Good morning and a Merry Christmas from the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Washington National Cathedral located in the heart of our Nation’s Capital.
Can you remember your first Christmas as a child? Can you recall the feeling of that first Christmas morning when you dashed to the Christmas tree to see what wonders had been left there while you had been fast asleep the night before? And then remember the frenzy of opening presents, some very much desired and closely held while others, like Aunt Martha’s socks were placed unceremoniously in another pile of practicalities. And yet the morning was filled with electricity, some might even say magic, a time of revelation after weeks of expectant waiting, of decorating the house and tree. And then came Christmas day, a time of feasting on hearty foods and candy, of greeting friends and relatives who either stopped by or stayed over for Christmas dinner. If there ever was a day when time stood still, it was then when we were very, very young. Those days cannot be forgotten, even in the mind of this aging bishop. Those days were a time when Christmas was not politically correct and when real Christmas Trees were called “Christmas Trees” and not “Holiday Trees.”
But as our years increase from childhood to adulthood, Christmas seems too often to be losing to the annual frenetic pre-Christmas search for the “right” gift for the “right” person…or pre-Thanksgiving training for the onslaught of the Mall Olympics that we have come to call “Black Friday”…figuring out who should be added to or subtracted from our expanding Christmas card list…what invitations to open houses or holiday parties will we accept and which ones will we decline…how much can we afford to spend this Christmas…and the abiding hope that someone special in our lives will get the hints that we have been dropping for the last 6 months, gives us what we believe to be the gift we really want, we really deserve, and that will make us happy forever.
Too often the magic of our childhood memories are lost to the chaos of adult Christmases. Too often we are unable to replace what we experienced as Christmas magic as a child with the real truth about Christmas; that Christmas is not about magic. Christmas is about miracles!
Like the fabled wise men from the East who came searching for the new born Christ Child, as a miracle that was foretold to them, so Christmas comes each year to remind us that we are not a people who see Christmas as magic, but a people whose very lives are constantly defined by miracles. And it is Christmas that reminds us, if we have forgotten, that miracles really can and really do happen!
It was a miracle that Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, and yet miraculously the very son of God, was born into the world of poor and homeless parents, who would see him grow to challenge the very roots of power, poverty, evil, and mindless orthodoxy; things that demeaned so many of the known world’s earthly children at that time. And we call upon the Christ child today to give each of us the miraculous strength to do the same in our own time.
It was a miracle that this God child born in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea would live and then die and then live again to re-shape the thinking of a very troubled world—a world which was then filled with the horrors of war, terrorism, natural catastrophe, the painful truths of poverty, disease, homelessness, political and religious oppression—very much like the world that you and I now live in today.
It is this miracle of love, born into the world that in truth is the real meaning of Christmas. Today we celebrate the gift of new birth and life from a living and personal God, who loves us unconditionally and calls us through his Son to become unconditional lovers of all who in some way touch our lives.
The greatest gift that you will receive this Christmas morning is God’s love. And how we unwrap that gift can very well determine the course of our own earthly journey and, in truth, can be the very hope for a very troubled world.
Today, our world like the world that Jesus knew is a world regrettably filled with the same human tragedies and natural disasters that he experienced in his too short lifetime. And yet God saw fit over 2000 years ago to become the radical lover of humankind and to do that which the world has yet to fully understand. God came among us in the form of a little child who in his short life challenged humanity to the very core of its being with teachings such as; “love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.” This child whose birthday we celebrate today became what too many fail to acknowledge…a revolutionary teacher, who challenged the status quo and who called for wars to cease, for the poor to be loved and cared for and not blamed for their poverty, for children to be nurtured, accepted and loved as if they were in fact God himself.
As a child born homeless, Jesus reminds us that being homeless or a refugee is no longer acceptable in a world filled with such wealth and abundance. The Jesus who grew up from a tiny baby to become a prophetic adult reminds us that those with means have an obligation to provide for the needs of those who have little; for as Jesus taught, it would be easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, if he had not heeded the cry of the poor and the needs of others.
So you see on Christmas Day, God simply stopped the world, even for a short time, and with a bright shining star in the East caused a great miracle to caress the earth and to change it forever.
And if such a thing could happen then in a stable in Bethlehem—an event that eventually turned the world upside down and challenged ancient and now contemporary cultural values—then other miracles surely can happen now in your time and in mine. And the world awaits them expectantly, with a great Christmas hope.
Many of you listening and watching this Christmas have experienced miracles in your life. There is no other way to explain God’s love for us and how through a little child, God has come to instill that love in us so we might share it with others.
Take time from what might be a rather hectic holiday schedule and thank God in prayer either as an individual or as a family for the miracles that have already touched your life. Pray also that the miracles of this Christmas, the love of God born into the world through Jesus Christ, might be a love that will transform a world too often filled with war, poverty, disease, cynicism and hopelessness.
May this Christmas encourage and strengthen each of you to engage in solving the world’s and our own country’s problems rather than being a part of them or, even worse, ignoring them. And as you come to the end of this Christmas day, after all the presents have been unwrapped, the great Christmas dinner has been consumed and tired children have been put to bed, and the dishes washed and the busy world has finally been hushed, and the fever of life is over, sit quietly for a Christmas moment and then remember that for the remainder of your life, expect miracles! For if you expect them, they will surely come your way, and challenge you to become an active part of a new and gentler creation. Merry Christmas to you all.