Merry Christmas and a warm welcome from the Nation’s Capital and from
all of us at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the Washington
As a parent, priest, cathedral dean and bishop I have witnessed over 50
children’s Nativity Pageants. Each one has been different in performance
although the story told remains constant. One such pageant stays fixed
in my mind and I would like to share it with you this Christmas morning.
It has a larger story to tell.
Some years ago on Christmas Eve, a pageant unfolded with the usual cast
of biblical characters all played by young children in a church I was
serving. The sanctuary was filled with shepherds, celestial angels,
children hidden in elaborate sheep, cattle and camel costumes, three
wise men, Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus. During the pageant, much
to the consternation of gathered parents and parishioners, a dispute
arose between two of the shepherds who happened to be brothers, one five
years old and the other nine. Embroiled in sibling rivalry, they began a
noticeable shoving match initiated by the younger of the two as to who
should be closer to the crèche and the baby Jesus…and of course the best
camera angle for their proud parents.
Eventually the pushing and shoving ended when one of the brothers fell
into one of the three wise men who happened to be carrying a thurible
containing burning incense which the young wise man dropped with a loud
crash on to the carpet of the sanctuary. The congregation gasped in
horror as ushers rushed forward with fire extinguishers in hand to put
out the smoldering coals. The Angel Gabriel, who was played by an 11
year old “goody-two-shoes” who was known by all to have never said a bad
word in her life, seeing that the pageant was now in chaos wailed loudly
and tearfully for all in the congregation to hear; “Reverend Chane,
those damn shepherds are ruining Christmas for everyone!”
The pageant ended in a cloud of mist as extinguishers were emptied on
the now slowly burning carpet and with the pageant’s young cast beating
a hasty retreat to the parish house for sanctuary and Christmas Eve
Today we live in a world where there is far too much pushing and shoving
and where pushing and shoving has too often led to something more
disastrous than a wailing angel Gabriel and ushers extinguishing burning
coals from an incense thurible.
Today we live in a world where there is not only pushing and shoving
going on during this Holy Time of the Christian Year, but pushing and
shoving that too often leads to violence, death, and neglect of the poor
in our cities and towns and has threatened the stability of our own
Nation and that of the Global Community.
This morning over 150,000 service men and women are serving in Iraq and
in other parts of the volatile Middle East. And no matter how any of us
may feel about this war, they need our prayers and Christmas wishes at a
time of great difficulty and danger for them, their families, and the
This Christmas morning we need to remember that pushing and shoving in
different parts of the world and in our own country has left one out of
every three persons in the Global community living on less than two
dollars a day.
This Christmas morning, we need to remember that pushing and shoving in
the Holy Land of Christ has caused it to be torn by violence and
terrorism and that centuries of pushing and shoving has led to a
situation that must make the God of all creation weep as we celebrate
the annual remembrance of the birth of Jesus.
This Christmas morning we need to remember that the pushing and shoving
of the centuries between Judaism, Christianity and Islam over whose Holy
Texts contain theological inerrancy and exclusivity have led to
religious terrorism, violence and death that the world’s interfaith and
inter-religious communities have too often been silent in condemning and
unable or unwilling to cooperatively confront.
And yet in all of this pushing and shoving, and with all that would seem
to neutralize the Christmas Story as simply a saccharin, politically
correct, theatrical presentation, we need to remember that the miracle
of Christmas and its message of unfailing hope and God’s unending love
for the whole of creation is a miraculous truth that has already
occurred and will continue to occur in spite of our human short comings
and myopic limitations.
Christmas will always come in spite of our vanity, our shortsightedness,
our selfishness, and our desire for control and power. And the fact that
Christmas will always come is the hope of the world. It is hope for
those who wait upon the Lord and who seek to do God’s will of living
well into doing justice, seeking freedom and ending the oppression of
God’s people by any nation or people who claim divine right and exercise
authority over compassion.
Christmas will always come in spite of us. And it will come with all of
its bright lights…its sung Carols…its Santa Clauses…and reindeer and
gaily wrapped packages…its feasts and the annual outpouring of public
generosity to the poor, the afflicted and the homeless. Christmas will
always come in spite of bad sermons, long winded services of worship,
flawed nativity pageants and bad theology. Christmas comes every year
reminding us that we ought not to be so sure that we are in control of
our own destinies, nor are we the divine ticket takers for those who are
called by God to enter the gates of the eternal.
Christmas comes to remind us all that miracles happened once and will
continue to happen and that they will always be wrapped in a package
that when opened reveals that God is love and that Jesus is that love
born into the world.
On this Christmas day, may we rededicate ourselves to the course of
peace, reconciliation and unconditional love and vow to make the world a
better, safer and more forgiving place for our generation and the
generations that will come after us. AMEN