Our priest has spent the last couple of days sick with the flu, so in order to ensure that she was well enough, I wrote the backup sermon. Because if I write it, I won't need it. So, this is what is not getting preached at my church for our late service.
Welcome to Christmas Eve. Or, rather, Welcome to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, the beginning of the Great Feast of Christmas.
Some of us are more about the Great Feast and the twelve days of Christmas than others...It's currently serving as my excuse as to why some people are getting their presents a little later than tomorrow morning. Fair is fair, I was told that someone else was “Going Orthodox” about presents since it didn't look like it was going to make it by mail in time.
But now is the space of time where we breathe. The shopping is done, and gifts are either here or not. The presents are wrapped and under the tree. Santa will show up this evening to fill the stockings. You're as prepped as you're going to get until tomorrow. Your family is here, or will show up to feast in the morning or the afternoon and there is nothing you can do about the stressful parts until the dawn.
Tonight – tonight we breathe.
Tonight we remember.
The waiting is over. The white candle is lit. Christ is born!
People like rituals. We like routine. Making our coffee in the morning is a ritual. Thanksgiving dinner is a ritual. And this gathering of people is one of our greatest rituals, that binds together the church universal. All over the world this night people gather in churches and chapels and homes and read this short little story – about a babe, lying in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Amidst war and peace, fear and joy, this quiet reading reminds us that two thousand years ago, a child was called Emmanuel, God With Us.
The incarnation is the greatest gift ever given. Imagine willingly taking on the messy, illogical, chaotic, and limited form of a human baby. A wet diaper is no fun, even if you're God. An infant is essentially helpless, and the “fully human” part of the equation meant he couldn't just skip past that bit. God, creator of the universe, chose helplessness, chose to feel pain. It's part of what shapes us and defines us, our childhoods. Sure, He could heal a skinned knee or a sprained ankle as soon as they happened, but getting injured hurts in the first place. And He chose to feel sorrow, because when someone died, he was here and they...were not.
God also chose to feel happiness. And exultation. For the first time, He could celebrate with people. He could hug them close or swing them around or play silly party games at the festivals that He had decreed. He who created the sun and the earth and the vine...got to have a drink with friends.
Incarnation was a choice, and Christ chose us. A short three months from now, we will gather again, to celebrate the results of that choice, a journey that took him thirty years. But those thirty years were human, a set of limits on the limitless one. And tonight, we remember and rejoice in that decision, in the knowledge that a helpless child will grow up and become the savior of the world.
We gather together as people are doing everywhere, and sing Silent Night. And we will light candles, for the light of the world has come among us, and that light grows as passed from person to person throughout the earth.
And we remember. Tonight, the waiting is over. Christ is born!