Homily – Christmas Eve – 2017

Dear Friends, we wish you all the merriest of Christmases with family and friends wherever they may be. We are grateful for each one of you and you give us hope as we move into the New Year. Our gift to you is the following homily–may you each have the best gifts of Christmas time–peace, love and joy! Pastor Kathy and Robert 

Christmas is here once again with all that it means to each one of us. We all have a past of memories, many good, but also some we may choose to forget at this festive time of year. We know from all the Christmas stories that we view each year as part of our Christmas traditions, that the message is very simple –it is really all about, love.

It is true though, that we sometimes, myself included, get caught up in pieces of the past that don’t reflect the goodness that this celebration of love calls us to.  Some of the pieces include past hurts, times when we were misunderstood or not accepted, times when we were blamed for things that we had no control over.

So when we come then to this wonderful time of year that calls each of us to open up our closed hearts, even for a time, we may manage to do just that, for there seems to be a need within us to be Christmas people—rising to be our best selves. And the miraculous thing, my friends, when we make these efforts, the good flows back to us ten-fold. Not that we do good to have good return to us, but it seems to work that way.

An op-ed article this past week in the Winona Daily News by Gina Barreca gives some clues for how to allow our Christmas holidays to be simple, good and life-giving, given that each of us brings, unwanted “baggage” to the feast, unfinished business and other hurts.  Barreca’s answer is simple—“live in the present!” We many times can’t change or totally fix the past and when we continually take that path, “wearing down that road,” to no avail; we most effectively miss, living in the present and enjoying all that is there.

The prophet Isaiah tells us on this night that we are “people living in darkness” but that our hope is in seeing the light of Jesus that comes on this night, and really, whenever we choose to live in the light of his ways.  Joan Chittister reflects on this Christmas Eve—“We must come to realize where there are no lights and take some there –to the hospitals, and dark neighborhoods, and nursing homes and prisons and shelters, and refugee centers—every day of the year.”

Paul, in his letter to Titus speaks of the “light of Jesus” as our “salvation” and when we choose to follow the light, we become, “eager to do what is right.”

A friend recently shared the following story as an Advent reflection, but I think it works well as a Christmas reflection too, as it indicates how we can more easily, “do what is right.”  This story that I would like to conclude with comes to us from Jay Cormier. It goes like this:

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, [that I just proclaimed for us] the innkeeper is not mentioned, but he really is the linchpin of the whole Christmas story, Cormier says.  Were it not for him, Jesus would not have been born in a poor stable but in the Bethlehem Ramada.

It is the innkeeper who presumably refused a room to Joseph and Mary, forcing them to find shelter in a barn.  All Luke says is that “there was no room for them in the inn.” But every Christmas pageant includes the innkeeper, often portrayed as a gruff old bird who cannot be bothered with a poor carpenter from the sticks and his young bride.  Sometimes he is the harried host, overcome with the demands of running a hotel during the busy season.  And once in a while, the innkeeper is a compassionate soul who sympathizes with these poor travelers and offers the only hospitality he can.

The innkeeper never realizes who he is turning away.  It is a busy time; guests and customers need to be taken care of, and the place is filling up faster than he and his wife can keep up with.  “Nothing personal folks—it’s the busy season.”

Cormier goes on to say, “We should not be so quick to ridicule:  we are all innkeepers when it comes to this Child.  Things need to be taken care of; our lives fill up faster than we can cope.  “Nothing personal, Jesus…”   The innkeeper’s plight is the challenge of Christmas: to make room in our homes and hearts for this Child, to make room for him both when he is welcome and when his presence is embarrassing and inconvenient.  Some words from Henry David Thoreau for this night are these: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?”

Throughout this Christmas Season let us place ourselves in the “role of the innkeeper” and that each person we encounter, no matter our immediate situation, let us see in them the face of the Christ Child who is in need of our gifts of warmth, compassion and peace.

And if we can do that friends, then we will indeed be living “in the present” as Gina Berraca encourages in the op-ed piece, and that is a “present” we will be ultimately glad that we opened!  Merry Christmas to each of you!