.
“Maybe this Christmas will mean something more. Maybe this year, Love will appear, deeper than ever before. And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call someone we’ve loved, someone we’ve lost, for reasons we can’t quite recall. Maybe this Chistmas they’ll be an open door. Maybe the star that’s shown before will shine once more. And maybe this Christmas will find us at last in heavenly peace. Grieve for the least. For the love we’ve been shown in the past. Maybe this Christmas.” 1
May it be so. Soon and very soon.