The Peura Family
to the Manger
At last we come to the manger. After weeks of shopping, baking, office parties and secret keeping, tonight we prepare and eat the traditional Christmas Eve supper our mothers made sure we would never forget how to cook. Even though some of us still have gifts to wrap and other last minute errands, we are here, together in this place. Finally. Exhausted yet hopeful. We are here to remember and celebrate how the creator crept into this world that holy night two-thousand years ago.
At last years family service, I overheard a four year old say with much excitement "Mommy, Christmas is when baby Jesus is born!" "Oh," the childs mother must have thought, "I must have done something right. Shes got it!"
Then, with a puzzled look on her face, the little girl said, "I thought he already grew up."
Not bad for a four year old - not bad for a fifty-four year old either. Why does the birth of this baby touch us so, even when we already know, as Paul Harvey would say, " the rest of the story?"
Its more than the softness of our palm caressing a newborns velvet skin. Its more than the outpouring of love we feel as we grow up alongside the children we bring up. Its more than pinning a wish on a star or convincing ourselves that there is more to be grasped than we can see with our eyes, taste on our lips, touch with our hands or absorb in our minds.
It is the promise of God made flesh among his people. It is a mystery still.
In this eye-blink of a dingy town called Bethlehem amidst political upheaval, in this smelly cave, carpeted with straw-covered dung, Love was born. In weariness from the journey there on the back of the animal who induced her labor with its awkward, repetitious gait, Mary laid her newborn son in a feeding trough among the animals as they slept. And for all time and for all people, God whispered the never ending promise of salvation into our midst. One night. Long ago. Shadowed in mystery.
But something else is afoot here. Something which even the four year child grasps. The Christmas tree, when stripped of its decorations and lights, its needles and branches, forms the Good Friday cross leading us toward the Resurrection. Christmas without Easter? Only a nice story. Easter without Christmas? An incomplete truth.
Christmas is the beginning. Easter is its culmination. And the getting from one to the other? Thats grace.
Tonight we speak of mystery in the holiness of Gods descending into our flesh. We hear the Christmas story and sing "Silent Night" while unashamed tears course down our cheeks. We hear the language of grace which speaks but one word - "Love" - as God whispers his name into the hearts of all who can hear.
But its the new things so filled with promise that we love. A shiny new bicycle under the tree Christmas morning, a present wrapped in tissue paper and gaily tied with ribbons, a new school year with sharp-pointy pencils, a new relationship, a new beginning, a new century. God made a new beginning for us that first Christmas morning long ago as he took all the tired old guilt, anger, shabbiness, despair and fear that we carry, and laid them on the Easter tree of love sacrificed and resurrected. Tonight, if we let him, He will take the darkest side of ourselves, those things which we hide from everyone else but can not hide from our mothering God, and shoulder them forevermore on the cross that the babe of Bethlehem bore.
Forgiveness, resurrection and hope are more than words. They are the miracle of the Easter to come in our Christmas celebration tonight. They are God incarnate, the Word made flesh through the birth of a babe in our midst, no longer a mystery, but a promise. They are you and in you. They are in me. And Love comes down. Again. Right here. Tonight.
No, Christmas is not just remembering, for if we focus only on the sweet nostalgia, we miss out on the miracle. Last year that four year old child understood the focus of the Christ we celebrate and spoke it plainly. This year let us open ourselves to the newborn babe of the manger lying swaddled with love, waiting only to enter the hearts of all here tonight.
Come. Kneel at the manger. Look inwardly to discover the promise that the babe brings us tonight. Be silent. Be still. Open your heart. And listen to the voice from eternity whispering among us in this place.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is givn!