we had our annual night of lament and light at the church last night. it’s chance for those for whom Christmas is difficult to offer their laments, acknowledging them as real and legit, and to look for light, asking for some movement, healing and hope. in-between those rituals of lament and light, i offered this:
As I was thinking about what I could say here tonight,
thinking about what we’d each be bringing in with us
about what the energy of this room would be like,
and about what we need to hear and do,
my mind kept going back to those people who experienced the first Christmas.
People like Mary.
This Jewish girl who was probably 13,
from a family of well-to-do people,
and pregnant with the one who would show the world what it means to be human
and alive in the world;
this girl who,
because of a choice she made to honour who she is and embrace the kind of life she wanted to lead,
was ostracized from her family and faith community,
and found herself giving birth alone in some dark back alley.
People like Joseph,
this guy who was maybe 16,
this guy with hopes and dreams but because he was so poor he had to sell his land, leave his home, and work for the very Empire that oppressed him
and was now stressing about how to be father and provide for his new unexpected and unusual family.
People like the Shepherds,
these people for whom second chances didn’t exist,
the people not deemed as people who were forced to work with dirty animals,
people cut off from community,
people who longed for companionship,
people who grieved the families and friends they’d left behind.
People like the Magi,
these people who were searching for something Bigger Than Themselves but had yet to find it,
people who knew something better must be coming,
who knew there must be a rhyme and reason to all of this,
and who would stare at the stars waiting and longing for news of a better world.
People like King Herod,
this King who,
with this rumour of a new kind of King and a new kind of world about to appear,
was freaking out about how that would undo his power and change the world as he knew it.
Or people like the Inn Keeper,
this man who was tired, busy, stressed and anxious about everything he had to do for work, let alone for his family,
who was moving so fast and was so in the future he didn’t see the beauty and reverence that was right in front of him,
who wasn’t present when he needed to be.
What struck me is that nobody in this first Christmas story is feeling really “Christmassy.”
None of them are whistling carefree while hanging up mistle toe.
Nobody’s having a family get together where everyone magically gets along.
No one is out enjoying shopping at the mall without worrying about Visa bills.
And that tells us something really important about point of Christmas and the message it has:
it’s not just for those kind of people.
It’s not just for those who have their shit together
it’s not just for those who have full hearts,
it’s not just for those who have tables and friends,
it’s not just for those who have nothing to worry about.
What this story tells us is that Christmas is for people like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the inn keeper, Herod, and the Magi;
it’s for the people who know darkness,
for people who fear tomorrow being just like today,
for people who are stressed, at a loss, in the midst of grief,
and struggling to find their place in the world.
If the Christmas message is for anyone, its for people like us, it’s for those who are lamenting in the darkness.
It’s for people like us because it’s a story of liberation.
Christmas is the affirmation that God has seen your struggle and pain,
and has heard your laments and prayers,
and in this radical act of love and solidarity,
has turned Her to face you,
has come down to be by your side,
“Do not be afraid, you are not alone.
I am with you and for you.
This is my world and I am not finished with it yet.
You don’t need to live like that anymore.
Follow me and we’ll make it through together.”
And that’s why it’s a scandalous and revolutionary and radical story.
it’s a story of hope,
a story of heaven embracing earth,
of spirit encompassing flesh,
of light overcoming darkness,
of God breathing fresh air into our tired lungs
and giving us that movement and peace we all need to be fully and wholly alive.
There’s this story about this neighborhood in Chicago.
One year, on the first night of Hanukkah,
a menorah appeared in the window of one of the homes.
This had never happened before.
Up until that point, there hadn’t been a Jewish family in the neighbourhood.
When everyone woke up the next morning,
the front door of that home bore a large, crudely painted swastika.
But despite that, a second candle appeared in the window that evening.
But now, another home across the street had a menorah in the window as well.
When everyone awoke the next morning,
the second home also had a swastika on the door.
On the third evening, three candles burned in the window of the first home,
and now menorahs had shown up in the front windows of half a dozen homes round about.
But the next morning, six more swastikas appeared.
By the fourth evening, menorahs beamed from homes all up and down that street.
The next morning? No more swastikas.
The light had chased away the darkness.
Christmas is when light began to chase away the darkness.
to all of us here,
all of us with our laments and burdens,
may we hear the Christmas message and know it’s for people like us:
you who have walked in darkness,
you who struggle to find life as you know it should be,
you who are struggling through it all,
may you see the light that is shining,
May you know it’s shining upon you.
May you feel its warmth and hope.
May it give the strength to carry on knowing you’re not alone.”