Christmas Eve – Year A

One year, after some last-minute Christmas shopping, Clara Null was rushing her grandkids to the car in order to get home to make diner for her family. As she was closing the door, seven-year-old Jason said, “Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.” With that, Jason reached into five-year-old Susie’s pocket and pulled out an unopened package of beautiful hair ribbons. Frustrated and tired, Clara knew it was important for Susie to take the ribbons back to the store, apologize to the manager, and put them back where she found them. Susie had to learn her lesson. So, they did just that. Later, on the way home, they stopped by Kroger’s to pick up a few groceries. At the checkout counter, the clerk asked, “Are you kids ready for Christmas? Have you been good so Santa will come?” Big brother Jason said, “I’ve been really good, but my sister, she just robbed a store.”
Merry Christmas! Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for taking the time in the midst of your Christmas celebrations to stop and remember what this day is all about. Because whether you feel ready for Christmas or not, whether you’ve been good this Christmas or not, the wonder of this night is that God comes to be with us, to be with all of us, as one of us, to love us just as we are, warts and all.
Did you happen to see the piece in the news last week about Cecil Williams and Orlando in New York City? It seems that last Tuesday morning Cecil Williams, heading for a dentist appointment, was waiting on the uptown A train subway platform in Harlem when he fainted and fell from the platform onto the tracks. Cecil, a sixty-year-old handyman, is diabetic and blind. With him that morning was his eleven year-old black lab guide dog named Orlando. Witnesses reported that as Cecil started to faint Orlando began to bark and tried to pull his friend back from the edge of the platform. Barking frantically, Orlando watched his master fall head first off the platform and land squarely between the tracks. Without hesitating, the old dog then jumped from the platform himself and lay down next to Cecil licking his face and barking loudly.
Strangers nearby, hearing the barking and seeing what had happened, tried to find some help. But before anyone could get to the two of them one of the express trains approached the platform and rolled right over the top of them both. Blessedly, Cecil had fallen into the trough in the middle of the tracks and the train passed harmlessly over them both leaving them essentially unhurt. What amazes me about this story is that Orlando never left Cecil’s side. Even with a massive, loud, subway train bearing down on both of them, Orlando stayed with his friend trying to protect him. “He is definitely man’s best friend,” one witness reported. “When the train was coming that dog didn’t move. He risked his own life to be with his owner.”
As someone who has his own beloved eleven-year-old lab, I just love this story. But I think it also stands for us tonight as an illustration of the miracle that is Christmas. Because most of the time I think you and I go through life like Cecil, rather blindly, stumbling our way through good times and bad, through loves and losses, through successes and failures, and we need a guide to help us along our way. We need someone to help us in our times of darkness, to warn us of approaching danger, to keep us form the edge, to hold us up when we feel week, someone to guide us through the complexities of life. Most of all, during those times when life rolls over us like a subway train, we need someone willing to jump onto the tracks with us and stay by our side.
That is exactly what this night is all about. God comes to us as a little child. The infinite becomes finite in order to be with us, in order to understand and share in every aspect of human life. While this makes about as much sense as a man wanting to become a gnat, or a blade of grass, or a popsicle stick ; it is in fact God’s ultimate act of self-disclosure, God’s risk-taking, God’s bright exclamation point that loudly declares – “I love you.” I love you enough to become one of you. I love you enough to enter fully into your life so that your life might become my life and that my life might become yours. On this night, Christ comes to us, not to save us from the harshness of the world, but rather like Orlando on the subway tracks, he comes to be with us in the midst of that harshness, to give us the courage and the strength to bear it.
For many, Christmas is a time of unrestrained joy, a time of celebration and togetherness. A family reunites with a daughter who has been away at school, now home for a few blessed days. A son who’s moved away is back to make the family complete again. And yet, there are those among us for whom this is a hard night; those for whom “homecoming” doesn’t happen. An estranged loved one remains distant. A family relationship remains strained and difficult. A face that’s always graced our table is forever gone – never to return. For those for whom grief is still raw and real this is a hard season because it reminds us of who cannot come home for Christmas.
This past week I had a wonderful experience. I was driving around town late one afternoon making some pastoral visits and feeling a little sad. My Mom died this past May and I was lamenting that this would be my first Christmas without her, my first Christmas without any parent. When I arrived at my destination, I paused for a moment to check my phone for any messages before getting out of the car. I had one text from Dick Fowlkes who was still at Peter Blair working that evening. The message read, and I quote: “I just found a gift certificate from your Mom to you from 2004 for $75 smackers!!! It is still good Rabbi!!! Merry Merry, Dick.” I couldn’t help but smile. It was such a wonderful grace filled sign just for me. Here was a Christmas present from my Mom, who was gone but she was not lost. Because of the miracle of this night, because of the gift of Christ come among us, her life, my life, indeed all of our lives are saved and safe with God.
Immanuel has come; God is with us, born among us as a little child. We are not alone, we never will be, nor will any of those we love – living or dead. God is born in Bethlehem to share in our laughter and our tears. God is here with us, to understand our joy and our grief. Christ comes to us, not to shield us from the difficulties of the world but to give us the courage and the strength to withstand anything, not to snatch us away from the conflict of life but to give us his peace. The world may still run over us like a subway train sometimes, but Christmas declares that we are never alone on the tracks; Christ has jumped down to be with us. Our lives have been hallowed by his life and we can never be lost. Merry Christmas.