Monday, December 24, 2012

What is it about Christmas?: A Christmas Eve meditation

Listen to the story once again (Luke 2:8-20): 
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."  
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Mary pondered these things in her heart.  
I’ve been pondering Christmas things in my heart.

What is it about Christmas?

-Is it just lights and decorated trees, and Christmas cards and carols?

-Is it just parties and treats at the office and Secret Santa exchange?

-Is it just packed malls, and crossing off items on a overflowing to do list, and finding just that perfect gift?

-Is it just children creeping down the stairs on Christmas morning, and wrapping paper strewn rooms?

-Is it just the smells of turkey or ham, or my mother’s traditional Christmas lasagna, and family gathered around the table?
All these are good things.  
All these are joyous things.  
But are they enough to explain Christmas?

-Is it the joy of the children’s Christmas program, where anything can happen –
                             angels’ wings drop off,
                             a lamb runs down the aisle for the safety of her mother’s arms,
                             a tiny shepherd uses his staff to hook the angels
                                                 and fish the baby Jesus  doll out of the manger,
anything can happen
                                but the angels’ song never sounded sweeter.

 -It is the full church on Christmas Eve,
                      greeting friends and family you only see at Christmas time,
                      the melody of familiar carols,
                      and the sacred silence of a candlelit church?

 What is it about Christmas?

Why does the world seem to get a bit kinder at this time?

Why do people smile at strangers and wish them “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

Why are there more acts of kindness, stories of people surprising their poorer neighbors with turkeys for the table and gifts for the children and the wonder of a paid in full electric bill?

Why does joy seem more joyful and tragedy seem more tragic?

It’s as if at this time of year we sense that there’s something better than the way things are.

There’s a promise wafting on the wind.

There’s something here, something grand.

Something we long for deep in our souls.

And we catch a glimpse of that something at Christmas.

And it makes us want to celebrate.

It makes us want to rejoice. 

It makes us want to hope.

This week, I read a poem by Ann Weems, called Lord, You were born:

Each year about this time I try to be sophisticated
And pretend I understand the bored expressions
                  Relating to the “Christmas Spirit.”
I nod when they say “Put the Christ back in Christmas.”
I say yes, yes, yes when they shout “Commercial” and
                  “Hectic, hectic, hectic.”
After all, I’m getting older.
And I’ve heard it said, “Christmas is for children.”
But somehow a fa-la-la keeps creeping out…
So I’ll say it:
I love Christmas tinsel
And angel voices that come from the bed upstairs.
And I say three cheers for Santa Claus
And the Salvation Army bucket
And all the wrappings and festivities and special warm feelings.
I say it is good
So hooray for Christmas trees
And candlelight
And the good old church pageant.
Hooray for shepherd boys who forget their lines
And wise men whose beards fall off
And a Mary who giggles.
O Lord, you were born!
O Lord, you were born!
And that breaks in upon my ordered life like bugles blaring.
And I sing, “Hark, the Herald Angels” in the most unlikely places.
You were born
And I will celebrate!
I rejoice for the carnival of Christmas!
I clap for the pajama-clad cherubs
And the Christmas cards jammed in the mail slot.
I o-o-o-oh for the turkey
And ah-h-h-h for the Christmas pudding
And thank God for the alleluias I see in the faces of people
I don’t know
                  And yet know very well.

O Lord, there aren’t enough choir boys to sing what I feel. There aren’t enough trumpets to blow.
O Lord, I want bells to peal!
I want to dance in the streets of Bethlehem!
I want to sing with the heavenly hosts!
For unto us a Son was given
And he was called God with us.
For those of us who believe
The whole world is decorated in love.

At Christmas, the world catches a glimpse of God’s love.

A glimpse of the way God created the world to be.

A glimpse of something grand.

Something we long for deep in our souls.

Hope was met that night in Bethlehem.
Peace was birthed in a manger.
Joy burst forth over all the earth.
And love became incarnate and walked among us.

And so we celebrate!

We rejoice with the angels!

We run through the streets praising and shouting with the shepherds!

How can you not want to shout it from the mountain tops?

God is with us!

And the whole world is amazed at the news! 

(sing “Go tell it on the mountains”)

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