Christmas Day C, 2003
A Liturgy is also available
THIS CHRISTMAS... BE UPLIFTED BY LOVE
Christmas is a very fragile festival.
And so is the love that is often expressed with it.
Francis Macnab, minister at St Michael’s-on-Collins in Melbourne, tells this ‘Christmas’ story.
“The other day, we were at the airport to await the Japanese wing of the family. You know how it happens at the international exit,
you wait and wait, while people straggle out, in ones, twos, fours and fives.
“Well out came one man searching for a face. He was tall, thin, 40, and looking every bit as if he was sporting a new moustache.
Then he saw her, tall, thin, all in black. He rushed to her, planted a kiss on her lips and nuzzled his head into her checks and said: ‘Sweetie didn't you recognise me?’
She did not answer, so he pulled back and looked at her. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘wrong person’.
Then he saw the person - the real one right behind the wrong one.
He tried to make some embarrassed recovery.”
Whatever happens to you this Christmas,
may you not have to make an ‘embarrassed recovery!’
Today is Christmas Day. We’ve been waiting for it for weeks.
All through the four Sundays of Advent
and shopping excursions to the supermarket.
We’ve worked our way through the Christmas card list,
planned our meal (probably a hot one at that),
erected the tree and ‘fairy lights’
and wrapped the last present.
Some of us will soon rush home to finalise preparations for that meal.
Some of us are anxiously waiting to open our gifts.
Some of us are hoping the phone won’t ring calling us back to work.
So before we turn the page on all those preparations and expectations
and well thought-out plans
let us take one more very brief look at three characters
who have played an important part in the Christmas story so far.
But to do so, it is important we not read or hear
the Christmas story too narrowly.
Rather, let us feel its texture
and discern its breadth.
For it is the bearer of many characters and messages.
The biblical stories are extremely brief... about baby Jesus.
In a matter of a couple of weeks, often only covered by a word or two,
we have not only discovered Mary is pregnant, but
survived both a possible divorce and death sentence,
nine months have just slip by ‘like that’,
the birth happened,
and life in its ordinariness goes on.
So we tend to make up for the brevity of the story
with our vivid imaginations and idealized carols.
Jesus… as peasant baby, as refugee baby,
becomes the loveable infant in his crib,
smiling and cooing, ‘no crying he makes’.
But beware! Such a sweet baby Jesus can be dangerous.
Something holy and new comes into expression with this birth.
Out of fear comes courage.
Out of darkness comes strength.
Out of loneliness comes a togetherness,
that encourages love and a rugged hope to grow.
Mary, probably 12 -13 years of age, finds out she is pregnant.
And that’s very scary.
So, the tradition goes, she visits her 80 year old cousin, also pregnant,
walking at least four days over 130 km,
on a route that may have passed through
inhospitable Samaritan territory, alone.
Mary is a young but strong character in our Christmas story.
But what does Mary's story,
the Christmas story,
have to do with me?
In what ways can I be a person through whom something
creative, sustaining, transformational, enters these times?
How is this old story, my story, our story, a new story?
Despite what we may all think, in his earliest appearance,
Santa Claus - European birthed and American developed –
was not a gift bringer.
His American literary forerunner was shaped by Professor of Divinity,
Revd Dr Clement Moore in his 1822 poem, 'A visit from St. Nicholas',
or as it is more commonly known,
'T'was the night before Christmas...'
But Moore’s poem never mentions Santa Claus.
Instead it has as its main character a “jolly old elf”.
Santa’s artistic development came with
German immigrant to America, Thomas Nast's drawings,
which appeared in the mid to late 1800s.
However, Nast’s vision of Santa didn’t become the Santa archetype.
That blossomed during the 1930s when soft drink manufacturer Coca Cola
employed artist Haddon Sundblom
and adopted Santa Claus as a salesman for the idea that
‘thirst knows no season’.
What started out as an advertising campaign soon became a global tradition.
Christmas is for many both an exciting and a stressful time.
Family members come together who might normally not get on.
Someone is usually carrying more than their fair share of responsibility,
so efforts of niceness may be overlaying resentment.
For others memories of closeness
are accompanied by memories of loss and grief.
In ‘old-time’ religious language, Christmas is about
God out there coming to us,
to dwell with us and within us.
In the language of ‘progressive’ religion, Christmas reminds us
that we can discover a deeper dimension
for our ordinary humanity.
We can rediscover the sacred character of human existence.
And we can find all kinds of ways to celebrate it.
That’s why Christmas is more than a date on a calendar.
It is also a space, which invites the coming together
of many very significant life issues.
That is why we need the angels,
the romance, the symbols,
the colour of the story.
As well as a baby, a young teen, and an old man.
Fantasy and reality are not opposites.
So this Christmas, this day, be
moved by generosity, encouraged by a rugged hope,
and uplifted by love.