Christmas Eve 2016
His dominion is vast, and forever peaceful.
The world is getting smaller, isn’t it? Technology, the ease of travel, and the global economy have brought far flung cultures closer together. And yet, ironically, the world, our country, seems to be ever more divided the closer we get.
In the midst of all our squabbling and fighting and hatred and murder and injustice, there are moments that arise in which we put it all aside and reach out to those we hurt and hate and realize the peace of Jesus. And it is no accident that this sort of thing usually happens around the feasts of Jesus.
What connects us truly is not technology, it is our humanity. That’s also what connects us to God. God has chosen to become one of us so that we can become one with Him. In St. John’s gospel Jesus says, “As you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
The message of Christ has always been one of unity, not division. There’s something about Christmas that fills a deep basic need in all people all over the world. Christmas is not just for Christians. Its message is truly universal, truly catholic, if you will. Christmas is celebrated all over the world by people of all faiths, or no faith. The meaning of Christmas is instilled in each of our hearts and souls at the moment of our conception. We believe that God became truly human so that we could become fully human.
The message of Christianity has always been one of peace. If you delve into the true history of the Church and actually understand our doctrines and our teachings, it is always a spirit of peace that emerges. As human beings, we haven’t always lived that spirit, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there and isn’t true and valuable.
And perhaps that is why we are usually at odds with the world, because the world is not about peace. The message of Jesus has always been met with violence. The small innocent child that was born in Bethlehem became the greatest threat ever to the status quo. So much so that he was eventually tortured and killed. But his message endures just as he endures. It is telling that the first thing he assures his disciples of after his resurrection is that nothing has changed. He is still all about peace. Yes, he has suffered. Yes, they killed him. But he still brings peace. And he wishes to bestow that peace upon all mankind.
Life here on earth is not peaceful. Like Jesus, we suffer, we are attacked, we are misunderstood and maligned, and we die. But God is still all about peace. We wander far from our intended path but God is always calling us back. We have holidays, holy days, that remind us of that call from time to time, and for a time we experience a taste of His peace, until we go back to our old ways.
Just because we know we’ll fall back doesn’t mean we should stop our celebrations. It’s good that we have these few short periods of peace amidst the chaos of our lives. We need these touch points to keep us on track. Could you imagine the world without the promise of Christmas? Even the watered down, commercialized Christmas message of the secular world is based upon peace on earth, good will towards all. Christmas fills a basic human need. You can take the God label off it, but it is still God behind it. Because that need is for our salvation.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The two things go together. If you give glory to God you will have peace. If you have peace you will be giving glory to God.
Tonight we do both.
Everyone, not just Christians, want the “Christmas Spirit”. Everyone wants a kinder, gentler, more compassionate world, and we want it more than once a year. We all know that things work better, relationships are closer, and life is more peaceful when we recognize and embrace the Spirit. We want the fruit of the Spirit but we won’t name the Spirit. We get almost there but can’t seem to make it all the way for fear of offending someone. It’s like we want to say it but can’t find the words. We acknowledge the gifts but not the giver.
The true “Christmas Spirit” is the Holy Spirit. The world will try to remove Christ from Christmas but it’s impossible to do so. All the wonderful fruit of the “Christmas Spirit” is actually the fruit of the Holy Spirit St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of a person.
Once we recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in Christmas it will be easier to live the “Christmas Spirit” every day of the year. We must begin to see things differently, almost in reverse.
And I think that the real reason so many people come to worship at Christmas is that deep down, in spite of all the intense pressure to make Christmas all about Santa and turkey and buying and receiving just the right presents, we all know that that’s not what it’s all about. We all know the true meaning of Christmas. We all know that we all need a savior, and that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to us to become one of us so that we could become like him.
We come because God wants us to come, and whether we recognize it or acknowledge it, that’s why we also want to come. The need for God is buried within us from our conception, and the important thing is not why we come, but that we come. We can work out the details later.
We know that no matter what we’ve done or what has happened to us this past year, for good or bad, it all comes down to that. I think that we all need to have this time to look at our lives, take stock in our actions and their meaning, and spend a little bit of time with our creator. Here we can escape what the world has done to Christmas and re-root ourselves in what is important. Unity with God, our families, and our fellow human beings. Take away all the decorations and music and presents and such, and that’s what is left.
My hope for you is that you can find that meaning in your lives, and that your time here at St. Mary’s will be one of peaceful contemplation of exactly what your God has done for you in giving you the Christmas gift of himself.
We often hear the saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas”. My prayer for you is that you keep Christ in yourself.