The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Christmas Eve 2015
One of the things I love about this late Christmas Eve service is the many reasons behind our being here tonight. Just a quick look around tells me that we’re a complicated and relatively sophisticated group of people. Now at at the early service things were a little different. The kids came to be shepherds, and sheep, Mary and Joseph, and angels. It’s why they were here – at least in their minds. They played music they’d prepared for the prelude, shouted out some familiar carols, and literally gathered around the manger that sat right here in front of the altar. And a 13-year old Luke proclaimed the gospel to a packed and extremely lively church.
The kids came to that service to physically be a part of the story, a few of the kids having counted down the days to the pageant for the past several weeks in their own observance of the season of Advent. And their parents came to that service because they wanted their kids to know that Christmas is in fact a celebration of Jesus’ birth. As they sang “Oh come all ye faithful,” those very same parents were also praying “please let my child use that shepherd staff for good this night. . . Please don’t let my little sheep be the one that runs laps around the church or is so afraid that he freezes mid-aisle or bursts out in tears.” Things like that. The early service on Christmas Eve is easy to read that way. It’s its own version of multi-layered but in many ways it’s also very simple.
The kids came earlier because they got to become the story on Christmas Eve. And adults came in large part, to help them and watch them do just that. And the congregation was very present as the story came into being right before our eyes.
But at this service it’s a little different. You weren’t given halos to put on when you walked in. None of you are wearing pretend sheep’s wool or cotton ball covered ears and I’m not sure you would have gone for that even if we’d tried. None of you have escaped your pew to come running down the aisle because you are desperate to show the world that angels have a rightful place in the very center of our congregation’s attention! In all likelihood you observed Advent a little differently, and I haven’t heard you actually shout out a hymn yet. (The harmonies are beautiful, by the way. Thank you choir and others.)
It’s safe to say that our approach to the story is different at this service and so are our expectations. Not better or worse but different, I’ll use the phrase “a little more mature” which isn’t to say that “child-like” doesn’t have its holy place here.
I think the main difference is that at this point in our lives, our own stories fill us up when we walk through these doors, when we sit in these pews, when we sing these hymns. One of the gifts of Grace Church is that our stories can come with us when we walk through these doors. And the stories of the world are with us too. And so we come very differently loaded with hopes, with memories, with misgivings and forgivings, with hurts and dreams, and deep prayers for ourselves, our loved ones, and this world.
We come knowing that angel costumes are adorable but our own desire for a personal halo is something that we probably let go of long ago. We’re even aware of things like non-literal interpretations of Scripture, historical-critical study of the gospels, the variances among the four gospels themselves – there is more than one story you know! Not to mention the fact that our own lives have raised many questions about the ways in which God is present to us all.
But even given all of that, because and through all of that, there is good news for us late folks too. I wouldn’t break this to the five year olds in the congregation just yet, but we don’t have to become angels, and shepherds and sheep for this story to touch us.
In fact the whole point of Christmas Eve is that God is the one who got dressed up, who became something else, something more in order for this story to be told. God counted down the days, the years, the generations and then decided it was time, it was the night on which he would show up! On the world stage. As of all things, a baby.
The good news for us late folks, for all folks is that God became a human who put on our story, in order to transform it. God as a human who would laugh and cry and live and die and be present in the aisles of our world drawing attention to the angels and to those working in the fields too.
And so really, there are no parts to play this holy night. No costumes to wear to make this more real. No particular lines to learn. Truth is that we’re already playing our parts – whatever your reason for being here tonight happens to be. Our costumes are our work clothes, or our wear around the house clothes, our school clothes, our pajamas, our uniforms, our sweats. We are the world into which Christ comes. We are the people among whom Christ is born. And the lines we speak are very simply the words we speak– the ones spoken in truth from our hearts our minds our souls. We are those among whom God comes – not those who become someone else in order to tell the story. Tonight, we are the story, not because we have put it on, but because God has essentially, put on us.
Now I will still pray that you use your staffs for good, whatever the tools are that you use for your trade. We can all pray that occasionally one of us bursts forth and reminds us to pay attention to the angels. We can promise that anyone who breaks into tears in this place is embraced by those in the pews around them and maybe given a hand to help them get to the table. And we can, even as mature folk, especially as mature folk trust that among us Christ will be born. And among others Christ will be born too. So let the memories, the prayers, the music flow this night. Let your stories be present and know that God has been born into it all.