St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield
How are you tonight? No…I mean, really. How are you tonight? Are you feeling a little under the weather, perhaps? There are a lot of bad bugs flying around this time of year. Or maybe you’re feeling pretty good, but you know that all is not right with your body, and you’re facing some pretty daunting physical and medical challenges. Perhaps you even know that you’re dying—not just in the abstract, but within a particular time frame. Are you lonely? Maybe you yearn for a certain person to be with you for Christmas, but you’re here, and they’re…wherever they are—not here. Are you afraid? Perhaps you live in dread of an email or a letter or a phone call or a knock on the door that will bring news you very much do not want to hear. Are you wounded in your spirit? Has a loved one let you down, or outright betrayed you? Are there painful memories that seem to just always weigh you down emotionally, and you can’t ever really get past them? Are you angry? Maybe someone treated you unfairly or rudely and it just makes you boil. Are you upset about the policies of the government, or with those who are upset about the policies of the government? Are you bored? Are you uncomfortable being in church, and are here out of a sense of obligation—either generally or to a particular person? Are you cynical about what’s happening in this place at this hour? Do you wish you were somewhere else?
Well…I don’t mean to depress you. I’m just trying to encourage honesty, and the truth is that, amid the festivity of the season and the joy of this liturgical celebration of Christmas—all of which is completely well and good and meet and right and legitimate—even as we rejoice, we are, each one of us, broken people. We are broken in multiple ways, and when dried up Christmas trees litter the curbs—in a couple of days or a couple of weeks, depending on how one keeps the feast—when life gets back to normal, “normal” will include our brokenness, and we may even be a bit more acutely aware of it, just for having been through this season of mandatory joy.
My wife, as you may know, has a ten year-old border collie, with whom she has formed a mutual admiration society. All things being equal, I would really rather not have a dog, but I have so far avoided giving Brenda an ultimatum—“It’s either the dog or me!—because…well, let’s just say, I’m smarter than that. So I somewhat reluctantly share my living space with a four-legged creature named Lucifer—which, as Brenda reminds me, means “light bearer.” Lucy, as
Brenda calls her, is, like most of her kind, quite
fond of raw meat. But she has a fear that outweighs even her appetite for a
nice, fresh chicken thigh. She suffers from a compelling and overpowering fear
of abandonment. Lucy is certain that, if she lets Brenda out of the house, for
any reason, there’s a good possibility that she might not ever return. So Lucy
can know that there’s fresh meat out on the front porch, but unless Brenda goes
out there and stays within sight of Lucy while Lucy eats it, she sometimes won’t
even go out the door. The dog has serious abandonment issues, and I suppose may
need some expensive therapy before she gets any better. I don’t know.
Well, one feature of our individual and collective brokenness is that we, as a human race, also have serious abandonment issues. We are afraid that, not only are we miserable, but that God has abandoned us in our misery. We are afraid that God has given up on us. We are afraid that sickness and death are all there is, in the end. We are afraid that fear and anger have the final word. We are afraid that loneliness and boredom and cynicism have the last say in the matter.
Christmas is the therapy we need to deal with our abandonment issues. The birth of Christ, the incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in the infant whose parents were instructed to name him Jesus, is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned us in our state of misery. Because a young woman named Mary had the courage to say Yes to a very strange vocation, and give birth in the uncomfortable squalor of a barn, and set the baby down in a feeding trough, because an honorable man named Joseph had the courage to say Yes to the very strange vocation of raising as his own a child whom he did not father—because of all this, you and I have hope that God has not abandoned us in our misery, but is, in fact with us—that he is, in fact, one of us. Because of Christmas, God knows. God knows. Whatever we’re feeling, God knows—not just because He’s good, but because He’s been there.
Are you sick? God knows, and the birth of Christ makes it possible for you to share God’s eternal wellness and wholeness and health.
Are you lonely? God knows, and Jesus’ nativity makes it possible for you to participate in the very life of God, to share in the perfect community of the Holy Trinity,
Are you afraid? God knows, and Christ’s birth makes it possible for you to know the deathless love of God that banishes all fear.
Are you angry? God knows, and the birth of Jesus makes it possible for you to see God’s own vision of a world where justice reigns, where crime doesn’t pay, and all wrongs are put right.
Are you wounded in spirit? God knows, and what we celebrate at Christmas makes it possible for you to receive the consolation and love of one who is known as the Man of Sorrows, and is acquainted with every human grief.
Are you bored, cynical, unbelieving? God knows, and Christmas can be a sign to you of hope that there is an alternative way of looking at your own life and the whole human condition.
Are you dying? God knows, and the birth of Christ is a sign of God’s intent that death not have the last word, but that it be swallowed up in the victory of life.
Christ is born, the Word is made flesh, and God knows. Come, let us adore him. Amen.