Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I would first like to welcome all of you here on this holy day. If you are a member of this parish – welcome, we are glad you are here. If you are visitor – welcome, and thank you for being here this morning. This church is blessed by your presence.
One of the things that I love about Christmas Day service is that it kind of feels like you are letting your hair down and putting your feet on up on the couch after all the pageantry of Christmas Eve services, which are beautiful and grand, but Christmas Day service is kind of like the party that happens after the party, the one where all your close friends stay after others have gone home.
If your house is anything like mine this morning, the presents have been unwrapped from under the Christmas tree, and the Christmas tree looks a little bare with nothing under it anymore (except a bunch of dry pine needles if the tree is real!). For many of us, Christmas trees are one of the real icons of the Christmas holiday. Whether it is a noble fir, or one made of plastic, metal, or with the fake spray on snow – all Christmas trees kindle in me that feeling of Christmas.
Some time ago I saw a Christmas tree unlike any other I had ever seen. It looked somewhat like the Christmas tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with its bare branches and one or two bare ornaments hanging from it. There were no presents underneath this tree. It appeared to be in a room surrounded by rubble – broken concrete and steel rebar. The tree, I later learned was in the destroyed home of a Palestinian Christian family living in Bethlehem, the traditional city of Jesus’ birth.
The ornaments hanging from this tree were not what you or I would expect. We have Darth Vader hanging on our tree at home, but on this tree, the ornaments were all constructed out of spent rifle casings the family had found around the ruin of what used to be their home. Bullets as ornaments.
There it was for all to see – a Christmas tree, a symbol of hope and light, decorated with the spent instruments of violence. This Palestinian family, whoever they were, used bullet casings for ornaments to create something that resembled hope. They used what they had. It was not a fancy tree. But it was one of the most beautiful Christmas trees I have ever seen.
Like the owners of that tree, God also used what was available to create hope: a small, non-descript, unimportant backwoods region of the Roman Empire, a young woman and her husband, and a baby. A baby born in a manger, a cave or stable, with a feeding trough for a crib.
And this baby, the Christ child, born of Mary, the God-bearer, is our hope.
There were no guarantees of this child’s safety, or that of his family. Early on in their life together, they would become refugees, fleeing King Herod’s violent campaign to slaughter the innocents. They would find safety in neighboring Egypt, for a time. This is the Christmas Story: a God willing to risk everything to get to know us, to be with us, to walk beside us in our pain, in our joy, in our complexity, and in our sorrow.
Why? Because of love. God loves you. We aren’t promised security or prosperity – we are promised something far greater – God’s love that spans the entire universe to meet you here this Christmas morning.
We create hope out of whatever we can. The broken pieces of dreams shattered by the harsh reality of our lives. The irony is that often hope only emerges when things are broken. Whatever it is – spent bullet casings, memories of a broken child hood, the failure of a fractured dream. All of those pieces God is holding and with God’s mercy and grace God is giving the pieces to you, to build what you will – to create hope.
This is what God does – it’s called grace. And it is what Christmas is all about: the risk of love, the promise of grace, the creation of hope. What will you build? AMEN.