Christmas Eve was always magical for me. As a little kid, we had a big Christmas party and Santa would come and everyone got gifts and my mom made this huge bowl of egg nog thick with whipped cream. As a young adult, I spent Christmas Eve with my faith community, located in a barn in the woods of Connecticut. It was dark, lit only by candles, and the music was potent, filling me with a sense of beauty and gratitude. As our family expanded, more traditions were introduced, each creating a sense of enchantment, which is what I’ve come to value as part of the experience of Christmas.
Christmas creates an idealized version of the world, and it’s reinforced by every Christmas song and movie and story out there. Everyone you love is together. Problems are solved or at least set aside. No one has anywhere else to go. The city gets quiet. We have an accepted cultural tradition of not calling people or emailing them or causing to work in any way and the whole country is reading from the same book of kindness and compassion. We don’t achieve this perfectly, but for about 36 hours, millions of us try. I suppose that’s pretty magical, just on its own.
The Christmas story, as told in the Gospels According to Luke and Matthew, as read tonight by Carrie and Rev. Chris, does a good job of creating this air of enchantment, too. A baby is born to a loving couple. Angels are heralding the birth to the shepherds, a star is guiding the king’s emissaries, magi are bringing gifts from afar, a company of heavenly hosts is singing the glory of god. It might have seemed like an ordinary birth, but the world around this family has ignited with joy and hope. That’s the way the story tellers want us to think about Christmas night. We can talk about the glory of every child being born, which, of course, is true. And we can talk about the ordinariness of this particular birth, which is also true. But, the mood the storytellers want to set is one of breathtaking beauty, of mystical dreams.
They’re setting the stage for a longer story. This child will grow into a teacher and healer, a man looking to overturn religious and cultural systems. He will be arrested and sentenced to death and his followers will need to tell the story so that all the people left will understand the transformative power of his message. They want to put his actions in context, and they do that by showing us this man was marked from the beginning as extraordinary. His birth was magical. Even his conception was remarkable. And because of that, they’re begging the listener to hear the message of love and inclusion he preached with his whole life.
The message was salvific. Ancient Palestine was an occupied land, as it had been for centuries. It was conquered and reclaimed over and over again. Saviors are never born into times of peace. That’s not when we need them. We need them when the world feels frightening. When we don’t know our next steps. When things are moving too fast or not fast enough. Saviors are born, or created, when people are divided, and messages of love seem laughably unrealistic. Saviors are born when we’re desperate.
Collectively speaking, I think we’re desperate. If a savior is to be born, now would be a good time. But remember, stories about angels and magi are told afterwards, so don’t go looking for them now. And in today’s world of constant news and scandal and social media, it’s unlikely any one person will hold up under the scrutiny. I’m not sure we’re really waiting for a single person to save us, anyway. If Christmas Eve has anything to tell us, it’s that the message of love and hope have already been born into the world. Tonight, we remember it. Tonight, we have a taste of it. We can see it from here, through the enchanted window of Christmas where we watch a single child being born, a child who eventually lives into the reality of being divine, a man who then sees the divine in each of us and who calls us all to live generously, courageously, to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out in service to each other. It’s on Christmas Eve, in the dark of night, that we are called to become this savior, the bearer of the good news, the light of hope being born into the world. Look at each other and see. And when you do, when you really see each other, tell me you don’t hear the angles singing.