Sermon for Christmas Eve / Dec. 24, 2006

Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley

Title:  I’m Dreaming of a Real Christmas


It all began with a scavenger hunt to one of my favorite stores, looking for “real” Christmas bags in which to send our gifts.    To my great surprise, no matter how hard I looked, I could not find a single bag related to the Christmas story.   Oh, I found everything else, including reindeer and snowmen and lots and lots of Santa Clause…but not one baby Jesus lying in the manger.      


And then to ad insult to injury, when I got to the check out counter, I noticed that the person waiting on me was wearing a cross so I piped up and said a cheerful ‘Merry Christmas’…to which she then replied ‘Happy Holidays.’    And before I knew it, I could hear myself saying: ‘Don’t you mean Merry Christmas?’    To which she then replied: ‘I would, but…I don’t want to offend anyone.’        Which got me to thinking.  Can anyone, who knows the “real” Christmas story…truly be offended?


You know the story as well as I…how the whole town was clogged with travelers, none of whom were there by choice.     The emperor wanted them all counted and taxed and he of all people could care less as to where they slept.     That was their problem, not his.   Still, you have to wonder what ever happened to Joseph’s family.   If Bethlehem was his hometown, why didn’t his own people take them in?   I don’t know, but they didn’t.    


Joseph and Mary got a stall instead of a room, which was not as bad as we sometimes make it out to be.    With luck they also got some clean hay and some blankets.   What we know, is that they did locate a feed trough, because that is where they laid their treasure, and that is when the picture was taken.     You know, the one we always see on the front of the ideal Christmas cards while the star was still overhead and the angels were still singing in the rafters.  


But…twenty minutes later, what then?    The hole in the heavens had closed up and the only music to be heard was from the bar in the inn next door.     One of the cows stepped on a chicken and made such a ruckus that the baby started crying.    And just as Mary leaned down to pick him up, she too began to cry and when Joseph tried to comfort her…all she could say is that she really wanted her mom.   


If she had just married a nice boy from Nazareth, she said, she would be back home where she belonged instead of competing with sheep for a place to sleep.    Then she said she was sorry, and Joseph…being the nice guy that he was…said not to give it a second thought.     And the neat thing about it, was that he meant it too.   Talk about a reality check…they both hurt all over from the long day of travel, and there was nothing to eat and it was cold as the dickens.   


But you know what?   God was still there.    Right in the middle of the picture.      Peace was there along with joy and love…all wrapped up into one….and they could feel his presence. It was God-With-Us…not the God-Up-There…somewhere…who answers all of our prayers by lifting us out of our lives, but the God who comes down to us in the midst of them.      However far from home we may be…however less than ideal our circumstances…however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send.


That is where God is born, just there, in any cradle we will offer him, on any pile of straw we will pat together with our hands.      Any of us who have prayed to be transported into God’s presence this Christmas Eve will get our wish…only not, perhaps, in the way we had thought.     You see, none of heaven’s escalators are going up tonight.   Everybody up there is coming down here, right into our own Bethlehem, to bring us the God who had decided to make his home in our arms.      Choosing flesh, he chose the lowest common denominator and in doing so left us no escape from his presence.    


That is why…it is so important tonight to let the star show us a “real” child.     To believe…that what Mary and Joseph got was no Hallmark baby but a belching, squalling infant who kept them up nights for weeks on end.     And that in choosing to make his entrance in such an offensive, “ordinary” way, God showed us that flesh and blood, dirt and sky, life and death were good enough for him.     More than that, he made the ordinary holy by taking part in them, and left us nothing on earth we can dismiss as trivial or unknown to him.   


Which is exactly what Saint Francis had in mind when he staged the very first Living Nativity one Christmas Eve, a long time ago.     Gathering their materials from the garbage bins of Assisi, they made costumes out of rags and hammered together a small manger out of some old wooden boxes that they found.    They stuffed it with hay swept from the streets, and into the cradle Francis placed a discarded wooden doll that some child had grown tired of.    


Later that night, with all the townspeople watching, the legend goes, Francis picked up the doll and as he spoke about the mystery of the word made flesh, the baby in his arms came to life.    Talk about shaking one’s sense of reality!    Things that cannot be have come to pass this night: God has come among us as a real flesh and blood child.    Look again at what you thought was real:   there is gold in the straw and myrrh in the manure on the floor, the cows smell of frankincense, the dogs bark hosanna, and the star shows seekers from every corner of the earth where to look for God…not up in the heavens as some people think, but down in the gorgeous muck and mire of the world.


And so for tonight, at least, let us revel in the light of the star beneath which the ordinary becomes holy and the holy ordinary.    And where it becomes crystal clear that there is nothing more we must do…or be…to be loved by God.    We are already loved beyond our wildest dreams for being exactly the way we are.   


For tonight, at least, let us believe…that on this first day of Christmas…and on the second and on every day of our lives…what God sends to us is his holy self, decked out in flesh like ours.    And if we have the wisdom to embrace the everyday stuff of our lives, then it is God himself who is born in our arms.   Making everyday…the perfect day for wishing someone a very “real”…Merry Christmas!   Amen