I hope you have all had Christmases that are like Christmas movies – tinsel, goodwill, miraculous returns of prodigal family members, lots of children all happy to be together and older members embraced in the life giving joy of the family, and any misunderstandings and antagonisms worked through until people experience a new level of connection and care.
Christmas does have that potential to bind us together, to make space for joy and hope, and to encourage peace. But in truth we often have to ignore or suspend the background conflict, pain, and poverty in order to experience the Christmas wonder. And sometimes no amount of ignoring or suspending can fill the void or drown out the despair whether that is the despair of the evening news or our particular family.
As it was at the first Christmas – a poor couple far from home, of an oppressed people, following through on a strange hardly to be believed promise that somehow God was in the midst of this confusion. And so God was, and is. God was there in the urgency of birth and the unpreparedness of the parents, in the wonder and excitement of poor folk such as the shepherds, and even in the fear and resistance of those in authority.
As God has been in every Christmas since – in the hope and humour and generosity of family and friends gathering and remembering even while hearts ache for those no longer able to come to the table, in the kindness of strangers, and even in the forgottenness of those whose only celebration is a free lunch in the park served by strangers if they can cope with the crowds.
We do not need to pretend that all is right in the world or even in our world in order to celebrate the birth of the holy child, of God come amongst us. Indeed Christmas is most especially for those whose need is greatest. Christmas is most especially a celebration of hope for the hopeless, of comfort for those in anguish, of joy for those who have known sorrow.
By all means let us be grateful for all the good in our lives – for our dear family and friends, for our relative wealth and health, for the beauty of this part of the world, and for every blessing we can perceive. But do not let us feel the need to pretend greater joy, hope, love and peace than we actually have in our lives. Let the places within hollowed out by grief, fear, hope for the shallow things, conflict, and disappointment become holy spaces waiting for the divine love that made its home in humble human flesh, in a humble family in the back-blocks of history.
No one need be excluded from Christmas so let the successful enjoy the feast. But do not imagine for a moment that it a feast for the successful only. This is the birth day of the one who would give his life to those on the edge – on the edge of health, on the edge of polite society, on the edge of their right minds. For those of us who struggle this is our feast day, our invitation to the banquet of life, our initiation into hope and peace.
Christmas was and is the expression of hope making its home with the overlooked and forgotten ones. Christmas was and is the expression of joy making its home with the grieving and aggrieved. Christmas was and is the expression of peace making its home with the conflicted and war torn. And Christmas was and is the expression of love making its home in hearts that long for the coming of love.
So whatever circumstance we find ourselves in this year let us claim Christmas as our feast day. And because this is a feast for all, most especially those in need, let us share as we can with those most in need of the necessities of life – love, peace, joy, hope, and yes food and shelter!
Come holy child and make your home among us.