Listen.... What do you hear? The sounds of the city? The stillness of the night? Listen.... I hear nothing. No background music in department stores. No maddening crowds scrambling for great retail deals. No radios or TV Christmas specials. No choir of angels. No choir - period. Silence.
Our final ritual is about to begin....the ritual of Candlelight communion.
Christmas is wrapped up in rituals. We know our church rituals by heart - hanging greens, setting up, lighting and relishing our 5,000 light Christmas tree, the Cookie Mission, the Children’s Christmas play, Lessons and Carols, the Christmas Pageant, Bethlehem on Broad St. and activity galore. Although most of this is good, we do experience the rituals of complaints over who has the most lines and who has the best roles - which fires off the ritual of aging out of your previous Christmas role and sets in motion the ritual of finding a new place to shine - one which is age appropriate.
Once we leave this “sanctuary,” the rituals of shopping, going to parties, Christmas trees - cutting and decorating, Christmas productions including “The Nutcracker Suite” and “A Christmas Carol” (and all the Scrooge spinoffs), Christmas movies and concerts, Zoo lights, baking and decorating cookies and treats, hanging outside lights, gift wrapping, gift giving, home gatherings, or home goings.
But, this is not enough ritual. Our stress levels increase as the media gets into their rituals of the season - the TV and print coverage of Christians crazed by using the Christmas nativity as a spiritual battering ram. You know this ritual. Each year, some Christian groups get on their donkeys (or in their SUV’s) and ride into the town or government squares of America with live nativity scenes or really tacky plastic ones - and face down the opposition - usually the ACLU or other religious groups carrying their symbols for the season. (Did you hear the other day, the Governor of Oregon allowed a menorah in the statehouse but not a nativity scene?)
With apparently too few stories of glad tidings and good cheer, our blood pressure collectively rises as a few folks claiming to speak for our faith go through their Christmas rituals of confrontation and arguing on camera about where the Nativity belongs, and “the reason for the season.
And this creates the rituals of rising blood pressure as we overdo and overeat and stress out, and shop ‘til we drop, and spend money we don’t have. If you are feeling overly tired, you must remember this year’s Christmas season has been in the stores since BEFORE Halloween. One/sixth of 2006 was spent selling Christmas. If you are exhausted from two months of the Christmas Countdown, you deserve the final ritual - the ritual of Christmas rest! But, not before your Christmas Day rituals.....
Pause now.... Take a breath....breathe in.... breathe out..... There is one more step on the road of this ritual called Christmas. It is the only one that matters. It is the step which we need most and seek least. It is the step which takes us next to the manger one more time. It is the step to the nativity of our Lord.
We reflect on the story of the nativity one more time - maybe for the first time in the craziness of this year. This is a birthing story. A beautiful baby is born in Bethlehem of Judea to a virgin named Mary and her betrothed, Joseph. We know he is beautiful, because all babies are beautiful in God’s eyes. With his arrival, also comes the arrival of a glorious star and three elegant stargazers; just as glorious angels and less than glorious shepherds. In the night air of Bethlehem, the world breathes differently. Hope is born again.
With his arrival, we stand at a cross road in human history. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 11th Century wrote of Christ’s birth, “Comfort is here, help has come down from heaven. The kindness and humanity of God our Savior has appeared.” As we stand by the manger, all the chill leaves the air and all the joy of the world returns.
The light that shines from the humble manger is strong enough to lighten our way to the end of our days.
From Manger to Cross, we take the final step tonight. From Cross to Table we experience the fullness of God’s love and grace, tonight.
Come, “for unto to us a child is born, a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders and he shall be called wonderful, counselor, prince of peace.” Come to Bethlehem and see, him whose birth the angels sing. Come, adore on bended knee Christ, the Lord, the newborn King. Come - for all things are ready! Amen.
Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church