25 Dec 2010
“‘And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:12) In the name …
Last weekend Sharon and I went out to Boston. On Friday we were going to meet up with a mother and daughter who we know from the Scranton Cathedral. We had some spare time before getting together and there are a lot of stores to shop at in Boston. I go in to some of them, but I just can’t go in to all of them. It’s exhausting. So while Sharon was hitting a couple of the stores, I took my newspaper and went to sit down somewhere to read. It just so happened that the only place I could find to leisurely open up my newspaper was one of those establishments where they occasionally sell an adult beverage or two. So a week ago today I’m sitting down and reading the free copy of the Wall Street Journal that the hotel supplied. The guy next to me and I start talking. I’m pretty sure that because I’m reading the Wall Street Journal he starts to talk to me about business. I’m trying to hold my own in the conversation because it’s just too much of a chore to explain what my real business is.
Then out of nowhere I feel a tap on the shoulder and it’s the two parishioners from the Scranton Cathedral. The first words out of their mouths are: “How you doin’ Father?” My cover’s blown. Mike, the guy sitting next to me and talking business with no problem at all, suddenly has nothing to say anymore. He recovers eventually and then starts talking more to the women than to me, but in those first few moments of surprise, confusion and silence, I could see a bit of Christmas. If you have been with us at all through Advent, you may remember that we have been speaking about the unexpected nature of the Messiah’s birth. No one except God Himself would ever have dared to imagine that the Saviour of all people would enter the world as a helpless child and within the confines of an animal’s manger. Last Sunday we even spoke about the fear in Mary and the confusion in Joseph when Mary was discovered to be with child. Who could ever have imagined that the Son of God could enter the world under the cloud of suspicion that His was an illegitimate birth?
That theme continues tonight. Bethlehem is only six miles away from Jerusalem. Up in that hilltop capital sits both the leader of the Temple and King Herod, but to whom does God send His angels in the middle of the night? To the shepherds of Bethlehem. Not to priests nor kings. To the honest, but marginalized people of that day. Christmas is about God coming to us in an extraordinarily unexpected way and to people who are completely unprepared. Imagine the face of the guy sitting next to me in Boston and talking to me of business and in a tavern, and then hearing, “How you doin’ Father?” Multiply that times heaven’s angels pointing you towards the Child Saviour and you find Him lying in swaddling clothes in an animal’s shelter, and just maybe the real meaning of Christmas can begin to sneak past all of the noise and commotion of what we have done to Christmas, and we can feel again the mystery and wonder of God’s nearness, the joy and the promise that He walks with us, the strength and the hope that in Jesus God Himself knows how hard life can be here on earth.
Back on October 30th the group Random Acts of Culture arranged for the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus and over 650 additional singers to gather at Macy’s Center in Philadelphia. I’ll include the link in today’s sermon on our website. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp_RHnQ-jgU Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, these singers who were intermingled with the unsuspecting crowds of shoppers began to intone the majestic “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. The singers wore Random Acts of Culture buttons so as you’re watching the video you can see the ones who are in the know and the ones who aren’t. As the power of this music engulfs this unsuspecting crowd of people, you can watch their faces turn from surprise and confusion, to smiles and song. An African-American woman raises her arms in praise, a little blond girl on her father’s shoulders just smiles, people stop what they’re doing and pause to marvel at this unexpected beauty.
This helps the mystery of Christmas come alive for us. High above and simultaneously intermingled that chorus at first startles and then begins to transform those ordinary shoppers. They came there looking for shirts and shoes, but they left there awed. Watch their faces and their smiles, and then imagine the cold and tired shepherds as they witness the angelic chorus. That’s the power of Christmas, to shock us in the middle of the ordinary, the expected and the planned, and to remind us that God comes to us wherever we are, but whenever He wants. The guy in Boston wasn’t expecting to sit next to a priest. The shoppers at Macy’s weren’t expecting to be awed by Handle’s Messiah. But take those kinds of reactions as a starting point, and begin to feel again the wonder that is Christmas.
No one on God’s good earth ever expected the Messiah to be born in an animal’s manger. And yet, that’s exactly where Jesus was born. Let Christmas surprise us still. Let it be in a child’s face on Christmas morning, the sounds of Silent Night in a candle-lit church. Let it be in that warm feeling when you donate to a charity, the ones you love being there around your table for another year. Let Christmas surprise us with the nearness of God in the ordinary. Let Christmas show us the sacredness of life and of earth. It’s good and it’s bad. It’s rich and it’s poor. Because the surprise of Christmas is that God is everywhere. Let it tell us again about the love of God for all of us, the faithful and the sinner, the healthy and the ill, the young and the old. Because the message of the manger is that God cares for all of us. Let Christmas leave no one out. That’s the wondrous sign of an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes rather than royal or priestly garments. It tells us that God has come into our world without any distinctions so that He can touch any of us and all of us. May we rejoice with the angels as we celebrate the mystery of such a birth and of such a God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo