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The Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2017

     I sometimes find myself wishing that I could just sit still for Christmas - quietly sit back in some hidden corner and absorb the wonder of it all – the joy, the mystery, the peace.  But I think I’m in the wrong line of work for that to happen!  Monks may get to sit still for Christmas, not parish priests.  And you don’t get to sit still for Christmas, either, do you?

     But maybe that’s okay.  Mary and Joseph didn’t sit still for Christmas.  There was that census in Bethlehem, so far from Nazareth.  The shepherds didn’t sit still either.  They were awakened during their night watch by angels who hurried them off to the stable.  And the Magi were on the move as they followed a star that called out to them from the night sky. And, of course, God wasn’t sitting still at Christmas, either.  In one marvelous moment, unique and never to be repeated, God traveled the infinite distance between heaven and earth to become one of us.

     So there’s good precedent for a busy Christmas, a Christmas on the move, wouldn’t you agree?  And if you feel just a little tired and out of breath at this moment, consider yourself in very good company: the company of shepherds and sages, the company of saints and angels; the company of God!  And, my friends, it is their company that can redeem our Christmas fatigue, turn our busyness and our breathlessness, our sometimes frantic running around, into something good, something holy: a journey of the heart, a journey of the soul.

     Will you join me for a few moments on that journey?  Happily, there are no reservations to be made ahead of time, no tickets to be purchased. And the itinerary?  The itinerary is open-ended because, while the destination is certain, there are many ways to get there.  As for packing: traveling light is always best but, happily, you can take with you all your complicated personal history: your failures, disappointments, doubts, and dreary compromises – and your successes and achievements, great or small.  And if the negatives you carry seem to outweigh the positives, you needn’t worry: you will be leaving more room for God to work wonders of healing and grace.

     This journey we are on is, of course, a journey to the kingdom, God’s kingdom, but the stopping-off place today is the manger.  It is there that we can lay down our burdens as the Magi laid down their gifts.  We lay them down before the Child who accepts whatever we bring - this Child who is one of us yet so much more than us, this child who reveals to us the most unbelievable sort of God: not a remote, thundering, demanding, omnipotent Being before whom we can only cower in fear; no, a tiny, vulnerable, utterly helpless baby in the arms of his mother.  All the power of the Godhead in a powerless infant – as if to say, who can be afraid of a God like this?

     My friends we live far too much of our lives in fear of God and far too little of them basking in God’s love. Think what our lives would be like if we really believed that God loves us unconditionally. And think what our world would be like if we really believed that God has this same love for every person on this earth. Every person. What would become of our sad divisions, our hateful discriminations, our resorting to violence in order to stake our claims or settle our scores?

     I’m dreaming, I know.  But didn’t God dream on Christmas?  Dream that becoming one of us could somehow change us?  And it can!  Not all at once, no, for Christmas is not the end of our journey – it’s the beginning.  Christmas means that God is with us right in the midst of our often messy lives and our troubled world -- that God is right in the midst of whatever is happening to us, not outside it.  Christmas says that God holds us in our weakness and our sin -- gently embraces us in our pain and sorrow, our confusion and our feelings of inadequacy.  That’s what we mean when we say, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Or, as a more accurate and colorful translation has it, “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”

     Which puts me in mind of a little Christmas poem sent me by a friend:

      God ‘pitched his tent in our midst…’
     Lived right next door,
     No distance.
     Emmanuel…God with us –
     With a family, dysfunctional like ours,
     Unwed mother, bewildered father.
     Mostly broke,
     With, as in most families,
     A crazy cousin in the desert eating locusts,
     Making family functions awkward.
     Stories say that as a boy he ran away;
     Hid in the temple.
     It took his mom and dad, distracted,
     A couple days to notice.
     We lose our keys, glasses, sometimes our mind,
     Rarely lose a child, as his parents did.
     Like most of us, his family didn’t understand him,
     Worried, wondered, wept for what he might become,
     Troubled by his words and his wandering.
     We try to make him different, distant
     Less vulnerable than we so often feel and are,
     But no — Jesus is, was and ever will be,
     One of us,
     The kid next door,
     Our God, at home.

     My friends, that’s the message of Christmas. God is at home with us, and that’s where he wants to be. We sing “Glory to God in the highest” today but, the wonder is that God glories in being with the lowest.  And that’s something to celebrate. Merry Christmas! 

Father Michael G. Ryan





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