Christmas Eve Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Christmas has got to be my favorite time of year. Sure, as a church nerd I’m theologically and liturgically partial to the Great Vigil of Easter, but Christmas just has such a deep resonant connection to my very core. I think for all of us, there is something deep and meaningful about Christmas, each with our own memories and traditions. There are so many memories of family gatherings, of traditions about what shows we watched, when we decorated, and so on. Our Gospel reading tonight immediately takes me back to being a child watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special and listening to Linus recite portions of Luke’s nativity from the King James translation.
As you may remember, the show centers around Charlie Brown’s depression and his pursuit of curing it by putting on a nativity play. Of course there is the usual chaos, the poor sad tree, even if it is the only real tree among the fakes, and generally Charlie’s vision is overrun with a very shiny commercialized Christmas view. In great frustration he cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” and Linus steps in, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about” and begins to recite from Luke the second half of our Gospel reading tonight. When he finishes, he quietly says to Charlie Brown, “that’s what Christmas is all about.”
Just like that, through a calm, quiet, child’s voice come the lines that draw us in to that moment, not unlike God’s moment of drawing people’s attention in to that manger. There is such wonder and surprise to be had at God’s very nature, revealed through this act of incarnation. The unknowable creator of the universe, the God of Abraham and Moses, the God who flooded the Earth. The God who could no doubt make known the presence and power of His Kingdom, begins his earthly journey as a baby. A helpless baby, born out of somewhat difficult circumstances socially, in a place surrounded by animals and their feed. The author of Luke takes great pain to articulate to us that God’s coming into this world takes place amid the normal day to day routines of work and rest, amidst the comings and goings of imperial politics, economics, and conquest.
In all of that a baby is born. If you compare that to what happens with the shepherds, you really can see how absurdly different these two events are and how it absolutely must show God’s nature. On one hand the shepherds are surrounded by a, “multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” I imagine this scene, the shepherds are hanging out by a campfire, relaxing, doing whatever it is shepherds do, and first one angel shows up, probably already surrounded by a brighter light than the shepherds have ever seen. Then, they are blinded by this bright, radiant host of heaven. It must have been glorious and terrifying.
So then we think of the other side of that, the manger, the hay, the young woman and her husband, a baby, born into this world without any particular pomp or circumstance, born just like all of us are born. That is how God chooses to be incarnate. God does not appear to kings and emperors, God does not descend with deafening trumpets and blinding lights, God does not shake the earth and herald the incarnation with the glory of the Kingdom. God is born, as a baby, in a little out of the way town and the shepherds, stinky, marginal, hard working people, are the ones that are called on by the angels to bear witness to this moment.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his 2004 Christmas sermon begins by discussing how we tend to avoid places like engine rooms, or generally are discouraged from knowing how things are made, lest it upset us or disturb us from the shiny results we see at the end. Sort of like when someone assures you that you don’t actually want to know how the sausage is being made. He goes on to say that is what is most troubling about Christmas. He writes, “And that’s where Christmas is actually a bit strange and potentially worrying. When we’re invited into the stable to see the child, it’s really being invited into the engine room. This is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe, ‘the fire in the equations’ as someone wonderfully described it, is contained in this small bundle of shivering flesh. God has given himself away so completely that we meet him here in poverty and weakness, with no trumpeting splendour, no clouds of glory. This is how he is: he acts by giving away all we might expect to find in him of strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the cradle and the cross.”
So tonight, in the darkness, we kindle light, we celebrate this miracle of God among us. We must sit with wonder at the way God chooses to reveal the nature of the Kingdom through this act of incarnation. This baby will grow, will suffer, will offer an ultimate sacrifice of love; that is what starts tonight. God’s promise to the world fulfilled. God’s love made known, right there in the flesh. Let us rejoice. Let us ring bells, let us shout from the roof tops that Jesus Christ is Born. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”