Isaiah 9:2-7+Psalm 96+Titus 2:11-14+Luke 2:1-14
We did not include in the bulletin the title of the children’s pageant we’ve just seen. I mean, a Christmas pageant is about the birth of Jesus, right? It doesn’t need a title! But this one does, in fact, have a name, and it is this: A Night Like No Other Night. The first narrator says it right at the beginning, “This is a night like no other night. It is a time to dream and sing our way to Bethlehem.” I’m sure we can all agree that this particular night is a night like no other we’ve ever experienced.
For as long as this parish has gathered on this corner here in Hoboken, we have come together on Christmas Eve to hear the story of Christ’s birth, to sing carols and hymns, and to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. This year, I am here recording this in advance so that it can all be knit together for our online worship. Rather than getting dressed in your Christmas finery and coming to Church, perhaps you are in your comfy clothes, settled in on the couch, watching this on a computer or on your tv. It’s all very different, and very unsettling.
And I have news for you: this might be the most real, the most authentic Christmas we will ever celebrate.
There was nothing perfect about the first Christmas. It was hard and scary and challenging for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, too. And still the angels sang and the shepherds came, and the animals provided warmth, and God was born as a helpless infant.
One of my favorite things this time of year is to open the mailbox to find Christmas cards from friends all over the world, people I have met over the course of my life who I may not see very often, but hearing from them at Christmas gives me such joy. A lot of these Christmas greetings come from young couples I have married or who I met in divinity school or friends of my own children. Many of them are now raising young families of their own.
One of the cards we received a couple of weeks ago was from a young couple I met at Yale. They were married in our final spring semester of school, and they have since grown their family by two little girls. Their card this year contained a picture of these under-five-years-old children, and it was one of those pictures that normally would have been an outtake. You know what I’m talking about – not the official, smiling, everything in place picture, but the one that you keep anyway because it will make an amusing memory someday. Well, these friends used that picture on their card – the five-year-old making a face and the two-year-old scowling and looking away. And the words on this card said: “It’s fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine.” And if that doesn’t sum up 2020, I don’t know what does.
It might also sum up that first rude and uncomfortable Christmas. Nothing about it was fine. There was no perfection for the perfect child of God. But it was fine. Because God came. God always comes. And the angels sing.
One of our most familiar Christmas Carols, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, actually has no mention of God or the birth of Jesus, but I’m not sure there’s another song that we sing that so captures what Christmas, especially this Christmas feels like:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
This may be a night like no other, but it is brightened by the light that has come into the world. If you are “beneath life’s crushing load,” if you are lonely or worried or sad this Christmas Eve, look for that light. Take your star, just like the ones the children created for the pageant, and let it light your way to the manger. Offer your gift. Offer yourself, for that is why God came into this world as one of us. To show us the way home.
So we really are fine. It really is fine. Everything is fine.
Merry Christmas to all of you.