Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
The house was buzzing with activity. The children were frantic with the expectation that Santa Claus would soon be making his yearly visit. Every day they opened their Advent calendars with great expectation. The four year old did not quite yet understand the passing days and each morning after opening another window he would ask, “Daddy, how many more days ‘til Christmas, how many more days? The girl was six and she was still very busy putting the finishing touches on her letter to Santa. The energy and expectation of their children exhausted both Mom and Dad and yet, at the same time, they were excited by their enthusiasm. Watching the kids made them remember and feel once again their own excitement for this holy season.
In recent years, life had changed dramatically for these two relatively new parents. The ease of their first few married years had been replaced by the constant joyful work of raising small children. They were tired but happy. They worried about money, but they loved their new family. As they wrapped presents late into the night Christmas Eve, they knew that God had blessed them. They knew that their lives were more full than they ever could have imagined, and they looked forward to the future with joyful hope.
The past year had been the most difficult time of her life. They had only been married for four years, they had no children and neither of them could ever have imagined something happening to the other. But something had happened. His disease had come out of nowhere. At first, he thought he was only run down, tired from all the hours he put in trying to make a name for himself. But it had been more than exhaustion. When the doctor sat them down and told them that his illness was terminal, they could not believe it. Together they tried every treatment they could find, but nothing seemed to help. As the weeks turned into months, he could no longer work. He found himself exhausted by even the simple things. She tried to remain strong. Their vows had said for better or for worse, in sickness and in health – she would honor those vows. He struggled against the disease and she encouraged him. In the darkness, late at night, they would weep together holding each other, trying to make sense out of the senseless. In the end, he died in less than six months. She still could not believe it. The life she thought was so good was now in pieces and she felt like the left over half of a broken whole. As she sat by the side of her bed on Christmas Eve, she said a prayer for the man she loved and had lost, and she wondered if she could find in this season of hope just a little hope for herself. As she fell asleep, she thought, perhaps next year.
This was their forty sixth Christmas together. As they hung the ornaments on their small tree, many of them looked as if they had seen forty-six hangings. They were alone this year as they had
been off and on for the past several Christmases. Their children all had lives and families of their own and they had to share their children with other families. They didn’t mind, that was a small price to pay for wonderful five grandchildren. Yet, Christmas
alone, together, was still bitter sweet. It reminded them of their first few Christmases together before they had children. Then, it had been easier to haul the tree, easier to string the lights, easier to pass the time. He still loved her very much the same way he did on that first Christmas, a strong love, a good love, but a love that had taken on a kind of patina from years of living. She was as crazy about him as ever, but she worried about him now more than she did four plus decades ago. Growing old was not for cowards, someone had once said, and she knew that to be the truth. She thought the best gift she could receive this Christmas was another year of good health for the both of them. As they turned out the lights early on Christmas Eve, each hoped they would be right there with the other for many more Christmases to come.
Why do we come to this place on this night? Why do we come here to listen to the same story we have heard before countless times? Do we come because we need to, because something draws us? Do we come because we have to – family expectations or personal responsibility? Do we come because we want to see the church arrayed in all its Christmas finery? I come here tonight because in the story of this night resides the hope of my life – the hope of my life. Moreover, deep down inside I think many of us, if not all of us come to find that hope too. Life is so hard sometimes. The joys of life are complicated by the sorrows. The triumphs we achieve are tempered by our defeats. No sooner
do we think we have the world figured out than the unexpected happens and we are again reminded that we are all so fragile. What do we have in this life if we do not have hope? What do we have if we do not have the hope that the sacrifices we have made for those we love count for something? What do we have if we do
not have the hope that the suffering we have experienced is not senseless? What do we have if the joys we experience do not have a deeper reality than simply good feelings? The wise men came to honor the Christ child by bringing him gifts. They should have come, they might as well have come bringing their pain and their hurt, their joy and their love and laid them at the feet of Jesus and said – “I give you these things because I want you to make them mean something – I want you to dignify their existence.”
I need to proclaim the wonder of Christ’s birth this night because I need the hope that somehow all of this life makes sense. I need the hope that good living counts for something. I need the hope that standing up for what is right, speaking out for the weak, forgiving those who hurt me, or loving my enemies, are more than just relative choices in a morally empty universe. This night, I am given the hope that love and justice and forgiveness are a fundamental part of the God who came to this earth to live like you and me. In philosophy 101, the teacher always asks the age old question – If a tree falls in the forest and there isn’t anyone around to hear it, does it make a sound? I need to know that if I fall down on my knees in sorrow or jump to the sky in joy, even if there is no one around to see it – my sorrow and my joy are still known and honored by God.
Tonight, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we worship a God who said to his creation – “I love you so very much that I am willing to become like you. I am willing to feel what you feel, to think what you think. Therefore, the joys of family that you know, I know; the struggle with death that you know, I know; the fear of being alone that you know, I know. I will become as one of you to raise all of you up to me.” This is the gift of Christmas.
God is born among us. And in so doing, all of human life is given a dignity and a nobility it never could have had otherwise.
You see, the greatest threat to my life is not death but meaninglessness. I can die a meaningful death, but I cannot and I will not live a meaningless life. The light that has come into the world this night is the light that dispels the darkness of the meaningless; it is the light of hope, the light of Christ. It is the light that hallows our joys and sanctifies our sufferings. Christmas is the hope and the promise that our lives count for something. In Christmas, God says through the birth of his Son – I love you. Thank you God for this light. Thank you God for this hope. Thank you God for this child. Amen.