Christmas Eve 2012
St. James’s Episcopal Church
What’s gotten you into the Christmas spirit this year? Is it when the tree is finally decorated? Is it seeing a pile of Christmas cards from friends and family? Is it going caroling or putting up lights on your home? Is it buying gifts for a family in need, seeing your kids make lists for Santa, or watching the Christmas pageant? For most of us there is usually something that puts us in the Christmas frame of mind.
Perhaps this year you do not feel much Christmas spirit. Maybe you are grieving; maybe you have been wrestling with illness or some kind of loss; maybe you are full of so much worry or anxiety that there isn’t much room to feel good about Christmas. If you are low on Christmas spirit this year – whatever the reason – God bless you, that’s a hard place to be. But we are glad that you are here with us tonight, because this night is all about hope, this night is all about God’s promise that no matter how we feel we are never alone – Christ is born, God has come to be with us.
What really got me in the Christmas spirit this year was when I opened my kitchen cabinet and an avalanche of food containers tumbled out everywhere. Big ones, little ones, round and square ones, Tupperware, Ziploc, Reynolds, Rubbermaid, even some Pyrex. Several dozen freshly washed food containers spilled out and I scrambled to keep them from hitting the floor. At first I had no idea what was going on. We rarely have more than one or two of these things on hand around the house. And then I realized that these were from all the food people have been bringing the Holleriths since Melissa’s surgery in November. Each container represented the gift of a meal; each one represented a kindness done for our family during a difficult time. As I picked them up, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude, with a feeling of being loved and ministered to. As silly as it may sound, these empty containers are our family’s most precious gifts this Christmas because each one is for us an incarnation of Christ’s love – each is a tangible expression of God’s love and care made real through the kindness of others. Thank you. I was going to pile them all up under the Christmas tree but then I thought it might look like we were trying to have an old fashioned Tupperware party!
Tonight we celebrate the most tangible expression of God’s love – the birth of Christ. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh. Christmas is all about God with us – not a distant God ruling from on high but God right beside us – living this life with us – a God who understands what it means to be you and me. In Jesus, God becomes a human being in order to bring all of us to God. In a world that is often dark and troubled with wars, famines, disease, disasters, and the murder of innocents, Christmas is the yearly reminder that we have not been left alone. The Divine has hallowed human nature in order that we might be more divine, in order to bring us to God.
Last year on Christmas Day a young man from Mississippi named Caleb Beaver died from a congenital disorder that caused an abnormal connection between his arteries and veins. He was only 16 years old. His family was devastated but they donated his heart, lungs, liver and kidneys in the hope that something good could come out of their terrible loss. For eight months following Caleb’s death his grief-stricken mother April wished for some way she could feel close to her son again. “I was talking to God and crying out,” she said, “and I asked God to let me have a dream or something.” The next day her prayers were answered in a letter from Charles Shelton, a psychiatrist from Kentucky who on December 26, the day after Caleb died, received Caleb’s heart through organ donation. Shelton had been near death but Caleb’s heart gave him back his life. Now Shelton wanted to thank the Beaver family in person. So, last October, the Beavers invited Shelton and his family to come to Mississippi for a visit. The local newspaper was present at the airport for their arrival and there is an incredibly powerful photograph of April, holding onto Shelton. She is smiling but there are tears running down her cheeks. She has a stethoscope around her neck and she is listening to the beating of Caleb’s heart. “It’s real,” April cried. “That’s Caleb,” Shelton responded, as they stood holding one another on the tarmac.
This Christmas, God sends us his heart, the essence of God’s self, in the gift of his son. He does it to give us life, to give us hope that we will all be made well again. And because God has taken on human flesh – human flesh and the work of human hands are now the means by which light and life come into the world, how grace and truth come into the world. Now we, you and I, are to embody the love and compassion of God. Now we are to embody the grace and truth of Christ. Christ is born as one of us so that we might become like him, live like him, love like him. Eliza, Marshall, Melissa and I have experienced Christ’s presence in recent weeks through the love and care of so many people, represented by our pile of food containers. The question for all of us this evening is – if God held a stethoscope to our chests, would he hear his son’s heart? Do we allow Christ to be born in us, to live in us, to live through us?
Christ has come – we are not alone. That is the promise of this holy night. Let us welcome him. Let us celebrate his birth. But more importantly let us pray that his life may become our life, his heart our heart, and his work our heart’s desire. Merry Christmas.