Thursday, December 24, 2015
Christmas Eve, 2015: Glad Tidings and Old News
Good evening, and welcome; I’m happy to welcome you here tonight. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, Christian or Jewish or something else, no matter what your belief or unbelief, whether you worship Christ or simply admire him, we are glad that you came here tonight.
I want to thank our musicians and singers and readers ahead of time. I want especially to welcome my colleague Rabbi Marc Katz for coming from Congregation Beth Elohim to read the second lesson and sing the Akeda. This is part of our tradition now, and may it speak volumes that we do this mutual embrace. Let me also acknowledge our music director Aleeza Meir, our kapellmeisterin, who turns us ordinary people into singing angels.
I’m sorry that you don’t get your own candle, but it’s for your safety, considering the staircases and the narrow exits. You’ll get your own candle again when we return this service to our sanctuary. Later in the service it will get darker in here. I’m instructing you to not turn on your cell-phone lights. Please just enjoy the candlelight. If you can’t make out all the lyrics in the bulletin, then just sing what you can from memory. Most of the words will come to you. So would you kindly turn off all your mobile devices right now and keep them off?
The image that I’m compelled by tonight is of a young woman desperately trying to find a place to have her baby in the darkness. A safe place, halfway decent. With her husband, in a strange town. We sing, “all is calm, all is bright,” but I wonder how frantic they might have been. Where were they when her water broke? Was she having contractions while Joseph was pleading with the innkeeper?
There is a subtext in this lovely story of the stable and the manger. Her husband had to be her midwife in the dark. Not her sisters, nor her cousins, nor her aunties. Why had they all let her go? And to come to this! It’s actually not a pretty picture, to give birth among the animals. Maybe the darkness was welcome.
It’s old news, but the relevance is obvious. If you are a refugee on the run, where do you go to have your baby? If you’re fleeing from Syria and crossing into Turkey, what do you do if your contractions start? Or if it’s while you’re waiting for the flimsy boat to take you into Greece? Do you head out into the fields and hide in a barn? How about if you’re trying to cross the border from Mexico into the US? Maybe you have your baby in the back of a truck, and God forbid you might need a doctor because then you’re also going to get arrested and sent back. No room for you here. But it’s here that God was to be found, so says the primal story of the Christian faith.
In a way it’s all old news. People have been fleeing from one disaster or another for all of human history. And wealthy nations have been refusing them for just as long, erecting fences and fortresses. Don’t disturb us, go away. And our temples inside our fortresses. The very first Dutch Reformed church in North America was built inside the fort at the tip of Manhattan, and because it was in the fort, certain people were not welcome there. But the Christmas story tells you that at this most critical moment of the Incarnation, your God is found outside the welcome and out beyond the light and at the margins of secure society.
And then out there in the dark, beyond the walls, the angel goes to tell the tidings to shepherds. Why not to the innkeeper? Why did the angels not perform their concert to the travelers gathered in the great room of the inn? Why lavish this most glorious music on the very lowest class of men? Another example of God among the marginalized.
It’s old news that we need to hear again and again. In a single stroke God both embraces our humanity and repudiates our human pretensions. God is pleased to inhabit our weakest and most vulnerable humanity, fully so and without interruption or impediment, which is the meaning of the Incarnation, but simultaneously repudiates our human power and the walls we build and the violence we use to secure our power. You need to keep hearing this old news against all the other newer news that you hear today, the news that pretends to be the truth about the world.
This old news is good news because this repudiation has no ill will. Tonight there is no guilt nor condemnation. From God’s side it is only peace on earth, and all good will towards humankind. This old news is offered to you as tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, even for those behind their walls. Oh yes, these tidings might well embarrass us, and shake up our contrivances for our comfort and security, but that’s a gift that every one of you can welcome.
When you hear it you are glad. You recognize that it’s better this way. In your heart, you know God’s right. Of course you may well doubt there is a God, and I don’t blame you, because the jury is still out, but is this the kind of God you could believe in? Who acts like this, who talks like this, who offers to be found among the outcast and the poor, a God whose greatness is willingly made very small and whose power is among the weak?
The lessons that follow tell you where to look for God and what kind of God to look for. As for peace on earth, let the lessons remind you of what God stands for and where God goes, with gracious hospitality and good will. For joy, let the music and the carols carry you. And for comfort, take it from the company of your fellow travelers around you. For comfort and joy, for peace and for God, you were right to come here tonight. God bless you one and all.
Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, All Rights Reserved.