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This night. This sweet night. This holy night.
With all that is happening in the world around us – the arguing and the threats, the raging and the fear, the blame and the anger, the loneliness and pain… we have a promise.
And we show up here on this night because we believe in that promise, or because we want to believe, or because it’s what we’ve always done, or because we need to or want to find a way to let something in to vanquish the shadow from our lives.
Someplace inside of us wants to be melted so we come to hear the story. We come to this sanctuary and we celebrate this birth, this gift from God that is God incarnate.
Because it is in the midst of all the fear and anger and pain… in the midst of the desert of our disbelief… that God always comes to us. The story we have of this promise is about a young woman named Mary, who was forced to travel through the desert with her beloved while she was with child. She gave birth in a barn and put the baby in a feeding trough.
This hope is born in the lowliest of places. In the terror of forced migration, the pain of childbirth, the filth of a cowshed, this child, this hope is born.
Because God always comes to us unbidden as the light returns each year in the midst of the darkness of our own lives. With no worldly ceremony, no grand entrance, God breaks into the world… on this night. This quiet night. This holy night.
The human heart is a complicated thing. Capable of great love and joy, this part of us is also the most tender, most vulnerable part. We carry our entire lifetime in our heart – the memories of our own, personal human story – the hopes and disappointments, the joy and the pain, the love and the loneliness. This story that tells us to keep ourselves hidden, not to hope too much, not to shine too much, not to love too much.
Our heart is understood by many to be an organ of perception – the instrument through which we view the world. When our heart is open and joyful, we see abundance and possibility. When our heart is burdened and in pain, we see problems and danger.
Neither is a marker of faith, nor any indication of our own goodness. It’s just an indicator of where we are on our journey because sometimes these dangers are very real – like they were for Mary. And sometimes, we are able to see the possibility, like Mary.
And so this is where the bigger story connects with our own. God’s breaking in is real – it’s not just a story about something that happened 2000 years ago. It happens all the time. This is why we call Christ the Alpha and the Omega because it’s always happened from the foundation of the world through to the completion of all things because Christ is the beginning and the end.
God’s promise, which we celebrate this night, this beautiful night, this holy night… is that in the midst of our own darkness, our own pain and vulnerability, God’s light shines through the gloom to find us once again. No place is too lowly. No person is beyond hope. No heart is incapable of mending.
In this manger that is our heart, we find that when we make room, even if it’s just a small space, this light of Christ enters in. And God breaks into our world once more. When this happens, we might find that we have so much more room in our own hearts that we could have ever expected.
In this manger that is our hearts, we learn that our pride and our opinions… our stories about who we are, become impoverished in the presence of this vulnerable child of flesh. And our greatness can do nothing but bow, our intellect surrenders, we fall on our knees in the presence of this meekness, this little one.
In this manger that is our hearts, our hardness softens, our darkness is pierced by light and we are humbled: our stories dismissed, our mountainous fears made into proverbial molehills.
Because every stone shall cry in its presence.
Every stone shall cry… on this night. This glorious night.
This story of hope that we have, this promise we celebrate on this night, is that God’s will is never accomplished by the ways of the world, by power or coercion, by social norms or expectations.
This story we have tells us that God’s desire for us, God’s dream for us will come in the form of vulnerability in the lowliest of places, in the most hopeless of moments. God’s will is accomplished in our surrender to the quiet spaces in our hearts that yearn for connection and truth, those aspects of ourselves that receive and respond to light, like a newborn baby opens her eyes for the first time as it gazes upon the love shining forth from his mother.
Because ultimately, what comes to us at Christmas is Love.
We look for a sign, we search for that star that will guide us, telling us where to go and who to follow. But when we open our eyes and see with our hearts, what we find in the manger is Love. Just Love.
And our only task is to receive this Love… on this night. This glorious night.