25 Dec 2007
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God …” (Luke 2:13) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
I’d like to begin by wishing all of you here a blessed and joyous Christmas. I trust that we all gather here in the truest Christmas spirit. We come to His house to celebrate a mystery that touches us most powerfully in our emotions. Christmas transcends logic and the rational. Christmas calls us forth in our entirety. It excites the emotions and tingles the senses. It takes us beyond the pedestrian, the normal, and lets us linger for a while in a place of hope, joy and expectation. A guy just told me the other day of milking cows on a Christmas Eve many years back, of being in a barn and among the animals, and smelling the smells and feeling the warmth of the cows, and how those sensations made him feel the presence again of that little baby in some Bethlehem manger. We all have our own stories of special Christmas memories and they’re all locked in place because Christmas isn’t just a thought or a theory that we can forget. Christmas embraces us in all of our senses, emotions and thoughts. And this is rightly so since Christmas celebrates God as one of us, so why shouldn’t Christmas come to us in all the different pathways of our human nature and our ordinary lives?
The child born this night brings almighty God into our world. When that child cries, God knows what it means to want. When that child shivers in the cold and is wrapped in swaddling clothes, God knows what it means to depend on others. When that child is held in the warm arms of His mother, God knows what it is to feel human love. This notion of God becoming a human being is deeply offensive to other religions, but it is the very reason and purpose of our faith, and it is so deeply profound and personal that it takes all of who we are to appreciate it.
When the angel foretells His birth as Saviour and Son of God, when the angel proclaims to the shepherds the “good news of great joy for all people,” we know that God is always with us in that child. When that child comes in the unexpected hour of the middle of the night, in the unexpected place of an animal’s manger, when His birth is announced unexpectedly to the shunned shepherds of some unheard of town, then we know that no matter how dark and confusing our lives may seem at times that He is here, that God is with us no matter what, no matter how unexpected. When the angels gather in chorus and proclaim ecstatically: “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom He favours,’” we ourselves experience heaven’s uncontained exuberance. We share in heaven’s need to celebrate.
The one angel’s words quickly give way to the whole angelic chorus because words don’t seem enough to capture all that is Christmas. This is a mystery that the angel can only express in the rather plain sounding phrase - “good news,” but as if to say that’s not enough, the angelic chorus bursts forth in the proclamation of Christmas to the shepherds. This is the first sign that words alone can’t express the joy and hope that is Christmas. This is why music, story and celebration are such an important part not only of heaven’s Christmas, but of ours. It wouldn’t be the same without them.
Two major local radio stations, for example, have been playing Christmas music 24 - 7 for the past five weeks. I’m amazed that this is profitable, and also that there is so much Christmas music out there. But Christmas draws us to music. It helps us to feel what words alone cannot say. This past Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton the annual community Messiah Sing-a-long was held in a packed house, as it is every year. Everyone was invited to bring a score of music and sing. No other classical concert would dare do the same. But Christmas is different. Part of the beauty of the music is sharing in it. It’s wonderful to hear, but Christmas calls us to participate. It’s like the angelic chorus. They almost couldn’t wait for the first angel to finish before they rush in with their own announcement. We can’t sit without singing at this time of the year, no matter how terrible we sound. Even here, sing tonight.
You may never have read Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, but you know his story of Ebinezeer Scrooge. Christmas stories of all sorts draw us in. Dickens would quickly admit that his Christmas fantasy was far from his greatest work. It was trivial compared to David Copperfield, but Christmas stories make us feel better about ourselves and our world, and we read them, tell them, remember them. We want to believe in Christmas magic and Christmas transformations. When stories are told about the Christmas miracle of an old man, we let ourselves hope that Christmas miracles like “peace on earth” are not completely impossible. Dickens may have written better than A Christmas Carol, but we make up for the deficiencies by what we ourselves add to the story.
And Christmas lets us celebrate. There’s a joy at this time of the year that cannot be repeated at any other. That joy moves from the trivial to the noble. A week ago Saturday, Sharon and I were in Boston. Every year before Christmas a woman’s shelter runs what they call a Santa Speedo Race down Boyleston and Newbury Streets. It was freezing outside, but these men and women were attired in nothing but red speedos and an occasional Santa hat. It’s a sight to behold. But it’s a celebration that seems not out of place at Christmas time. There’s something about this season that brings out the fun in people, and that’s not a bad thing.
The other more serious side of this Christmas celebration is the kindness of people. Up on our Christmas tree is a special ornament sent to us by St. Jude’s Research Hospital. We’re a Partner in Hope with them. The ornament simply says: Joy. There’s a wonderful feeling when we can help someone else. There really is joy in generosity, in thinking about the needs of others instead of ourselves. It makes us feel better. That’s a gospel message all year round, but at Christmas people seem to really listen. Christmas calls on us to celebrate our friendships, our families, and even that wonderful idea that we’re all brothers and sisters of one heavenly Father. So tonight we come together and celebrate because of Jesus and His birth. May the hope, joy and expectation of Christmas be our greatest gifts this day, and may we feel the miracle of Christmas, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)