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    Dec 31, 2017

    Christmas Eve 2017

    Christmas Eve 2017

    Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Kathy Dunagan

    We finally stop for this sacred moment to take the bread and wine of his sacrifice and sing soft lullabies as we recognize the overwhelming beauty of God Incarnate, come to us as a vulnerable baby, a tiny infant which changes everything.

    “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

    On this beautiful night I am captivated by the lullabies. We always imagine Mary singing lullabies to Jesus. In that respect, we love to cuddle by the firelight and sing soft songs of sleep and peace. There is a rich and deep memory of dozing on my mother’s lap during the Christmas Eve sermon and you are invited to do the same at this time, at least through memory.  Perhaps actually laying down on the pew is not advised if you are over the age of 10, but suit yourself.

    Lullabies at Christmas captivate me because of this deep memory of sleeping on my mother’s lap.  We sing these songs of peace and imagine Mary and Joseph lulling the Son of God to peaceful sleep and we are filled with archetypes of protection and peace and hope that touch our deepest psyche and our souls are warmed.  It seems that is why we are here this night.  It seems that is who we are. We long to sleep in heavenly peace.

                    But perhaps there is more to consider.  Where did Mary’s pondering take the Holy Family next?

    When my own daughter was an infant I sang lullabies to her.  I was a bit bored staying home from work those early months and the musicologist in me caused me to research and memorize and catalogue dozens of lullabies.  In fact I wrote an arrangement of Away in A Manger using all three melodies during that time.  Sorry, choir. I didn’t write that one down.

    At the age of nearly three, though, my independent little girl sat up in the middle of “Where are You Going My Little One,” put a hand to my face and said determinedly, “You can quit singing now, Momma!” And she never let me sing to her again.

    My reaction to this was a mix of sadness and pride for her independence and her choosing to initiate sleep on her own after that.

    You see, Mary may have done all that good mothers do to care for crying infants, but it was not her job to create peace.  In fact, the Holy Family was called to action.  The had to flee to Egypt, then face losing Jesus first in the temple at the age of 13 and then again and again they lost him as he went about the work of God and they eventually lost him on the cross.

    There is little time for cuddling by the flame when it needs to be fanned.

    There was a young couple who got married in the church one early spring.  They had a lovely wedding with happy extended family and friends gathered and lots of gifts. One of the gifts they received was a bit unusual. Some beloved great aunt bestowed on them an Italian fine china creche. It was a complete set with angels, shepherds, wise men and animals. They carefully wrapped it back in the individual boxes and bubble wrap and tucked it away.  Their first Christmas together was special because by then they were expecting their first child and they experienced that special feeling of Advent, of expectation of the blessings of a child.  By their second Christmas they had acquired a home and found a special place for the creche in the foyer on an antique table top. Their baby made that Christmas special too.

    But by their third Christmas, with a second child on the way and growing demands with their jobs, their lives were becoming a bit chaotic.  They kept their tradition, however and set up the creche nearly forgetting it in the following days. Christmas morning came and their toddle was thrilled to receive a truck and the young family delighted in playing with this and other toys around their tree. But tragedy then struck. The toy truck ran out of control and slammed into the table in the foyer and the entire Italian fine china creche came crashing down on the floor.  Every piece was broken.  An angel lost a wing, shepherds were beheaded, lambs and oxen shattered.  The only piece that survived was the baby but not his manger.

    They swept up the mess and reassured the child and put the baby back in it’s box and into the usual place of its storage in the foyer closet and returned to their merry making deciding to purchase another nativity set next year - maybe in the after Christmas sales - maybe a plastic one this time.

    Their fourth Christmas was different. A new baby, a toddle a bit older. They set up the new creche with some sadness and moved on. But one day of the season they found something funny about their new plastic and rather dull nativity set.  The bright white baby from the old set had suddenly appeared. It was too big and seemed awkward in the new set.  They pondered how this had happened and eventually questioned their child.  He admitted he had gone into the closet and placed the old piece in the new set. When asked why, he simply said, “I wanted to get Jesus out of the box.”

    The scandal of the incarnation is that the Messiah didn’t come as a king, or a celebrity, or the perfect specimen of human. Jesus came as a real baby, in a real body. A body that was broken, for us.  Yet we try to keep him in a box.

    For me, this means that tonight we experience Emmanuel, God with Us, through the beautiful AND the broken things—and perhaps especially amidst the beautifully broken things—of the world. God is not bound to the realm of the heavenly and the perfect. God came among us through Jesus—born under occupation, laid to rest in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, hunted by a king, rejected by religious authorities, surrounded by sinners and outcasts. Arrested. Beaten. Crucified. A beautiful gift for the whole world. Broken, for us.”

    There are all sorts of images of brokenness about Christmas in our lives.  Toys always seem to get broken, teaching children an early lesson of the harshness of life.  Hearts are broken, promises too. Maybe it was a gift that you were promised last year. Maybe it a promise you made several months ago, a promise you just cannot fulfill now. Broken plans. One family member wanted to visit one in-law, but the other family member had another in-law in mind. Maybe some illness prevented the perfect plan.

    “My water has broken,” she said. That means a birth is coming, doesn’t it?  Christmas is, indeed, about a birth coming, but something has to break first.

    Our creche is all wrong, you know. We take such care to keep Jesus in a box all year and throw out the broken pieces.  We cram a large variety of scripture into a small story.  After all, the wise men didn’t come until much later.  That is later in the story.  And we are later in the story.  You see, the story of Emmanuel - God with us - is much larger than we can even fathom.

    In this broken world of division and strife, this is the night we gather to let the light in.  Because the light does shine through the cracks.

    The chaos of the season is part of how we do Christmas.  We take on too much in effort to avoid painful realities of this broken world and we end up overwhelmed or a bit lost in all of it.  But I think maybe that is because we realize that we need to really feel the sorrow and angst and even anger about the division and fear and hate in our broken world.  So we spin around like tops for a few weeks and then we finally stop for this sacred moment to take the bread and wine of his sacrifice and sing soft lullabies as we recognize the overwhelming beauty of God Incarnate, come to us as a vulnerable baby, a tiny infant which changes everything.

    So, it is good to celebrate the Prince of Peace with peacefulness and it is good to celebrate the gift of God’s son with gift giving and it is good to feast and dance and enjoy all the merrymaking. But in the midst of all of that, we must also remember that after we are lulled to rest in the stillness and hope of this great peace, we are called to action. Whether it is fleeing to Egypt or facing the cataclysm of the cross, we are not Christians just because we are freed from sin, we are freed from sin so that we can love. The peace that comes into our broken hearts tonight frees us to do just that.

    Thanks be to God!

    Alleluia, Christ is born!