Christmas December 25, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Christmas Textweek

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


‘And Mary pondered them in her heart’: she pondered all these things in her heart - the same Mary that later is to be found at the foot of the cross, watching this same child in crucifixion. She pondered these things in her heart. Today we do not celebrate the birth of Christ the man, of Christ the babe; we celebrate the truth of the Gospel we have heard. That story is our truth. Do not let the story let you off with just being a beautiful story set in a strange place.

Last night after Midnight Mass – it’s such a stunning time – if one could hold that forever, that’s what I would have. So what do you do, what does a priest do after Midnight Mass? Well, having talked about keeping the tradition alive, I pondered in my heart how one would do that. The obvious path to take was mince pies and whisky. I did have a mince pie – this is ridiculous, this is the early hours of the morning we’re getting into now. But then I sat down and went back though about twenty-four Christmas songs, from all over the place - the weird, the wild, the bizarre, the choral, the sublime - all these different Christmas songs that took me back to a stunning number of places. So delightful that I’ll burn a disc of them today and we’ll have a quiz of Christmas songs at the Christmas dinner. They led me into Christmases past, and each time we walk back to Christmases past, be aware that within, our desire continues to look for Christmases to come. So there’s this delightful sense of movement that expands the soul. You start to feel that actually there’s a lot held in this story. Back I went, and you can’t help but hear that as part of a community you move beyond your story into the stories of the communities to which you belong. I caught up with old friends in that travel and kept finding myself smiling. Then I came right back to the community that built this church, 1905; they were worshipping just up here in the Hall and they set out and built this place, and they made a great job of it, till they got to here. And the war came and the war took them away and we all are familiar with that story. The names of those that went off to war are still held in the tradition of this place and their names are on the board. In that war there was an incident on Christmas Day. In the trenches, two sides fighting against each other, seeking to kill each other. Christmas Day, and something happened. They left the trenches – you couldn’t do that today, probably, because you’re not allowed to smoke in the trenches, not if they’re in Fremantle – they left their trenches and shared cigarettes, and they shared more than that. The story that we heard today stopped that war, even if just for a moment, for an hour, for an afternoon. This story stopped the war. Now that’s something George Bush can’t do, isn’t it!

If we can truly follow the thread that this story excites within us, if we can follow the truth, then we too can do the same; we too can do the same. Because traditions do come to life, what occurred in the trenches is occurring today in your life in this place. It’s why this candle, our Australian candle, goes out.

To find the truth of this story we must own the truth of ourselves. The truth is, this is not a Christian country. We’re only told that so that we can separate ourselves from others and in fact impose various things on others. This is not a Christian country, except at Christmas it moves closer toward; at Christmas orientations change. It is very hard to light the Christ light. We seek to do it; many people seek to do it once or twice a year; for the rest of the time the war continues, we live in our trenches. Who are we at war with?

[Candle, which keeps going out, which causes laughter]. It appears to be amusing; it’s actually stunningly sad, it’s stunningly sad. This is the difficulty that we all have, this is the difficulty in our life - trying to keep the divine flame alive and lit. It’s stunningly hard to do on your own, and it’s because we live in those trenches. We are at war: we are at war with the poor, in case they want some of our wealth; we are at war with those of other faiths, in case they shatter the pretence that we hold.

Christmas invites us to come out of our trenches, to open our minds, to open our hearts, to seek to embrace the other. Most of what you hear speaks against the Gospel: be afraid of the refugees, they’ve come to take your jobs. That’s keeping another tradition alive; I think it’s a northern European tradition - used to be the Vikings, and instead of coming to take jobs, they came to take your wives and children. Same thing, same fear. The other things we hear tell us that the future looks dark – what’s going to happen to the stock market, to the accumulation of Western wealth? With a bit of luck someone will finally flush it - get us back to the true riches.

What invites us out of the trenches is the angelic voice, the voice that speaks from the Divine, and the voice always begins. ‘Do not be afraid’. That’s where we need to begin. In true Australian fashion, most will be doing that by about mid-afternoon – the alcohol content will have wiped away every fear. But there is another way of doing it and that is to really embrace the story and see that the opportunities for tomorrow are to stop celebrating a tale of the birth of a baby, to realise the true gift of Christmas – God is given and enfleshed in us. All of the promises – the promise of peace, the promise of hope, the promise of joy, the promise of love – all of those promises are birthed in you. It’s worth celebrating; it truly is worth celebrating.

Stay in touch with it. Tradition has Christmas running for twelve days. Twelve days is a very whole number; you’ll notice that the number of followers of Christ were twelve. It suggests, therefore, that we keep Christmas whole and allow it to unfold through the year. Be very wary of packing it up. When you put all the decorations away, lose the surface but find a way of keeping the content. Hold onto one of the gifts and allow that to continue to christmas within you throughout the year.