December 24 2022 -Christmas Eve – Luke 2:1-20

I really admire themed Christmas trees – you know, the trees decorated in one distinct style or with a color scheme or matching ornaments, trees that are so elegant and tasteful that they look like they should be photographed for Yankee Magazine or Better Homes and Gardens.  Our Christmas tree, however, is more eclectic, let’s say.  Some of the ornaments are pretty, some cute, some downright silly.  Some are handcrafted while others were mass produced, and they’ve come from craft shows and gift shops and tourist destinations and world markets and some from the hands of people we have known.  I do like looking at other people’s themed trees, and I will admit that there’s a smaller themed tree in our family room (covered with Snoopy and Charlie Brown and their pals – though I would hardly call it elegant and only tasteful to the most ardent of Peanuts devotees) – I like the concept of a themed tree, but we’ll never have one because I cannot imagine a more beautiful tree than but the one in our living room which is covered by the most diverse collection of ornaments that you could imagine.

Because the ornaments are not just decorations.  They are memories, much more valuable than the bits of plastic and glass and string and straw and beads and bows from which they were made.  The little painted wooden Santa riding a reindeer given to me by my first piano teacher 50-some years ago reminds me of the person who first taught me about music and, though you wouldn’t expect it from a piano teacher, also taught me about spiritual discernment.  The paw print pressed in clay reminds me of the cat who used to curl up under the tree.  The blue snowflake ornament reminds me of my internship supervisor, who taught me more about the day-to-day work of ministry than any class I took in seminary.  The Sequoia National Park ornament reminds me of the trip we took to celebrate our 25th anniversary.  The ball with a loon painted on it reminds me of friends with whom we vacationed in New England, long before we knew we would one day be New Englanders.  The embroidered St. Nicholas made by my mom reminds me of the annual Christmas bazaars at my childhood church.  I won’t elaborate on the thoughts and feelings that go with every ornament on my tree – I do realize that you want to get home before dawn – but you can see why I will never be able to have a themed Christmas tree.  The ornaments on our tree are more than just pretty decorations.  By handling them, even just by seeing them, they put me in touch with things that we cannot touch – like hope and faithfulness, friendship and love.

What are the Christmas traditions that help you to experience things which are timeless, to touch that which is intangible?  Maybe ornaments aren’t your thing.  But maybe you feel about some other tradition the way I feel about my ornaments.  Maybe it’s the act of lighting candles.  Or making cookies.  Maybe it’s the music that brings home the meaning of the season.  Or the giving of gifts.  There are so many rich traditions that we observe at this time of year, each of them holy – even the secular ones – because they help us to grasp eternal, timeless truths.  And there is no holier tradition than the story that we tell this night.  There is nothing which can better help us to grasp the eternal than the story of the limitless, all-powerful, extraordinary God of heaven and earth who became tiny, vulnerable, and ordinary – who became a human child – for us.

For this is the message of Christmas – that the Almighty, who is mysterious and holy, knew that we humans would need a more concrete, more down-to-earth way of knowing God; that the Creator of heaven and earth, who is so far beyond what we could possibly know, or understand, or love, wanted very much to be known, and to be understood, and to be loved.  That’s why Jesus was born.  For in Jesus we can see the invisible God.  In Jesus, we can touch the eternal and infinite God.  And when we see and touch Jesus, we see and touch the love of God.

If we had crowded into that stable with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds that night in Bethlehem, we could have seen and touched God by seeing and touching the infant Jesus.  But that was a very long time ago, and even though we picture him that way on this holy night, he is no longer in the manger.  Tonight, he is with us in another holy tradition – in the tradition of holy communion.  When the infant Jesus grew to adulthood, he knew that we would need to see him and touch him and feel his love after his time on earth had ended – so he gave himself to us in bread and wine.  Tonight, this (holding out hands) is the manger in which he is laid.  Tonight, this is how we can see and touch the love of God.

I pray that each of you will have a Christmas filled with all the traditions that make the season special for you.  As you look at your ornaments and light your candles and exchange your gifts and do all the things that make this season so meaningful, may you remember that what makes these traditions really valuable is what lies behind them – the timeless gifts of hope and faith and friendship and love that touch you through them.  When you think about this beautiful story, may you remember what it means that Jesus was born as one of us.  And when you come to the table to receive Jesus in bread and wine, may you remember that what we receive is so much more than just what it appears to be:  it is God’s love, made real and made present, for you.

 

 

 

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