As a child, I impatiently waited for Christmas to come; in more recent years, I eagerly wait for Christmas to be past. It is not that I do not love much about Christmas, for indeed I do, as you do, too. But Christmas is so packed with meanings and memories that the entire event called “Christmas” feels overwhelming. Seemingly out of nowhere, as we approach our Christmas celebrations, emotions flood one’s soul. Tears unused to flow suddenly well up at the sound of an old favorite Christmas song. Memories of Christmases past, and especially of “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,” come powerfully and vividly to mind. With the joy and grace of Christmas come hours of “remembrance of things past,” and then you and I intensely miss the presence of those whom we have loved, and who are now absent from us physically. More than any other day on the calendar, Christmas is emotionally demanding year after year. And it can even be emotionally draining. To make matters worse, all sorts of folks show up for our church services, and expect to hear some refreshing, enlightening, or just upbeat sermon.Then here am I, an aging man, filled with memories, and having to speak in public when my feelings urge me to retreat in silence.
In silence I am happy, one, and free;
In silence what becomes begins to be.
Although each of us may express our feelings differently, I think that many of us feel the surge of similar strong emotions at Christmas: love, joy, peace, renewal, refreshment, delight—and sorrow. The sheer beauty of Christmas—not just the music, or the feastings, or the quiet joys of nature sleeping, but the story of Jesus Christ, of God come among us—so much beauty and meaning packed into several days each year. The sight or sound of Beauty itself has the power to draw out tears. And there is so much beauty in Christmas to stir the heart with sudden showers—even the beauty of the earth stripped bare, awaiting renewal:
“In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.” [Christina Rossetti}
Long ago. And yet today. Time is telescoped at Christmas, with past, present, future all present together at once. That was not the point of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but one sees this fusion of time in that story, too. All of our Christmases past are present today, and what will come is present, too, even though we do not see it clearly yet, “for now we see through a glass, darkly.” Indeed, Eternity itself is present to us here and now, whether known or unknown to us, and that presencing of God is the core meaning and beauty of Christmas. Light streams into the human heart, even in one dwelling in darkness, living under the shadow of death. Light streams in, just as surely as the stars send down their lights to chilly earth. Light and joy stream in, and one feels the frozen ground of heart and mind begin to thaw, and the rivers of one’s life flow in ways beyond all telling. What was dark, begins to shine; what was heavy, lightens up; what was frigid, is warmed; what was dying, is renewed; what was numb with pain, begins to throb with Life again. Such is Christmas. In famous words from Eliot’s “Four Quartets”:
“The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered and reconciled…”.
O holy Night, when Christ is born. O holy Night, when the light of Christ floods into a human soul, longing for God, hoping, waiting. O holy Night, O holy Now, when sweet divine peace stills and consoles the human heart.
To all who have come to worship the living God with us, we wish a very Merry Christmas. On behalf of our parishes of St. Mark’s, St. Mary’s, and Holy Trinity: May you receive God’s blessing to you personally, and so become a blessing to all whom you know. Merry Christmas!