Christmas Eve 2003
Rev. Gary Cox — Wichita, Kansas
University Congregational Church
I love Christmas. I love this time of year. Oh, I know that as a minister, I’m supposed to lament the secularization of Christmas—the commercialism, the tinsel, the bright lights. But it seems to me that the power of God is no more evident than in the fact that at this time of year, even those who are fervently antagonistic towards Christianity—even the most convicted of atheists—are a little nicer in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas than they are the rest of the year.
We all are. And that makes this time of year special, even to those who give little thought to the child whose birth we celebrate tonight. Maybe it’s the memories. For most of us, this time of year brings forth the best memories we have. The people we’ve loved and who have passed beyond our reach are never more present to us that in the Christmas season.
Almost everything we see, everything we hear, everything we smell triggers some precious memory, lights some corner of our mind that remains in darkness for most of the year. We hear a particular song—Silent Night, or Deck the Halls, or any of a dozen other melodies that have been etched upon our consciousness, and we are transported to another time and place. And in that magical place we see the warm smile of a beloved grandparent; we hear the hearty laughter of aunts and uncles, separated from us now, perhaps by distance, perhaps by less bridgeable chasms.
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It seems we are actually there, so long ago, in some cherished room, beside some elaborately decorated Christmas tree around which so many are gathered. We once again witness the ornery shenanigans of cousins whom we haven’t seen in countless years; and then there are, of course, the brothers, sisters, parents—people who live in our memories with such power and with such poignancy, we normally dare look at those memories with only a fleeting glance. To stare at them directly is too beautiful, and too painful.
Of course, I love this time of year for reasons other than fond memories, although those memories in and of themselves would be quite sufficient to make this my favorite season. But we celebrate something more than memory here this evening. We celebrate the birth of Jesus.
We are a Congregational Church, and that means we are all expected to think for ourselves. I should not, and will not, tell you how to think about the birth of Jesus. I will not tell you how much importance you should place on the arrival of Jesus into our world. I will not tell you how you should understand the relationship between that innocent baby, born in poverty to a young and unwed teenager, and the Creator of the universe. But I will tell you something of what it all means to me.
I believe in revelation. I believe that God chooses to be revealed to us in many ways. When I see a flock of birds soaring across the sky, against the colorful backdrop of a winter sunset, I see something of God in that. When I see blankets of snow laying across the frozen ground and recall that the seeds that will feed us in the coming year are beneath that merciless ice, waiting, waiting—I see something of God in that. When I see a mother hold her child in her arms and look into her child’s eyes with a love that the word “love” scarcely beings to convey—I see something of God in that.
And when I look upon that child who would grow into the man we call Jesus of Nazareth; when I see him lying in that manger; when I see him surrounded by animals; when I see him looking up at his mother, who was probably no older than 14 or 15; when I see the man, Joseph, standing beside the manger and claiming the child as his own, based solely on his faith in God and his faith in his new wife; when I see the life that child would lead in the years to come, with all its truth, and with all its pain, and with its ultimate destination on the horrible hill called Golgotha; when I see that child as a grown man hanging from a cross, wearing a crown of thorns and being the object of ridicule and laughter; when I see people experiencing Jesus more powerfully after his death than during his ministry; and when I see a world 2000 years later with countless thousands of churches holding countless millions of people, worshipping our Creator through the life and death and continuing presence of what we must never forget started out as a helpless baby—when I see these things, I see something of God in that.
We are told that Jesus loves us, and I believe it’s true. I believe that it is impossible to define God, but the closest we will ever come is to say that God is love. And while those of us in the modern, theologically liberal church have a natural tendency to enjoy wrestling with theological questions, not tonight—not tonight. Tonight, we join our voices with witnesses from across the world and from across the ages, and we say, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. For we celebrate nothing less than our salvation. We have been saved, healed, rescued: rescued from meaninglessness; rescued from hatred; rescued from doubt, rescued from despair; rescued from darkness.
Everything is okay, now. We know it in our hearts. And the memories that enchant the season—all those glorious and excruciating memories from Christmases past—they serve as a reminder. We are reminded that the days of life are short, and they pass by quickly. We are reminded that there is no time to waste on selfishness, resentment, anger. We are reminded that we have too little time to love the people God has placed beside us, so we should love them recklessly while there is still time.
And as we recall all the wonderful people we have loved—those beside us still, and those who have passed beyond our reach—we take from this evening a great comfort, a great hope.
Our God is the God of all time; the God of eternity. And just as our loved ones live in our minds, in our memories, they surely live in the mind of God. None are forgotten. Never. Even as we have loved them, in the past and in the present, God loves them forever.
To each of you I wish the most joyous of Christmases. May the love that was born in that manger, so long ago, light your way through this life, and through eternity.