I’m not sure if you can sense it, but all of creation is humming tonight. Tonight is the night when the line that separates heaven from earth is so thin you can easily see right through it. What’s more, tonight is the night we measure all time against. Everything that happened yesterday is before Jesus Christ. And everything that happens tomorrow is after Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, here in this sanctuary in South Windsor, Connecticut, God is with us in this very moment.
The main thing we are waiting for tonight is the birth of a tiny baby. We long to hear the baby cry. We picture him newly delivered, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and cradled in his mother’s arms. The shepherds and the angels and the stable animals and the people of Bethlehem and you and me…we’re all milling around patiently near the manger.
But Jesus isn’t the only thing we’re waiting for tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone here tonight is waiting to find out what’s inside that large, weird looking box over in the corner behind the Christmas tree. The one somebody stuck a bow on trying to make it look presentable, even though they had to use nearly an entire roll of wrapping paper just to keep the recipient guessing. .
And I’m pretty sure someone here tonight can’t wait to fall asleep tonight knowing that every single bed in the house will be full of children and grandchildren gathered from near and far to celebrate Christmas morning.
At the same time someone else will take one last look in the crib tonight before waking Christmas morning with a baby in the house…anticipating what it will feel like when your very own nativity scene unfolds in your living room.
Still others anticipate tomorrow morning with a sense of sadness and perhaps even dread. There is a chair that will be empty. A stocking that stays in the box and won’t be hung near the fireplace. All those Christmas rituals shared over the years with a beloved life companion now fall to you alone and I imagine it will feel like the sound of one hand clapping.
On one hand, some of you might wonder hopefully, tentatively whether the pain has eased a bit since last Christmas…a sign that you have healed some and begun to move on with your life. On the other hand, some of you won’t want the pain to have eased because somehow that means you’ve stopped caring…even though that’s never actually true. And some of you wait inevitably for the memories to well up inside you and fill you with a kind of bittersweet nostalgia you can almost taste.
The truth is that Christmas Eve is like a back to the future time machine which transports us to every other Christmas we have spent on this earth. That time years ago when we dressed up in a bathrobe to play a shepherd in the Christmas pageant. The aroma of pine branches and gingerbread and mulled cider filling the house. The year it started snowing before dawn and by the afternoon you were out sledding in the backyard with your new hat and new mittens and new flexible flyer. The year everyone in the family sat around in their pajamas while the youngest children chased the brand new puppy through a sea of cardboard boxes and crumpled up holiday paper.
Or for some of us Christmas every year is a reminder of the way life is supposed to be but never quite is. Christmas is the time of year when we look longingly through other people’s windows, wishing we were the ones drinking hot chocolate and listening to carols and warming our hands by the fireplace. Wishing most of all that we too had a place we could call home…
Here is the amazing thing about Christmas Eve, though. We are all home tonight, here together in this sanctuary. We’re all inside, at least until we go outside at the end of this service. This is our Bethlehem and side by side you and I have brought the hopes and fears of all our years prepared to lay them at the foot of the manger.
No wonder creation is buzzing. This place is alive with our hopes and dreams and whatever we believe our lives should be or could be like once God is born into them. Our Christmas dreams incorporate the enchanting scenes we see on the front of the Christmas cards we sent. Or at least intended to send. Complete with all the wonderful words written inside those Christmas cards…words like “peace,” and “hope,” and “joy,” and “love.”
Tonight we wait to see how our Christmas dreams take shape. We wait to see when those Christmas words take root and take hold.
And while we wait, we listen to the story once more. The story about a God who chooses to dwell among us. Not a God who lives up there high overhead in a distant realm. Not a God who promises to beam us up and away from our daily routines and fearful anxieties.
Rather a God who comes to us no matter how far from home we may be. No matter how far from ideal our circumstances might be. No matter how faintly our lives resemble the sentiment we see on the Christmas cards we send and receive.
Friends, on this holy night, none of heaven’s escalators are going up. All of heaven’s escalators are coming down here into our own Bethlehem in South Windsor, Connecticut. Bringing us the God who decided to make a home in our arms. Merry Christmas…
NOTE: Inspiration for this evening’s Christmas meditation came from a sermon entitled, “Past Perfection.” It can be found on pgs. 20-24 in Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Home By Another Way. (Cowley Publications: 1999.)