Christmas Eve C, 2009
A Liturgy is also available
“NO VACANCY”. REFLECTIONS FROM A PRIEST AND A RABBI
Tonight is Christmas Eve.
A time for candlelight.
A time to be quietly reflective.
A time to wonder, to give thanks, and of quiet awakening to beauty.
With the help of two friends: a priest and a rabbi,
I invite you to share in the imagining and the awakening of their thoughts.
Back in ancient times every once in a while
a dictator somewhere would issue a decree ordering a head-count
of absolutely everyone in his entire realm (Ed Beutner).
So begins a modern midrash or story by the late poet, priest and teacher, Ed Beutner.
I first met Ed at the 20th anniversary meet of the
Westar Institute in Santa Rosa in 2005.
Over nuts and mini chocolate bars we talked about
parables and poems and progressive religion,
and reawakening the self to the wonder of the presentness of God.
Joseph was among those ordered to drop everything
and get up and go from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
all the way to King David’s town of Bethlehem,
all because he was a distant relative of David’s
- though not an actual heir, as we soon shall see -
and he had to be counted as such, as did Mary, his fiancee,
never mind that she was nine months pregnant.
As often happens among those forced to live along the roadsides,
it was while they were all alone and far away from home
that the time arrived for Mary to have her baby.
It was there in Bethlehem that she gave birth to her first child.
It was a boy.
She swaddled him in a makeshift baby blanket
and for his crib they used an old wooden feeding trough
because in the local inns there were no vacancies to speak of.
You know how it goes in the hostel business,
just as in other trades and industries,
even in our own day: ‘You grow or you die.’
Arthur Waskow is a big man with a long, flowing, white beard to boot!
We met at Starbuck’s in Philadelphia.
Our conversation flowed over a wide ranging number of topics.
But it was later I found out this religious social activist
was one of 39 people arrested in Washington
for protesting against Bush’s Iraq war.
“We were petitioning the President to meet with us to explain ‘what noble purpose’ had led the Cheney-Bush Administration to bring about the death of Casey Sheehan and (then) almost 1900 other Americans...
“The White House refused even to accept our petitions and refused to meet with us. We left them on the ground at the White House. Many of us stayed in the White House area to become ‘living petitions,’ since the paper ones had been ignored both in process and of course in substance” (Waskow 2005).
The following comes from Arthur’s reflections on Christmas (Shalom Center web site, 2006).
When it comes to Christmas, there are three important aspects
to its origin and celebration - one of which we often entirely forget.
* The spiritual depth of joining with God and all the universe to celebrate the birth of a child,
already pregnant with the hope of transformation;
* The tradition of gift-giving that begins with the Magi;
* And the understanding that the travels and travails of Mary and Joseph were caused by a tax-collecting census imposed by an illegitimate empire upon its unwilling subjects - imposed because it was "Taxation without representation."
Remember this third aspect, almost buried today in
corporate hullabaloo and official proclamations:
Because the family was poverty-stricken, they could not rent a room at the high-priced overcrowded hotels.
The famous manger was not just a sweet place of lullabies among the mooing cows;
it was the last refuge of the poor,
the despised, the homeless.
When the Magi brought gifts,
they were not trampling each other at the mall for something bigger,
or nailing plaques of charity and grandeur on the manger wall,
or looking down their noses at this smelly baby.
They were honoring the poor and helpless by sharing their own wealth.
From that perspective, giving gifts was holy.
For many today, it has become an addiction.
Once again we see that idolatry can make a swollen monster from what is decent, even sacred.
Whatever you decide about gifts, it is important... to remember
that an oppressive Empire and resistance to it
lies beneath the early Christian story.
Tonight is Christmas Eve.
A time for candlelight.
A time to be quietly reflective...
Let me finish where Ed finishes his midrash:
to be a man of some renown, which was owing mainly
to his terse, irreverent stories, some of them downright uproarious,
and all of which suggested that oppressive rulers could safely be ignored,
since their days were already at an end.
To make a long story short, the rulers put an end to him instead,
with some help from the religious right.
Still, you can sense, especially during this season of the year,
that their best efforts to silence him proved no more lasting
or effective than is the case, by and large,
with most government work.
Beutner, E. 2003. Season's readings. A festival of holiday originals: Pageants, poems and parables. WI: Bay View. Slender Books.