A Christmas Eve Reflection
By the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 24, 2011
University Baptist Church
What needs to be said tonight, that is not already said in music, in scripture readings, in candles lit and hearts warmed, in actions of our children and our families? What can I add to this night of nights? This night when we celebrate the incarnation of God—that time when God was smuggled into the world in the form of a small foreign homeless child. This child came to teach us how to live with each other in equity, to recognize the holy in all people, to live in gratitude for the world God has given us. God became human in this child so that we might even incorporate some of that brightness into our very lives. And when we take on the light at the end of the service this evening, we are shining the light of Christ which we dare to take into our very hearts, to illumine our lives, to recognize the beauty of God in each person.
It was one year ago this evening, when my cousin died. Like so many others, she had struggled for many years with despair and she reached the end of her rope. Several of us have had people whom we have lost on or around significant holiday times. It is a hard time to be happy and joyful. There is too much pressure to make things nice and smooth and just right. It’s more than some of us can handle. And while I’m glad that her pain is gone, I find that a portion of the pain is transferred to those who loved her and have to carry on without her.
So, this Christmas is a melancholy one. I find myself tempted to focus upon that still raw place in my life and in the lives of so many people. And I have to believe that God came to earth on Christmas to walk with us all in the hardest times. I have felt God walk with me. I have seen God in the faces of so many of you, heard God in the voices of so many of you, felt God’s presence in the support offered by so many of you. I have felt God surround us and hold us up when we did not think we could go on. I choose to think that God is here and gives us the opportunity to walk the smooth and rough roads together. “God will not leave us comfortless” seems like such a platitude. And yet, I look in my own despair and I see God’s presence in people that I love, who want the very best for me and our community. Talk is cheap. Presence is the true present of Christmas.
I think of what happened in the stable so long ago. It was a miraculous thing for the holy couple. We all have our private joys and struggles. And yet there is something about the Christmas miracle that can’t be silenced. There is a truth that cries out. Angels sing it, eastern philosophers interpret it, shepherds leave their sheep and leave their lambs, and the glory of the Lord shines around. It cannot be kept silent. It’s a joy amidst all of the hardship, the turmoil. It’s the mystical wonder that God is looking out for the most alone and the most forgotten. God is looking out for us, helping us make it through the dark night. And we light candles to show that darkness is not the last answer. There is light that we dare to share with one another. There is light that fills our hearts. There is the light of God that ignites imagination about how we can face the New Year with boldness and love. And it’s a reminder that God looks to all of us and offers us the opportunity to shine our light, which is mingled on Christmas with God’s light. And that combined light illumines a hungry and hurting world.
Maybe this is what Charles Dickens had in mind when he wrote, “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of their neighbors as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
For now, we keep vigil. We look up to the stars, we hear angels singing, drowning out the sounds and smells of the sheep.
And we light candles, sing carols and remember that God came to all of us, yes, but especially those hurting the most, like Mary and Joseph and all they represented—all those who are misunderstood and ignored. God came to all of us and said, I will hear your prayers. I will light your way. I will stand by you. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.”
This Christmas, I imagine God holding my cousin Alice, my friend Sarah, our dear UBC sister Jan, our UBC brother Mark and so many others in a warm embrace, eternally holding and comforting them. I also feel God’s hand on me, encouraging me to make my life meaningful and light-filled. I will light a candle in a few moments and remind myself that darkness is not the last word. That God became human to give light to all people.
God became human to show us a way through the darkness.
God became human in the person of this tiny little baby to help us imagine peace on earth, good will to all people.
And as I take the light into my own heart, I will commit myself to making my little corner of the world a bit brighter. That’s the real meaning of Christmas. Will you join me in that? May each drop of wax remind us of the hot tears God sheds for the brokenness of the world. May we continue to light the way in the darkness, for as the prophet said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
May it be so for all of us.