25 Dec 2012
“‘Glory to God in the highest heaven’” (Luke 2:14) In the name …
This past Wednesday Sharon and I were out in Boston for the day. We took along with us that Sunday’s copy of the Boston Globe Magazine. Its cover story was “Best of the New: 2012.” We worked our way based on its recommendations from Copley Square through Downtown Crossing to Faniel Hall out to wharfs and finally over to the North End snacking and sharing an adult beverage on occasion. At one of our stops we were chit-chatting with the bartender, a very nice young woman who moved from Seattle to Boston a year ago. She thought we were a cute old couple going from place to place for Christmas so she came over with some Italian liquor that neither Sharon and I had ever heard of before. Then she poured shots for the three of us. We couldn’t figure out exactly what to toast, but on their television was an advertisement for the final episode of The Jersey Shore. That’s on on occasion over at my house. It makes me angry inside that these people get air time and that people are watching this stuff. So we clinked out Italian liquor glasses to toast the end of The Jersey Show television program.
There’s a lot of celebrating going on at this time of the year. And it’s all well and good. But sometimes we don’t put that same kind of good cheer and religion together. We tend, instead, to speak about joy in religion. And to me that means a deeply profound sense of satisfaction and contentment. I picture joy as a person sitting back and realizing just how blessed and fortunate he or she may be in life. Joy may be signified by a quiet smile. And joy is most definitely a blessing. But Christmas, even a church Christmas, calls for celebration. Not only a smile, but a laugh. Not only contentment, but exuberance. You know all you Facebook people who take pictures of special events and then share them with friends and friends of friends and friends of their friends. Well, the church’s Christmas wants in on some of that.
Think about why we’re here tonight. Jesus has brought the life of God into our lives. The birth in Bethlehem tore down the barriers between heaven and earth. And what happens? Heaven’s celebration spills out of the skies. First one angel appears and speaks of the details of the special child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in an animal’s manger. Then Luke says “suddenly” a whole multitude of the heavenly host appears, and Luke’s actual Greek word is heavenly army. This isn’t a couple of angels. The image is of a sky-full of angels. And his word choice of “suddenly” gives the impression of spontaneity. This one angel is telling the story and then heaven couldn’t be contained. Before angel-one is done, the army of angels is singing out “Glory to God in the highest heaven!” This is how you celebrate Christmas. This isn’t only joy. This is exuberance. This is stuff you Facebook, Tweet and text about. This isn’t so much solemn as it is enthusiastic. This isn’t so much something you watch as it something you share in. You know when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning after his night with the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, that’s what church wants in on.
Several weeks ago I attended the Christmas concert at our sister church in Northampton. Lisa Woods did a beautiful job singing. One of the last carols performed was Silent Night. Lisa’s accompanist is the professional and very talented musician Jerry Nobel. When Lisa asked him what carol he would like to have the whole church join in singing together, he said that he would like to hear Silent Night again, that it was so beautiful that he wanted all of us to be able to share in singing it. And we did. When we all sang that gorgeous carol together, when all of us were turned from audience to performers, when the church was filled with our combined voices, you could feel what that angel army felt when they couldn’t wait for angel-one to finish already. It came from within and came out as song. Glorious, rejoicing, celebrating song. Church wants that, needs that, and Christmas almost demands that.
Why? Because just like the shepherds we’ve been let in on a heavenly secret. A lot of my television viewing is switching between channels so I don’t see a lot of commercials, but it’s another story if a Geico commercial comes on. All of those “How happy are they Jimmy?” commercials are often more fun to watch than the programs they’re interrupting. I especially love the one with the two antelope who are outfitted with night vision goggles who are watching the lion trying to sneak up on them. “We can see you Carl,” say the smirking antelope. “You’re better than this,” they say sarcas-tically, “Have you thought about going vegan Carl?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m0VnzPFxew ) And then they laugh out loud. That commercial has to win some kind of award. It makes me laugh each time I see it. And maybe it’s a good way of explaining Christmas. We see unseen things in the night and we should be able to laugh too. Not just smile. Not only joy. We’re here because we see what the shepherds saw. Maybe the next Geico commercial can ask “How happy are they Jimmy?” As happy as Christians at Christmas.
Christmas reveals that this world is sacred. It’s sanctified not only as good by its Creator. It has been entered into and embraced by its Saviour. If Sharon and I and a bartended in Boston can clink glasses to the end of The Jersey Shore, then all of us who see in the night what the shepherds once saw can also be spontaneous, laugh, celebrate and sing. Who here doesn’t know “O Holy Night,” “It Came upon a Midnight Clear, “Hark the Herald” and “Joy to the World”? Then sing them. Stand if you want. Sit if you want. But don’t just be a spectator of Christmas. The angel army couldn’t stay in formation any longer. Let that same spontaneous spirit enliven our Christmas because tonight we celebrate, actually celebrate, the closeness of God. A blessed Christmas to all of you. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo