Sunday, February 23, 2020

What can we say Christmas Eve/Christmas Day?

   How do we bring to a fitting climax the bizarre year that 2020 has been? Christmas Eve, usually our biggest day/evening all year – not in person? Or masked? Or distanced? Do we do (as at my place we usually don’t) a Christmas Day service (since we could easily pre-record)?

   If you’re looking for material, illustrations, etc., let me refer you to my general “Preaching Christmas Eve/Christmas” blog. Lots of stuff there. For this pandemic year, this census year (like the first Christmas!), what could redeem the year – and how to get people into that mindset? A few weeks back in my sermon, I referred to the Apollo 8 mission when the crew unforgettably read Genesis 1 as they circled the moon and showed us earth – and the letter NASA received from a woman saying “Thank you for saving 1968,” which had been a most horrific year. I even pulled video from them reading… I wish I’d saved it for Christmas!

   We might revive the use of a prayer card we used one year ago, which we printed for everybody – and could do so again or email a printable version: “Here I am Lord. Here you are. Here we are together.” I think I’ll show one, and ponder the gentleness, the love, the peace in this. Then I’ll remind them this isn’t some made up, invisible, spiritual mood. Its origin is in a real historical event – although that’s contested, isn’t it? not that a guy Jesus was born, but Was he really God? Does he really matter? The Incarnation isn’t an intellectual stumbling block, but a personal one: could somebody way back when make me give up my Sunday morning coffee on the veranda, or my hard-earned cash, or my valuable, jammed-full time?

  I got lucky, the day before we pre-recorded my Christmas Eve sermon!  A friend called me, told me his grandson (19 years old!) had made stellar use of this prayer card - during a cross-country motorcycle trip. People would ask him, Aren't you lonely or scared? and he said No, shared this card - and even edited it himself, from "Here We Are Together" to "Here we GO together" - and often adding "Let's do this!" Every now and then, we clergy get really lucky! He interviewed with me, and his "testimony" will be part of my Christmas Eve sermon.

   And I continue to be moved by the palpable reality of Mary being in labor. Sandwiched, unnoticed in our pageants and even art work, between Luke 2:6 and 2:7 is Mary’s labor, her agony, a lot of blood, pain and terror. While researching my forthcoming book on Birth, I found this, from Rachel Marie Stone: “A girl was in labor with God. She groaned and sweated and arched her back, crying out for her deliverance and finally delivering God, God's head pressing on her cervix, emerging from her vagina, perhaps tearing her flesh; God the Son, her Son, covered in vernix and blood, the infant God's first breath the close air of crowded quarters. God the Son, her Son, pressed to her bare breast. God the Son, her Son, drank deeply from his mother. Drink, my beloved. This is my body, broken for you.”

   That moves me. And not just as a preacher. When we have Communion – online? – on Christmas Eve, can I think of Mary’s body being broken for Jesus, and thus for me and all of us? In my homily, I’ll turn this rumination on Mary’s torn flesh to say You are here because of your mother, and her sacrifice. No matter her motive, or your relationship, which might have been tender or dysfunctional. In the moment of birth, her body was broken for you. The first thing you saw as a person was – yes, your mother. But what you saw in her was selflessness, and sacrifice. After baby emerges, mom doesn’t say Am I okay? But Is my baby okay? She doesn’t ask How does my hair look? But Does she have 5 fingers? It’s not her pain, but the baby’s cry. That selflessness, her sacrifice, was why you kept breathing, and living. All your life you’ve wanted – that. To receive that, and to be that for others.

   God so loved the world. And God was so loved, then, by Mary in her brokenness. To think of God being so loved, and yourself as so loved, and the other person as so loved, then you know you can say Here I am, Lord. Here you are. Here we are together. And it is Enough.

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