The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks Christmas Eve—Year A video link
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
What is it about this night? What is it that compels us to come out of our homes at 10:00 in the middle of December in a place like Boone? You could be home before a fire, sipping a warm beverage, awaiting Santa’s arrival, but you are here. Why? What draws you here?
Is it the music that pulls you into the realm of the angels, that draws you into glory and makes you fall to your knees?
Is it the incense that surrounds you with mystery and reminds you that you live and move and have your being amidst a reality that is so much bigger than you?
Is it the beauty of greenery and flowers and the awe that someone can arrange these things of natural beauty in such a stunning way?
Is it the simplicity of the crèche and knowing that just hours ago children filled this space with their eager anticipation and once again pulled off a glorious no-rehearsal Christmas play?
Or, is it the pull of a story that has echoed down through the centuries, a story that draws us like a magnet whose magnetism we can’t resist?
Is it the darkness itself, punctuated by candlelight, that reminds us that a small flame can ignite our heart?
Or, is it longing, plain and simple yearning for the possibility that this night always holds?
Or is it the swirl of all these things? Maybe, in the final analysis, our heads can’t sort out all the reasons we come out on a cold winter’s night, but our hearts know it is good and right to be here; our souls know we have to attend this birth.
We can’t not be here; there is too much at stake, for us, for our world.
We live in such a complex moment. Politics divided. Wars raging. Refugees fleeing. Change. Transition. And so it was long ago on a winter’s night. Rome was in charge, but there was a governor in Syria, and Herod the Great, king of the Jews, was on the throne in Judea. Political forces were duking it out. Religious factions were at each other. Some people were living the high life; many were struggling mightily. Nobody’s fate was in their own hands. An Emperor thousands of miles away could decide that everybody had to be registered, and off you went by foot to your ancestral home, and it didn’t matter that your soon-to-be wife was 9 months pregnant.
So, God comes to this night, then and now, amidst the swirl of forces, big forces, that feel arbitrary and very out of control. And God, God could have come with greater force, greater power—we are talking about the God who created the heavens and the earth, after all. But God, God chose to bind God’s fate to a young woman, an unmarried teenager for goodness sake, who had no power in this world, except the power of her “Yes, here I am; let it be with me according to your word.”
On this night, God chose to bind God’s fate to a newborn, completely and utterly helpless, completely dependent upon his parents, and before the week is out, they’ll be fleeing for their lives from Herod’s reign of terror, refugees on the run.
What is God trying to tell us on this night? What is God, in this tiny little bundle of flesh, trying to show us on this night? Is it that the whispered promise of Isaiah has broken into this world? That amidst all the great darkness that surrounds us, a light has sparked in the most surprising of places; that amidst all the violence that threatens to swamp us all, a child has indeed been born, and his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?
We don’t accord such things to a newborn baby, but there it is. God refuses to overpower us. God refuses to overpower our enemies. No, God has broken the yoke of our burden, the bar across our shoulders, the rod of the oppressor in a completely counter-intuitive way. God has taken off the armor and chosen instead to place the fullness of divine life into our hands and to woo us into dance of love. This night, God makes a choice to do an end-run on our defenses and head straight for our vulnerable hearts in this bundle of vulnerable flesh because it is in the meeting of that baby’s vulnerability and our own that we taste and see and smell and hear and touch the depths of divine love.
Tonight, as we gaze upon this child, divinity locks its gaze upon us. And no power in heaven, nor on this earth, can break the hold when those two loves meet.
So, the world will continue to swirl. Politics will still be divided tomorrow, wars will still rage, religious factions will still be at each other, refugees will still be fleeing, change will still be coming way too fast, some will still have too much, and far too many will still have far too little—nothing much will have changed, and yet, everything has changed.
We are putty in God’s hands. We have gazed upon this babe, and we have fallen in love and fallen hard. The transformation of our entire being has already begun, and, just like a chemical reaction, there is no stopping that process once it has been ignited. There is no turning back.
You may have thought you could come here tonight and observe from a safe distance. You may have thought you could enjoy all the magic of this night and, tomorrow morning, return to your life, business-as-usual, but you can’t.
In this birth, we have been born anew.
The only question we will have to answer tomorrow is this: What will we do with this divinity that has been placed in our hands? Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 24, 2016